Student Elections

Thomas Paine; a painting by Auguste Millière (...

Thomas Paine; a painting by Auguste Millière (1880), after an engraving by William Sharp after a portrait by George Romney (1792) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have worked in education for nearly 25 years, and during that time I have worked at several schools across the country.  These schools are located in different states such as Texas, Tennessee, Washington DC, Maryland, New Mexico, and California.  I have also attended schools in West Virginia, North Carolina, and California.  Even though these regions of the country tend to differ in political and educational policies, I have noticed one thing in common with these schools and educational policies when it comes to school elections for students, and I wanted to share a list of rules that most schools use in order to elect their student candidates.  Yes, I think there is something we can learn.

  1. Student candidates are given the same amount time to speak about what they would do to make the school a better place and community.
  2. Student candidates are not allowed to criticize other candidates or name call anyone in the administration, teaching staff, or student body.
  3. All religions, socioeconomic statuses, family styles, and gender identifications will be respected.
  4. Written advertisements are allowed in a certain style and must be posted in only certain areas.  There is a set limit that cannot be exceeded for advertising.  There is a clear limit on advertising that can not be exceeded.
  5. Favors of any kind are not allowed to be granted.  This includes personal favors and any act of giving that appears to be a gift to voters.
  6. The student voters are encouraged to discriminate between the candidates, but the candidates themselves are not allowed to express that opinion and/or difference.  Student voters are allowed to make up their mind for themselves.  They are respected as thinkers.
  7. There is a clear spending limit.  Excessive spending will not be tolerated and the principal will have to step in.  It is a reasonable limit that all candidates can attain at that school. Supplies are given to candidates for advertising.
  8. Student candidates are not allowed to campaign outside of school.
  9. False statements will be investigated by the administration and the teaching staff to clarify for the student body should there be a misunderstanding or teaching moment.

These are simply common sense approaches to elections in schools as per school communities coming together to solve problems with school elections.  We do this out of the love for our children; however, I think out of the love for our country that we could apply some of these rules.  I think that our democracy needs a firmer set of rules to insure a democracy exists for future generations and that the process intelligently elects a future leader.  What I am hearing today in our elections is scary to me, and I believe a press that is afraid to ask everyone one the same types of questions is an irresponsible press, and I also believe that when candidates resort to a senseless approach of name calling and exaggeration of policy that the American public is being manipulated.  And as for advertising, I don’t even know where to begin to discuss the inequity that exists in that “paid for by candidate and friends” time.

I believe that the United States of America is better than this, and I am still searching for common sense in our general elections.  I wonder what Thomas Paine would have written if he were still around.

Creating Unique Project Assignments, Written Prompts, and Long Answer Test Questions

Although I wrote my last thought about creating unique tests per student and discussed how to harness the computer for automatic grading purposes, I firmly believe that those types of assessments are only valuable as formative learning moments when students need to understand basic facts prior to creating higher level thinking assignments or prior to moving to the next level of understanding.  The real observation of a student’s growth is in the project, written response, presentation, and long answer question, and this is why it is so vital to make unique prompts to promote individual responses and not easily copied responses.

Students are going to use the Internet, your textbook, its resources and links, friends, and the library’s resources to search for ideas when they are writing responses so your prompts need to be unique, clear, and scaffold.  For example, I know of a history teacher that writes prompts that put the learner in a time period and place, and he requires the learner to write from the perspective of a normal person during that time period.  I also know of a communications instructor who actually makes students go out into the public with their project and communicate to live audiences.  Both of these projects include clear rubrics to help the learner reach the desired goals of the instructor.

As for math and sciences, I have seen teachers ask students to teach a math problem, and I have watched very interesting descriptions of “my life as a cell”.  Once again projects are written that force unique perspectives from the student with clearly written rubric guidelines for the desired outcomes.  These projects, hence, are difficult to copy.

Many instructors who are new to this type of project creation are concerned about grading.  This is why you must create a rubric for the desired outcome and tailor the project clearly with scaffolding.  Once you create the first one, you will see how easy it is to change the rubric slightly and the project scaffolding slightly from term to term to continue to get unique project submissions.  In conclusion, these projects not only force unique responses, they require a generation to think, to express, to present, to support with fact, and to discern the material.  Isn’t that what we need in today’s world?


Online Testing – Generating Unique Tests per Student

Most online learning management systems have quiz creation tools with unique settings on them to insure unique test generations per student; consequently, online teachers can deliver unique instances of their tests or quizzes to their students so that cheating possibilities are limited.  These capabilities are allowing instructors to rethink the test taking time in more traditional settings also and many teachers in hybrid and on campus courses are beginning to set up quizzes and tests for remote test taking too.  If you are planning upon implementing this strategy in your course, make sure that you implement some of the most common settings of your quiz tool in your course management system.

One important feature setting is simply time.  Setting the timer for a student who takes your test is important.  By limiting the time a student may be involved with your test, you are forcing the student to be well prepared with the knowledge prior to taking your test.  Do not be lenient with this time as you can make exceptions for individual needs by allowing special access for an individual or letting another individual retake the test if needed.

Additionally most learning management systems allow you to randomize quiz question answers and quiz question order.  Because these systems just need you to specify a correct answer, you can manipulate the test engine to produce a random order of questions and a random order of question answers per question of an individualized student test.  For example, student A could have question 1 with answer B as correct, but student B would have that same question appear as question 9 with answer C as correct.  The power of computing gets harnessed when these settings are applied, and students will have to concentrate upon their own test and own test answers instead of their friend’s test.

Furthermore most course management system quiz tools are allowing you to take a set of questions from a pool of questions.  Which means that you are able to create unique sets of questions based upon many questions of the same value.  Many teachers are combining textbook questions with their own personalized questions and they are finding that they have too many questions for a test.  Consequently, if valued properly a teacher could have the computer select a set of questions from that pool of questions.  For example, two students could receive different questions or some partially different questions on a test instance that selects ten questions from a pool of twenty questions.

With all of the above solutions applied, you can begin to see how a test could be unique per student.  A student could have a unique set of questions in a unique order with unique answer orders that have to be completed in a limited amount of time.  Thus eliminating reasons for students to even try to collaborate on your exam because there are too many factors that would create false or antiproductive cheating scenarios.  For further information or more detailed examples please feel free to email me directly upon this topic.  I like the way computer science can be applied to test questions, tests, and test settings to create a unique environment that gets graded automatically.

Next time, I will discuss creating unique projects for your students to lower the chances of cheating.  It is all in the language that you use, the expectations that you created, and the objectives of the assignment.


Students are living in a world where imagination to product is quite a reality.  They are able to think of a script idea and turn it into a movie within days, they can write music, produce it, and publish it in hours, and they can write an article that gets referenced on nightly news in minutes.  The awesome affect of idea to reality is quick.  But is being the first mean being the best?

Obviously not!  Teachers need to teach design, evaluation, collaboration, and redo in their courses.  Students need to learn to evaluate their work, sources, affect on others, and overall quality in their deliverables.  Students need to see what they are creating and ask advice from potential viewers and/or share their music in testing phases to see what their potential audience might like to hear.  Students need to learn to self evaluate, slow down a little, and test their potential markets.  Students need to see what others really want.

While I am not advocating that students stop creating, developing, and producing, I am advocating design, evaluation, testing, and redesign.  There is much potential in a generation that creates great work quickly, but there can also be potential damage to others, history, facts, intentions, relationships, and potential coexistence.  Yes, we need maker spaces, but we also need logical evaluation and design.

Thank You, I am older and wrote this article quickly based upon experiences, past classes, and gained knowledge.  If you don’t approve of these writings then why are you still reading?

July 2nd – John Adams – What a brilliant failure?

With great enthusiasm for the event and an accurate understanding for the significance of the event, John Adams wrote that the July 2, 1776 approval for independence would be celebrated for years to come.  Off by two simple days, many might call this a failure.  However, I tend to view this proclamation to his wife as a clear understanding of the times and a brilliant prediction.  I also think he continued on as a great reminder of what America would become.  I think he was successful.

So then why do we continue in education to look for the discrete facts and tiny moments to evaluate success?  Why are we so involved with demonstrable test taking and fact memorization?  Is that what the future world needs from its workforce?  Is that where innovation begins?  Is this what the world is going to remember?  Do your most successful leaders have 4.0 or higher?

I think we need to find ways to incorporate project based learning into the classroom.  I think we need to lessen the rigorous approach to test taking.  I think we need to design projects that increase skills that are defined by the workforce.  Finding the right answer, reaching a consensus on the right answer,  debating an approach, presenting the circumstances around that answer, and evaluating your success in communicating the answer are much better predictors of success.

So to my ISTE 2015 friends, I am sorry that I went to Philadelphia two weeks prior to the conference, and I was unable to participate in the demonstration of project based learning through technologies. You might call that a failure since I missed it by two weeks. However, as I am listening to the great presentations and feedback you gave on YouTube, I sense that I am a small part of a growing movement.  I predict one day we will have digital learning that analyzes skills rather than content and produces wonderful citizens rather than “know it alls”.  Ouch, Happy Independence Day!


Wow, as I reflect over the past year, I find that I have missed many goals.  One is obviously that I did not update Zoombla over the winter break, and another is that I have somehow left this blog absent of good thought, advice, and personal experiences.  So why or why not should you continue reading . . . .

Because FAIL SPACE is important.  How we educate today is so dependent upon personalized learning environments where students can create, test, fail, and make better.  There is so much brain research that supports that when we struggle and rebuild we are building skills that are life long learning needs that will help is in any endeavor.  Consequently, we need classrooms that support project based learning, flexible design, group collaboration, making, designing, and presenting.  We need to place process over content, and we will find that students thrive, are more engaged, and take the redesign and editing phase as a game level to do better.  Students actually do like to break something and then figure out how to make it better or design, test it, and fix it.

So yes, I have failed you, my readers, in many ways this past year in the sense of content predictability, and while I have been engaged in large projects such as faculty development, the online educational initiative, student orientations, two learning systems management, and course review, I have failed this blog.  (or have I?)  However, you must also know that in my desire to fix, rebuild, create, and maintain this blog that I have simply written this post with gusto, in a quick manner, and with total belief in the success of FAIL SPACEs for the modern learner and, of course, me.

Designing Apps for Education

When I went into the field of educational technology full time, I knew I wanted to create, design, develop, troubleshoot, and release great learning modules for students and modern learners.  This past year I have had the great opportunity to hone my skills in iOS development for the iPad and the Iphone, and with the success of FIND CALCULATE COLOR, I see more apps on the horizon.  ( There is a free version that can be sampled should you want to try it out. )

Creating an App from design to production is a very rewarding experience, and with each new creation I am learning more about the design and development process and how the iOS apps can be harnessed for speed and the ultimate intuitive user experience.  Apple truly has a platform that allows a small business to thrive in a very competitive world or is it?

My apps are truly educationally focused first.  I don’t add Zombie’s for flair, and I try to meet a clear learning objective without trying to teach the entire curriculum.  I think there is much room for great educational apps that can be placed on the iPad growth within our educational systems.  I want to thank you for supporting Absolutely Learning this year.  It has made a world of difference to me and my personal attempt to put a positive stamp on this digital world.

An Instructional Design Specialist