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.

Webinar for Veteran’s Day Theme

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE to host a webinar with Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Clint Romesha

PRINCETON, NJ, October 28, 2014 – and the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation (CMOHF) will present a special live webinar, “Heroism in the War on Terror: An Interview with Clint Romesha, Medal of Honor Recipient,” on Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.

Teachers are invited to bring their students and their questions as they listen to Medal of Honor Recipient, Clinton L. Romesha, Staff Sergeant Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the October 3, 2009 battle at Outpost Keating in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan. Five years later, in this interview with Medal of Honor Foundation President Ron Rand, Romesha will reflect on that day and the direction his life has taken since.

Now a working civilian, husband, father, and one of the youngest of the 79 living Medal of Honor recipients, Romesha dedicates some of his precious free time to sharing his story with teachers and students. During this webinar, he will take questions from the audience and share his thoughts on his experiences.

To join this important event, teachers can register here. Teachers are encouraged to submit a question from their students for Mr. Romesha.

Lisa Schmucki, the founder and CEO of, commented, “This is a very special honor to host an online community where recipients of the Medal of Honor can speak directly to teachers and students about their experiences and the values of bravery, commitment, and self-sacrifice.” and the CMOHF have created an online professional learning community that is free and will host webinars and online discussions on the important concepts of courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity and citizenship. The webinars will provide an opportunity for Medal of Honor Recipients to discuss the importance of character and speak directly with teachers and students on their experiences. The webinars will be facilitated by an educator from the Medal of Honor Foundation and will include demonstrations on how to use the curriculum in the classroom.

If you are an educator, join the free learning community, Lessons of Personal Bravery and Self-Sacrifice: The Medal of Honor Character Development Program, to stay informed about upcoming webinars, join in on discussions with peers and experts, and gain access to valuable resources.

For more information, contact: 

Jenifer Morack, Program Development,
609-439-8103 |

Cathy Metcalf, Vice President, Education, Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation
714-609-4996 |

Designing Interaction into Online Learning for Distance Learners

Cover of "Student to Student"

Cover of Student to Student

Online learning programs are growing in demand and choice by students who are independently learning on their own through the vast resources available to them.  Some of these students are distance learners who have little or no actual class time with the teachers.  Motivated students who choose to learn independently need interaction in the course design so that they can understand accomplishments, reflect with other students, interpret the material, and create projects for teachers.  The following are various types of interactions that can be implemented in an on-line course that is primarily consisted of distance learners.

Student Reflection upon Material:  The benefit of writing on-line course materials is that teachers can express their own perspective upon the content and guide students through the skills that they have defined as most important or relevant to course.  Because students need to sense accomplishment after a targeted content goal is reached, courses need to provide reuse and reworking of ideas studied, and courses need self reflection of newly learned goals.  Activities need to be created that reuse the material in creative ways, and stages of growth need to be clearly identified to the user so there is a sense of accomplishment.  This does require a planned chunking of the data so that steps in learning are clearly identified to the user.  Web pages, screen capture software, and video provide great lesson explanation, but the teacher must have moments of sending content to the teacher that expresses an accomplishment of that learning.

Automated Feedback:  In addition to self reflection and teacher generated exercise, courses should take advantage of  automated feedback sites that provide students with graded responses.  Most textbooks today have an accompanying web site for basic skills review, and they generate reports for the teachers.  Reports are based upon participation and success levels, and the reports also help the course creator and teacher understand quickly which concepts are being understood and which concepts need better explanation and/or course design.  These reports while beneficial are only a portion of understanding a student’s progress, and there should be a clear understanding that students are expected to experience failure during those sessions and to obviously learn from that failure.

Student to Student Interaction:  Scaffolding a project so that students can collaboratively create educational goals in a new and creative way is important.  Give students the right background to take your content to the next level though research, design, writing, and presentation.  Students who are learning through design, evaluation, reediting, and presenting are developing skills that are important in a technologically changing world.  Teachers must provide projects that require collaboration with other students outside the classroom, and teachers and course creators need to develop the virtual classroom space so that students sense the social impact of the course too by experiencing other learner presentation and opinion.

Student to Expert:  Experts in the field produce, develop, and create materials that discuss their content for free.  They even respond to motivated learners who are framing their questions and opinions appropriately.  Teachers should never underestimate the good will of experts who will respond to students who go above and beyond in contacting expert professionals.  Students can easily document this interaction and provide samples to teacher of the learning moment.

Student to Teacher:  As course objectives are met in the course students should submit clearly defined learning outcomes to the teacher.  Those can easily be placed as emailed objectives throughout your online course.  In addition to this the teacher should have times when the students can communicate directly with the teacher as a class via on-line learning virtual space and individually through online office hours to ask those real time questions that can’t be properly expressed or lose their meaning in an email.  Milestone type or level type projects that represent a mastering of a skill, concept, genre, and/or other definable learning objective should be clearly made available to the on-line student for proof of accomplishment.  This also provides a sense of learning FLOW that keeps the learner motivated.

These particular thoughts were based upon an online learning program that is truly for distance learners who don’t have access to the live classroom for a blended learning scenario.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I do believe it helps frame the online teacher’s mind in how he/she needs to communicate with his or her learners.  This type of online learning needs to read like a conversation between the teacher and the student, and it needs to engage the student by providing check points for knowledge gained so that the student feels connected to the material.  If you have other ideas that I should place upon this list please comment below.




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Which STEM skills are you teaching?

The A8N VM CSM, an ASUS microATX motherboard

The A8N VM CSM, an ASUS microATX motherboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was recently reading an article from Elearning ( where it states that “only 15% of college students (United States) are in Engineering and Science, where many of the high-tech jobs reside. That number compares to 50% in China, 67% in Singapore, and 47% in France.”  I found this alarming as the future economy depends upon technological advancements, inventions, applications, and products.  I also found this relative to a previous article that I wrote about students learning to code software as all of these devices need instructions (software) that tell the device what to do.

In addition, the article stated that “Leland Melvin, head of NASA’s education programs and head of the President’s STEM council, said that there are 1 million jobs that can’t be filled because people lack the requisite skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” It seems logical then to encourage students to study STEM skills at younger ages and to provide them with unique STEM courses to explore the future.  In fact, there might be a need to develop stronger STEM programs in our public schools.  It might even mean a shift in how school programs are offered.

I have seen many independent private schools build new science buildings in the past decade to tackle this need, and I am noticing that the local public high schools in my town are offering a pre-medical type program, an international baccalaureate, and a technology magnet school program for qualified applicants.  While we are moving in the correct direction, it appears that we have a long way to go.

If you have some time, please share what unique STEM skills are being taught at your school.



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Band of Brothers

Sometimes, you do not need to be too original to find a great story.  In appreciate of Veteran’s Day, CBS ran a story about a musical group called the Band of Brothers, and while I am sure the great HBO series Band of Brothers comes to mind first this group is indeed real and worth your listening.  These real veterans who are coping with post war stress are finding that learning music helps them find renewed strength in every day life.  Most vets in this group are new to music and are overcoming physical obstacles from the war in order to create great music with big names such as Roger Waters from Pink Floyd.  It is truly a blessing to hear, and I recommend that you observe how music and the teaching and learning of it is transforming these wonderful people.  Music does heal.

My message for the week has once again been interrupted by the calendar and the greatness of Americans to find a reason to help others.  I am pausing to honor the day, and I am appreciative of what my relatives, friends, and your friends have done for our country.  It is definitely worth our respect and reflection, and I hope you take the time to pause and reflect too.

Next week, I will be back to an educational technology message, and guess what?  I am almost done with my first educational app for the iPhone.  I might even have a chance to release it this week.  I will keep you posted about what I have learned from iTunes U, great Objective-C books, google searches, and Apple’s developer resources.