The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 57 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, host



About two years ago, I was talking with my friend Mark Barnes about how to eliminate meetings in school. Both of us are former teachers who now spend all of our time helping teachers with their work, so we get kind of obsessed with these things. We both remembered the agony of sitting through meetings during our teaching years and how, for a time-strapped teacher, long, mandatory meetings can be soul-crushing. But we were pretty sure we had figured out how to wipe out almost all meetings completely.

Now to understand this story you need to know how we were talking to each other. We were using one of my favorite apps, Voxer, which is a walkie-talkie app for smartphones that allows you to have asynchronous conversations. Asynchronous meaning you don’t have to be on the phone at the same time. Voxer basically stacks voice messages one on top of the other in a private chat room, and you can listen whenever you have time. I know I’ve talked about it before; I try to get everyone I know to use it, and I can’t imagine how I would get anything done without it. I have long conversations with people over the course of many days. I squeeze it in while I’m driving and doing household chores. You can have one-on-one conversations or group discussions.

Anyway, Mark and I realized that if teachers and administrators started using Voxer, they could almost entirely eliminate the need for face-to-face meetings. The more we talked about it, the more we wanted to let people know about it. We soon realized that we had other ideas too, solutions for other problems in education that were either free or very inexpensive. Hacks, if you will.

Long story short, we ended up writing a book together. In July of 2015, Mark’s brand-new publishing company released Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. The book had 10 creative, simple ideas that most any teacher or administrator could try–I actually talk about three of them in Episode 22, if you’d like to hear more about those.

Before our book was even finished, Mark realized he wasn’t done. He recognized that there were a whole lot more than ten good ideas. After our book, he went on to publish eight more books in what he called the Hack Learning series, and I can tell you he’s not anywhere near being ready to stop. Each book focuses on a different area–there’s Hacking Leadership, Hacking Assessment, and most recently, Hacking Project-Based Learning, which should be hitting on the shelves when this podcast is released.

Now if you’ve been listening for awhile, you know that I love to review education books and interview their authors. The only problem with the Hack Learning series is that the books were coming out way too quickly for me to keep up with. I decided the best way for me to let you know about them would be to interview Mark and have him share one great idea from each of the nine Hack Learning books, nine really cool ideas that can help solve some of your more common teaching problems. If you hear one you really like, the book it came from is probably right up your alley. For links to all of the Hack Learning books, visit and click on Episode 57.

Before I play the interview, I’d like to thank everyone who has left a review for this podcast on iTunes. I get so excited when I go to my iTunes page and see that someone has left a new review. These really help raise the visibility of the show, which attracts new listeners, so thank you so much for your support. If you like this podcast and you haven’t written a review, I’d love it if you’d take a minute this week to do so. Thanks.

Now let’s see which one of these nine cool ideas is going to be the thing you try in your classroom.

GONZALEZ: Hey, Mark.

BARNES: Hey, Jenn. Good talking to you.

GONZALEZ: You too. So Mark and I kind of go way back now. I’m going to give people who are listening a little background on how we know each other. So Mark and I actually met through Voxer. We were in a Voxer group together that was set up by Brian Sztabnik, who runs the Talks with Teachers podcast. And long story short, you and I just got to talking and talking, and we decided to write a book together. Tell us a little bit about just … what were the beginnings of that first book? What was the book, and how did we get to writing it?

BARNES: Well, it all started with a blog post I wrote, and I just was thinking of a few things in school that are problems for educators, and I thought, “You know, this is really easy to fix.” And I did this blog post, something like “Three Things Principals Could Do Tomorrow to Make Teachers’ Lives Better,” something like that. And I just picked a couple of those really simple things. All of them show up in Hacking Education, and that blog post generated a lot of discussion. People were talking to me on Twitter about it, and writing comments on a blog, and somebody said, “This could be a book.” And I don’t know, that just sort of … I hadn’t written in awhile. And I’ve written a lot of education books, and I just started sort of framing it out. Then we were talking in the Talks with Teachers Voxer group, which is so amazing, and I’ve gotten, actually, other authors from that group, which is so cool.


BARNES: But, you know, something came up about professional development and you said something in that Voxer group that got my attention, and I thought, “Yeah, this is a really good hack for the book.” So, you know, if you remember, I Voxed you, that was the first time ever that I side-Voxed you off of the group and just sent you a message and said, “Hey, I’d like to learn more about that PD thing you were talking about in Talks with Teachers, because I’m thinking about doing this book,” and the conversation just kept going, and the next thing you know, it was like, “Hey, we should just do this book together.”

GONZALEZ: So that book now is, like, a year and a half old. It’s called “Hacking Education: Ten” … wait, tell me the title again.

BARNES: “Ten Quick Fixes for Every School.”

GONZALEZ: Good. I’ve got the words “simple solutions” in front of me, so I’ve forgotten what we called it. “Ten Quick Fixes for Every School.” So what ended up happening is that once we started, I’d say we were still partway through that book even when you said, “This could actually be a whole series. This doesn’t necessarily need to be just a one-off book.”

BARNES: Yeah, that came out of a conversation. I remember that so well. We were still sort of framing out the 10 hacks in the book, and just bouncing ideas off of each other, talking about these problems. I brought up a couple of different things that were sort of global, you know? They were bigger problems, things like, I said, “We could do something on assessment, or we could do something on Common Core,” and we were talking about chapters, and you were like, “Yeah, I don’t know. That’s sort of a … “ I remember you said, “That could kind of be a book of its own.”


BARNES: And that was it again, you know? The lightbulb popped over my head, and I was like, “Hmm.” And we were talking about “hacking” in the title, hacking education, and I thought, “Hacking assessment, hacking the Common Core,” and I said, “You know, there’s sort of this whole hacking series,” and then we came up with Hack Learning, and I think I said, “Oh, that has a nice ring to it.” And what’s really cool is that, you know, I tell people this a lot, and I don’t even know how much I say it to you, but you really helped shape this series. I loved the conversations we had, and we worked on the logo together. I don’t know if you’ve ever really gotten credit for that, but I tell you what …

GONZALEZ: I had strong opinions about that.

BARNES: And that was such a neat process. We got a designer really to help us with the cover of the book, and then when we started talking about the series, I said, “Hey, let’s get some ideas about this logo for the series,” and we sort of shaped that together, and the logo has been really popular. We’ve got t-shirts and coffee mugs now, so I do think back a lot about how we made that happen.

GONZALEZ: That was a fun process, and it’s so neat to see how much the series has grown. In about a year and a half you’ve put out nine books. And so now, looking over the whole body, and there’s more coming after that too, and we’ll talk about the titles that are coming soon. What would you say now is the sort of aesthetic of all of them or the message or the gist of the whole series? What is it that you’re trying to accomplish with these that makes them different from other education books?

BARNES: Yeah, I love that question, and it’s a really easy one for me. You know, our mantra is really all about “right now” solutions for problems. I think that, you know I’ve written a lot of education books, and I’ve written for ASCD, a marvelous company that does books and does PD and does so much for teaching and learning. I’ve written for Corwin, they’re a part of Sage, gigantic in education. They do really neat things, but that experience sort of helped me shape my publishing company and, you know, when you’re in charge, you got a lot of decisions to make. You know that with your own business. There’s so many things that land at your feet, and I thought a lot about that when I started this series. I said, “What do I want to do? What’s the main thing? What’s the elevator pitch?” And for me it was I didn’t want books that were chock full of research and philosophy. You don’t find a lot of huge reference pages at the end of Hack Learning books with 50 books that were referenced. You don’t find a lot of in-text citations. These aren’t research papers, you know? They’re guides. They’re, “Here’s the problem, here’s a fix that maybe you haven’t thought of,” and then everybody’s favorite section is “What You Can Do Tomorrow.” You can go in tomorrow, and you can fix a problem, and that is the hallmark of Hack Learning.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. And the other thing about them, and I remember this when we were working on ours, is that they are affordable. These are not things that require you to go to a budget committee and get … They’re things that teachers can actually do without having to get committee approval or anything like that.

BARNES: Yeah, and I think that’s important. I talked to a lot of teachers going, again, way back to when you and I were writing, and I decided, with your help, that this would be a series. I talked to a lot of people on social media, and even friends of mine who were educators, and I had a lunch with three or four teacher friends, and I was telling them about this new adventure, and I just asked them, I said, “Tell me about what you think about education books.” And the funny thing is that most of them said, “I don’t really read education books,” and that was important for me, because I said, “Tell me more about that. And you know what I got was a lot of it is they said a lot of the books are hard to read, and they’re very expensive. They said teachers can’t pay, with shipping and all, up to $40 or $50 to get one book that maybe is going to wind up being dry and looks like a research paper. And they’re like, “You know, I want to come home from school, and I want to unwind.” So that’s when I said to this group, I said, “What would you like?” And that really helped, because they said, “I want answers. I’ve got problems, and I want something from experienced people who say, ‘Hey, here’s what you can do.’”

GONZALEZ: I’ve seen that too. I think a lot of teachers in my audience are … They appreciate the quality of research, and they can dig into something that’s really in-depth and philosophical, but when they’re in the middle of a school year, man, they just want to know, “How can I solve this right now?” And, you know, we tried, I know, with our first one too to kind of get some personality and a sense of humor in our book too to make it a little bit lighter reading. A lot of the people that reviewed our book told us they read it in an hour and a half. They just read it like all in one sitting. It was that quick.

BARNES: Yeah, we try to keep them short. And we actually do have a couple of short format books even. Most of our books have, like, 10 hacks, 10 chapters, but there are a couple of books, “Make Writing” and “Hacking Literacy” that are just five. That’s a really lightweight book. It probably goes 70, 80, 90 pages. I mean people say, “Man, I read that in an hour, and boy, I just got started.” So that’s cool.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. So here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to just lightning quick, we’re going to go through all nine books, and I’m going to ask you to just give me a quick overview of who wrote it and what’s the basic gist of the book, and then we’ve chosen one hack from each of the books that we’re basically going to give away for free to the people listening to this, and these are solutions to some of the problems that they face every day. And what we’re hoping is that everybody listening is going to come away with two, maybe three, ideas that they can apply to their own situation right away.

BARNES: That sounds exciting. I love it. Let’s talk about it.

1. Student Tech Gurus

GONZALEZ: So we are going to go in order. We will start with our book, and that is “Hacking Education.” I mean, we’ve kind of gone over a little bit about what that one is, so we can just start right away with the hack from that one.

BARNES: Yeah, so I love … Student tech gurus is a hack from “Hacking Education.” And thinking of the problem, we’re so much in this technology-driven world now, and schools are going one-to-one, and a lot of kids have laptops or tablets, and teachers are working really hard to integrate technology, which is so important. But what happens invariably is that something goes wrong, you know? Or we don’t really know how to use it. We’ve heard of a tool, and we go, “Ah, that sounds neat, but I don’t know how to use it, and I’m scared of that, and I’m too busy.” So tech gurus is sort of that “let’s find the experts.” They’re right here in our classroom. They’re the kids. The kids know the tech, and they know the tools. So what we put together is this idea of finding a team of kids, tech-savvy students and saying, “Hey, what if you were our tech gurus, and when we need help, we come to you?” And it’s a huge money-saver too.

GONZALEZ: Big time. Yeah. And we have actually profiled a group of fifth-graders who were serving as a tech team at their school, so this can even be done at the elementary level.

BARNES: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s another cool thing, I think, is to start early. A lot of times in books you see people say, “Well that’s only for middle school or that’s only for high school,” so I love this hack, the idea that we can start kids out at the elementary school, and then who knows? Maybe they’ll continue being tech gurus throughout their school lives.

GONZALEZ: Right, right. It might help them find their calling. And they help other kids, and they help the teachers. Yeah. It really helps, especially solving a lot of low-level problems.

2. Inspiration Boards

GONZALEZ: OK. Second book is “Make Writing,” which is the only book in the series that does not have the hacking title. So tell me a little bit, this one’s a little bit of an outlier in this series. Tell me about “Make Writing” as a book.

BARNES: Yeah. This is by Angela Stockman, and Angela’s a good friend. Like you, she and I go way back to the cyber world, and she actually wrote for me on my blog, Brilliant or Insane, which was around before the Hack Learning series. And I found Angela out there in the blogging world, and I needed somebody, and I went and got her, because she’s so brilliant and inspiring and innovative. So she was just writing for me, and it was great, you know, because it brought attention to the blog, and it brought attention to writing in general, because she wrote a lot about that. And she had this idea, she wrote a blog post, and she had this phrase she used called “make writing,” and the idea is to combine writer’s workshop with Makerspace, and that’s about as hacky as it gets right there, you know?

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.

BARNES: We use the word “hacky” in the Hack Learning series, and that’s hacky, the idea that Makerspace is really popular now. Get kids … get their hands dirty. Get them diving in. Get them building and making and learning through that process. And obviously this is a book in my series, but I tell people all the time, I think this is one of the most unique education books in the world. There’s just really nothing like it. So she has taken, and Angela owns and operates her own writing studio — teacher, consultant — so she’s knee-deep in it. And she does so many things in her studio, and she and I had a lot of conversations, and I said, “Man, we got to put this in a book. This is incredible.” So her kids they make, you know? They do a lot of that Makerspace stuff. They storyboard, and they tell stories, and they draw pictures, and they build things. And then ultimately they turn those into written works. It’s just an amazing book.

GONZALEZ: That’s fantastic. And so one of the ideas that we wanted to share with people is the idea of an inspiration board in the classroom.

BARNES: Yeah, I love the inspiration board. And, you know, it is what the name says. So what you do … imagine a wall in your classroom, and this is, really, I think, the coolest way to do it is if you could dedicate a wall. But if you can’t do that, you could use butcher paper, poster board, whatever. And the idea behind it is that kids collaborate by putting ideas on the wall or on the board. So they’re brainstorming, but it becomes that physical activity, you know, that is a part of the Makerspace, because they’re on their feet, they’re moving, they’re bumping into each other, they’re talking, and they’re excited, and they go, “Yeah, I got an idea.” And they put an idea up, and then someone else maybe will see that idea and go, “Oh, I like that, and that makes me think of this.” And what they’re doing is they’re getting thoughts out onto a board, and then starting to discuss those ideas, and ultimately those turn into those stories and projects and pieces of writing. And it’s a great way to get reluctant learners excited, you know? You think of a kid who’s scared of writing, and you say, “Hey, write this,” a lot of times they just sit there staring into space. But if you say, “Get up and just take any idea you have that might be a story and put it on a board,” that’s inspiring.

GONZALEZ: Nice. And yeah, it’s funny. It takes the ideas that are a lot of times buried inside people’s heads or on their own pieces of paper, and it actually gets it up there so that … because you’re right, ideas beget other ideas. People hear other kids’ ideas, and it gets them more creative, really.

BARNES: Yeah, for sure.

3. Tracking Progress Transparently

GONZALEZ: Alrighty. So after “Make Writing” we have the third book in the series, “Hacking Assessment.” Tell me about this book.

BARNES: Well, this one, you know, all the books are important to me, but this is so near and dear to my heart, because my thing in education has been assessment, and the idea of de-emphasizing traditional grades and eventually going gradeless, and the subtitle of that book is “Ten Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grade School.” And I’ve written a lot of about this, and years ago I started a Facebook group called Teachers Throwing Out Grades, which has almost 7,000 people in it now from around the world. And at last count I think it was like nearly 200 countries represented, and these are people who say, “We don’t like traditional grades. We don’t want to label kids. We don’t to put numbers and letters on their work. We want to talk about ways to engage learning and assess learning differently.” So Starr Sackstein is the author, and Starr joined me as co-moderator in the early days when there was me and her in this group. And, you know, we were both really into this idea, and we grew the group, and the conversation grew, and Starr had written a little bit around assessment and questioning. I just said, “Hey, this series is growing, and you know me, there has to be a book on going gradeless, because that’s my passion.” Funny thing is, Starr said, “Well how come you’re not writing it?”

GONZALEZ: Yeah, right.

BARNES: But the thing is, I had written about going gradeless, and I said, “You know, we need somebody who’s in the classroom still in the trenches doing it.” And she was doing stuff that really no teacher was doing in a high school class, even in AP, and really throwing out grades.

GONZALEZ: And she was doing it so publicly too. Like she was talking about it on Periscope, and she was blogging about it. I mean, she was letting the whole world watch her whole experimentation happen.

BARNES: Yeah, and that’s such a cool concept too, you know? The idea of saying, “Here it is. I’m doing it, and I’m not just talking about it. You can see it.”


BARNES: So yeah, so she does it. And you know, when talking about that, it’s sort of that idea of transparency, so that was one of my favorite parts of “Hacking Assessment” is she talks about tracking progress transparently, and it’s one of my favorite hacks, because there’s so much in the book about feedback. And not only giving kids feedback, but getting them to be good at reflection and self evaluation and finding ways to share feedback that are easy for people to see. So Starr created this document that’s a four-column chart for feedback. And what she does in these columns, and she shows an image in the book of it. In one column she puts “Assignment,” and another “Feedback,” and another “Standards addressed” and another “Strategy,” and then there’s blanks below that. So what happens is the kids now are looking at their work, and they’re sharing their own ideas, they’re saying, “Here’s the assignment, and here’s some feedback,” and that could come from the teacher or it could come from the student. “And here’s the standard that I addressed in this assignment.” It’s really powerful when you have kids looking at that. It’s that meta cognition, you know? They’re thinking about their own thinking, and it’s really powerful.


BARNES: “And here’s the strategy that I used.” And then that can be used for conversations about learning, and there’s so much of that in “Hacking Assessment,” so I just love that.

GONZALEZ: And you said that she keeps this in a cloud storage space, so it’s like a Google Doc or something, and so the kids can get to it from home, and the parents can look at it.

BARNES: Yeah, absolutely. That’s that whole transparency piece, you know?

GONZALEZ: Right, right.

BARNES: We want to track progress, because you know right now we’re just dialed into report cards.


BARNES: And of course now most schools have a digital reporting system. I get an email from my kid’s school every single day, and it’s just a list of letters, you know?

GONZALEZ: Yeah, it doesn’t tell a story, does it?

BARNES: That’s what’s great about this four-column chart that Starr uses and discusses in “Hacking Assessment,” the idea that the kids are involved, the teacher’s involved, but you can put it in that cloud-based system, and you can invite parents in. You can say, “Hey, you want to know what’s going on? You want to see what your kids are doing, and how we’re assessing? Here it is.”

4. Morecabulary

GONZALEZ: Nice, all right. Let’s move on to book four, “Hacking the Common Core,” and this is by Mike Fisher. Tell me about Mike Fisher.

BARNES: Well, Mike Fisher and I go back to ASCD. Mike’s written a ton, by the way. He’s written like 11 books. This guy is a star in the education field. He was a long-time classroom teacher, and now he strictly writes and consults. So he goes out into the field. He works at schools, at conferences, really getting in with teachers and saying, “Hey, here’s how you do stuff.” And because we both wrote for ASCD, we were at an ASCD event a few years ago and met face-to-face and just hit it off. And I knew in this series when we were going to do a book on Common Core, there was no question on this one. There was no question who to get. It was like, “Well, Mike’s the guy.” He knows the Common Core inside and out. And what I love is that he and I see eye-to-eye on standardization, and how to deal with standardization in the classroom. And, you know, I talk to so many teachers, Jenn, and you and I have talked about this back and forth, so many teachers who are just like, “I just can’t do anything. I can’t teach. I can’t do what I want to do. I can’t be creative or innovative, because I’m just handcuffed by these standards.”


BARNES: Mike and I talked a lot about that, and he said, “You know, it doesn’t have to be that way. I hate when I hear that.” Anyway, yeah. So the book is “Ten Strategies for Amazing Learning in a Standardized World.” Throughout, Mike really says, “Here’s how you take the problems and how you make them … you teach and you still make learning fun while teaching Common Core.”

GONZALEZ: Nice. That’s awesome. And I agree. Sometimes I think when you get limitations placed on you, that’s when the best creativity can come out, actually, instead of having complete free reign. So tell me one of the strategies that he shares in this book for teaching within the standards but still being really creative with it.

BARNES: Yeah. One of the cool hacks, and it’s a neat title, it’s been really catching. People like it, and they’re like, “Oh, what is that?” He calls the hack “morecabulary” off of “vocabulary,” because there’s this emphasis on vocabulary, but there’s sort of this way of doing it that is not fun, you know? And a lot of times what you get with Common Core are these manuals, you know? The principals roll out some big manual and these workbooks for kids. It’s just kids are like, “Ygh.” It’s just not fun. So what Mike did is he did this play on “vocabulary,” and he said, “We don’t need less, we need more,” so he called it “morecabulary.” But he says that what we need to do is avoid the boring. He says we tend to do dictionary work to do those workbook things that are given to us by school leaders, and the end-of-the-week vocabulary test. And the fact is, these don’t really help kids anyways. It becomes a lot of rote memory. And it’s not real deep learning. So what Mike does with “morecabulary” is he talks a lot about unwrapping vocabulary and constructing meaning in different ways. He says use tech tools, use games. So, for example, one thing he says is that kids can use a tool and contribute images, videos, a whole lot of things that shape their own meaning of the word. And he gives a lot of examples, but one of them is the tool Padlet, which I know you’re familiar with.


BARNES: And, you know, with Padlet you can put all kinds of things on, it looks like a virtual corkboard. So what happens is kids start to collaborate on words, so you could still have your list of words, but instead of just having kids fill in blanks with the word or copy the dictionary definition, what Mike says is first of all, let’s find meaning together. Let’s break down the words. Context clues. Let’s guess at what we think they mean, and let’s do it in a fun way by putting our own definitions, even drawing, making videos, and ultimately that conversation not only helps kids find the real meaning of the word and how to use it, but it really internalizes it, because you’re going to remember that, you know?

GONZALEZ: Oh yeah.

BARNES: Creating it on a virtual corkboard and doing videos and all that about it more than you would finding it in a dictionary or a workbook.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. It sounds like he’s creating a whole lot more touch points with that word than just the single act of writing a definition for it or writing it over and over again.

BARNES: Yeah, absolutely. Those touch points are key.

5. Broadcast Student Voices

GONZALEZ: OK. That is great. All right, moving on to the next one. We’ve got “Hacking Leadership,” and this is Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis. Did I say it right this time?

BARNES: Yeah, absolutely.


BARNES: Yeah, Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis are really well-known in the connected educator world. They do podcasts, they contribute to things like Ed Week and other big publications. They’re all over Twitter and Facebook. They’ve got groups about leadership. They’re good friends, and their thing is leadership needs to be better. So we have to help school leaders. We can’t assume that just because someone has a degree, and they become a principal that they know how to lead a school. And a lot of the simple things are really left out. So what I love about “Hacking Leadership” is it’s all about communication and getting all stakeholders to feel like they’re community. “Hey, we’re in this together.” And the other thing that Tony and Joe are so good at is they put kids right where they belong. They’re in the middle. They say, “We want everything to center on kids, and let’s just build out from there and start with what are their needs?” So there’s a lot of tips in there that it’s not just like a book that you give to a principal and say, “Here’s your blueprint for being a leader,” or a superintendent, even, or whatever. Because these guys are now both superintendents. They’ve been at every level of education. And what they do is they say everybody says we want to do what’s best for our kids, but not really that many leaders are saying, “OK. let’s get in the building, and let’s actually take some action to do what’s right for kids.” Because we’re kind of too caught up in the politics and the bureaucracy.

GONZALEZ: So what is one of the hacks that they share for making this happen?

BARNES: One of my favorites in the book is they call broadcast student voices. So this is really both for principals and teachers, and teacher leaders. The idea that we always say, “Hey, students should have a voice.” Student voice is really trendy in education right now, and there’s a lot of good books about it, but how do we really do it? What does it really mean? So what they say is, “Let’s have the students be the voices of our classrooms and our schools.” So what Tony and Joe came up with is this idea to get kids to use podcasting and live streaming video to be the voices of the school and of their classroom. So they have some really great steps for just getting started right away with podcasting. Like, a lot of people go, “Oh, man, podcasting. That’s really cool. I listen to them, but I wouldn’t have any idea how to do it.”


BARNES: Take me, for example. A lot of people don’t know also that you were a huge inspiration for me to start my own podcast. And I was afraid of it, you know? I was like, “Oh, it’s going to be way too much time, and I’ll never be able to do it.” Well, what Tony and Joe do is they say, “You can start podcasting. You can have kids, even young kids, podcasting as early as tomorrow.” And they put some very simple tools in the book that you could sign up for. There’s a tool like Spreaker, which I use, and it’s web-based too, so you could, if you have computers, you could literally put a kid on there tomorrow, open up a tool, a broadcasting tool, right on the website, record and publish, and that’s really neat, because then you could share that with your audience. You could share it with classmates, you could share it throughout the school. You could send a link out to parents, and say, “Hey, check this out.”

GONZALEZ: Yeah, that’s fantastic.

BARNES: So that’s really amazing. I mean, you talk about giving kids voice. It’s one thing to say it, and it’s another thing to actually give people steps and say, “Now get in there and do it, and get your kids talking not just to their peers, but to the world.”

GONZALEZ: Fantastic. And I love that they recommend specific tools to try too. That’s awesome. I don’t remember you being afraid of podcasting, by the way. You’re like one of the earliest early adopters of everything. It’s always you telling me about tools, and me being like, “I’ll wait a year.”

BARNES: Said the person who wrote the tech guide.


BARNES: Come on.

6. OPB (Other People’s Books)

GONZALEZ: OK. Next book is “Hacking Literacy.”

BARNES: Yeah, another one that’s near and dear to my heart, as they all are. I keep saying that.

GONZALEZ: I know. Well, that’s good. That’s how you should feel about them.

BARNES: But you know my two things, and you know this about me, my two things as a teacher were assessment and reading.


BARNES: And writing. Reading and writing literacy. The idea that, you know, it’s such a weak area for us. You constantly see the latest survey, and how American kids stack up to others around the world, and how we’re just not good at reading, and what the percentage of kids, and adults, who aren’t literate. It’s really frightening. So I’ve written widely about this, and I had my own personal experience as a classroom teacher with really changing how I got kids involved with books and writing. It was a book I knew had to be written in this series, and another guy I met on social media in the Teachers Throwing Out Grades group, Voxer, all of that, is Gerard Dawson. And Gerard’s a classroom teacher who really embraces this idea of putting literacy at the center of his class. Now he’s a language arts teacher, but the hacks in here are really for everybody. I mean, even math. The key is you have to get kids reading and writing about what they’re doing. So Gerard and I talked a ton, and I was just like, man. A little bit you sound like me, and I love it, because we agreed that kids have to become readers. And I said, “Let’s put this book together that helps teachers really make it easy to turn kids into people who love books and love reading.

GONZALEZ: Nice. And so his whole book is focusing on this. And this is one of the shorter ones, right?

BARNES: Yeah. “Hacking Literacy,” it’s five hacks, five ways to turn any classroom into a culture of readers. Yeah, the book’s just about a hundred pages long. It’s a pretty quick read. But each one of the … The hacks are a little longer than the longer books, so they’re really developed, the ideas in each one. There’s a lot of real meaty content in there for, “Here’s an idea, and here’s how you do it, not only tomorrow, but then how you build that out over time, because that’s what we have to do to build lifelong readers.

GONZALEZ: So share one of his ideas with us from the book.

BARNES: Well, one of the big things that Gerard talks about is building out your classroom library. And for me, I use the phrase, because he talks about finding people who can help you build your library for free. And a lot of teachers don’t know about that. We had an interesting conversation about what is a classroom library really, you know? That different vision. Because I said, teachers don’t really have classroom libraries.

GONZALEZ: Yes. You and I went back and forth about this yesterday, because I said, “Dude, that’s not a new idea,” and you were like, “Well I don’t know what you’re talking about or how they do things in Kentucky,” and literally last night I was at a parent-teacher conference looking at a classroom library, and I was like, “I just need to take a picture of this.” But it was probably about 200 books, and when you say “classroom library,” what are you talking about?

BARNES: I’m talking about 1,000, 1,500, 2,000. A real library.


BARNES: And I will tell you that when I did this in my own classroom, and when I left, I had 1,500 books in all genres, non-fiction, fiction, that I had amassed over years. And I really learned this from Donalyn Miller who wrote “The Book Whisperer,” one of my favorites. And Gerard, actually, references her in his book as well. But that is what I think and Gerard thinks that people don’t truly get is when you say, “Let’s build a classroom library,” we need something that almost looks like a library, you know? And you might say, as a math teacher, maybe you’re not going to have that, but English-language arts teachers should be building their library. So Gerard says, “Here’s how you do it.” And I sort of took his work and coined my own phrase, and I call it “other people’s books,” OPB, other people’s books. That’s what he talks about. He says, “Hey, go out and find people who have the books and bring them in,” because teachers say, “How am I going to get a thousand books? Where am I going to get that money? How will I do that? Even cheap books, I can’t do it.” And Gerard talks about one of my favorite things is he says go out and find your local library. Most libraries have a person who is the teen librarian. They have a whole teen section, and one person who curates and runs that and does programs for kids and all. You go out and you find that person. And a lot of people may know them already, but you might not. I taught English language arts for years in the same community, and I had no idea who the teen librarian was at the local library. We used our own library.


BARNES: But then I found that guy, we struck up a relationship, and I took my kids on a field trip to the library, so that they could get library cards, and that’s a big thing. You’ve got to get kids to love the library. Well, what Gerard said is, OK, now let’s use this person, and get them to help you. Librarians cull their shelves regularly. They go in, and they say, “Well here’s books that maybe aren’t moving all the time or getting checked out. We’re going to bring these out, and we’re going to bring new ones in.” They, a lot of times, just sell those really cheap. I went to the teen librarian and said, “Hey, why don’t you just bring those over to us?”
GONZALEZ: No kidding. Yeah.

BARNES: The next thing you know, they’ll do it, because think of what you’re doing as that librarian. You want to put books in kids’ hands, so instead of selling them for 15 cents in a box, you know, say, “Hey. I’m going to take these over to my middle school, elementary school, high school, and say, ‘Here you go. Hand these out to kids. Get kids reading.’” So that’s one in other people’s books. Gerard talks about using the PTA. you know, a lot of teachers don’t realize that your PTA has money.


BARNES: And in some cases, they have a lot of money, and they’re looking to give it away. It took me a lot of years to figure that out. Man, you go to your PTA, and you say, “I’m going to go to this used bookstore, and I would really like to buy a hundred books. I’ve already done the research, and I can get these really cheap.” And, you know, who knows? They might give you $500. And the next thing you know, you add another hundred books.


BARNES: Gerard talks about recruiting people, parents, people in the community, get kids to go out and say, “Hey, I want to bring a book in. Do you have anything you could give me?” Knock on a neighbor’s door. “You got any books lying around?”

GONZALEZ: I got some books for you.

BARNES: People always have books they’re ready to get rid of. They’ve just been sitting around collecting dust. So that’s it. And other people’s books, build your classroom library. And when we’re talking about a classroom library, if you’re saying, “Yeah, I got 50 or a hundred books,” or “I got a couple of crates with 20, 30 books in them.” [Forget?] that. Put some shelves in your room. Put a thousand books in there. Kids will come in. They will read.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. I love that. I like that you’re thinking really big for this. You changed the way I thought about it for sure.

7. Celebrity Couple Nickname Game

GONZALEZ: OK. Three more books. The next one is “Hacking Engagement,” and this one has 50 hacks. This is by our buddy Jim Sturtevant.

BARNES: That’s right. Another one of our mutual friends from a Voxer group, how cool is that? Yeah. This one breaks the mold a little bit, but when you’re dealing with Jim Sturtevant, you have to break molds, because this guy won’t fit in a model of any kind.

GONZALEZ: No. No way.

BARNES: So “Hacking Engagement” is “50 Tips and Tools to Engage Teachers and Learners Daily.” And I met Jim Sturtevant in a Voxer group and was listening to him, and he’s about the most enthusiastic guy you’ll ever meet. And Jim actually, he lives in Ohio where I do, so he and his wife, who’s a principal, came up and had dinner with us. I just got to know this guy. He’s so … he’s that guy that lights up the room, literally. You hear about those people. He’s it. He’s written a book already about building rapport with kids.

GONZALEZ: You know, actually, he was a guest on my podcast. I’ve actually had Jim and Penny on my podcast before, so if anybody’s been a regular listener, they probably know the name Sturtevant pretty well by now.

BARNES: Yeah, I’ve heard both of those. Penny, you guys talked about libraries, right?

GONZALEZ: Yep, yep. She’s actually been on twice. Yeah.

BARNES: That’s an awesome episode. And Jim’s got his own podcast now. He’s joined this podcast brigade. He’s got Hacking Engagement. But, you know, Jim wrote a book about building rapport with kids. I loved it. I loved all the things that he did. When I talked to him, I’m like, “Man, you’ve got so many amazing ideas.” And the thing about Jim is he’s been teaching 32 years.


BARNES: And, you know, I don’t want to say anything negative about long-time teachers, but you know, I have met teachers that are 25, 30 years in, and they’re just sort of tired. And it’s a hard job. “I’m worn down. I’m just going to go in and sort of sit down and kind of keep the kids quiet if I can.”

GONZALEZ: That is not Jim.

BARNES: No, no. So that’s what I loved, is that this is a true, in the trenches veteran, I mean, as veteran as you can get, and he’s bringing new stuff in all the time. So we couldn’t do 10 hacks. We’re all like, “No way, man. You’ve got too much material.”

GONZALEZ: So tell me, and these are 50 different ways to engage, to get students more engaged in the classroom?

BARNES: Yeah. And it’s from … it’s not all technology. There’s a ton of technology in there, but I mean … Jim’s got so many … I’ll tell you, one of my favorites, it’s not about technology at all. It is called Celebrity Couple Nickname game. Now I’ll tell you, what I love about this, and Jim had me on his podcast, and he announced to his audience, he’s like, “I’m going to tell you, this is Mr. Barnes’ favorite.” I have the worst memory in the world. I would tell kids, and this is really sad, I’ve said this on podcasts, I hate that I said this, but I told kids for years, “I’ll be the last teacher to learn your name.” And I thought I was just letting them know. I was sort of giving them a head’s up. “I have a really bad memory.” I mean, and that’s so dismissive. It’s just like, “You’re not important enough to remember.”


BARNES: I look back on that, and I hate that I did that. And I just … that’s something if I could go back in time I’d say, “Man, I’d do everything possible to learn these kids’ names,” because as Jim writes in his book, it’s important, it’s a rapport builder. It begins with engagement when you can get to know kids. So what Jim did, because he told me he had the same problem, he said, “I got to figure out a way to do this.” And he created this game, you know. We’ve all heard the morphed name “Brangelina” for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Jim mentions this in his book. He thought about that, and he said, “What if I could create these, like, celebrity couple names for kids? And instead of two people, I’ll take the one kid, and I’ll morph their first and last name into something unique.” And just that process, I mean you think about how fun that is, first of all, and think of how kids … And then he talks in the book about how there’s so many ways you can do it. You can get kids to do it. You can say, “You create your own.” You can get a peer to do it,  say, “I’m going to make one,” sort of like I did with my good friend and co-author Jennifer Gonzalez and morph her name into J Go. We’ve all head of J Lo, Jennifer Lopez. Well now we have J Go. Now think of how fun that is, how easy that is to remember. And what Jim said is he admits, he goes, “Sometimes I couldn’t remember the real name. I could only remember the celebrity nickname.” But he said, “So what? The key is you put a name on a kid, and you call that kid by that name, and they like the name, and it just seems like right away those kids will say, ‘Man, what a cool teacher.’” I used to say, “I’m not here to be the teacher’s friend.” Man, I was a horrible person years ago, I’ll tell you. I was just mean and crotchety. But in this long process, I really feel like I evolved. And I think when kids like you, and they think you’re invested in them, man, they’ll run through a wall for you, and then learning happens. And that’s what Jim says, and that’s just one of so many ideas he has to get kids excited about coming into the classroom and being around you. He has kids on his podcast, here’s a little plug for the Hacking Engagement podcast, Jim interviews kids, current and former students. You should listen to the joy in their voices. I would encourage people to check that out.

8.Boomerang Model

GONZALEZ: OK. Two more books. “Hacking Homework” and “Hacking Project-Based Learning,” and “Hacking Homework” is just as we speak barely even out on Amazon, right?

BARNES: Yeah. Honestly, we haven’t even done official launch as of the time we’re talking. The book will be well out when this runs, but as of our conversation right now, this book just hit, and I’m really excited about this, because homework is just one of those things with educators. Man, it’s such a hot button topic, you know? I don’t know that too many teachers really would say they love homework when we think of that traditional homework, which most teachers give from the textbook, from the workbook, read a book and summarize it, any of that stuff. And at the elementary level, my goodness, it’s worse. It’s write the word, the spelling word, three times each, and copy it over and over and over so you can memorize it, and then do well on a spelling test. It doesn’t really teach you how to spell anything. But anyways, that’s just what we think of. Some teachers say it’s needed, it teaches responsibility, and all this stuff, and others go, “Eh, it’s just one more thing I have to grade.” And it’s just a topic that we’ve talked so much about in so many groups on social media and blogs and everywhere that I said, man, we have got to hack homework. And Starr Sackstein, again, “Hacking Assessment,” one of our most popular books, and is reimagining something that has been around for so long, grades. Well homework’s the same way. And in her journey to going gradeless in her classroom, one of the things Starr did was completely eliminate traditional homework. So when we got to this point where we were talking about it, I said, “We got to do a book on this,” and then Starr’s friend Connie Hamilton got into the conversation. We were actually tweeting back and forth about this. So anyway, the next thing you know, Connie, who’s, again, a long-time educator, consultant, started a popular Twitter chat. She’s just as connected and good as you can be in education. They got together and said, “Hey, let’s do this.” And now you have two stars, one with the name Starr, and the other who’s just a teacher, a star in education, combining to sort of reimagine how we do homework, and it’s so important.

GONZALEZ: So what’s one of the things that they suggest?

BARNES: Well, I’ll tell you, one of my favorites, and I think it’s going to be really popular, not just because it’s got a cool name, a hacky name, but because of what it does, and the nice thing is parents are going to love this too. So if you’ve got any parents listening, or even teachers who are parents, Starr and Connie created what they call a boomerang model, and this is hacky, because it’s so, so simple, but it’s the kind of thing we don’t always think about. What I hate as a parent with homework is that my kids are constantly coming to me with their really boring traditional homework and asking me for help. My daughter, who’s in seventh grade, came to me just yesterday, and she’s asking me for help in math. I mean, I can barely add. I’m like, “Why were you coming to me with some algebra question?” It’s always the, “I need help with this. Mom, I need help. Dad, I need help. I don’t know how to do this.” Well, what Connie and Starr do is they say, “We have to put that back on them.” And embedded in a lot of Hack Learning books is putting accountability and the onus on kids, getting them to be independent learners. And this book “Hacking Homework” is so much that. So what they suggest, because one of the things is it’s a whole system change, and it isn’t like we’re saying we’ll never give any kind of out-of-school work again. That’s not it at all. What they’re saying is, we want kids to learn at home. We want them to be engaged. We want them to continue the process that started in class, but we have to make it fun and engaging and all of that, and then we have to deal with the “I don’t know how to do this” and put the onus back on kids. So what they do is they created this model and a list of very simple responses for both teachers and parents when kids say, “I don’t understand this. I don’t know how to do this. What should I do?” They say, “Boomerang it.” So they come to me, and they say, “Dad, I need help with this. I don’t get it.” I’m going to respond with, “How can you help yourself? What strategy can you use that maybe you haven’t tried yet? Where should you start, because maybe you missed the real starting point? What evidence do you have to support this?” if they say, “Is this right? Should I do this this way?” “Well, what evidence do you have?” And there’s so much of that. So what they say is we have to get kids excited about learning, and we don’t want their automatic response to a struggle to be, “I need help from a teacher,” or “I need help from a parent.” We want them to help themselves. Boomerang model.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. After, I guess, awhile of getting asked these questions they probably would even come to the parents less, because they know what you’re going to say. They can just start asking themselves these questions.


9. Question Carousel

GONZALEZ: OK. Last book. “Hacking Project-Based Learning,” which is still, as we speak, in its final stages, but by the time people listen to this, it should be pretty close to being on the shelves and ready to be bought. So tell me about this book and Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy.

BARNES: Yeah. Well, I met Ross at a conference, I believe it was either ASCD or ISTE a couple of years ago, but he and I had crossed paths on social media. Another one of those great guys. I talk about Hack Learning, we go after great team people, it isn’t just a writer, it’s somebody who’s been in there doing it. And Ross has a very popular blog of his own. He’s a curriculum director now after teaching and leading for a lot of years. And he writes a lot about things that trouble teachers in the classroom, and project-based learning is one. A lot of people say, “Hey, we got to engage kids with projects. We’ve got to get away from the worksheets and the textbooks.” But then people say, “Yeah. It sounds cool, but I’m not really sure how to do it.” Or a lot of teachers think that the project is just one list of things to do and give kids a week to do it, and at the end, they all produce the exact same product.

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.

BARNES: That’s not project-based learning. So we talk a lot about this, Ross and I, and he’s really good friends with Erin Murphy, who I had sort of bumped into on Twitter, but didn’t know that well. And he just came to me, and he said, “Hey. We really want to write about project-based learning and help teachers do it the way we’ve experienced works best. And we think the Hack Learning format is ideal.” And, you know, right away I was like, yeah, we have to do this, because teachers struggle with it.

GONZALEZ: Oh yeah.

BARNES: So anyway, yeah. They’ve been writing it. The book is really written, and right now we’re just sort of going back and tweaking some things and making sure things fit into that what you can do tomorrow, and then how do you build it out. But this book is going to be the go-to blueprint for anyone who wants to do project-based learning.


BARNES: So we’re really excited about it.

GONZALEZ: So give us a sneak peek of one of the ideas that they share in the book.

BARNES: I love this one. This is an easy one. I love this, and boy, people can listen to this, and I know a lot of teachers are going to get excited, and they’re going to go, “Aw, I’m doing this the next time I’m in class.” So they have a hack or a piece of a hack that they call the Question Carousel. So what this is, again, simple, and we try to do a lot of things to engage kids with questions, but there’s sometimes things are so simple that we overlook them. We don’t really think about them. And I love this one, because with the Question Carousel, you put students into small groups, and what they’re going to do is they’re going to select a problem, and it can be with anything. Think about your project topic. Any problem that is enveloped in the overall topic of a project, and they’re going to identify these problems and talk about ideas to explore the problem further and to maybe solve the problem. Sounds a lot like Hack Learning. So then they’re going to record their ideas, and you can do this a couple of ways. You could put it on a chart or paper. If you’re in a digital world, you could use some sort of a digital tool to put these problems up too. Maybe you could go back to Padlet, which we talked about earlier, something like that where you can post these problems and put them in a space, whether it’s on a whiteboard or if it’s just on your poster in your classroom, put each group’s problem up where they can see it, and then the carousel begins. So here’s our Question Carousel. What we’re going to do is we’re going to rotate kids to our charts, and they’re going to look at the problem. So if I’m in one group, we’ve created a chart. We’ve put up our problems and the things we want to explore or how we’re going to fix them. A different group of kids is going to come, and they’re going to view our problems and our ideas, and they’re going to ask questions. So you put something up, and I’m curious about it, and I say, “OK. Well, you said you were going to do this, but I’m not seeing how that works.” And you think of the collaboration here, and the way we flesh out ideas. We talked in the beginning about using Google Docs and Voxer and how we went back and forth to really take our ideas and grow those ideas, and then eventually put them into a book. That’s what these kids are doing. And this is such a huge part of project-based learning is we really have to take large ideas and hone them into things that students can work with. And that’s really a big piece of it, is we’ve got a big issue. How do we shape that and turn it into something meaningful? So the Question Carousel is super.

Coming Soon: More Hack Learning Books

GONZALEZ: For anybody who’s listening to this way in the future, Mark has probably published a whole lot more than nine books by this time, but I know that you have a couple more that are kind of on deck behind project-based learning. There’s one for new teachers, right?

BARNES: Yes, yeah. We’ve got Lisa Dabbs, and if you’re in the Twitter world, I’m sure you know Lisa. She started new teacher chat, and that’s actually #ntchat. And here’s a little trivia for our Twitter boss out there. New teacher chat is the oldest hashtag chat on Twitter.

GONZALEZ: No kidding. Is it older than ed chat?

BARNES: Yes. It’s first.

GONZALEZ: Wow. Go Lisa.

BARNES: So Lisa Dabbs started that chat, because she said she trains new teachers. She was a long-time teacher, principal, school leader, and now her thing is train new teachers to be the best they can be, ongoing conversation on Twitter. She’s written widely about it. She consults with amazing people like Amazon. It’s unbelievable what she does. She’s a superstar. If you want to be better as a new teacher or someone who trains new teachers, you just can’t go wrong with Lisa Dabbs. We’re thrilled to have her on board. So that’s coming up. That’s going to be in 2017. We have … I’m giving some stuff away here, that’s not even carved in stone yet. But “Hacking Leadership” last summer was one of the most popular education books in the world. It’s incredible how popular that book was and still is. There’s Facebook groups and so much going on with that. There’s so many questions constantly. Tony and Joe carry on the conversation, and people want more, so we’re going to give them more. So we’ve got more coming from Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis on leadership. “Hacking Engagement” is super popular, and this is another sneak peek. Fifty hacks are not nearly enough for Jim Sturtevant, so we’re going to bring you 50 more.


BARNES: There you go. That’s announced here on the Cult of Pedagogy podcast that no one else other than Jim and I know this.

GONZALEZ: We have an exclusive. Oh I feel so privileged.

BARNES: Your audience got an exclusive.

GONZALEZ: They did. That’s right.

BARNES: I haven’t even said this on the Hack Learning podcast. That’s an exclusive. So we’ve got that, and we’re super excited. And the others I can’t really mention, because we’re not totally decided or negotiated on them, but I am talking to some people who anyone in the connected world will know, some true stars in education. We’re just going to keep bringing great people. We’re going to do six more books in 2017.

GONZALEZ: Wow. That is fantastic.

BARNES: It’s amazing. We’re excited about it, shaping education and giving you right now solutions, that’s the key.

GONZALEZ: Tell us where people can find you and the series online.

BARNES: Yeah, Twitter for me @markbarnes19. We also have a Twitter handle for this series. It’s @hackmylearning, and we talk forever and live on Sundays at #hacklearning, that’s Sundays at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time. And you can learn everything about Hack Learning books, podcast, everything else, our authors, our team at

GONZALEZ: Awesome. And for people who are regular readers of my blog, I’m also going to have a page that’s going to have all the book covers and links where you can go directly to Amazon and get those also. So it would be very easy to find any of these titles that we talked about today. Thank you so much, Mark.

BARNES: That’s great. Yeah. Thank you, Jenn. it’s been exciting as always.

GONZALEZ: All right. Have a good day.

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