Collaborative Novel Writing Presentations for MPTC

This is the presentation that I gave today for the MPTC Div II and III.  Collaborative ideas for all three sessions are in this post as well, so find your sessions ideas and get writing, due date is Friday March 14th.  If you have questions or concerns, please email me!

Class Novel for Division II & III

From the High School session this morning:

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From the Division III session this afternoon:

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From the Division II session this afternoon:

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Create a Buzz in Your Classroom {inspirational teaching, project-based learning, fun in the classroom}

Look, I know we many of us want that perfect room where anyone could walk in at any time and see peace, hard work and learning evident on the focused faces of our diligent students.  When I started teaching that’s what I thought I wanted, but the reality is so much more than orderly information dissemination.  In my classroom these days, the only time my students are quiet is when they are reading, and only because they can’t do that any other way.

Learning is messy stuff, and the best kind of learning requires some noise and movement to occur.  Think about the times when you really felt involved; either in learning, planning or at a meeting.  Were you sitting passively learning, or were you passionately debating, yearning for your ideas to be incorporated, arguing fiercely for your perspective? I am inclined to think the latter is where most of us fall.  So how can we argue that students will learn better with a litany of rules and a passive learning structure? I would argue that the best learning is done on one’s own terms, and with as little direct guidance as is required.  Enough background to understand, or know where to look, read, watch or develop the ideas, but also enough freedom that a student can go ask another student for support, can change the assignment to fit their interest, and a path to learning that can light a fire, not cause narcolepsy.

Take the time to ask what you can do with the curriculum, not how to cover it.  I would rather have my students take a step back from 200 lines of ‘must do’ items and tackle one ‘could we’ item that keeps them up at night thinking of the possibilities.

Like lighting a fire though, you must have suitable materials for learning, including a solid relationship with and knowledge of each student, otherwise you will have no idea what will strike a cord with them.  Also, you must know your curriculum, the expectations on you and your students, so you know how big the ‘dream project’ must be to encompass it.  Finally, you must let go of your fear; you won’t do it all right every time, but I can guarantee that quiet kid at the back who never gets in trouble because he is too busy with something creative in his desk didn’t get everything his teachers put out there either!

Thanks for reading!


Education in the age of change: A TEDx Talk

I gave a talk a week ago at TEDx RockyView Schools, and I wanted to share it with a little bit of context for it with you.  One of the biggest hesitations teachers often have when I am working with them on enhancing their practice and working with digital tools is that they are somehow losing in the process.  There is an overwhelming feeling out there that the more teachers ‘put out there’ of their work and skill, the less value there is of having them in the classroom.  I used to be unsure how to respond to that fear.

For a time I thought (mainly to myself) that if the world was changing in such a way that teachers could be replaced by online tools, then I would want to be aware of those tools, familiar with them, because someone has to know how to keep the ‘machine’ running.  If all of us were on the ropes, I would at least be as valuable as I could by understanding the new technology.  Then if the teachers were all ‘let go,’ I would possibly still have some value in the new system.  It was a naïve perspective.

In doing my research for this talk, I found that I do believe that we are in the midst of a change because of technology and that we most certainly need to become familiar with technology.  This is not because technology will replace us, but rather because it could replace us if we aren’t pushing our teaching practice to be as effective as possible.

Make no mistake, there are billions of dollars at work trying to figure out the ‘next way’ in education, you need only look to the United States and the various initiatives at work there to see how money and cost-saving can effect education.  However, if you look to Alberta, Canada, you will also see some amazing efforts by teachers to integrate technologies both personal and publicly purchased, to change practice based on current research, and the possibilities the democratization of knowledge has brought to a modern education system.  These changes have been brought about by an environment of research and study, willing to look at how to best blend the expertise of teachers with the innovation technology brings.  It’s not perfect, but it does inspire hope that instead of looking to replace teachers with some learning program or hardware solution, the answer will continue to be a blended, human approach to learning.

Enjoy the talk!

What Creativity Brings to Student Accommodations

I have worked with several teachers over the years who have specialized in supporting students with exceptional needs, and  have also worked in my own classes to utilize the resources at my disposal to support learning in the classroom. I have learned through this work that one of the most effective methods of providing student accommodations is to look at the problem with a creative lens.  While at times this seems counter-intuitive, as there are long-standing patterns of support used in many schools, by thinking manly about the needs of the student and what they need to be able to do, sometimes we are able to bring a very cost-effective and meaningful solution that would have escaped us if we were just looking in the standard book of solutions.

Case in point; I was in discussion last year about several students in my class who were ADHD and or otherwise easily ‘distractible’ in my fourth grade class. We had tried several accommodations for them that had worked moderately, but they were still unable to function well in the quiet times of class, where they had to maintain focus on a single task for a period of time.  As I watched them carefully, I was reminded of my tenth grade non-academic students who functioned in much the same way during writing times.  Those students, with permission (or sometimes without,) would trot out their iPods and focus themselves by tuning out the rest of the class with their music.  While I didn’t always prefer their musical selections, or the level at which they played them, I could scarcely deny the effectiveness of this self-accommodation to tune out their peers.

With the support of our administration and the learning support team last year, I was able to purchase iPod Shuffles for the classroom. I loaded these up with classical music to drown out the background noise, nothing lyrical, just pleasant and engaging music. The results were astounding. While it didn’t work for every student experiencing difficulty; for those that were engaged, it was a profound change for them.  In fact, the students began asking for the iPods immediately as we sat down to work.  Since the iPod shuffles have no screen, no other distractions, the students are not tempted to ‘play’ with them and are not distracted by the technology.  They simply put the headphones in and get down to work, which is what I was looking for.

Our school has purchased 10 iPod shuffles and they are used in several classrooms now, with great results.  Students enjoy the independence and focus it offers them, and teachers are enjoying having another, relatively inexpensive, accommodation to provide for their students. If we can look ‘outside the box,’ sometimes we will find what we are looking for set just outside. How can you approach student accommodations differently?  What could your students need that no one has seen before?

The iPad and Apple TV as a classroom solution (iPadpalooza 2013 Presentation)

It took a little time to get this post up, my wifi was not cooperating in the USA, and I have been very busy since touching down in Calgary just before the massive flood that is devastating that city.

I’ve decided to try something new with this presentation, and give you a slide-by-slide post of what I discussed, hopefully highlighting the same things I was able to discuss in person.  At the end of the post is an embedded PDF that you can download if you would like the whole presentation.

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I decided on this presentation for iPadpalooza because when I moved into my new classroom at the beginning of this school year, the iPad and Apple TV were the first system I was able to set up to be able to present content to my students and begin to start managing my classroom.  In a converted library space that did not even have a whiteboard, I was able to set up a projector, connect an Apple TV and present to my students on the bare wall.  Once my district was able to install more comprehensive equipment, the interactivity and use of the space became more refined.

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Ways to contact me, and my current philosophy for professional learning, learn it because you want to and make it fun!

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Whenever I speak internationally, I like to give a little snapshot of where I have come from. I find it helps to give some perspective for learners of where I have come from and how I came to be standing in front of the audience.  Much of this information is available elsewhere on this site, so I won’t dive to deeply here.

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An initial discussion of what participants wanted from the presentation followed.  Quite varied responses and perspectives were given and I was encouraged by the fact that many of these educators were looking for ways to use existing technology that they already had more effectively.  It seems the biggest hangup in schools is the wireless infrastructure in schools.  Remember, if you are allowed to do so, you can pick up an Airport Express from Apple to make a cable connection into a local wireless network.  A great advantage of this is that you can limit access to only your devices and are not competing with others for bandwidth to stream your signal.

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Like the Airport Express, the rest of the equipment to set up a wireless solution for your iPad is inexpensive and simple to set up.  If your projector does not have an HDMI connection (the Apple TV only uses HDMI) you will need to purchase an HDMI to VGA adapter.  The two adapters pictured are available through the Apple Store online.

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I wanted to present a little bit of the amazing research that is developing about iPad use in the classroom.  Some very large-scale, sponsored studies have shown the benefit of iPads in the classroom, but there are now some very comprehensive qualitative and quantitative University peer-reviewed studies that are showing some very important results about iPad use in the classroom. The results; that there is no cost to learning with iPads, and learning continues.  What does show clearly is that there are significant secondary benefits to students in using iPads, including increased autonomy, creativity and willingness to support other students.  Many of the benefits that Sir Ken Robinson discussed could be the benefits of new technologies as used in education.

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Another article I reviewed recently discussed the benefits of learning literacy using the iPads as an instructional and interactive tool with students.  The key takeaways were consistent with those that Lisa Carnazzo presented at iPadpalooza as well.  Students who were able to use iPads for literacy learning using effective apps and well planned lessons showed higher engagement and more learning when using iPads when compared to times when taught traditionally.

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One of the great benefits of these studies are the comprehensive description of the apps and activities used in the classes.  In this case, the apps used for instruction and rehearsal by the students included: iBooks, Popplet, Doodle Buddy, Strip Designer and Sundry Notes. Each of these apps, while not specific to subject content, offers the students ways of creatively and effectively showing their learning and working through problems.  It is this capacity that makes them highly effective classroom additions, and draws us away from seeing the inclusion of technology as ‘play time’ for students.

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Apple has come a long way in the past seven years of iOS development, and it is now quite easy to get connected with an Apple TV in the classroom.  One of the key considerations you have to make is the state of the technology infrastructure in your school. If you connect too many devices at once, you may find yourself being disconnected and dropping signals quite often.  When you are just starting out with this technology, that can be quite disheartening.   If you have a computer that you usually leave plugged in to the projector anyway, a stable method of presenting is using the Reflector program on the computer, allowing you to mirror your iPad screen on the computer that is already showing on the projector.  However, even this solution requires some network connectivity, so you have to make sure that is available.  Another consideration you may want to think through is how this new technology will impact other teachers and students.  While I consider it a positive pressure if students want other teachers to use iPads in the classroom and instruction, other teachers may not see it that way.  It can lead to resentment, particularly if other teachers do not have access to the same technology as you due to grants and funding disparity.  I have always made a point of sharing whatever technology resources I have freely, so that other teachers can try what is working for me, or just get a handle on the technology for themselves.  I believe it has saved a great deal of stress for everyone.

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It was at this point we discussed the current practice in education of purchasing tools to simply ‘drop’ into classrooms with little awareness of the stresses or intended uses of that technology.  Many educators have experienced receiving a ‘tool’ that they did not ask for or particularly want, but were asked to use it in their classes.  I am a big advocate of using the technology you do have as effectively as possible, and effectively pairing tools together to allow for even greater benefit, and the iPad is a good tool for this, as we can see below.

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Smart has created a pairing that allows for highly effective use of their Smart Notebook software with the iPad.  While it is not perfect (the iPad version can’t use Flash objects, for example) it does offer options for those who wish to interchange between the software and hardware that Smart offers to make better use of the technology they may have in their room, or have used in the past.

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As time goes on, tools for educators evolve and become more refined, and one of the great developments in this area is in the area of multi-platform tools.  Class Dojo is a great behaviour tracking and management tool, but better than just being a simple tool, it is multi-platform as well.  In fact, it is one of the more refined multi-platform tools I have used.

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Class Dojo allows for instant feedback of student behaviour for students, teachers and parents. When used in conjunction with an Apple TV, a mirrored computer or the Class Dojo app, teachers have various methods to note student behaviour, and any behaviours on each of the various methods updates on others simultaneously.  I love this as I can have Class Dojo on the board at the front of the room during a class task, and then update it from my iPad or iPhone while moving about the room.  The visual and audio feedback of the site still appears at the front of the room for students to respond to.

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Google Drive is another solution that provides opportunity for real-time collaboration and connection. Districts can contact Google for a self-managed, free Google implementation for their students.  One of the huge advantages of this system is that individual applications in Google can be turned on and off as need be.  That means that students who are too young to need email don’t have to have a working email account.

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I also discussed the benefits of giving students a shared document to collaborate on, and the benefit of putting work to be edited on the projector to display for students.  Students on several iPads, or on yours, can brainstorm with the results appearing at the front of the class.  As a multi-platform option, Google Drive can be used through an app or browser.

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I believe that Aurasma, which is an augmented reality app, has incredible possibilities for us as educators.  This app uses a trigger image (perhaps the cover of a book) and then overlays an image or video (perhaps with a review of the book) that appears when the image is scanned.  It is pretty incredible, and there are so many ways you can ‘tag’ in the classroom to show student learning, or set up engaging activities for the class.

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Learning solutions like Mathletics have built in mini-lessons and reviews that don’t only have to be  used individually.  Why not project these apps on your iPad and use these apps for class review, teaching and discussion?  An added bonus of this use is that students are then seeing you use the app, rehearsing the manner in which it can be effectively used.

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Three ring is an assessment and learning evidence collection platform.  Using the app, the iPad can quickly collect video, images and audio evidence of learning.  I use this app to collect student activities as they complete it.  It uploads in a blog-like format and, like Class Dojo, has the ability to connect parents to the system to provide real-time learning data.  It’s a pretty powerful platform!

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Like Mathletics, puzzle games allow for the possibility of class solutions and modelling processes for students.  Once the concepts are highlighted and rehearsed, students will be more likely to use apps effectively during their own time.

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If you have the ability to secure even a few additional iPads, there are many ideas of how you can use them in the guide “Less than a Class Set” written by  Kristin Redington Bennett. If you are proficient in project-based learning, iPads can become a very versatile tool that allows for different modes of expression and learning.

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Ultimately, it will be your flexibility and perspective on using your iPad that will make the difference to any implementation of iPads.  If you are willing to give it a go, you will find the Apple TV a highly effective tool for presenting and interacting in the classroom. If you need support, let me know. I’m always glad to help!

Click to access ipad-and-apple-tv-as-classroom-solution-iplza13.pdf

The Spontaneous Premiere of #edchat8CST on Twitter

I had just finished a very brief chat on #cdnedchat tonight and, as I had joined late, found myself in the mood for more educational conversation. What happened next was one of those moments on Twitter where you realize the power of social media. Darin Johnson (@AnIowaTeacher) was lamenting the lack of a chat at that moment, and so I dropped the suggestion that we start one. At that moment #edchat8CST was born and both myself and Darin sent out the call for educators to join. Within moments we had a topic: Using Social Media to Start Something New in the Classroom and I moderated the conversation with four questions. We had teachers join through the whole hour, and I was astonished that there were people creeping the chat (reading and watching without participating), new connections to both Darin and myself, and the conversation was electric. One of the greatest outcomes was the side-chats and spontaneity of the group, willing to put more ‘out there’ because it was not a ‘regular’ chat. Our four questions over the hour were as follows:

Q1: What social media do you think would be most conducive to classroom use?
Q2: What innovative uses have you found for Social Media as you teach?
Q3: Brainstorming time; If you had unlimited technology available, what WOULD you try using social media in education?
Q4: How can we spontaneously make better use of SM in our classrooms? Like this chat?

I was so impressed that a tenuously connected group of educators (I had never had a conversation of any great length with Darin prior to our staring the chat) could create such a great collection of ideas and resources, experiences and positive conversation. It was the highlight of my week on Twitter, and it’s only Monday! At any rate. Thanks to all who joined in, and we will use the hashtag again for impromptu chats, keep watching! Please read the storify below for the full conversation!

What the iPad represents in a New Generation of Learners

It makes me smile to read blog posts discussing how the iPad is not the panacea of education that everyone seems to think it is. It was never intended to be. After millions of iPads have been deployed around the world are they fundamentally changing education? Yes and no. I can point to great studies and examples of iPad use that are increasing student involvement, test scores, and teachers’ efficacy in education, and I can also point to articles showing the deficiencies of the operating system and how an iPad is not a ‘complete’ classroom solution. I see both sides, I get both.

A couple weeks ago I had a discussion on Twitter about technology integration, and many of the same points I have heard from teachers came up again. What is the point of integrating technology if I am getting good results? I am not an entertainer, I am a teacher. Students need to meet my standards, I am not lowering standards by using new toys. I am paraphrasing a bit, but the message comes through loud and clear: We do not need to change our methods of educating, students need to adapt to us.

I have heard the following phrase over and over this year, ‘Technology is only technology if it existed before you were born.’ I love this idea, because it highlights so many of the battles we are having right now around progress and change in education. How many of us still teach by candlelight? I seems an odd question, but there was a time when ‘false light’ was unnatural to people. I can imagine the first schoolhouses that were set up with this new technology, that there would have been excitement around it, but change also. Structural changes to a teacher’s routine, the school day, times at which you could read and learn.

I bring this up because in my lifetime I have never had to think about turning on a light, plugging in a TV, even computer use was becoming common by the time I had reached high school. Most of the research I did for my various degrees was done on computer. I didn’t think twice about it; I took books out when I needed them, and blended that with digital resources.

I did have a professor who limited the amount of online works we could cite for our papers, in an effort to get us to use the physical library resources the University had collected over time. I did the assignment, but it was one of my poorer papers, not because I was not good at library research (I spent literally days in the library building,) but because I didn’t have access to the best that was out there. The process of forcing ‘his method’ of research onto his students resulted in far lesser quality of work.

It is much the same for students and iPads, smart phones and computers. Students use these devices and are as comfortable with them as we are with a light switch. They want to use them, adapt them, and make them work for their education. Not every student, and not for every situation, but overall I think we are doing our students a service by allowing them to turn on their light instead of making them light our candle. I do believe we have to be responsive to ‘technology’ that changes, not because it is novel and new, and not to throw out the old ways and learning, but essentially because it is not ‘different’ to them, it is just what they know. They can blend their methods of learning with ours, and the results will be great. If we ignore that, we run the risk of missing the connections that make the learning we have to offer relevant to their lives, passions and future.

5 Key Learnings From Intern Teachers: A Reflection

I have the good fortune of having an intern teacher right now, the fourth I have taken in my career. It’s not always a perfect match or scenario, but it is always a learning experience. I have taken some key learnings away from each of my intern teachers, and appreciate so much the benefit they bring to my classroom. So, in light of recently being added to the team of moderators at #ntchat and my reflections on my current intern teacher, here are five key learnings I have gained from having an intern in my room. My hope is that if you are on the fence about this process, some of these ideas may inspire you to take the plunge and share your room.

#1: New Paths

I am always shocked by the range of approaches one can take to any classroom process. Having an intern teacher means opening your mind to the new possibilities and approaches another teacher can take. I have gained so much insight into pedagogy by seeing an innovative approach or a new presentation method that I had never considered, that the intern would never have considered doing my way. You couldn’t buy that kind of teaching insight

#2: Risk

Intern teachers are not set into particular teaching habits yet, they consider everything they do, they are obsessed with it. However, due to inexperience they have to try new things to reach desired learning. Intern teachers will risk a lesson, a few minutes, a little paper, to try something new. How many of us established teachers are willing to go down a new path because it might be worthwhile? Too often our desire to simplify our teaching experience leads us to do what is expedient and easy, intern teachers have less comfort so they are far more willing to ‘shake things up.’

#3: Passion

Slice it any way you want, intern teachers are generally pretty excited to get in front of a class. They are excited about new lessons and their preparation, they are eager! I think I’m still pretty passionate about education (I mean, I do this blogging thing and all) but I have to admit that I still get fired up just seeing how much intern teachers enjoy teaching. It’s a wonderful thing to get that shot in the arm, and witness that passion, particularly at a time of the year when teachers start to wear down for the duration of the year. Having an intern teacher to connect with, share with and redesign learning with is a great inspiration.

#4: Goals

What is your current goal as a teacher? If you are thinking something to the tune of ‘making it through the year,‘ you may want to sign up for an intern. These individuals are busting at the seams just to get into our profession, they have a very clear goal, and they work hard to achieve it. Professionally, many of us can become so focused on the day to day that we forget that there is more out there for us. Interns connect us to that world and allow us to see new places we may wish to take our careers, new directions to move in. They give us pause to reflect and consider our own careers.

#5 Research

Okay, many of you know I am a research junkie. If you don’t, you do now. I love current research and digging for new discoveries. For those of you who aren’t about to start digging through University archives, intern teachers are generally filled up to the brim with current educational theory. You can ask them about current pedagogy, beliefs, thoughts on classroom structure and discipline. If they don’t know about it, many of them will go back and do the research or ask their professors so they know. However, I have yet to have an intern that didn’t have at least a cursory knowledge of current theory. This is wonderful to connect to, even if it only affirms what you do, as some of us have not connected with those places of higher learning where our careers were born in some time.

Clearly there are many more lessons to learn from intern teachers, and this is really just the start of the discussion. If you’d like to hear more from great intern teachers and those new to the profession, join #ntchat Wednesday nights on Twitter. We would love to have you join the conversation!

If you have any other learnings to share in your experiences with intern teachers, please comment below and we will keep the conversation going!

A Pedagogic Oath – What if we had one?

Upon their entry into the practice of medicine, doctors take an oath dating back to Hippocrates that has guided their service through the centuries.  As I was completing my Masters work and reading the works of Dewey, Vygotksy, Coelho and other educational thinkers, I began to wonder what an educational, or pedagogic oath might look like.  Here was what I believed to be the essential components of education.  What would your pedagogic oath look like?

A Pedagogic Oath

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

of those teachers in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to


I will apply, for the benefit of children, all teaching methodologies that are required, avoiding those twin traps of personal bias and judgement.

I will remember that there is art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh standard testing or ranking systems.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed to support student learning.

I will respect the privacy of my students, for their learning needs are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of assessed learning or grades. If it is my honor to facilitate great learning, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to harm a student’s self-esteem and self-value; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own inconsistencies.

I will remember that I do not teach a curriculum, a concept or an idea, I teach a human being, whose learning is linked to and affected by their community and experience, and that learning in our classroom may affect the student’s family, economic future and connection to society. My responsibility includes these re- lated areas, if I am to teach adequately any student.

I will create inquiry whenever I can, for curiosity is preferable to drill or rote learning.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those of higher education as well as those with more practical learning.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of teaching those who seek my help.

Derek Keenan
Developing Education

Leave a comment with your thoughts.  If you like the oath and you would like a more polished PDF version, head over to my resources page to download a copy.  If you are willing to take the oath, grab this badge for your site:

Pedagogic Oath

Simply copy the following code into the HTML on your website or blog:

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…and yes, that is Dewey’s moustache.