Friday, September 29, 2017

Crowdsourcing Appreciation

Every year, for teacher appreciation week, I like to send out a Google Form to our entire community and ask everyone to share some gratitude for our amazing staff. The form goes out in the weekly blogpost, I mention it in the all call, we may even slip it into a Facebook post or two. Every time we do this, we get roughly 1000 responses. Then we use some Google magic to mail merge the responses so that each staff member receives a single email with all the comments shared by our community.

Imagine recieving an email with crowd sourced comments from current and former families, all thanking you for what you have done in support of thier students! #Grattitude

If you'd like some step by step directions on how this is done, well, just keep on reading!


John Eick

The Steps below will demonstrate how to collect 1000's of comments from the community and merge them automatically into emails that look like the one to the left.

Step 1: Build a Form with the names of all the people you would like to see celebrated.

Step 2: Launch the form into a community.

Step 3: Use some simple formulas to merge all the appreciation into one place.

Step 4: Mail merge the celebrations to email so that each person gets one email containing all the celebrations that were submitted on their behalf!

Click Here for a Sample Form
Click Here for a Sample Spreadsheet

Step 1: Build a Form with the names of all the people you would like to see celebrated.

The key to step one is to use either a Multiple Choice, or a Select from a List, and include all the staff members you want to celebrate. If you allow families to type in the name of the teacher, it will be hard to sort the data later on.

The rest of the form is simple, ask them for their name or family name, this way you can later merge their comment with who it is from. Next ask them to enter some appreciation into a paragraph box.

Step 2: Launch the form into a community.

Step two is the most fun part! Take the link for the Google Form and send it out to the community in every channel you have access to. I even like to send the link out to staff, so they can celebrate one another! Note: let people know when the form will close, and remind them to use the form as many times as possible. Once you are ready, shut the form off and begin steps 3 and 4.

Step 3: Use some simple formulas to merge all the appreciation into one place.

1. Merge comments and Signatures:

Since one column has the name of the family, and another column has the comment, it is fun to merge them together. This will give your email merge a very consistent look. Every comment will have a signature line.

In this example, column C has the family name and column D has the comments. So, we are going to merge them together in column E.

First we will label column E with a header, let's call it: Merging Signitures.
Then, in the first row in column E, we will use the following formula:

=D2&CHAR(10)&"- "&C2&CHAR(10)

Now if you are new to formulas, let me explain. In the first row, below the heading, in column E, we just wrote a formula that tells the sheet what to paste here.
  • = sign tells the cell that we are starting a formula.
  • D2 just tells the cell to paste whatever is in D2 into this cell. Well for us, D2 is the comment from the family.
  • & tells the formula that we have another command coming, so it reads, paste the comment here AND ...
  • Char(10) is the command to hit return. So it is going to Paste the comment, the hit return so that when we paste the signature it falls below the comment.
  • & tells the formula that something is coming after we hit return.
  • "- " says print whatever is in these quotes. Therefore, I am asking for a hyphen. So, we have our comment AND a carriage return AND a hyphen.
  • C2 is the name of the cell with the signature, so, we have a comment AND a carraige return AND a Hyphen AND a signature.

Once you have the formula built, just drag the corner of the blue box down, and the formula will auto populate for all rows!

2. Prepare a Mail Merge Sheet:

In this step, you will leave the Response Sheet and start a new sheet where you will merge all the information before sending it out via email.

First, open a new tab on your spread sheet.

Next, Paste all the names of your teachers in Column A.

  • You now have a sheet with all your names in Column A and nothing else on the sheet. Each staff member should only be named here once, just like on the form.

Next, since we will be emailing to each staff member,  place each staff member's email address in column B.

Final Step: The Big Merge

Now that you have the names and email addresses all in place, we will merge all comments to column C. The formula looks intense, but it is really useable, here we go:

Place the following formula in column C:

=join(CHAR(10), QUERY('Form Responses 1'!A:E, "select E where B contains'"&A3&"'", 0))

Ok, here is how the magic works:

  • =join tells the cell that we are going to Join multiple things
  • (CHAR(10),means we are entering a carriage return. This will put a space between each entry. The comma says that another command is coming.
  • QUERY('Form Responses 1'!A:E, Tells the cell that we are running a query, or we are looking for something on the sheet named'Form Responses 1', in Columns A through E. So far we have said we are going to Join a space with something that we are looking for in Columns A-E on the response sheet.
  • "select E where B contains'"&A3&"'", This is where the magic happens, this describes the Query: paste here the contents of Column E (this is our merged signature column), only when you see the teachers name in Column B that matches the teachers name here in Cell A2.
  • ,0 tells this cell if you don't find a match for the name in A2, just do nothing.

Once you run this formula, it will Join a carriage return or a space, with each comment associated with the teacher name in A2.

Next, just grab that magic blue box again in the bottom left corner of the cell, and drag it down so that it pastes the formula on every row where you have a teacher name.

Step 4: Mail merge the celebrations to email so that each person gets one email containing all the celebrations that were submitted on their behalf!

To mail merge from this spreadsheet to email is simple. Just go to the top of the sheet, in the dropdown menu, select AddOns, then click Get Add Ons.

Search for the add on, Yet Another Mail Merge. 

Follow the prompts to add this Add On.

Next, click on the Add Ons drop down at the top of the sheet again, and select Yet Another Mail Merge from the list. Once you launch this Add On, you will be prompted, step by step to create the merge.

Video Support

Below is a video that might help if you get stuck on any of the steps above. Please feel free to use comments or reach out to me directly at if you have any questions!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Math and Mindfulness

This past weekend, up in Roseville, California, an innovative and exciting new conference launched: The Math and Mindfulness Summit 2017. The whole gig was the brainchild of Carole Pryor and Marie Criste. For years these two Roseville Joint Union High School District all-stars have wanted to collaborate on a blend of their two passions: Carole is an #EduHero in the Math world and Marie is known far and wide for organizing the most engaging and well planned Professional Development shows in town.

The modern math scene has recently been set ablaze by the work of Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck. These two are revolutionizing the way we all see the math classroom, most notably, due to these two educational researchers, we are all hearing the call for a growth mindset in the classroom and marching to the mantra of, "banishing math anxiety and giving students a roadmap to success," as described in Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets. This work is clearly a piece of the catalyst that launched this conference.

Now, for a bit of brilliant pageantry, we introduce a sprinkle of flexible seating and 360 Math, as can only be described by the event's keynote speaker, Ed Campos. You can imagine how this whole thing came together. Upon the foundation of Jo Boaler's work, brought to life by amazing practitioners from across the region and kicked off by keynote speaker Ed Campos: it was like a mathematician's perfect storm.

So, there's the stage, it's set. After this last year of leading powerful PD around equity and access for RJUHSD, the dream team of Pyror and Criste launch the Math and Mindfulness Summit: a blend of that which creates anxiety, coupled with the antidote to anxiety - all in one setting.

Ed Campos started the day with an inspired and heartfelt keynote that had the entire room eating from the palm of his hand. We all broke out to sessions, each was an incredibly balanced blend of Math and Mindful practices that encouraged growth mindsets, self regulation, and intrinsically motivating students. I don't know that I have ever seen or experienced anything quite like it.

I was honored to be asked to close the day with a short closing keynote. My job was simply to inspire the crowd to take action on what they had learned during the day.

Here is a bootleg video of my 12 minute closing keynote. It opens by me saying that I was blown away by this conference, but I truly have to take just a moment and reiterate what an inspirational conference this was. My sincerest congratulations and thank you goes out to Carole and Marie for their vision and their offer to include me in this unique opportunity. If you see this conference come around again, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in experiencing a tribe of people envisioning how the modern math classroom could exist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Right in the Middle of Something

I'm not sure who signs up to be an astronaut; the job looks like there are some real high moments, but on the downside there is the freeze dried food, long time in confined places, bursting into flames on reentry, and absolutely no way to walk off the job. Not that walking off the job is a good litmus test for what makes a good career choice, but if you are in the middle of orbiting our lunar satellite and you disagree with a call made by your supervisor in Houston, you can not very easily rattle the boss's day with a pithy one liner and do the slow motion movie stroll out to your car in the parking-lot. Being an astronaut in outer-space is one of those gigs that I assume keeps your full attention. I can imagine an astronaut picking up the phone out of habit on the first ring and having to explain to his mother, who is calling for advice with leaking faucet, "Umm, Mom, I'm right in the middle of something, I'll call you back."

Not that the school business is parallel to taking off from Cape Canaveral, but it is a gig that I have been neck deep in for nearly 20 years, and I have increasingly found myself thinking, "Well, I couldn't leave now, I'm right in the middle of something." Do you ever find yourself having the winning the lottery fantasy? You see yourself collecting all that cash. There have been times when I have spontaneously had that thought and I could see myself walking away, but more often than not, I find myself having the lottery fantasy in response to some reality I am facing, and the lottery dream is only a reminder that regardless of whether or not I picked the right six numbers on a lotto ticket or not, the work that I was doing would still have to get done before I left to collect my cash.

That seems to be the truth for most of the educators I know. They get into this gig with the big dream that they are going to have summers off, but the truth it, the job sucks them in. Their afternoons begin to fill with coaching and clubs, their weekends with grading and even though from time to time, a loved one says, "Well it sounds like you are working too hard, maybe you should look for a different job," every educator I know sits up straight at that moment and, more often than not says, "Leave? Oh, I couldn't leave, I am right in the middle of something."

This gig may not pay the most, and sometimes the work is a little messy and overwhelming, but I wouldn't trade our industry for one that was easier to walk away from.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


It is truly a story I have reflected on my entire life, but never really shared with too many people. I was just five years old, I was shy, and I wasn't sure how to make friends in that new neighborhood. My mom threw open the garage door, told me to have more fun than anyone else, and I would have friends by the end of the day: the Kid Power Club was born. I became the president of my own club, I made a great group of friends, and I never forgot the lessons my mom taught me that day. 

40 years later, I just had the opportunity to stand on stage for 12 minutes and share this story with over 400 people. The tale was originally about making friends as a child, but it has evolved into a report about the importance of our relationships as adults. When we build a network, we have access to better ideas, we have more access to the fuel that inspires inspiration and growth. 

This short talk was the opening keynote at the CapCue Techfest, right here in my home town; I was honored to open the show in front of many of my own colleagues, friends and family. As it turned out, the amazing team from the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium captured the gig on video and have created this page where the video can be found. I shared it with my mom, and she told me it made her cry. #MomPride is real. You never know what stories are going to be the ones that shape your deepest beliefs, but sometimes, when you share your story, you realize the impact a single lesson has had on what you believe in most.

Last night I came home from #FallCue. What an amazing two days of inspiration. It isn't just the sessions, the resources, or the presentations: it is about the people. Fall Cue is like one big Kid Power Club meeting, where everyone is having more fun than anyone else, where the network is drawn together and no one is afraid to give away their best ideas. If you'd like, take 12 minutes, watch this video and I think you'll know exactly what I mean.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Birthday Parties are for Everybody.

It only happens once a year. All your friends get together. Moms make sure everyone's hair is parted straight and clothes are pressed, but we all know by the end of the day there will be frosting behind our ears and ice cream stains on our shirts. The gig can be at a roller rink, pool-side in someone's backyard, or at a neighborhood park - the location doesn't matter. Everyone who attends gets a little SWAG, a bit of grub, and at the end of the day, no onlooker could really tell which of the exhausted party goers was the actual guest of honor, because birthday parties are for everybody.

I remember my mom taking me to a birthday party when I was 8 years old. I wasn't a shy kid, but I didn't know a another soul at the party. It was a party for the son of a co-worker, so my mom wrapped a gift, slicked down my hair and threw me into the mix. Funny thing is, looking back, I started the day without knowing anyone and ended the day with two new best friends and a room full of people I'd cross the playground to say hello to.

Fast forward nearly four decades: this week, some of my friends and I are throwing a little shin-dig. It only happens once a year. It isn't in honor of anyone, but is really a celebration of everyone. This is the week of the annually awaited CapCue Techfest. On Saturday, we will be gathering 400 like minded EdTech Educators into one festively decorated location. Each attendee, whom I assume are all kids at heart, will grab a little SWAG at the door, play along in a few games and sessions, and belly up to a catered sandwich somewhere around noon. Just like the once a year celebration of a child's first day: this gig is much more about the time we spend together than the festivities that are planned on our behalf. The unplanned consequences of attending an event like this are often the most powerful: you may attend with the intention of learning something new, but instead connect with a person who becomes that friend who inspires you for years to come.

I hope that everyone who attends this weekend sees an old friend, but, more importantly, I hope that each attendee makes a new one. I hope that we all find ourselves in a room at some point, surrounded by like minded people, laughing at our common misunderstandings, as easily as we spontaneously applaud a presenter who wows us with a life-hack that saves us an hour each work week. The most important part of this particular gig is that it is local: organized by volunteers, promoted by passion and intended for everyone. This is going to be Epic!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

It's Ok to Never Finish

I just listened to a great podcast by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell. He talked about the genius of Elvis Costello, of the famous artist Paul Cezanne, and of the Canadian singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen. Gladwell says that there are works of art and innovation that spring to the minds of some and are instantly finished. The song Bridge Over Troubled Waters, written by Paul Simon and now remade by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Josh Groban, hit its author like an anvil falling from an open window and the song wrote itself to completion in a single sitting. On the other hand, the song Hallelujah, now most famously performed by Jeff Buckley, took Lenny Cohen over 5 years to wrestle from within his mind, and yet, upon release, this first version was a flop. It wasn't until Hallelujah was re-written a second time and and performed by a second and a third artist that it eventually became woven into the backdrop of American music, film and television culture.

Gladwell gives colorful examples of innovations that sprang to life and others that drew out over decades, and to each he assigned a value: Picasso or Cezanne. Pablo Picasso often completed a work on a first attempt, he would work on a single canvas until content that his work was complete; Picasso would sign his name to a piece and then explore onto another work of art, feeling content that the signed painting was finished. Cezanne on the other hand would paint the same piece, over and over, refusing to sign his name to many seemingly completed paintings, because to him they were never completed. Cezanne never finished. Cezanne would literally ask subjects to sit for portraits up to 100 times, and go through as many canvass before he finally signed a work. All the works leading up to his eventually signed canvas were simply formative attempts at an eventual innovation.

Neither method is correct and neither is wrong, there is no single path to innovation. These different takes on creation make me look about the classroom through a different lens. Of course we want our students in the classrooms across America to produce, to bring projects to completion so that we may evaluate their eventual Final Product, but I would argue that in every room arranged with 30 desks there must be a handful of Cezannes. Imagine if Lenny Cohen or Paul Cezanne were rushed to finish a work, to turn it in on time, only to receive a final grade based on a work they hadn’t had time to fully revise. How many students never receive feedback because they are unable to sign their name to a work that is just not complete. How do we allow the Cezanne-child to receive the formative feedback that she needs while gifting her the opportunity to reflect, grow and improve?

Of course we need deadlines and final due dates so that we may evaluate student progress and offer important feedback on completed projects. Afterall, we have a lot of content to power through, and we can’t allow limitless time on every assignment. However, when we are designing opportunities for student innovation, it is important to remember that we may have a Cezanne or two among even a sea of productive Picassos.

My advice is this: allow for innovation. For some Cezanes, it may be ok to never finish. A masterful teacher can find the learning within even the unfinished work, evaluate whether the lesson has been learned, offer formative feedback and guide the group on to the next work of art while respecting that each student has a personalized pace for innovation. Above all, Cezanne was a revisionist. Iteration after iteration changed, morphed and improved his work. For Cezanne it was not the product but the process that captivated his attention. Painting was a process and an opportunity to reflect on each new attempt at innovation. Let's make our classrooms a place that allows for learning to happen through a process of reflection.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Science of New

Do you remember when you were seven years old and the six month waiting period from the Fourth of July to Christmas Break seemed to take a millennium? Now, as an adult, the same six month stretch seems to happen over a three day weekend. Turns out: there is science behind this. It is the same reason that the trip to a new place seems to take an eternity, driving down unfamiliar roads, searching for street signs or keeping one ear open for the sweet voice of Google Maps to audible your next move in 1000 feet. The funny thing is, on the way back from a first time trip to an unknown destination, the drive home can seem to happen in the blink of an eye, even when the trip out felt like forever.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains that “Brain Time,” is effected when we are experiencing something new. As we engage in new activities, we have to slow down, mentally, and take inventory of all the building blocks that make up this new experience. To a child, the memory of Christmas morning is vivid and filled with detailed recollections of joy: these memories are clear because on that morning, a child’s mind is racing to take in every detail of this once a year magical event.  As a seven year old, time doesn’t fly throughout the year because so much is new, so many events across the calendar are having to be deconstructed. A day in the life of an elementary student may hold as many new experiences as a grown up experiences in a month. Imagine, the less new that we experience, the faster we get old, and too often it seems the older we get the less new we create.

For those who have more than a couple decades of roads well traveled under their belt, it takes effort to create new experiences. Often we find ourselves pulling together a unit plan, a lesson, or even a conversation starter that we have used successfully in the past, and why not, common sense says that if it worked well the first time, why wouldn’t it be a home run again? Here comes the science: The first time you launched that lesson plan, it was new, and that was exciting, not only for the students, but for the person who created the plan. You paid attention to every detail, the excitement of the unknown caught your attention and that is why your memory of the event is vivid as a success. The kids were so deeply engaged, during the first time launch of that lesson, not because of the lesson itself but because you were so engaged. There is something powerfully attractive about seeing a grown-up experience something new. So, if we want to slow down the treadmill, bring excitement and memorable joy to our classrooms, we should make a commitment to trying something new.