Sunday, August 24, 2014


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Quick Key Mobile™ turns your mobile device into a scanner and eliminates hand-grading of formative assessments, even for teachers working in paper-based classrooms without a computer or an internet connection. Analytics and data exports are fast and easy, so you can focus on your students.

From the Quick Key Mobile Team and Family    
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Big Data or Micro-Data? 

Summary: The current debate over data and multiple choice assessment has been miscast as a debate over Big Data and High-Stakes Testing. 


Let’s get the discussion back on track by looking at how teachers can use Micro-Data and Low-Stakes Assessment every day to achieve personalized instruction and better outcomes.


by Walter O. Duncan IV & Isaac D. Van Wesep



I believe in the power of data to improve learning outcomes and enrich lessons. I know this because research has shown it, and because I myself have used data over the past ten years to create better lessons and educate my students.


But I think the discussion around data is lacking an important distinction: the difference between “Big Data” (a tool for schools) and what I call “Micro-Data”, a tool for teachers. Micro-Data is what I use in my daily lesson planning: the results of daily formative assessments that help me gauge my students’ mastery of today’s lesson.


In this paper I will introduce the concept of Micro-Data, and explore the differences between Big Data and Micro-Data. My hope is to provide a starting point for educators to think about how to use Micro-Data to achieve higher learning outcomes, and look at ways to use Micro-Data without spending aeons crunching numbers!


I also want to show that Micro-Data is not about testing ruling the classroom. It’s about a foundation of data to underpin exciting, project-based activities and lessons.


Big Data is for Schools 


At my school, we do testing twice per semester, and we also have the Massachusetts MCAS exam once per year. When the results from these assessments come back, I go to work adjusting my lesson plan. This is long-cycle assessment. Big Data. I might be able to catch up my current students in the next semester, but the main beneficiaries of these analyses are next year’s kids. 


Big Data like this is useful to my school, which can track students and teachers across years. The data are also useful to me, to an extent. But the benefit to students, while not minimal per se, is at the very least telegraphed into the next year: I apply the last year’s data to this year’s kids, and what I learn this year, I can only apply to the next year’s kids. This is Big Data in action. 


I’m glad my school uses Big Data to improve outcomes for our students. But as a teacher I need something different. I need data to help me teach the kids in my classroom today. Big Data doesn’t do that for me.

Micro-data is for Teachers & Students 


If I want data to help me be a better teacher today, I need Micro-Data. To coin a term: 

Micro-Data (n) is the product of short, frequent formative assessments, is collected, analyzed, and applied within 24 hours, and is linked to an individual student, in order to provide personalized instruction. 


Micro-Data is all about finding out whether my students understand what I just taught, or if they did the reading, or met the learning goals of the day’s project. It isn’t about graded assessments. And it isn’t about putting standardized testing at the center of class time. It is about getting real, hard data, fast, so I can spend class time having fun while learning with my students, and giving the right attention to each individual learner. 


This last point is critical, because as I will discuss later in this post, one way to collect Micro-Data is the short multiple-choice assessment. I worry that the current discourse has conflated multiple choice and standardized testing (Big Data), making one part and parcel of the other. As teachers we need to re-cast not only the discussion, but also the way we think about the assessment tools available to us.

Let’s get the power to teach back in our own hands 


As a working teacher who has had to bear the weight of every policy change and technology implementation of the past 14 years, my concern is that Big Data will come to dominate the national discussion - and my classroom - at the expense of Micro-Data. 


I am encouraged, though, by the active, involved, and progressive teachers who are adding their voices to the national discussion. As teachers, we need to make sure we are in the driver’s seat on every education issue, including technology and data. 


It is true that the historical cost of technology has meant school administrations hold the keys to data. But the landscape is shifting. Today, high-powered technology is in the palms of our hands, and we can can give ourselves the power to teach using Micro-Data for very little (if any) money. 


As teachers we need to get out in front of the trend toward Big Data. Experience shows that frequent, low-stakes assessment works. Let’s make sure we aren’t measured by Big Data without being given the tools to harness Micro-Data.

Create the Methods 


With a solid concept of what makes good Micro-Data, teachers can begin to develop methods to collect and use data from frequent, short formative assessments that fit with their existing lesson plans. There are technology tools available for little or no money that make assessment easier and faster, enabling teachers to create assessments that fit all of the criteria of good Micro-Data.

5 Signs of Good Micro-Data

Good micro-data...

  1. Is the result of frequent, short, formative assessments

  2. Is recorded in a database or spreadsheet so it can be analyzed instantly with minimal effort or time

  3. Indicates mastery (or lack of mastery) of a single lesson’s material

  4. Analysis will indicate a course of immediate corrective action

  5. Can be stored, shared, and used later for meta-analysis


Good Methods are

Universally Accessible


And finally, the power to use data needs to be universally accessible. Having taught in public, charter, and private schools in Los Angeles, inner-city Detroit, Washington, DC and Boston, I am a witness to the consequences of unequal access to technology. The digital divide and the achievement gap are devastating our social fabric and the lives of children everywhere. Technology (and data) might be tools to help solve these problems, or they might be wedges that further isolate the “haves” from the “have nots”. 


Put it into Practice 


It is possible for teachers without huge tech budgets to collect and use Micro-data, but some kind of technological aid will make the whole process doable, in terms of time.  The ideas below may serve as a good jumping-off point: 


3 Ways to Put Micro-Data into Practice

  1. Exit Tickets: end-of-class 1-5 question assessment of the day’s lesson, graded instantly with digital methods or self-grading

  2. Entry Tickets: 3-5 question assessment of prior-night’s homework or reading, graded instantly with digital methods or self-grading

  3. In class: walk-arounds (with a way to record assessment results), voting, and team projects can all be sources of Micro-Data, so long as the results are discrete and recorded in a way that allows analysis.  


4 Tools to help you use Micro-Data

  1. In-Class Voting: use clickers to have students answer questions in real-time

  2. In 1:1 environments students can be assessed on personal devices

  3. In paper-based classrooms, use one of the many quiz scanning apps for iPhone and iPad to speed grading and analytics.

  4. Your own students! Many teachers successfully use self-grading or peer-grading to speed up the analysis of Micro-Data.




For those who are totally opposed to testing, I say this: Micro-Data is classroom intelligence you can use to ensure your rich, engaging lessons are tailored to individual student’s needs. Micro-Data doesn’t replace or de-value project-based instruction. Rather, it helps to make sure fundamental concepts are mastered during rich, engaging lessons. Micro-Data is about discovering whether an individual has mastered today’s lesson, and taking immediate corrective action.


Many of the ideas behind Micro-Data are not necessarily new, but by putting a name to them we create a framework for developing best practices.


The concept of Micro-Data allows us to talk about data-driven methods without the distracting shadows of Big Data and Standardized Testing clouding the discourse.


Powerful new tools are being built every day. But only when we know what we need from technology, and have the language to demand it, will we gain access to the tools that give us the power to teach.


And only when we teachers make our voices heard, in a clear, cogent discourse about data, will we be able to gain control of our collective digital destiny.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Spotlight On Outstanding Teachers: Al Elliott

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Quick Key Mobile™ turns your mobile device into a scanner and eliminates hand-grading of formative assessments, even for teachers working in paper-based classrooms without a computer or an internet connection. Analytics and data exports are fast and easy, so you can focus on your students.
From the Quick Key Mobile Team and Family    
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Spotlight On Outstanding Teachers: Al Elliott 

Meet The Teacher Champions!

Meet the Champions shines a spotlight on outstanding teachers, and how they make a difference. Right here on the Quick Key Blog, we will be interviewing real working teachers from around the globe, who make a difference in their classrooms every day.
Al Elliot is a committed educator, with 17 years in the classroom, and currently teaching 5th grade (all subjects).  He holds a Masters of Elementary Education, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Education at University of Alabama at Birmingham. 
So, without further ado...let's meet a champion!

QKM: Why did you choose to become a teacher?
AE: I chose to become a teacher because I enjoy the feeling of being able to change the world.  Young people, for better or for worse, will inherit the planet and eventually run it.  I like the idea of having something to do with shaping the minds that will change the world.

QKM: What is the biggest highlight from your classroom this year?
AE: I'd have to have to say that the biggest highlight from this school year is the feeling of community that was established among my students.  My students were very supportive of their classmates.  They even formed a class band and performed in the school talent show playing a desk, recorder and dodge balls.  Close second would be the students wanting to bring their own devices to school to do school work and not just play games.  Many students in my class had access to a "better" device [than] the nooks that were provided by the school.  Students were working on Google Docs on their iPods, iPads, phones and Chromebooks that they brought to school.  

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QKM: Tell us about  a teacher who inspired you. How did they do it? What made them great?
AEI remember my high school English teacher Mr. Nevett.  Not only was he an extremely well dressed educator, he was also an artist and a man that wasn't afraid to buck the system every now and again and stand on what he thought was best for his students.  I still remember the slogan he made up for the standardized tests that were given when I was in high school.  "School, a place where education is encouraged and SAT is God."

QKM: What is really hard about teaching, and how do you deal with it?
AE: The hardest part about teaching is to implement programs that are mandated you participate in during the school year.  There are some scripted programs out there, that seem to take the creativity teachers have out of the classroom.  To deal with this challenge, I make sure I'm familiar with the standards that are to be covered and let the activities we do in class work towards meeting the standards and objectives and not just cover the mandated programs and hope the kids get it.  I also invite suggestions from the students about how we, as a class, can meet the objectives that must be covered.  When students know they have a choice in how they present or research a topic, they seem to respond with more excitement.

QKM: Thanks Al! 

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Educators, Save a Ton of Time!

August 2014 
Teachers, Save 10 Hours a Week with Quick Key Mobile
Free Fast Formative Assessment

Quick Key Mobile turns your mobile device into a scanner and eliminates hand-grading of paper assessments, even for teachers working in classrooms without a computer or an internet connection. Analytics and data exports are fast and easy, so you can focus on your students.

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Letter From Teacherpreneur & Quick Key Mobile Co-Founder Walter Duncan

Greetings friends and colleagues,

Quick Key is on pace to have 100,000 users by December 31st! In order to get there I need your help. I ask that each of you speak to an administrator at your school, and ask them to share Quick Key with the whole staff. Email and I will send you a PDF tutorial to share.  

With Quick Key Mobile you get:  
  • Save 10 Hours a Week
  • Unlimited Free Scanning
  • Scan and Score Paper Quizzes with your Personal Mobile Device
  • Easy Data Export
  • Works With or Without the Internet 
P.S.  We will be announcing Quick Key Mobile 2.0 in a few weeks. Stay tuned!
What Our Users Say!
Our users have spoken and they love Quick Key Mobile. Listen to what they have to say! Click here to view their video!
Want to learn how to use the data from Quick Key Mobile to drive your instruction? Check out this short tutorial here: Powerful Formative Assessment with Quick Key Mobile
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Quick Key Co-Founder & Teacherpreneur Featured on CBS Boston!
Thanks to the support of the Quick Key Mobile community, our story made it to the news! Click this link to view the story: Quick Key on CBS Boston
Get social with us!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

New Custom Student IDs on Quick Key Mobile!

Free Fast Formative Assessment.
Quick Key Mobile™ turns your mobile device into a scanner and eliminates hand-grading of formative assessments, even for teachers working in paper-based classrooms without a computer or an internet connection. Analytics and data exports are fast and easy, so you can focus on your students.

We are changing the way Quick Key Mobile handles student IDs to make it easier for you to work with colleagues and share students within the app.

The new system will allow you to use your students' existing ID number - anything up to 10 digits - instead of having to use a system-generated 4-digit ID. Expect to see the new system within the web app, on the phone, and on our new Quick Tickets, before July 10, 2014.

We will be posting more information about how to use the new system (the old 4-digit IDs will continue to work) right here.

This feature was built thanks to feedback from our users. So please keep the suggestions coming! We want to make Quick Key the best possible tool for teachers.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

@4_teachers and Quick Key Mobile at #ISTE2014

Tweet @4_teachers at #ISTE2014

I am looking forward to joining my teacher colleagues and Quick Key Mobile users this weekend at #ISTE2014. This will be my first time attending such a conference, and I must admit it is a bit daunting. There are so many people I want to meet, so much I want to learn and share.

If you are at #ISTE2014 and you know the ropes, tweet me some tips. If you just want to say hi, tweet @4_teachers and we will find each other. I am looking forward to learning and sharing with all of you!



-Walter Duncan is the teacher Co-Creator of the Quick Key App, which allows teachers to grade paper assessments with their smart devices. Please go to to find out more.