Episode # 44

Design and Instruction with Matthew Mays

November 23, 2023

About This Episode

On this episode, Kara and Caryn speak with Matthew Mays from Stark Country ESC about how he got his first smartphone WAY later than everyone else, and how incorporating design elements into instruction can really change the game.



Matthew Mays

As a Technology Curriculum Consultant for the Stark County ESC, Matthew’s mission is to help interested learners find creative and interesting ways to utilize technology in the classroom and beyond. Matthew is incredibly fortunate also to be a husband, a father, a devoted dog walker, and a post-prime runner.



Caryn: Joining us today is Matthew Mays from Stark County ESC. Matthew, thank you so much for joining us.

Matthew Mays: It is such a delight to be here with you and Cara. Thank you so much for having me on. Can’t wait to talk with the two of you.

Kara: We’re excited to hear about all the cool things that you do and about you to get to know you better.

Matthew Mays: So I’m just Bad news, I am not cool. So there’s going to be nothing to talk about

Kara: No, we have heard otherwise. From whom? From your big fans, like Liz curtis.

Matthew Mays: Oh, tons. That’s what I was hoping you were going to say, Liz. Liz Curtis is one of the single most delightful people [00:01:00] on the planet.

Is she not? So happy to call her a friend. And so happy that she connected the three of us. So shout out to Liz. Thank you, Liz. Mm hmm. Yeah.

Kara: She’s amazing.

Matthew Mays: Yes. Yep.

Kara: So how did you decide to become an educator?

Matthew Mays: Oh, so an educator at the beginning, I almost fell into it because I’m terrible at math. So I went to, I went to Ohio state.

And this is a whole other side conversation that we’ll have a different time, but I went on a caddy scholarship. So like if you’ve seen the movie Caddy Shack and like Danny Noonan is trying to, you know, when the caddy scholarship at the end actually exists, it’s called the Chick Evans caddy scholarship.

They give out a whole bunch throughout the country. It’s a wonderful organization, but in Ohio, you can go to Ohio state or Miami and they fit the bill for everything. So, yeah, so unbelievably fortunate [00:02:00] tons, unbelievably fortunate to get that. And so with that, I was like. I’m going to go into business.

We’re going to do, you know, something big with this. I’m going to go into marketing and started the like math coursework that you need to do such a thing. Right. And it was like, Oh, I’m, I’m not good at this. Like high school was very easy for me. So like, I didn’t really have to study. And then went to college and it was a whole different experience.

Isn’t that terrible? Same. Oh, goodness. Yeah. So. Not the same. Nope. So after the first quarter, I took a step back and I was like, okay, I need to reassess. This is clearly not working for me. Like what are my skills? What do I think I would like? And in high school, we did like a job inquiry class kind of thing where we, you know, had to shadow people in different kinds of you know, professional environments.

And so I went back to my favorite teacher’s classroom. Shout out Mrs. [00:03:00] Dettweiler. She was the best. And so I went to visit her and I felt like I could do the teaching thing. And so the way that Ohio state was structured at the time, you had to go in like all kinds of alternate routes in order to become a teacher.

And so. It was all over the place, but ultimately I was like, I think I can do this. I think I have the skills for it. And then became, I, I love middle school. I just think it’s fun and awkward. And everybody’s trying on different personalities every single day.

Caryn: Yes. It’s the best.

Matthew Mays: It’s the best. And so I was like, okay, I can do this.

So then I became a middle school language arts and social studies teacher, which I think Corinne, you were the same thing, right?

Caryn: That’s what I tried to do.

Matthew Mays: Didn’t we all?

Caryn: The social studies jobs are hard to find.

Matthew Mays: Yeah, they sure are. And so I did that and it was great. But to get to, like, the ed tech piece of things that was really by happenstance more than [00:04:00] anything.

I had like, 3 years in as language arts and social studies, and I had already been feeling the burnout. So I started in 2010 and so by, like, 2013, I was like, oh. I’m going to need something else here, you know, along the line, whether that’s to become an administrator or to do something different altogether.

Whatever that is, we, we need to find something here. Cause you know, I was already feeling pretty burnt out. And that was mostly because I had a different prep every single year. So like, I never got that. Oh my gosh. I never got that. Like, okay, I can just reuse the stuff that I used previously. And feel that relief.

I never had that. And so. My principal at the time, Chad Merritt, who’s now the high school principal at Fairless local schools he was like, Hey, we’re thinking about having this technology class. I know that like, you know what you’re doing, like, with the smart board and you seem to know what you’re doing with some other stuff.

Would you be interested in teaching that? And I was [00:05:00] like, Oh, thank God. Like here’s something different. Like yeah, something different. It’s a special, so like already the stress level is down. It’s not a tested subject. And I was like, yes, like, please let me, you know, test this thing out. And so I was able to do that and loved it.

And a part of that was I got to see every kid in the school, which was. Awesome. So like you you know, for a given school year, you know, you’re 30 kids and that’s it you know, if you, if they change classes, maybe you’re lucky enough to see, you know, 90 or 120 kids throughout a school year. And so for me, I got to see everybody.

And that was so cool. Especially as like, you’re talking with teacher friends or whatnot, and they’re sharing about all their wonderful kids and you’re like, Oh, I know that kid. Yes, they are wonderful. Like I was lucky enough to have them too. So that started the whole ed tech journey. And from there it led to a whole bunch of other avenues and, and here I am today at the [00:06:00] Stark ESC, which is just the single best place to work.

Couldn’t ask for anything better.

Kara: That’s awesome. Windy roads. Like we always like, yeah, we like to hear about educators journeys for that reason, because everybody seems to have some sort of wind or turn or. Some unconventional way.

Matthew Mays: Even along the way, there are so many weird things that happened in college that I still use today.

So like I had a communications class where for whatever reason, it had absolutely nothing to do with the course content, but the person who was teaching it was like, we’re going to talk about how to edit videos and we’re going to use this product. It was like the one that was baked in on windows computers.

And so. I think it was called Movie Maker at the time. Movie Maker. And so, yeah, so he was like, we’re going to do Movie Maker for this assignment. I’m going to [00:07:00] show you how to do all these things. And like, because of movie maker now, like I do, you know, webinars and I do all of our meetings and do all of our YouTube content, everything here at the office.

And you know, when I was back in a district, I did all of our like PBIS videos and, you know, other things, but that was just a skill that I happened to learn along the way that I never really anticipated learning, but. did. Same thing with like spreadsheets. Like I don’t really know anything about spreadsheets.

And, and definitely didn’t until I took a you know, a happenstance in class in college that that’s what it was. We were basically learning how to do all of the books and all the formulas and functions and everything in in Excel. And because of that, I know my way around, you know, a Google sheet today.

And it’s just a weird weird happenstance of making my way here to to talk to the both of you today.

Kara: Well, and I am curious because [00:08:00] you’re in technology, which is kind of ironic for what I’m about to say. I have heard that you were one of the last people to get a smartphone.

So being in technology. How does that work?

Matthew Mays: So, and this was like, while I was teaching that technology class in middle school, I still had my old school flip phone. It was my favorite phone I may have ever had. It was red. It flipped up. It had like the T9 word. I was like, I love the T9. Oh, it’s so good. So good.

It even had the little antenna thingy that you could pull up if you needed it. Yeah, it had everything. And so I, I think that I have like an addictive personality where like I was an athlete you know, in high school or runner. And so like, I went all in on running like I love TV and movies, like [00:09:00] love it.

Consume all of the media. Love it. And so this was one more thing that I was like, Oh no, like if I get one of these phones, it will consume everything about now. Yeah. Yes. And so I was like, I cannot have one of these things because then I won’t have conversations with the people that I love. I’m just going to be on this thing.

Caryn: Kudos to you for being self aware.

Matthew Mays: Oh man. So it was probably, I want to say probably like 2014, somewhere in there, that I actually got a smartphone and I had to like limit myself. And so like, this is kind of what I would teach, you know, with the kids too, where I was like, all right, this is really fun.

There are all kinds of games on here that I know I can play, but now it’s not the time for that. There are all kinds of you know, apps and, you know, your social media stuff and whatnot. And at that time, the Facebook was really big. And so I was like, cannot be on the [00:10:00] Facebook. Do the things that are important you know, I can’t have this thing.

And so it was like a, a slow build to actually using one, like for all of its features and not just. All the little silly doodads that you can you can make happen on the smart phone. But just like, you know, a whole bunch of other things in my life, like, I feel like that made me such a better person that I wasn’t one of those for once I wasn’t one of those like first penguins, like jumping into the water, you know, not thinking about the sharks underneath.

You know, I was like, okay. This is good. Not having one of these is good. And just seeing the landscape and how it plays out with everything. And especially with younger kids, like, that’s 1 of the things that we’ve tried to do with with my own children is really limit the screen time. So like.

You know, just being in front of the TV, which I was a TV kid growing up. My parents, God love them. They put a TV in my bedroom cause I have two older sisters. And so they were like, well, you know, he has his little video games and [00:11:00] let’s just, you know, put one of these in there. I watched all kinds of things when they thought I was sleeping.

And so just you know, knowing what that world can be being able to limit it and. You know, just trying to stay away from those things, I think is kind of a good, so really appreciate like every Sunday morning when it sends out the weekly report, love a weekly report. And then, you know, I treat it like a game.

You don’t like the weekly report.

Caryn: Well, mine’s always like, Oh my gosh, I lost so many hours of my life this week. What, what, what is your, like, what would you say is like your average though? Like, I’m really curious.

Matthew Mays: So mine, mine floats around like two hours a day and I’m doing like, I think it counts like my podcast time.

It counts like stuff that I’m doing for work or if I’m using maps or whatever. My social media time is usually around like 10 to 15 minutes and that’s usually just you’re doing silly things. I’m really trying. I’m really trying. [00:12:00] But like I said, it’s that I’m, I’m trying to be that example for our kids to try and keep some of that old world, like let’s actually talk to each other face to face kind of mentality rather than let’s all sit in a room and text each other when you’re sitting right next to me.

Caryn: I’m feeling like you should have a bootcamp.

Kara: You should. I’ll come.

Caryn: Like a screen time. Yeah. Like a screen time bootcamp or something.

Kara: Yeah, for sure. Which. What do you, being out in the schools again, like post COVID, what Like, what are the most kind of used ed tech things or like, what, what are people using the most?

Matthew Mays: So at this point, almost everybody just wants to talk about AI, like consuming, consuming most of.

Of what I’m doing at the moment, which justifiably so it’s kind of this weird in between time for everybody. And this goes back to me being one of the last, you know, phone [00:13:00] adopters. It’s really weird when I’m in front of a group of teachers and I say like. No, please do this offline activity.

Like, I want you to put the computer to the side so that the kids can actually talk to each other. So, you know, for some people that’s, you know, a welcomed message. And for some people it’s a like, you know, we just spent all this time learning these things to survive. You know, the, the pandemic, I want to put those into practice and I want to have a flip classroom and I want to do all of these things that you know, I, I felt like I learned while, you know, as a part of this, but but for me, I think I see a lot of people, or at least I try to push people into using Canva just because it’s simple and it’s easy and there are so many things prebuilt on there.

I was thinking about this last night with like. oTher silly questions that I was going to ask the two of you the like the rise and like power that [00:14:00] teacher pay teachers have had. I don’t know if it still has overeducation. Oh my gosh, it drives me insane because some of the things that are on there, I would say most of the things that are on there, you can take like an extra minute and create something by yourself in a product like Canva in a flash.

Now it’s the thing that is perfectly curated for you that you can share with your other colleagues and you’re building this thing together rather than, you know, some stuff that they sell.

Caryn: I mean, don’t get me wrong. There’s some really good content on there, like really good. Full fledged curriculum. I mean, I’ve bought things on there when my kids were staying home during COVID so that my mom could do things with them and.

But like, so I do a class on pixel art and sheets, which Eric Kurtz also does. So I show people I do, I’ve done several, you know, one hour, two hour, three hour things on that. And every single [00:15:00] time I’ve done it, I’ve had people say, Oh my gosh, where was this a year ago? I’ve been buying these on teacher pay teacher.

And I was like, that would never have occurred to me. To even sell that or look for that there. Yeah. So, I mean, there’s lots of stuff like that where you could easily, like you said, you could make a really nice product in minutes just by finding a good template and putting stuff in.

Matthew Mays: It’s just, it’s so easy.

Yes. So I’ve talked a little bit about myself at the beginning, but I’m married to the most wonderful person on the planet. My wife, Emily, is a graphic designer art director. And so it’s always really funny when I’ll be like, Hey, honey, check out this thing that I made on Canva. And she’s like, Oh, you adorable little idiot.

Like look at this cute little thing that you made. Like how adorable. And then. You know, she shows me the things that you’re making or that she’s making you know, in all of her, you know, Adobe suite and every [00:16:00] other, you know, design product that she has. Oh, like that’s, that’s what you went to school for.

Like, that’s the piece that’s missing here. Yeah.

Caryn: But we’re basically making collages. It’s okay.

Matthew Mays: Which is fine for most educators. Like, that’s why I really push people to Canva because for most educators, it is so easily accessible. And there are so many different SKUs within within Canva that like, it literally has something for everybody.

And the fact that it’s, you know, free for educators, I think just really sets it apart. So I can’t say enough nice things about it, even though it’s. My adorable little side project that I’m trying to compare all the years.

Caryn: Yeah, but that’s my number one recommended tool. People, if you’re not, I mean, it used to be Google because if you weren’t using Google, what are you doing now?

It’s the same thing with Canva. If you’re not using Canva, you should be using Canva. People think, oh, I don’t, I don’t [00:17:00] need that for anything. I’m sure there’s something that you are doing now that could be made better. In

Matthew Mays: Canva. Absolutely. One of the it’s one of the things that I try to shoehorn into every presentation that I do

juSt because like even something as simple as like going and in the search bar, typing in like graphic organizer, when you do that right, you get a gazillion graphic organizer, templates that are ready for you. And like the brand kit. Is super fun. So, um, you know, figure out the color schemes of your district or like if you have your own like personal color scheme that you love and easily, you know, pop, pop, pop, you know, move those colors in.

And now this is something that’s fully customizable. You know, ready to go for your kids that you actually put your time. And effort into rather than just going somewhere and paying for it.

Kara: So does, does design matter? When teachers create things,

Matthew Mays: what a great question and what a great question. I think it does and if for nothing else, [00:18:00] but like, I think it raises the bar for expectations for student work.

So rather than, you know, Hey, everybody take out a piece of notebook paper and write down your, you know, your thoughts or whatever. When the kids see, you know, this really beautiful, like curated. Item that either, you know, you’ve made or you’ve customized you know, from a template or whatnot. I really think that that raises the bar that the students see it and they go, Oh, okay.

I’m going to do my best work on this. Like I need to raise my level to match this. Like you know, I, I talked a lot about best work portfolios, like when Google sites made their big change. And so being able to say like. This is something that’s going to go out into the world, or this is something that might be on other eyeballs compared to, you know, just, you know, the person sitting next to me or my teacher, you know, when I have something that looks this beautiful, I’m going to raise my game, I’m going to [00:19:00] focus in a little bit more, whatever that might be for that student, but I really think it raises the bar, but what do you guys think?

Do you think design matters or am I just off?

Kara: Yeah, I, I totally do for that reason. And many others. Because two, when you’re visually looking at something on a screen, especially if it’s multimedia design, there are things you need to consider because, right. I mean, like text color matters, you know, how much is on a page matters, like all of those things for, you know, writing consumption, I guess, is how you look at it.

Caryn: And I don’t want what we’re saying. If anyone’s listening, they’re like, Oh my gosh, I have no idea. That doesn’t mean. You shouldn’t use Canva or you shouldn’t be creating. You still want to get in there and kind of see what feels right. And there are so many little mini courses, articles, walkthroughs that talk about how to create like a balanced design, how to choose colors and [00:20:00] things like that for people that it doesn’t come super intuitively to, so it can, it can be learned basically.

Matthew Mays: The Canva design school is awesome. So, especially for people who you know. Art may not be their thing or, you know, design may not be their thing.

They really break it down at a granular level and talk about, you know, the contrast of colors and the relationship of colors and like, how do you find things that compliment each other? You know, what it means to have a slide that has. You know, the emphasis of certain words over here and, and how you know, fonts play a role.

And my wife taught me this really fun word called kerning, which is the space in between letters and words. That matters. It just, you know, where, where are we directing the eyeballs in our case of our students so that they can get the information that they need? And so yeah, I can’t recommend their design school enough.

I think it’s excellent. And the like they have live design school [00:21:00] sessions. They also have ones that you can just go on and make your way through at your own leisure too. But I really think you know, it just gives our students one more avenue to show what they know. You know, cause I, I was always a, a like word note taker, you know, I would just write everything down, but I know that that doesn’t work for all kids.

And so for some, you know, it may seem like they’re not paying attention, but they’re actually doing like sketch notes. which is a delightful thing that I would love to be able to do. But you know, I, I don’t have the skills for that. And I know that some kids do, and that’s how, you know, writing things down or, or while they’re listening you know, putting those things into their brain, it’s becoming concrete.

And ultimately we’re just here to, you know, make sure that the kids are, are being able to communicate what they know and what they’ve learned. And so having an avenue like that, I think is incredible.


Kara: So how does design play into instructional strategies?

Matthew Mays: Hmm. So in our office, we’ve been doing a lot of work with John Hattie and this is something that we could do many, many, many hours of conversation on.

But John Hattie, if you’re unfamiliar, he has the visible learning meta X available online. So do a search for that. And basically it is this whole database where they look at the influence or the influences that are impacting our students every single day. And so these could be things that are happening in the classroom.

They could be things that are happening at home or outside of the [00:23:00] classroom, and they could be even things that like happened at birth or around birth. And how they you know, impact the lives of high school kids. So, you know, many, many years down the line, but decisions that were made along the way how those are all impacting our kids.

And so I mean, you can really get lost on, on that website for really, I mean, for years, if you wanted to, there’s just so much to dig into, but what I really love about that website especially, and and his corresponding books is that. You can really see and compare things that are happening in the classroom you know, to see if they’re having that impact that you think they should be having.

So so you know, to tie that back to design I’m not sure if I’ve seen any of those you know, that are specific to you know, the design of a, of a teacher’s work for students, but You know, as we look at things like you know, collaborative learning and even things like as simple as [00:24:00] like teachers working together to believe that they can impact the lives of their students.

Right? So that collective teacher efficacy piece, it’s the idea that, you know, as a group of teachers. We can impact change on our kids. We can make our kids smarter. That alone is like one of the highest rated things that a teacher, a group of teachers could potentially do to improve you know, the learning of students.

So there’s so many things that are just like mindset based. And there’s so many things that are like easily accessible on there that That I think if you haven’t checked out that resource is definitely something to do. That’s like my favorite presentation to to kind of share at conferences.

And I’m sure many of our favorites are getting sick of me bringing it, but it’s just the research is changing and adapting. And so like, it’s always something new, even if, you know, the topic is the same. And so so yeah, definitely check out the Visible Learning website. It’s a Visible Learning MetaX.

It, it’s just [00:25:00] wonderful. It’s packed with all kinds of things.

Kara: That’s really cool. I feel like when you were talking about teachers coming together and like collectively believing that they can make change, I’m like, that seems so simple. But, you know, or into like intuitive, but

Matthew Mays: yeah, I’m saying even something right.

And even something like they have studied micro teaching. So micro teaching is the idea that while I’m teaching my lesson, I’m also going to record it. So whether that’s five minutes, whether that’s 20 minutes, whether it is whatever I’m going to record it and then I’m going to watch it back and you know, there may be a friend in the room.

You know, there, it may just be me watching my own work like that metacognitive kind of piece of, of things. But it’s the idea that I’m going to record this thing. I’m going to watch this thing as terrifying as that is. So like, this is delightful and I love talking to the both of you, but I also hate the sound of my own voice.

I [00:26:00] don’t think that, I don’t think that’s unique. I think we all kind of feel that way. I, I know that I have a face for radio. I don’t want to see myself doing things. Right. So the idea of watching a video of myself talking and like interacting with kids is terrifying. I’m sure we all feel some sort of some sort of way about that, but being able to rewatch our lessons to see if like, you know, in your mind, you might be saying like, Oh man, I crushed that.

And then you rewatch it and you’re like, Oh no, like clearly I missed the mark here. I you know, I was in the wrong space here. I was watching only murders in the building a couple of weeks ago and Steve Martin went into the white rooms, what they call it, where like, he just like spaces out and he’s floating and he’s having such a great time.

Like I felt that so many times teaching lessons. It was like, wow, you’re really crushing this thing. And had I had a camera in the corner, it would have been like, wow, you are a terrible teacher right now. You’re crushing it. And your kids are [00:27:00] staring off into space or they’re not engaged at all. And it’s all those little pieces and parts that then help us to refine.

And it’s not saying that obviously, you know, we’re joking around, but being able to look into your lessons and, you know, kind of pinpoint those, those beats to say like. Okay, that was that was fine, but I know it can be better and maybe I’ll try this next time. Or I don’t know what to do here. I’m wondering if I could be vulnerable enough to ask my friend, you know, teacher next door teacher in a different building.

You know, the 2 of you now that we are friends you know, can you look at this? Tell me what I’m missing here. And can you help me? So that idea of, you know, those micro teaching lessons is something that’s really accessible. Everybody has a camera has a camera in their pocket waiting to be used.

You just have to set it up in the corner of your room. And like I said, allow yourself to be vulnerable and give yourself enough grace to say, This is going to be what it’s going to [00:28:00] be. This is a learning tool. I’m okay with, you know, whatever I see here. I know that it’s going to help me get better. And you know, ultimately, like we’re doing this for our students, you know, to raise their achievement level.

So so getting over that hump, I think is a challenge, but it is one that will definitely have the benefits. Yeah. No, I

Kara: think that’s great. And it’s funny that we’re having this conversation because when I first started teaching, that was part of our evaluation was videotaping. And that was part of what you had to submit

Matthew Mays: in, submit through like to the state or within your own, like your principal, our principal.

Yeah. What a forward thinker. Like, and I feel like

Kara: we’ve gotten away from that,

Matthew Mays: which is. Yeah, and, you know, coming out of the pandemic, like, I would like to think that we are all pretty familiar with seeing our little faces and squares and, you know, hearing our voices and and whatnot too. [00:29:00] But. Yeah. I’m with you.

I, I still feel like that is a giant hurdle for a lot of people that we just, you know, we can’t give ourself enough grace to say like, you know, I am who I am and I know that this is a learning tool and that’s okay. You know, that’s something, like I said, I, I struggle with that. But we know that it has a lot of great benefits from it.

Kara: Well, with our kids in general, they’re forgiving. Yeah. I mean, like when you’re in the classroom and recording yourself,

Matthew Mays: the yeah. I mean, even just to have it on you know, to have our kids be more comfortable with, you know, the idea of being on camera, like imagine when we were kids, if a teacher would have put like one of the giant camcorders on your shoulder, imagine seeing that in the side of the room.

Like, I mean, I would have been like, you know, making faces off on the side the whole time. But I don’t think, I don’t really think kids care anymore. Like they’re so used to [00:30:00] having their own phones and, and putting everything on TikTok, God knows where I don’t think it’s that big of a deal anymore. So to have something like that as a, an aid for you to improve your teaching I think is incredible.

And, like, we see that, too, so I do a lot of work with coaches. We have a regional coaching network in our area. So I kind of do some of the tech pieces of technology coaching, but I work with wonderful people with our state support team to kind of do that group together. And so, you know, we talk a lot about Jim Knight and his coaching strategies, and he has several books on.

The power of recording and rewatching and using it as a coaching tool you know, to allow people to see how those things are actually playing out. Rather than just hearing from someone to say, well, you know, at this moment, this kind of thing happened and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, that’s one thing, but being able to see it and come to your own conclusions, I think is really valuable [00:31:00]

Kara: for sure.

And I mean, yeah, everybody’s different, but. Depending on your personality too, I think it’s, you know, it’s, like you said, easier for some than others and I don’t know. I, I’m always, I remember when I transitioned to teach first grade and I kind of had no, I was like, what am I doing? What am I doing? And my, I was lucky enough to have a principal that let the other first grade teacher who had been there for years, she came into my classroom and just watched.

And then gave me feedback on what I could do differently or why this wasn’t working and those kind of things. And it just, it was, I mean, it was, it was

Matthew Mays: helpful. Like what an amazing opportunity that was for both of you, for her to see, you know, how someone else might do it. Because I’m sure she was learning things from you as, you know, she was observing and then for you to learn from, you know, a veteran in the [00:32:00] moment, like what an amazing opportunity.

I think back to our kids and, you know, for us, we had the benefit of seeing, you know, this change and develop over time.

And we know what life was like before. And now we’re seeing what life is like after