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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2021)

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Josh Stock, Awesomeness Expert, and the delicious joys of teaching middle school

Josh Stock is one of the keynote speakers for C2C's SIDLIT 2021.  He is a nationally known teacher, speaker, author, and podcaster, among other roles. This Q&A was conducted via email in April 2021. 

Q:  Please tell us a little bit about yourself.  

A:  I received my undergraduate degree in secondary education and my master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology from Emporia State University. Since then, I have worked as a middle school teacher, podcasting host (Awesome Sauce EDU), book author (Awesome Sauce: Create Videos to Inspire Students, Engage Parents and Save You Time), and Awesomeness Expert (I have a plaque for proof). I also speak around the country on ways to innovate in the classroom.

Figure 1.  Josh Stock as an Awesomeness Expert


Work Life

Q:  What is your current professional role, and what does your work entail?  

A:  I am currently a 6th grade Language Arts teacher at Santa Fe Trail Middle School in Olathe. In the classroom, on the most basic level, my work entails inspiring students to become prolific readers and writers. One of my favorite things about my job is helping students find a good book to read.

I also coach the school’s First Lego League LEGO robotics team. Each year we compete by building a robot to complete challenges, completing a research project, and presenting to judges. The students leave with stronger professional skills (handshakes, presentation etiquette, and empathy) and teamwork. The team has qualified for the championship 5 of the past 6 years and won the overall team award twice.

Figure 2.  Lego League LEGO Robotics Team   


For the past few summers I have also taught enrichment classes for middle schoolers at Johnson County Community College. I have taught classes on 3D printing, Minecraft, and robotics. I love the opportunity to help kids explore new things over summer break.

Q:  Why did you choose this particular field?  Or how did you end up working in this area?  

I have always loved working with kids. When I was in upper elementary school, they started sending me down to the lower grades for mentorships, to read with students and to help with events like field day. I was not sure what I wanted to teach, but I knew I want to help kids. As I got older, I enjoyed reading and writing and figured I could combine the two interests.

I never thought I would end up in a middle school though. I wanted to teach high school English and have enlightened conversations about Shakespeare and Mark Twain. I was required to work in a middle school as a part of my student teaching experience. I dreaded it. After that first week though I knew I did not want to work anywhere else. I discovered that middle schoolers are fun and quirky. They are not afraid of taking risks and diving into something knew. They will wear a costume when reenacting a scene from a story or pretend to camp on Mount Everest around a paper campfire in the middle of the classroom. They love to explore new things and tell everyone about something new they discovered.

See "Another Trip Up Everest." 

I love getting to see that spark when a scholar finally figures out a challenge or grasps a concept they have worked hard to comprehend.

Figure 3.  Josh Stock:  Welcome to ABC  

Q:  What makes your work interesting?  

A:  Middle school is that amazing transition from a little kid in elementary school to a young adult in high school and I get the privilege of guiding students along on that journey. Each day is a unique challenge, and each student is a puzzle to solve.

I like the challenge of trying to find the right strategies and tools to engage students in learning and challenging them to exceed their own expectations. I love the wonder in their eyes when something finally clicks and the tenacity to work through problems when something does not quite work.

The work we do in middle school sets the foundation for their high school experience and beyond.

Plus, I try to bring as much joy, fun and excitement to the classroom as possible. We host poetry on the patio events, pretend to take a flight to Tibet while reading one of our novels, film documentaries, and chase after my evil twin Dr. Vonn Stock in my gamified class.

Figure 4.  Josh Stock’s Evil Twin “Dr. Vonn Stock” in the Gamified Class


Figure 5.  Josh Stock Making Learning Fun...Virtually


About Education and Technologies

Q:  What does “humanizing learning at a distance” mean to you in your professional role?  And what advice do you have for teachers and instructors to achieve humanizing learning at a distance for their learners?

A:  Connections are the most important factor in a student’s success in the classroom. Whether it is connecting with their peers or connecting with the instructor, it is vital that the learner feels like a part of the learning community. Without that connection, it is challenging to want to continue when things get tough.

At a distance, those connections are even more important. There are two pieces of advice I would give for achieving a humanized distance learning experience:

  1. Students need to feel connected to the content. I always try to bring in examples that students will understand and engage with. I pay attention to pop culture and news events that might interest them. I joined TikTok, just so I would have a better idea of what they were talking about (I still do not 100% understand it, but the kids embrace my effort). I also survey the class and ask for advice. If I want to bring in a movie clip to discuss theme, I will ask them what their favorite movies are and then use some of those ideas. 
  2. We do not always have to be serious. Sometimes we need to step away from the content to just talk. This year I always opened distance learning classes with a daily check in survey. One of the questions was always a silly question or a would you rather question (ex: what is the best movie that starts with the first letter of your first name?). As students finished the survey, I would send them to breakout rooms to talk about the answers. This allowed me to check in with students who struggled with filling out the survey and students who joined late, while also allowing students to talk. I also let them stay in the breakouts for longer if they were having great discussions, even if they were off topic.
See the Daily Check-in Template Here. 

Q:  How did you keep up spirits for your 6th grade students in 2020?  And your own spirits?  

A:  I always tried to keep things upbeat: music was playing when they entered the zoom session, we started with fun/low pressure questions, and I offered grace as much as possible. One of the questions on the daily check in survey asked how the students were feeling that day along with some bitmojis. Two of the options I paid particular attention to were students who said they were sad or angry, especially if there was a trend of a couple of days in a row feeling sad. I would meet with the students in a breakout room just to see how they were doing. Some of them were just tired or had a fight with their little brother. Others were feeling depressed, and I was able to get them some support from our school counselor. Some just wanted to know someone was listening and after a conversation with me they were ready to tackle their day.

Figure 6.  How Are You Feeling Today?!


For my own self-care, I had to set stricter limits on what I said yes to. I cut down on the number of committees I was a part of and set limits on how much work I would complete at home. I discovered that I accomplished almost as much as I did before in half the time, just by focusing on getting enough sleep and prioritizing my work at school.

Q:  Did your teaching change in 2020?  If so, how so, and why?  

A:  For years I have been talking about adding more self-paced lessons to my classwork. This year pushed me towards that goal. I added more opportunities for students to work through curriculum at their own pace using tools like Google Slides and EdPuzzle.

Q:  How did you and your colleagues manage professional development in 2020, given the major disruptions?  

A:  We met regularly over Zoom to stay up to date on ways to support students online. It was easier to meet with other teachers across the district because we were not restricted to meeting in person. We could plan meetings for right after school because we just had to jump on a Zoom call to meet. Plus, there were a plethora of online conferences and resources to explore. Overall, I think I had more professional development than I have had in any other year, the delivery was just different.

Q:  What technologies do you recommend for instructors / teachers to engage effectively with students online?

A:  Educators are often overloaded with technology resources (websites, apps, programs, etc.). It can be overwhelming for staff, students, and parents. I have found that consistency is the key. Stick with a handful of programs you use regularly. Here are a few I would recommend:

  1. A place to house assignments: we used Google Classroom, but most learning management systems and assignment hosting platforms will work.
  2. Google tools: These were the easiest to share with students, track student progress, and give students feedback. As an ELA teacher I loved being able to go into a Google Doc and watch students type in real-time. I also liked the ability to look at the draft history on student writing. I would give revisions feedback and then I could toggle back and forth between the old draft and new draft to see what changes the student had made. I use Google Forms for my daily check-ins, Google Slides for self-paced lessons and portfolios, and Google Docs for writing.
  3. Video housing platform: I post all my videos on YouTube. It makes it easier for students to access the videos from anywhere. However, for student work, I usually had them post videos using Flipgrid. This was easier for me to see the videos and either share with the rest of the class or keep the videos private.
  4. EdPuzzle: This is the app I use the most often for videos that students will be working with. This app allows me to track how much of the video students have watched and embed questions into the video. We have a paid account for my building, but the free version offers the opportunity to create a few videos. Nearpod also could embed videos, but it is not as streamlined as EdPuzzle yet. It is also more difficult to grade.

Q:  Why is it important for instructors / teachers to teach with digital technologies?  

A:  It is, and it is not. I think it is important to know when technology is transformational, and when it is a flashy tool. Some of my students do some of their best brainstorming and rough drafts with paper/pencil. Others do amazing work digitally. I try to provide as many different options as possible to achieve the goals we are working on in class.

However, even the non-digital tools are housed in a digital space. I will put together a digital lesson and give options that are not digital within that space. Students can take pictures of their work on upload it to Google Classroom or embed it in a Google Slide.

There are times that technology either enriches the content (VR tours of historic sights) or provides collaboration opportunities that would not be possible without it. I recently borrowed some books from a 2nd grade class at a neighboring elementary school. Then my students recorded videos reading the books. We attached QR codes to the back and sent them back. The 2nd graders LOVED it. They loved hearing from older kids, the teacher enjoyed the added opportunity for her students, and my students got to experience the joy of giving back to younger kids.

About Writing Books

Q:  What has it been like to write books (like Awesome Sauce)?  How do you find a topic?  Who is your target reader when you write?  How do you pursue research?  How do you make sure that what you write is not something found anywhere else?  Is it difficult to be wholly original?  

A:  I have wanted to write a book ever since I was a little kid. Before I wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to be a writer. I just needed to find the right topic. I had a lot of imposter syndrome before I started writing. I have read some phenomenal books and was not sure if mine deserved a place among those texts. My topic for Awesome Sauce came from a series of presentations I have delivered over the years. After presenting on creating videos for the classroom for a few years, I realized that my ideas could be broken down into bite-size pieces that could be turned into a book. My original idea for the book was a cookbook with different “recipes” for the classroom. That eventually evolved into what the book would become.

When it came time to write the book, I put it on my someday list, that list of ideas that I might get to someday. After spending a lot of time putting it off, I decided to dive in during a National Novel Writing Month event in June of 2017. I decided I was going to write the entire book over the course of a month.

The first draft was a flood of ideas. Then I went back and added research to support the ideas. Over the years I have collected strategies from a wide range of places. Now I went back to figure out why those strategies work and included brain science to back it up.

Writing a book is always a challenge. You want to share great ideas, but also want to make sure to give credit when you get ideas from those around you. Most of the ideas in the book are things I have implemented in my classroom, so it was easy to say, “here is something I do in my classroom, you should try it too.”

Q:  Who are your actual readers in the world based on your interactions with them on social media and otherwise?  Are they who you expected them to be?  

A:  I never really knew what to expect or who would read the book once it was published. My goal was to get the book out into the world and go from there. I knew my mom would buy a copy, so I figured I had at least one sale to look forward to.  

Since publishing the book, it has been amazing to hear stories from across the country of people reading the book and trying out some of the ideas. I have had a lot of college students in teaching programs reach out to me and ask questions after participating in book clubs with my book on campus.

It is still a little surreal to think that my book is on someone’s wish list.

One of the highlights of publishing my book is getting it placed in my school library. Even though we are a middle school, my librarian put it in our catalog. As a Language Arts teacher, it is amazing to be able to pull it up and show students that I am a real author.

Q:  How do you know when a book is done?  

A: I do not think a book is ever truly finished, especially when technology is involved. There are always things that change, old ideas that spawn new ideas, and new things I am trying out. I finally just had to decide to publish and continue to share new ideas through my website, blog, and podcast.

About 2020

Q:  What have you learned about yourself in 2020, with so many pressures?  How have you changed?  And do you think these changes are “forever”?    

A:  This year I learned to prioritize what matters most. I have learned that it is ok to not fill up every second of the day. Down time is not a bad thing. I cut back on my involvement in some of the committees I was a part of and that was a freeing experience. I realized that my life is more fulfilling when I can dedicate it to things that I care about most. That is something that I plan on continuing.

In the classroom I give students a lot more choice in how they accomplish tasks and freedom to pursue things that interest them. I focus in on the most important things and stay flexible with the rest. One of my classes right now loves to play chess, so we’ve spent some time each day learning the art of playing chess. Another group went on a tangent one day and we ended up researching vantablack and cars that are painted with that color.

Q:  What ideas do you have for helping students catch up for 2020 as a “lost year”?  Is it possible to catch up, or will students experience “unbridgeable gaps” because they may have missed windows in their learning?  

A:  I do not think there is any learning that was “lost” in the past year that cannot be caught up. Teachers will adapt. I would much rather spend time focusing on catching students up on the experiences they missed over the past year. Academics will figure itself out. It is the friendships, school clubs, theater productions and art shows that I want to spend the next year prioritizing.

Q:  How do you see the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic affecting education in the near-term future?  The midterm? The far-term?  

A:  In the near-term I worry that there is going to be an over correction, and too much focus will be placed on remediation. Too many people will emphasize the learning that was lost instead of enhancing the skills students have gained. Teachers and students have taken massive leaps forward in their understanding of educational technology. They have learned to persevere when things are tough and adapt when things do not go according to plan. I do not want every student to get double math and double reading because we want to make up for lost time. That time happened.

This pandemic highlighted some glaring inequalities in education. One of the biggest being access to technology. In my own district we learned quickly that there were many students who did not have internet access. When businesses and libraries shut down, we learned how many students relied on those free internet options to get schoolwork done. We were able to organize and find mobile hotspots for our students. This is something that is a necessity, and I hope this is something that will be a constant focus in the future.

Our district also learned that there are some students that thrived in virtual learning and in fact prefer it. Next year we will be offering a virtual school option. This is a great way to make learning accessible for all learners. I hope this is something that carries forward as well. Up until now we have stuck with the traditional model of what school will look like, but this year we have looked at everything differently.

About 2021

Q:  What are your hopes and ambitions for this year?  Please elaborate. 

A:  My hope is that 2021 is the year of experiences for my students. I want to provide as many opportunities as possible for them to interact with each other, their community, and the rest of the world. They have been isolated for so long, we are going to work on what it means to work together, collaborate, and achieve.

Student choice is going to be at the forefront of everything I do. I am going to try to provide options for how students learn, what they choose to read, what they choose to explore further and how they want to demonstrate their knowledge. This is not a new concept, but this year pushed me forward in a lot of ways when it comes to self-paced lessons. I want to continue to evolve this idea further.

This year we are going to be rebuilding programs. Music programs, art programs, theater programs across the country are going to have to rebuild. In my own classroom for example, we are going to be relaunching my robotics team. This year we were not able to meet, so my young 6th graders from last year are going to have to leap forward to lead the new team.

Finally, my hope is that I can remind my students that school is a place to explore, learn, grow, and have fun.

About the Authors

Josh Stock may be reached at  

Note:  Thanks to Josh Stock for his responses. The questions were by Shalin Hai-Jew ( and April Robbs (

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