Your Early Holiday Gift: A Sneak Peak at Mustard Seed Teaching

Hi friends! SHHHHH! I have been working on something, and I can’t keep it a secret any more! But don’t tell everyone just yet…

I’m not ready to shout it to the WHOLE world, but just couldn’t wait to give you a sneak peak into an exciting new project I’m planning to launch in early 2017. I really look forward to your feedback!

fb-profilepicYou may notice I’ve been updating my social media profiles and testing out a redesign to my website, which will still be around at

While I’m keeping the website, I closed Farrell Ink LLC as an organization last year. In 2017, I will be building a new social enterprise called Mustard Seed Teaching, which will work closely with the existing non-profit Mustard Seed Books.

Check out our first two FREE courses!

You know how much I love sharing FREE study materials! Dr Rick Chan Frey and his team at Mustard Seed Books developed a series of 1st grade level readers that anyone can view, download or print for free. That’s TWENTY FREE BOOKS for 1st graders! Having a first grader myself, I decided I had to tell the world about these cool books.

But sharing the books is just the beginning…

Mustard Seed Books has the potential to go way beyond the existing original series. We want to develop a community of authors so that teachers, parents, and even kids can write their own Mustard Seed Books to share with the world. It’s not rocket science to write a 1st grade book, after all, and turns out to be quite a bit of fun!

Little Lizard

With my background in adult literacy, I instantly saw these elementary school books as adaptable for adult beginning readers as well.

Mustard Seed Books has the potential to address a major crisis in our field: we don’t have enough high-interest, beginning-level readers for adults, nor do we have many high-quality mobile apps for that demographic. Sure, there are some really awesome book series available on the market, and some great desktop-based software that has converted to mobile friendly.

But adult literacy publishers and programs alike are struggling to keep their doors open. The financial pinch means open source content is taking over. Mustard Seed Books offers a simple, engaging method to make that movement relevant to beginning adult readers. AND make reading materials easily accessible on any device, online OR offline!

“We don’t have enough high-interest, low level readers for adults.”

So I started daydreaming, as I often do…..


instead of writing books FOR adult educators, we wrote them WITH adult educators?


instead of writing books for a NATIONAL audience, we wrote them for LOCAL contexts?


instead of writing separate science, social studies, language arts, and math courses, we COMBINED them in a series of short and fun-to-read books?


we encouraged readers and parents and teachers to write and share their OWN stories?


high-demand entry level jobs had short, easy-to-follow training manuals?

That’s just a first glimpse at my vision for Mustard Seed Teaching. I hope you’re getting as excited as I am!

Starting in the spring, I will be offering a LIMITED NUMBER of online and face-to-face workshops to bring Mustard Seed Books to the world of adult literacy and workforce development. The workshops are not quite ready for prime time yet, but I wanted to share these FREE materials with you first, my most loyal readers.


I’m very open to improvements, and eager to talk with you about possibilities to get involved. Please feel free to comment, email, or schedule a call. But most importantly…

Enroll in the first two FREE courses today!

Think of it as an early holiday gift from me to you. Hope you enjoy!

Top 30 FREE Websites for GED Test Prep & Workforce Development

Warning: Once you start clicking these links, you may be amazed at what you find!

Inclusion in this list is not a guarantee of the site’s relevance for your particular program. Links are not endorsements, but rather a starting point to help you explore the many free resources available on the web for GED Test Prep and workforce development. Though loosely organized into categories, many sites overlap these boundaries.

This post is targeted to Ohio residents and educators with the generous support of The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland. The list also includes products I provide training for as an employee of Essential Education; they are available for free trials.

Workforce Development

WIOA is on the minds and lips of adult educators these days. The new federal legislation requires adult education providers to begin alignment and collaboration with job training and career pathways. These sites will give adult education students an edge in the workplace or job search.

GCF LearnFree

Videos and online courses in reading, math and technology developed by the Goodwill Community Foundation.

WorkKeys Practice Tests at OhioMeansJobs

Very simple: practice tests for the WorkKeys credential. This stackable certificate measures the practical literacy and mathematics skills needed for your job of choice.

OhioMeansJobs for Job Seekers is designed to be a one-stop online portal connecting job seekers to viable employment. The goal of this site is to give you the information you need to get the most out of your trip to the One Stop Career Centers around Ohio.

Occupational Outlook Handbook

This handbook provides information on the expected skills sets, salaries, industry growth and more on careers in the US. Great for job seekers to learn what you need to include on a resume for specific jobs.

Women Employed Resources

Women need some extra help to not only find fair employment, but also to protect their rights in the workforce. This Illinois-based initiative provides lots of practical information for women looking to advance their careers.

Soft Skills to Pay the Bills

Targeted at 14-21 year olds, this practical curriculum focuses on bolstering skills in communication, teamwork, and other requirements for workplace success.


Based in Ireland, this site offers free open enrollment courses. Their paid services include an ad-free version, certificates (once earned), and testing modules to employers and schools.


Tri-C’s Dev Ed Math MOOC

Tri-C’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was developed to help students prepare for college without paying tuition for a developmental education course in math.

Khan Academy GED Math Playlist

Florida Literacy Coalition has kindly compiled a playlist of Khan Academy videos that teach content on the GED Math test.

Cool Math Games

This site is aimed at kids, but the games are fun for all ages. Great for parents who want to help their kids with homework but need to overcome their anxiety about math practice.


While we want to avoid being “worksheet factories,” many people need practice, practice, practice to master and retain basic math skills.

Adult Literacy/English Language Learners

Day at Dollar General

Interactive, family-oriented online game that teaches basic budgeting skills. Developed as a collaboration between Dollar General and the National Center for Families Learning.

USA Learns

Self-paced lessons and practice for beginning to intermediate English language learners. Targeted at adult immigrants to the USA.


Scaffolded assistance for Spanish speakers to learn English and prepare for US citizenship.


Videos and web exercises designed for adult learners. DVDs and workbooks available for sale their Kentucky Educational Television (KET).

ProLiteracy EdNet

Free online learning for both adult learners and instructors developed by ProLiteracy.

GED Test Prep

GED Testing Service

Go directly to the source for free practice tests, tutorials, and especially writing samplers for classroom use.

Free Test Prep GED Practice Tests

This is my favorite unofficial free practice test site. Though you need to watch out for ads, these tests were written by an educational consultant and test prep expert based in Columbus.

GED Academy

Complete online learning platform to prepare adult learners for success on the GED Test, and aligned to the Essential Skills workbook series. Contact Beth Williams for a free pilot for adult education programs in Ohio.

College Transitions

Bridge to Success

Courses specifically designed for non-traditional adults who want to make a successful return to college or the workforce. Includes both student and educator tool kits.

World Education University (WEU) Prep Academy

WEU offers free secondary and post-secondary level courses focused on global prerequisites for success. A high school or GED diploma required to earn college credit.

Federal Student Aid

Help students understand their benefits to help pay for job training or postsecondary opportunities. Includes a link to FAFSA with explanation.

National College Transition Network

This is a site where you can download NCTN’s free publications including guides, toolkits, and newsletters for college transition. Caveat: They are not interactive online materials.

Digital Literacy

Guiding Ohio Online

Curriculum designed for AmeriCorps members to teach basic technology courses at rural libraries around Ohio. Adaptable for a variety of contexts.


This free tutorial introduces the basics of using a mouse. Simple, fun, effective, and free.


Learn and practice touch typing with free tutorials and games. Certificates and tutoring also available at cost. Beware advertisements.

NorthStar Basic Computer Skills Certificate

Want to know if your students have the basic skills to use an online program independently in class? Wonder no longer! Find out with these free online assessments.

Computer Essentials

When students have mastered the basics, move them to these three courses in digital literacy. Master the courses for a certificate or preparation for the IC3 exam. Contact Beth Williams for a free pilot for adult education programs in Ohio.

DIY Content

Do you know what content you want, but just need reliable places to find the best stuff?

Adult Education Resources

Hosted by COABE and sponsored by Essential Education, this repository focuses on free and CCR-aligned materials specifically for adult education.


Five minutes or less to WOW!

iTunes U

Podcasts about things.

Open Education Consortium

Browse thousands of courses in hundreds of categories!

Introduction to AERET!

Congratulations! You have been selected by The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland to join the Adult Education Resource Evaluation Team (AERET).

As you are well aware, area literacy programs are constantly trying to balance instructional needs and financial constraints. Budgets are tight, and instructional materials are increasingly expensive. Many programs have invested in purchasing or updating computers to make technology available in the classroom. However, even technologically literate instructors can be overwhelmed by the learning curve of new technology.

The main question we need your team to answer is: How do you judge which resources are worthwhile to incorporate in an adult literacy program?

Comment on this post to let us know what you think!

You can benefit our adult education community by developing recommendations for which free resources are best suited for different settings. Some of the other questions to consider in your exploration:

  • What is the cost-benefit of using free resources? What are the “hidden costs”?
  • What is the range of technology available in adult education programs?
  • At what point is it cost effective to invest in a paid program?
  • How user-friendly are the resources? In other words, how easily can students and teachers learn to use them?
  • What changes need to be made in adult education programs to support instructors when introducing new resources into the classroom?

Thank you for your commitment to serving Northeast Ohio in the field of adult education!

Task and Process

Your goal is to develop recommendations on these resources to share with other adult educators. If you are working with a team, here’s the game plan:

5 MINUTES: Please decide on the following roles within your team:

  1. Usability Specialist: Your task is to evaluate the selected resources to decide how easy they would be for students and instructors to use. Some questions to consider: What are the technology requirements to access the programs? How easy is it to get started? What are the features that adult educators would require to get the most out of the programs?
  2. Instructional Specialist: Your task is to consider the instructional quality and implications of the selected resources. You need to decide how well the programs meet various instructional needs. Some questions to consider: Who is the intended student audience? What skills are taught? What is required of the instructor in the learning process?
  3. Cost Analysis Specialist: Your task is to make administrative recommendations for implementing the selected resources. Some questions to consider: How well would the selected resources help meet the goals of various adult education organizations? What training or support do staff need to use the resources? What are the hidden costs and barriers to using the resources?

5 MINUTES: After assigning roles, your AERET will decide on a subsection of the resources shared this morning to evaluate, and also take some time to find and consider additional resources.

10 MINUTES: Exploration and evaluation of selected resources.

10 MINUTES: Discussion of findings within group. Create a list of talking points for each resources: pros and cons, tips and concerns, who and how, etc.

10 MINUTES: Draft presentations of your findings:

  • Comment on THIS POST to tell us what you found, and what you think about it.
  • For in-person teams, all members of the team must participate in presenting a brief, two minute summary of your results.

2 MINUTES: Proof read your draft before submitting. Remember, your final product is a professional recommendation that reflects on The Literacy Cooperative. Adult educators are depending on you to provide relevant but succinct information to aid in their decision making.

Presentation and Conclusion

Thank you for taking time out of your busy week to participate in AERET as a service to our region and the field of adult education.

5 Examples of Educators Using Facebook

Participants in my training “Facebook for the Classroom” offered these five interesting examples of how educators could use Facebook to improve teaching and learning:

1. Play the game Plague Inc.

This app was recommended for teenagers to learn strategy and critical thinking. You play the game from the perspective of a pathogen that is trying to kill all the humans. The humans are playing against you (the disease) to isolate cases, develop treatments, and even cures. The game uses engaging graphics to show what the pathogen is doing to its victims, and explain technical vocabulary related to pathology. Players discover more about epidemiology and public health through the strategies that humans in the game use to understand and eradicate the disease.

Our participant said her kids will name the disease after a sibling, and then if they win, the game says something like, “Andrew has killed everyone in the world.” You can see why teenagers find this endlessly amusing.

This game is a great suggestion for out-of-school time or supervised computer lab usage. A parent, afterschool tutor, or teacher could use the game as a conversation starter in science, health or social studies classes to connect with real scenarios of communicable diseases either in the news or in history, and also use screen shots and definitions from the game to illustrate technical science vocabulary.

2. Find an inspirational mantra with Status Shuffle

An adult educator suggested this app to start off class with a motivational activity that also can build basic skills of comprehension and building an argument. She would use Status Shuffle to find several inspirational quotes. The students would each select their favorite, and explain why it would be their mantra for the day. This introductory activity also gives early or punctual students a meaningful to do, while allowing others to straggle in without being lost on the introduction to the lesson.

3. Scrabble

Like most games, playing Scrabble is fun, but won’t automatically help students learn or use new vocabulary. Educators can transform the game into an instructional activity by asking students to write down the words they used in the game, or allow them to use flashcards or lists of recently learned words (like these words to study for the GED® Test) to play in the game. A follow-up activity would be to define the words, first using intuition, and then using the dictionary to find precise or alternate definitions and synonyms. My workshop participant said she would finish the activity by asking students to use these Scrabble words in a constructed response similar to what her adult learners would encounter on the GED® Test.

4. Create or join a Facebook Group with other educators

Two of our participants were teachers at the same high school in Cleveland, Ohio. They created a private group for members of their teaching team to post interesting videos and troubleshooting questions. Facebook Groups can be private, public, closed or open. There are lots of options to control how many people you want to engage. It is up to the administrator of the Group to set the tone and moderate activity if you aim to keep things professional.

Warning: It can be very useful to have an online professional learning network, to meet new people or gain new ideas. However, Facebook is not a “private space” like your living room. Everything you post can become public information, even if you don’t intend it to be. Don’t use Facebook to bash students or administrators, or share federally-protected educational information about students. Any of that can be grounds for termination.

5. Pawn Stars: The Game

One high school social studies teacher suggested using this game and its television show to teach principles of economics, like scarcity and bartering. It also includes in-game advertising, so you should alert students to the ways that companies cross-market their products. All the tips above still apply for using this game to engage students of all ages.

What do you think? Are there any Facebook games, groups, or apps you would suggest for educators?

Tour the Oceans with Google Earth

Only 5% of the world’s oceans have been seen by human eyes. What we do know is now being shared on Google Earth using tours like the Ocean Showcase.  To view the ocean tours, you can either download the browser plug-in or the entire Google Earth 5 software to dive in to the newest frontier in human exploration.  Each tour has a highlight version that you can view in your browser, or a longer version that you can download.

Google earth logo

Each tour sends you spinning around the globe to view YouTube videos tagged to that oceanic location.  Data-heads will enjoy some of the straight-mapping information, but for the general browser, it’s not nearly as exciting or helpful as Google street view.  But I could see its usefulness to perk interest in a well designed educational activity, perhaps during an introductory lecture to oceanic zones or a webquest.

What are your ideas or resources to use the Oceans tours in Google Earth as a teaching or learning tool?

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