Reflections on Jury Duty

Just after New Years’ Day, I received a jury duty summons in the mail. It is only the third time that I have received one. The first time, I was unable to serve since I attended college out of state. The second time, I lived in another state. I reported and stayed until lunch when they had settled all of the cases. This third time, I was told to report for 2 days in February. The previous night, I was able to call to find out if I needed to report. I did not have to report for the first day, but I did have to report for the second day.

78 county residents reported that morning. We were assigned numbers and told to sit in that order. We completed the one-page juror questionnaire and watched the juror orientation video. Then, we were escorted into a large courtroom. After introducing himself, the presiding judge then explained that this trial would begin the following Monday (it was now Wednesday). He also announced the charges for this criminal trial:
1. first-degree murder
2. third-degree murder
3. voluntary manslaughter
4. involuntary manslaughter
5. possessing an instrument of a crime

There was an audible gasp among the jury pool as we all realized that this was a homicide trial. The judge began to ask the entire jury pool a series of questions. If it applied to us, then we were to raise our number. For those who responded to the question, they then needed to provide an explanation. If they were uncomfortable doing so in open court, then you could request a sidebar; you would then approach the judge (along with the 2 sets of attorneys) to provide your response. This questioning took a couple of hours with a restroom break in the middle. During the questioning, I took a look around at the jury pool. Out of 78 people in the jury pool, I could only identify 2 other black people. Since the defendant was black, I was certain that both sets of attorneys wanted at least 1 black person on the jury. I happen to be sitting next to one of the other black people. As questions were being asked, I realized that we were answering the questions differently. And I also concluded that I would probably be selected for the jury based on my responses.

At the end of the questioning, the jury pool then sits in silence while the 2 sets of attorneys select the jury. Each side is allowed 2 dismissals for no stated reason; all other dismissals must be justified. This process took about 45 minutes. At the end of this time, the judge broke the silence and announced that a jury had been selected. The court clerk then announced 16 numbers – 12 for the jury + 4 alternates. (Usually, only 2 alternates are selected.) My number was one of the 12 announced so I moved from the audience seating to the jury box. The judge then thanked and dismissed all of those not selected. The jury was then escorted from the courtroom to another room where we received additional jury training and reminded of when and where to report. I was assigned as Juror #7 and shown exactly where to sit in the jury box.

On this day, I had reported at 8:30 am. It was now just after 2:00 pm. I then returned to work to inform them I would be out of school for an entire week. I let my students know the following day. In Pennsylvania, you are paid $9 per day + mileage for the first 2 days of jury duty and $25 per day + mileage for every day thereafter. You must supply your own lunch and snacks, and you are only allowed to bring water into the courtroom.

Each day of the trial, I reported by 9:30 am. Court began shortly thereafter. The judge would call a mid-morning recess around 10:45 am. We would return and continue until 12:30 pm when the judge would call a lunch recess. I was allowed to leave the courthouse for lunch but had to wear my jury badge visibly. Court would resume at 1:30 pm. The judge would call a mid-afternoon recess around 3:15 pm. We would return and continue until 5:00 pm or 5:15 pm. Prior to each recess, the judge would remind us not to discuss the case with each other or with anyone else, not to research the case, and not to visit any of the sites associated with the case.

Over 4 days of testimony, the jury heard 26 witnesses and almost 100 pieces of admitted evidence. In addition to the testimony of live witnesses, the evidence included police body camera footage, crime scene photos, autopsy photos, cell phone records, transcripts, and the murder weapon. I was allowed to take notes in a court-provided notebook, which was destroyed at the end of the trial. The prosecution took just over 3 days to present its case. The defense took just under a day, which included the defendant taking the stand. During the entire trial, there were 3 sheriffs posted in the courtroom – one near the judge and jury, a second on the other side of the judge and near the courtroom clerk, and the third near the defendant.

We began Friday with the 2 sides presenting their closing arguments, which took a total of 90 minutes. After the mid-morning recess, the judge then instructed the jury. His instructions included many points of law and took 90 minutes. The jury was then escorted from the courtroom, and the 4 alternates were taken to another room. The court ordered lunch for us and did not allow us to leave.

After lunch, the jury was ready to deliberate. The court staff collected everyone’s cell phones & tablets. They instructed us to use the restroom connected to the jury deliberation room. We began by selecting a foreperson. A third of the jury members indicated that they did not want to serve as the foreperson. Then, another jury member suggested that I should serve as the foreperson because it seemed that I had paid particularly close attention. I silently thought that it may have been because I was the only black person and the defendant was black. The other jurors quickly agreed, and so I became the foreperson.

I share all of this for those who wonder what a trial is like. For a variety of reasons, I won’t describe the details of the rest of the jury deliberations here, which took 3½ hours. Based on the evidence, the jury did decide unanimously to convict the defendant of first-degree murder and of the weapons charge. As the foreperson, I had to complete and sign the verdict papers. When court resumed, I also had to announce the guilty verdicts in open court.

I took my jury duty seriously. In my mind, the defendant was presumed innocent, and the prosecution had the burden of proof to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I listened to all of the evidence and did not make a decision until the end of the trial. I have made peace with and know that I made the right decision with the evidence presented to the jury. The difficult part for me is that I know that the victim’s life was ended and that the defendant’s life was permanently changed as a result of what happened. (The victim was 56 when he was killed, and the defendant was 35 at the time.) Prior to the trial, the judge told the jury pool that this was not a capital case (for which the prosecution could have sought the death penalty). However, in Pennsylvania, a first-degree murder conviction (that is not a capital case) carries with it an automatic life imprisonment penalty.

In the past couple of years, I have read the books “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander and “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson. I highly recommend both to better understand the U.S. criminal justice system and how black people are treated differently in it. I thought about both books during this trial. And while there was nothing obvious present in the trial or the crime that was written about in these books, there are several lessons that I took from this experience. I would caution you not to draw conclusions about this specific case or trial from them.

1. Preventative health care is important. This includes health care for one’s body, mind, and emotions. Preventative health care can address problems when they are small before they increase in severity.

2. Social services are important. They help many to have access to resources that can improve their quality of life.

3. Knowing one’s rights is important. Having an attorney – and the right attorney – is essential. Public attorneys (both defense and prosecution) have heavy caseloads.

4. Jury selection is an exclusive process. In Pennsylvania, voter registration records, driver license records, and tax records are used. Each of these disproportionately excludes people of color and poor people.

Yes, the United States criminal justice system needs to be reformed. I thought that before this trial and think it after this trial. I will continue to think about and try work for how that can happen.

Finally, while you may have the impulse to want to avoid jury duty, I would ask you to reconsider. It’s important to have jurors, who can be deliberate, impartial, serious, and thoughtful. Even after this experience, I continue to think that everyone should have to serve on a jury. I consider it my civic duty and responsibility.



Footsteps to Freedom

In July 2016, I decided to spend a week traveling to various locations that had a role in the experience of African Americans from the time that slaves were first brought to the United States in 1619 to the present day.

Locations That I Visited:

During this same month, I also spent a few days with the rest of the Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board at meetings hosted at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Even a year later, the trip felt like the right thing to do to help me learn more about the history of the United States, including slavery, segregation, and beyond.  It brought me closer to the heroes of the journey that has provided me with the opportunities that I have today.  Someday, I hope to return to these locations.

Teaching Tolerance Certification

For the past two years, I have been a member of the Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board.  It’s been an honor and an incredible opportunity to learn from and with educators from across the country who are committed to anti-bias education.  This summer, I get to extend and deepen this commitment.  I am taking a seven-week online course in order to become certified to provide training to classroom teachers on how to use the resources available from Teaching Tolerance.  It’s only the second time that this opportunity has been available to educators so I am grateful for the opportunity.

The units in this online course are:

  1. Unit 1: General Teaching Tolerance (TT) and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Overview, Including Mission and Timeline
  2. Unit 2: Backward Design and Anti-bias Education Goals
  3. Unit 3: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Perspectives
  4. Unit 4: Contact Theory and the Power of Text
  5. Unit 5: Relevance and Rigor Through Complex Texts

I will continue to update this entry with the units as they are assigned (through the end of July 2017).  As I move through the course I will also be developing an action plan to apply what I have learned in my work with other educators.


Reflect and Plan

This blog post was written as a concluding piece for Jump Start: A Teacher’s Guide to Tech  Mini-Course that I took in July 2016.  The objectives for this post were to assess my own growth during the course and to set new goals.  Through this entry, you will find hyperlinks to my other blog posts and to various technology tools.  All hyperlinked material will open in a new window allowing you to easily return to this page.


  1. What was your favorite module in this course?  Why?Module 3 “Create Your Portfolio” was my favorite module.  While I have had my own blog, I had not posted to it for awhile.  This module reminded me how easy it is create a blog post.
  2. Which module in this course was the most challenging for you?  Why?  What did you learn from that experience?Module 7 “Teach Something” was by far the most challenging module for me in the entire Jump Start course.  I had previously done bits and pieces from each of the other modules in the course so I was comfortable starting and I picked up what I didn’t know pretty quickly.  Module 7 required screencasting, something that I heard of but had never tried.  It required me to come up with my own idea, to script the lesson, to use a new technology tool, to film it (which took 5 attempts), to upload it (to YouTube), to embed the video in my blog, and to post the blog entry.  I realize that it was an authentic assessment since the finished product required mastering a number of skills successfully.I was reminded of one of my learning and working styles, which is to approach projects sequentially.  I think them through step-by-step even before starting.  My challenge is that when I get stuck on a specific step, it sometimes prevents me from even starting the project.  In Module 7, I got stuck on the idea, which meant that I didn’t actually complete the module until the day that it was due.
  3. Choose two tools from this course that you would like to start using in your teaching or work.  How exactly would yo use them?  If you don’t plan to use any tools from this course, talk about the reasons why.I already use Twitter, which I mentioned in my Module 5 “Get Social” blog post.  I share essays and videos that I find online in my curated content using Feedly.  What I am hoping to do is try to carve out the time to do this on a daily basis in order to be a more consistent contributor.

    I already use the flash card creator StudyBlue, which I featured in my Module 6 “Take Your Pick” blog post.  I plan to continue using it creating vocabulary decks for each chapter of new terms in the biology and chemistry courses that I teach.  I show students StudyBlue on the first week of classes and actually assign them to join the StudyBlue class.  What I am also considering is using a tool such as Socrative or another tool mentioned in the Assessment section of The Teacher’s Guide to Tech in class to gauge student learning more frequently.

    I am also interested in using a screencasting tool, such as Explain Everything or Screencast-O-Matic to create videos as part of a pre-lab assignment for the high school science classes that I teach.  I could use screencasting to show students the basic equipment set-up to provide a visual as they read the laboratory investigation.  I imagine that this could help to increase their own comfort level in the laboratory, especially when working with unfamiliar equipment.

  4. Browse The Teacher’s Guide to Tech and choose two new tools (or categories of tools) that you would like to learn next.  Explain how each one might meet a particular need, help you reach a certain goal, or solve a problem for you.

    In browsing The Teacher’s Guide to Tech, I realized that there are several types of tools that I am already using:
    – cloud storage (Google Drive);
    – content curation (Feedly);
    – flashcard creator (StudyBlue);
    – learning management system (Canvas);
    – note taking (Evernote);
    – presentation (Keynote and Microsoft PowerPoint);
    – social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter);
    – spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets);
    – video sharing (YouTube); and
    – writing (Microsoft Word, Google Docs)
    This year, I would like to use Google Forms (mentioned in the Survey Tools section of The Teacher’s Guide to Tech)  to collect student information.  I have already created a survey asking students in each of my classes by which first name and by which pronouns they want to be referred in class, in communicating with other school personnel, and in communicating with parents.  This will allow me to be more inclusive in my own language when engaging with and about students.  I have also created a second survey for students in each of my classes to complete when they do not have a homework assignment.  This survey will allow me to track patterns of student homework completion and serve as documentation for students for which this is a significant area of concern.  I have created a QR code (using QR Stuff) to this survey so that students may use a mobile device to complete the survey during class while I check homework daily.In completing Module 7 “Teach Something,” I further explored Parent Engagement tools described in The Teacher’s Guide to Tech.  I already use Remind to send text messages to students outside of class.  This year, I will be using Bloomz to send weekly message updates to parents of my students.  I also found that I can use Bloomz (instead of SignUpGenius) to have parents sign up for conference appointments.
  5. Set three concrete, measurable tech goals for yourself.  Set a deadline for each one.
    : Post once a month to my Payneless Ponderings blog during the 2016-2017 school year.  Blog topics could include one of three major areas of interest to me: diversity, equity, inclusion, & social justice; educational technology; or teacher productivity.Cloud Storage: By January 13, 2017 (the end of Semester 1), have all of my files for my new Biology of Disease course transferred to Google Drive.

    QR Codes: Each Sunday when school is in session during the 2016-2017 school year, use a QR code generator to create a QR code to a short article or video about science to post outside of my classrooms.

  6. What has been your most take-away from this course?  In other words, what is the most important lesson you learned?The Jump Start course taught me that there are plenty of easy-to-use technology tools out there.  I will definitely be referring to and using The Teacher’s Guide to Tech throughout this school year as I explore some of these tools to use myself, with colleagues, with parents, and with students.  Having a cohort of teachers also interested in exploring technology tools was definitely a positive support and helped to encourage and to motivate me to complete this course.


Teach Something – Bloomz

The truth is that I was apprehensive about completing this module, the requirement for which is to create an original video tutorial of something that I learned from this technology mini-course.  For a couple of weeks, I wondered what could I offer.  Originally, I thought about using Voxer, a tool that we learned about very early on.  But I decided against it because I did not want to create a video that would involve publicizing the identities of other individuals who had not give me permission.

My second idea was to create a video tutorial on Feedly, a tool that I did not use in this course but have found essential in my own curation and sharing of online content.  Feedly is a tool that allows me to aggregate all of the blogs that I follow in one place.  I already use Feedly to track almost 150 different blogs both for personal and professional uses.  As I thought about it, I thought that Feedly might be too complicated for a short video so I abandoned that idea.

And then another idea occurred to me the evening before this module was due.  At the beginning of this month, I began another year-long online course with educators interested in improving their teaching by increasing productivity while decreasing the amount of invested time outside of the classroom.  The class includes a closed Facebook group where participants can ask and answer questions.  Over the weekend, someone asked about communication tools other than e-mail.  There was quite a bit of discussion on one tool that I had used for the last few years with students.  But in that same conversation, I was reminded of Bloomz, a tool that I came across several months ago but did not use since it was the middle of the school year.  I was encouraged to revisit Bloomz as someone had mentioned that it was quite a robust application.  So I spent some time with Bloomz and confirmed this description of it.  Since this was a tool that I had learned to use during the Jump Start course (although not specifically for it), I did settle on Bloomz, a free tool designed for teachers to communicate with parents.  There are other similar tools that serve the same purpose.  I actually use one of them, called Remind, for student engagement.

I was intrigued by the parent engagement purpose of Bloomz.  Because I learned about it several months ago, I decided to wait until the start of this school year to try it.  Before continuing, you should know that Bloomz content can be translated into 80 different languages, which may be a feature of interest to you for accessibility to all of your parents.
In order to use Bloomz, you need to sign up for a free teacher account.  (Parents and volunteers can sign up accounts.)  Information in Bloomz is sent to recipients through e-mail or the Bloomz app, which I will mention at the end of my screencast video.  Teachers invite parents to Bloomz through a class code or an e-mail invitation.  This private feature is the only way that parents can view your content.

So below is my screencast video tutorial – a brief explanation of the Bloomz application and how to schedule a post.  I created this tutorial using Screencast-O-Matic, which is a screen and webcam recording application.  I then uploaded the finished video to YouTube.  What you see below is an embedded link to this video.  Click on the arrow to play the video.  (Note: There is narration so make sure that your device has the sound on.)



Reflection on Using Screencasting in Teaching

  1. My screencast ended up being longer than necessary for the assignment (almost 7 minutes vs. 4 minutes).
  2. I did write a script because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t over look any information.
  3. I could use screencasting to create for my students a tour of the two most heavily used tools in my courses:
    1. my course page within my school’s learning management system, and
    2. the organization of the course shared Google Drive folder.
      I could also share both of these screencasts with parents who do not have direct access to either of these resources.
  4. I teach high school biology and chemistry.  As part of a pre-lab assignment, I could use screencasting to show students the basic equipment set-up to provide a visual as they read the laboratory investigation.  I imagine that this could help to increase their own comfort level in the laboratory, especially when working with unfamiliar equipment.

Take Your Pick – StudyBlue

StudyBlue is a crowdsourced media platform of flashcards, notes, and study guides.

For this module, I created a set of 31 flashcards on ecosystems for my Biology 2 – Ecology course next spring.  Here are 3 screenshots of that StudyBlue deck:


Reflection on Using This Technology Tool in Teaching

Biology has a language of its own, something that can be a challenge for students new to the subject.  Last year, I began to use StudyBlue to replace students writing out the definitions of new vocabulary terms, and I will continue to do so in the coming year.  I find StudyBlue easy to use and like the simplicity of this tool.  Early in the Jump Start course, I read about a teacher who uses Kahoot as a formative assessment tool to gauge students’ progress with learning the vocabulary.  I’m thinking about doing this as a next step in the coming year.

Get Social – Instagram

I have active profiles on the following social media platforms:

Of these, I use Twitter the most on a regular basis for teaching and professional development.  Since November 2011, I have used Twitter to both learn and to share articles and ideas from and with others.

For this module, I decided to share a video on Instagram, something that I not done before.  The video shows the building in which the Civil Rights Memorial Center is located.  It is right across the street from its parent organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an anti-bias organization whose motto is “Fighting Hate, Teaching Tolerance, Seeking Justice.”  I spent the last 3 days in Montgomery, Alabama as a part of the Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board, which consults with the educational branch of the SPLC that provides free resources to teachers.  You can find the video on Instagram here.  I’ve known that it’s been possible to post videos to Instagram since June 2013, but I tend to only take still photographs so I hadn’t really thought to do this until now.  (In late March 2016, Instagram increased the maximum length of videos from 15 seconds to 60 seconds.)  The most difficult part of the experience for me was creating the video in the first place.  Sharing the video is as easy as sharing a photograph on one’s own smartphone.  Now that I know how easy it is, I am going to try to use it more often to show things that can’t be conveyed with a still photograph.  As an educator, an Instagram video could include audio narration as commentary or explanation of the video.


Practice Embedding ThingLink

ThingLink is a portal that allows users to create interactive content by publishing photographs and videos with media links.

Here is an example of a selection from ThingLink:

  • Attribution: Michael Wertz, “Timeline of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic from PBS NOVA,” 2015, <>.  I was confused about what to find out and document about the Creative Commons license for this selection.
  • FYI: The YouTube video linked to the right-hand blue arrow is no longer available.
  • Note: I chose this piece because I can use it in a new semester elective course, entitled Biology of Disease, which I will teach during the upcoming 2016-2017 school year.

Commentary on Use(s) of This Technology Tool

I had not previously heard of ThingLink, but I could see how I could use ThingLink to add links to the images in my existing presentations.  These links could allow for differentiated instruction on a topic.

Practice Embedding Vimeo

Vimeo is a portal for users to share videos that they have created.

Here is an example of an embedded video from Vimeo:

Science Center Opening – January 6, 2014 from Westtown School on Vimeo.

  • Attribution (also included above from the embed HTML code): Lynette Assarsson & Greg Cross, Westtown School, “Science Center Opening,” 6 January 2014, <>.  I was confused about what to find out and document about the Creative Commons license for this video.
  • Note: This is a short video of the opening day of the new science building, in which I teach.

Commentary on Use(s) of This Technology Tool

Searching for content on Vimeo without a specific focus can be overwhelming.  For example, my school has a Vimeo channel, on which there are pieces regularly posted about events occurring both in and out of the classroom.  They will help me to keep up with what’s going on around the school and what’s on students minds.

Practice Embedding SlideShare

SlideShare is a portal for users to share presentations, infographics, documents, and videos in 40 different content categories.

Here is an example of an embedded presentation from SlideShare:

  • Attribution: Rosetta Lee, Seattle Girls’ School, “Facilitating Brave Spaces” for The Equity Exchange, 27 July 2015, <>.  I was confused about what to find out and document about the Creative Commons license for this presentation.
  • Note: I chose this presentation because I was fortunate enough to hear it when I participated (in July 2015) in The Equity Exchange, a think tank of public and private school educational leaders sharing strategic solutions for challenges in diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.


Commentary on Use(s) of This Technology Tool

I know a few people who are educational consultants that frequently present.  I follow them on SlideShare.  Their content has been useful to me in my own work not only in teaching but in the arena of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

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