Monday, November 29, 2010

Upgrading the Reading Log

I love Shelfari, a social networking site for readers. I am an avid reader, but not a big collector of physical books. I don't have an ereader; I do read books. However, I get a lot of my reads from the public library or borrowed from friends. If I do buy a book and love it, the first thing I usually do is pass it on to someone else I think will enjoy it. Therefore, my bookshelves do not represent my life as a reader. Enter Shelfari. Now, I can have the pleasure of a beautiful bookshelf to display my books. It helps me remember what I have read and when, what I liked, what I loved.... If anyone else is interested in my reading, they can "friend" me and peruse my shelves. I have recently started including on my shelfari shelves the books I read aloud to my children, as well. I'm happy to have a way to remember those precious moments spent each night at bedtime, even after the physical books have made their way back to the library or shared with others.

I am a big believer in using authentic tools and processes to develop habits of literacy with students. One of my least favorite of all "schooly" inventions is the reading log. Real readers catalog and share their reading in a variety of ways, but I have yet to meet the adult reader who keeps a reading log showing how many pages read of a particular book at each reading session. I've even seen reading logs that require children to count how many words they've read and how many minutes they've engaged in reading. What real reader counts pages or minutes? It is ironic that an activity designed to help ignite a love of reading can be exactly what sucks the very life from it. Teachers looking for accountability have devised this tool with best intentions in mind, I am sure. However, as a parent I can tell you that the reading log, besides being inauthentic, is also difficult to maintain and provides no motivation or impetus for engagement. I know I could be fairly accused of being opinionated, however, it's not just me who has thoughts about reading logs. This post from a mom, titled "I Hate Reading Logs" garnered 692 comments!

Upgrading the Reading Log-
As an adult who loves to read, I also love Shelfari. This is the litmus test I use. If I find something motivating and engaging, if it is a genuine part of who I am as a reader, than I believe it is potentially useful for students who are developing their reading-selves and teachers who are helping them to do this. There are many possibilities for using Shelfari with students as a way to monitor what your students are reading outside of class. As an added bonus, Shelfari promotes the social aspects of reading, gives students a place to share with and learn from others, and helps students begin to understand that what they read is part of their identity.

In order to create a shelfari account, students must have an email address.
Shelfari How To

Once your students have created their accounts, they can create and upload avatars, add friends and start exploring the site. In order to add friends, students should use the "advanced search" and type in the friend's email address. This is easy to do if you use school email addresses with a predictable format. Teachers can also experiment with creating groups and having students add certain books to the group shelf. Students and/or classes who blog have the very cool option to create a widget to post their Shelfari shelf on their blog. Creative teachers will find that there are many ways to adapt the tool for your students. Try things out, explore and have fun. Please share in the comments if you have good strategies, things to watch out for or any other thoughts about using Shelfari with students.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

An Expert Opinion

I have a secret wish.
Sometimes I dream of going to one of the "big name schools" to get a PhD in education. It's not because of a desire to advance in the field or teach at a higher level; it's to get the stamp of approval so that people will listen to me with respect.

Not to take anything away from people who follow a path of formal study and research, but I question our cultural obsession with the opinions of experts. I could tell you a thing I have witnessed through direct personal experience. However, if that exact same idea was published as part of an article in the Harvard Educational Review, it would now be received through a lens of credibility that my anecdotal experience could never achieve. I suppose that is as it should be, but only to a point.

The problem occurs when we become unable to trust anyone who isn't deemed expert by virtue of a degree or position, when we give no credence to our own senses, when we are blinded to the messages of our hearts and minds. Experts are people- flawed, human and capable of changing their minds. Knowledge is in a constant state of flux. Statistics gathered through research are open to subjective interpretation. I am formally well-educated enough (by society's standards) to know that this is true.

I have always kept my own counsel. My father loves to tell the story of when I was 12 years old, and he took me to the orthodontist. The doctor was reviewing the x-rays with my father, showing him which teeth would need to be extracted, when I said, "You're reading them backwards." The orthodontist was stunned but admitted that I was, indeed, correct.

A colleague of mine was accepted into a PhD program at an illustrious institution. She is a brilliant educator and writer; I had no doubt that her application would be accepted. However, after visiting the school and learning more about the program, she decided that her gifts were better used in schools with students and teachers. Is she less of an expert than she would be if she was pursuing a formal PhD? She spends every day doing action research in the classroom, reading, learning, sharing, writing. I value her expertise more than that of a researcher who devises a study and watches from an objective perch, with no knowledge of the bigger picture of the situation.

I am a big-picturist. I think that everyone has a piece to the puzzle. To give more weight to certain pieces and completely ignore others lacks coherence and common sense. I think we have the responsibility to work as best we can with the facts we possess while trying to learn from others and consult with experts as indicated. Ultimately though, the decisions we make are our own responsibility. Keep your own counsel.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Planning + Collaboration = Success

I am so excited to share this fire safety PSA created by a second grade class. I think this represents an example of what can be achieved with good planning and collaboration between the classroom teacher and an integration facilitator- someone to help with the technology.
Many classroom teachers simply do not have the time and/or the technical skills to do such a project on their own, and a computer lab resource teacher does not have the necessary time to work and plan with the students.

The idea for this came from an email notification about The Fire Safety Project, a video contest for students. The teacher and I agreed that this would be a worthwhile and appropriate project for the class.
We spent several classes in the classroom, planning. This is something that, as a lab resource teacher, I was never able to do. It was hard to have students come into the computer lab and then not go onto the computers. If I tried to have them plan on the computers, the computers often got in the way, due to technical skills issues and other distractions.

Planning is key-
First we watched some fire safety public service announcements. The students took notes on the fire safety and prevention tips. We talked about what makes a video interesting, what makes a video stick in your mind, how to best communicate through this medium. We also discussed the idea of a PSA- using your movie to teach others.
Then we brainstormed ideas for our movie. Through the brainstorming process (which took two whole classes) students considered several different concepts and ideas for the video. They really took ownership- discussing, deciding, revising- until they agreed upon a slogan and 5 safety and prevention tips.
We filmed pairs of students saying "Stay safe, Be cool. Don't be a fool" and students created individual storyboards to generate ideas for filming the 5 tips. Finally we created a whole class storyboard:

We used the storyboard as a guide as we filmed each scene.

Student ownership-
This project completely belonged to the students. The students came up with each and every idea for how to film the scenes, what to say, what props to use. If they didn't think it was right, they did it again, changing, adding, subtracting, improving. I can not emphasize enough the involvement and ownership of the students in each and every decision. They showed patience, perseverance, creativity and an impressive ability to work together as a group.

Process and Product
The process worked, and the students are so proud of their video. Whether it wins the $10,000 prize or not, they have achieved success. Please take a minute and a half to view their video and leave them a comment.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's all just talk until you DO It

Theory. Or practice?
It is one of those sticking points I bump up against over and over again in education circles. The talkers are often not the teachers; the teachers who are working hard every day in classrooms with students often don't have time to theorize, write, tweet all night, present at or even attend many conferences.
I am personally aware of many exceptions to this, and, frankly, I have no idea how they do it.
But I don't want to argue, blame or criticize nor do I want to praise or name names. Everyone has a role to play, and anyone who cares enough about education to devote themselves to it at any level, in any way, has my appreciation and respect.

Something really stood out, though, to me tonight during the weekly edchat on twitter. The topic for discussion was about assessment, and many tweeters were glorifying eportfolios as a form of assessment. I jumped into the chat, as I am working this year on piloting eportfolios with students. Yes, I said working and with students. I tweeted-

(and then re-tweeted it again since no one responded).
I did get a few "try so and so, I think they are doing portfolios..." and one tweeter who responded that he is planning to try them next year. And I did get one person to join the new digital portfolios group I created at the Curriculum 21 ning.

This eportfolios experiment is proving to be one of the most challenging things I have undertaken with K-8 students. Most of the high-quality samples I have found are from adults and college/grad school students (education and graphic design).
I'm certainly not advocating that we don't talk about anything unless we've tried it. Everything has to begin in the ideas-talking-thinking stage...
It is just making me wonder how much of the "teachers should be doing this" talk is based in real-teacher, real-classroom, real-school reality.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Homework-Parenting Dilemmas

I am not a big believer in the value of homework. Though not as vehement in my opposition as some, I just don't find it all that useful, especially in the lower grades. I have read many interesting articles and reviews of the research, but I am not going to go into that here. Mainly I want to explore and seek feedback on the dilemma that I am presented with as a parent.
I understand that my children's teachers have different views than I. I accept that my children attend a school where assigning homework is required. My strategy, for the most part, has been to work homework into our after-school routine and let the kids do it themselves. I rarely look at it unless my help is specifically requested, which it rarely is.
When I do look at the work, I find it consists of a bit of practice or busy-work; occasionally there is a "project" requiring me to go to the store and buy a poster-board or some art supplies.

In my own defense, I do engage with my children in many ways that, I believe, impact them educationally. I read aloud to each of my children almost every night, discussing and laughing over stories and characters. We play word games like Boggle and Scrabble. My son and I have a beloved storytelling game that we have been playing for years. I bake with them. We play board games and thinking games, guessing games and Mad Libs.

But when it comes to homework, I am just not that involved. And I wonder, sometimes, if I'm doing something wrong. I see how involved other parents are in their child's homework, taking the opportunity to teach their child and help them. They show them, through this, that school is important and that they care. Although I am not outwardly negative about the homework and I do what is required of me, I do not give my children that extra bit of help and attention where homework is concerned. This is not my way of protesting my children's homework, it is simply the last thing I care to spend my precious minutes on, in a busy family and work-filled life.

Am I doing a disservice?
Last night my daughter and her friend worked on an assignment to create a flyer about Florida. I set them up with two laptops and left them to the task. Afterwards, the friend's mom noticed a spelling error in her daughter's work and asked me to reprint her flyer. I then took a moment to look at my own daughter's work. There were several errors of spelling and punctuation. I now feel that I should sit with her and help her correct her mistakes, and I very well might, but is this MY job? Or is this the teacher's job? I know that parents and teachers are in partnership together. I am not trying to be dense or difficult or to push an anti-homework agenda. I am questioning the purpose of why we do what we do, we being teachers, as I am also a teacher. I am also faced with a dilemma: as an educator who cares very much about learning and substance and very little about grades, do I try to care more about the grades in order to help my children? The other mom said that she thought it was important to correct her daughter's work because the flyer counts for a "quiz grade." I had to admit that I had no idea what kind of grade the flyer counted for and I personally don't feel motivated to help my daughter because something counts as a "quiz grade." If I help my daughter it will be because I do want her to learn (and think she should already know) that Florida starts with a capital "F," and you should always read over and check your work before printing.

My daughter, when asked, rarely understands the purpose of her work. She tries very hard to comply with what is asked of her, not understanding the learning behind it. I try hard to be true to myself while also trusting my children's teachers and being generally supportive. What do you think? Is homework a parent's responsibility?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Dark Side of EdTech??

There is something on my mind...
Those of us who have been drinking the EdTech Kool Aid sing the praises of our gadgets and tools. Integrate! Engage! Connect! Web 2.0! It's all good, if only everyone would do it right. Right? But more and more I find myself wondering if we are simply ignoring another inconvenient truth. Is sustainability the overlooked 21st century literacy?

In this blog post "I Call B.S.," written after TEDxDenverEd this past summer, the blogger complains that TEDx had a "secondary agenda" beyond the realm of pure education.
"Despite hearing from some amazing educators, there was an obvious trend with a political and social agenda. One that I wasn’t expecting and it really caught me off guard. More towards the end of the evening, the presentations were increasingly chocked full of buzzwords like: food justice, activism, organic, global citizenship, green, climate change, social justice, vegatarian, brown, awareness, community, school garden, nutrition, empowerment, global model, and environmental literacy."

As I read the post again, I appreciate his point about education conferences being cluttered with buzzwords that can detract from the most important and enduring value of education- the connection between students and teachers. However, can we really keep separating ourselves from our source? We must have clean food and water to sustain our existence. Education, as important as it is, is secondary to basic survival and quality of life. I fail to understand the offensiveness of an agenda that recognizes that schools must address issues of sustainability if we are to maintain a quality of life that affords us to grow and learn and create into the future. Dr. Tim Tyson, in his excellent post Do We So Easily Fool Ourselves? asks,
"Have we really become this selfish: we demand the good life, all of it. We want it now. We will sacrifice the future to have this moment?"
What does sustainability and selfishness have to do with the "dark side" of educational technology? As technology enables us to do more, think more, share more, create more, connect more and in many cases live a better quality of life, I sometimes wonder if we are indeed sacrificing the future to have this moment?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing a Class Mission Statement

Exciting Update: 2016

The course I have created is up and ready!

Check it out here!
If you just want the downloadable materials, they're here (only $2.99!!)

Here is the course trailer:
Mission Possible! How and Why to Create Class Mission Statements from amplifiEDucation on Vimeo.

After working through these ideas and lessons with my own students and other teachers for many years, I am a true believer in the power of helping students take ownership of their behavior and learning through exploring goal-setting, values and mission statements. I learned so much more from authoring this course, and I hope it will be a wonderful addition to your classroom community and culture.

Here is the original post I wrote (in 2010), when I was first beginning to learn about this!

In thinking about the digital portfolios, I have decided that a good place to begin is by having the students in 5th grade and 8th grade write personal mission statements. Since hearing Stephen Covey and his son, Sean Covey, speak about The Leader in Me, a program designed to teach leadership skills to young students, I have had a revived interest in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (and teens and happy kids...they're all the same habits).

Habit #2 "Begin with the end in mind" is the habit that inspired the personal mission statement. This is the hardest habit for me, personally, so maybe I'm projecting, but I think that for a lot of students it is also hard to think of the future. They may not understand how what they are doing in 5th grade or 8th grade is part of the foundation for who they will become.
I like the idea of writing a personal mission statement as a focus for the portfolio because the portfolio is about reflective growth as a learner. What better way to begin... than with the end in mind. Why are you in school? What is your purpose? What are your goals?
I see the personal mission statement as being more general, more direct, than a list of learning goals or, as in the case of a teacher's portfolio, a teaching philosophy. It will not necessarily take the place of these; both could be included.

In trying to craft a lesson on writing a personal mission statement I looked at lots of tools, examples and ideas. This is what I have come up with for 5th grade.
As an introduction to the concept, we will read together our school's mission statement.
We will view this video created by a 4th grade class to illustrate their vision for the year.

Next, we will use wallwisher to collaboratively brainstorm a class mission statement. Students will answer these 3 questions:
-Why are you here?
-What do you most want to learn this year?
-How will we accomplish our goals?
Students will then organize their answers into categories and use each category to create a sentence or two for the mission statement.
That will probably be enough for one day. I see this exercise as a stepping-stone on the path to writing a personal mission statement. I am going to work with 5th grade this afternoon, and I will share results.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Digital Portfolios- Beginning the Process

One of my main tasks this year is to pilot the implementation of digital portfolios. Right now it is an amorphous idea, and I need to (very quickly) make it concrete so that I can go back to sleeping at night.

First steps-
1. Decide to focus on grades K, 5 and 8. --DONE
2. Decide what platform to use for the portfolios. We have decided to use wp multi-user, hosted on our website. Each student will have their own site for their portfolio. --( sites have been set up/are currently being set up. I need to follow up on this and finish creating sites that have yet to be set up.)

Next steps:
-Meet with teachers to formulate a timeline, standards and process for artifact collection and evaluation/reflection.
-explore resources and examples. Formulate a template or templates and a plan for each grade K, 5 and 8.

Process, thoughts, and ideas:
-Met with 8th grade language arts teacher.
We assigned tasks:
•Teacher is responsible for creating a rubric for the language arts section of the portfolio.
•Teacher is responsible for deciding on required work samples to be included in the portfolio.
•I am responsible for creating a template and a timeline.
We discussed having each student present their portfolio at the end of the year to a group of adults (parents, principal, teachers, representative from high school, etc).

-I really like the idea (from 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens) of formulating a personal mission statement. I envision this as the home page of the portfolio. I have discussed this idea with the 8th grade LA teacher and the 5th grade general studies teacher. I ordered the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens workbook and have started exploring online tools for learning about and creating a personal mission statement. One site I plan to explore in further depth and possibly use with students is this one from Franklin-Covey. I need to reserve some time in my schedule to plan this lesson.
Ideas: share the mission in writing, view the mission in wordle, student reads the mission statement on video as the intro to themselves and their work.

-I have begun creating my own professional digital portfolio. As I work with students I will be doing many of the same steps they are doing. For example, I will also work to define my personal mission statement.

-I need to learn how to format the wordpress sites in order to design a template for each grade level. I have scheduled time with Silvia to work with me on this.

-I briefly spoke and brainstormed with Kindergarten teachers. We need to meet again soon to formulate a plan.

-I have been bookmarking examples and resources on delicious. I need to make time to explore these to mine for ideas.

-I started a digital portfolio group on the Curriculum 21 ning as a way to connect with others who are at various stages in this process. Please join me there.

Now that I've taken the time to document some of the things that I have done, I feel a little bit better. There is much to do, but it is about the process (and the product) but more about the process (and sharing, documenting, and reflecting on the process).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A New Blog

At the end of last school year, I wrote the post "Off the Mat" with some thoughts about a new blog I wanted to start. Today I created it, and would like to invite any interested readers to check it out. I love EdTech Workshop and plan to continue blogging here with the topics of education and educational technology.

The new blog is a more open space for me to explore things I think about. I will probably write a lot about yoga, parenting and other things that don't really fit with the EdTech theme.

Effort and Ease

In yoga, the word "asana" refers to the physical postures. Most of the sanskrit names for the postures contain the word asana, as in trikonasana (triangle pose) and vrksasana (tree pose). In each asana, the yogi seeks the balance between effort and ease.

I have been thinking about this idea in my "off the mat" life, specifically work. I need to find the balance between effort and ease in my professional life.
If you've been reading my blog, you already know something about my work and the changes that have been occurring at my school. When I compare the use of educational technology at the school today with when I started working there four years ago, I am pleased and a bit amazed.

Everything at work is great. We have a new head of school who really "gets it." I get to work with Silvia Tolisano, who is brilliant, and I learn from her every minute we spend together. I work with my good friend, Kim, the best technology assistant in the world, bar none (really, assistant is the wrong title for her, she is so much more than that). Our teachers are blogging on brand new macbooks, our website has evolved from a static site to a dynamic hub of communication, I am charged with the exciting task of working with students and teachers to begin the process of digital portfolios. I have increased my skills and abilities to the point where I could go almost anywhere from here. In short, I have gotten pretty much everything I ever wanted.
So why do I feel stressed and overwhelmed? And what am I going to do about it?

I need to find that place between effort and ease. There is so much to do. I have long lists of blog posts I want to write. My google reader overflows. I can not keep up. I want to do have the time to do things properly. Every task takes time. I feel rushed and pressured, and I feel that my co-workers don't understand why I can't always stop whatever I'm doing and run to show them, for the 50th time, how to reset an airport when the signal goes weak or rename a printer that has lost its network connection. And before you suggest I create a "how-to" sheet, please understand that I did that years ago.

I love my work. What I don't love is the feeling of anxiety that keeps me up at night, the feeling of being spread too thin, my energies scattered. My eyes hurt. I don't even know if I believe in the power of educational technology as much as I once did.

Effort- I work hard every day. I try to keep up, keep things working, and continue to grow. I learn from my mistakes. I reflect after every lesson, every encounter, every situation. I am there to help, and I try my hardest to respond with patience to every person who approaches me. I am a team-player, and it is not just luck that I get to work with people of the caliber of Silvia and Kim. My to-do list overflows. I do my best to prioritize, strategize, and share.

Ease- I remind myself to stay in the moment. I breathe in and out. I try to remember that, ultimately, my job is not so much about technology (try to tell me that when things aren't working, though); my purpose for being where I am is to build relationships. It is about helping people. I can only do so much. I need to have faith-- in myself, in the students, in my colleagues. I must make time (and space in my brain) for rest and relaxation. Worry has no place in the picture. It doesn't add to my productivity. If people don't understand what I do all day, that is not my problem.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


"We asked colleagues to share with us a video of their own stories of something surprising, valuable, powerful or just plain inspiring that happened when that piece of media, that document, that video, that blog post, became valuable to someone they did not know before. "

I've referred to this story before when I wrote about serendipity and change. I think it is truly an amazing story, and I fully believe that openness and sharing leads to amazing things. Here is the story of how I met Silvia Tolisano, we became virtual colleagues through blogs and twitter, and eventually (and amazingly), became real-life colleagues. Who knows what's next?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why Buy Software in a Web 2.0 World?

I have had a few people ask my advice recently about what software to purchase to "do" more 21st Century-centric learning in their school. My answer, in a nutshell, is that I think funds are best spent on hardware: updated, webcam-enabled laptops (preferable) or desktop computers, flip cameras, still cameras and, of course, a ceiling-mounted projector (a necessity in any classroom these days. I could not imagine teaching without one).
Most of the best tools-blogs, wikis, google apps, even photo editors and mind-mapping tools- are available for free online. Other, excellent software is available to be freely downloaded, so why spend any money on software, especially when money in schools is in short supply?

I have a few parts to my answer (and in a follow-up post, I will tell you what I use in my computer lab at school):
First of all, let's remember the old saying about no free lunch. I think this is basically true or, at least, the free lunch only seems free. Maybe it's free drinks and appetizers....not the whole meal. If you think about it, everything costs. There are people working to create these applications; they must get paid. There is server space and other costs involved. Twitter is unusual, in that it is free to use and free of ads-- at least for now. Everyone thought ning was paid for by advertisements, but recently ning announced a monthly fee. Many people who had started nings were left to figure out what to do...try to move the entire community to another space or get stuck paying $19.95/month to keep the established site.
There are plenty more examples, but remember, most sites must get revenue somehow. Either advertising abounds or you get a "lite" version of the service or a trial version, and once you decide it's worth it or you want more from it, you can pay for the "pro" or the membership or pay for an ad-free space. There are some noteworthy exceptions to this, but I do wonder how long those will stay free.
I don't have a huge problem with this concept. I actually appreciate the chance to try something and get hooked (or not) before deciding if it's worth the price. I have upped my membership to a number of services, and I usually do so willingly. Some sites have education accounts that have varying degrees of "free-ness" for educational use. Wikispaces is amazing and much appreciated- they have given away many ad-free sites for K-12 education with, so far, nothing in the fine-print, no long waiting periods to be approved and no take-backs (as in "it was free, but we're taking it back." ) In most cases, I've found that there is something about the educator account that ends up being less than what the paying folks get. But, hey, it is what it is.

There is open-source software. I love the idea of open-source, and I use it when possible, but I have found it to have its limits. When using it with students (which I admit, I haven't done too much), it seems that there is always some issue or other.

If you are looking to buy software, remember that it's not all created (or supported) equal! Some thoughts:
-download the trial version to all of your classroom computers, and let the kids be the judge!
-I personally dislike software with a lot of "bells and whistles" or so-called "educational games" that are really glorified worksheets with games to play in between.
-Ask around. What do other teachers like? Before purchasing anything, however, always try it out yourself.
-Take your time. There is plenty to do on a computer these days without spending a dime on additional software. Figure out what your needs are before thinking about filling them.
-I really like software and sites that are "open-ended." To me, these are the most worthwhile programs in the classroom. Think Tech4Learning, Inspiration, Fablevision, Scratch - programs that give the learner the tools to create and solve problems.

I've always loved this Jaron Lanier quote:

" We already knew that kids learned computer technology more easily than adults. What we're seeing now is that they don't even need to be taught. It is as if children were waiting all these centuries for someone to invent their native language."

--Jaron Lanier

I agree, kids don't need to be taught, per se. But think about the native language analogy. We don't "teach" kids their native language. Yet, most people speak to babies and very young children using simple words, rhymes, repetitions, etc. We know that a child just learning to speak will have a more simple vocabulary.
It is the same with tech skills. A few, carefully chosen software purchases, can provide scaffolding in developing software skills for young students. For example, Kindergarten kids enjoy using Pixie. They can playfully explore the program. It's accessible, fun and they can do more with it as they become more skilled. Yet the interface is similar to that of advanced programs like Photoshop, so they are acquiring skills that are transferable to other applications. Find programs that help children grow into independent and creative computer users.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

ISTE10- Through My Lens

So, by now, almost a week after the final keynote, there have been lots and lots (and LOTS!) of ISTE10 blog posts. I still have an #iste10 search column in Tweetdeck, and, although it is starting to wind down, there are still quite a few tweets. I will process them slowly, over time. We've all heard the apt analogy that learning at a conference like ISTE is like taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant.

Last year was my first time attending NECC (now known as ISTE). I was overwhelmed and spent way too much time wandering aimlessly, afraid to miss something good. This time, I knew that I would barely scratch the surface of possibility, and I made my peace with that before leaving home. My strategy was not to worry, to enjoy what came my way, to make the most of each moment and every conversation and to take time to recharge my batteries, literally and figuratively.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I had the exciting opportunity this year to attend ISTE as a tweeter/blogger for my favorite software company, Tech4Learning. One of the best things about this was that it imposed a filter for the conference. Rather than making me feel confined, having a focus helped me to not feel so overwhelmed. The theme for ISTE this year was "Exploring Excellence." Tech4Learning is a company that strives for excellence in what they do. I appreciate their strong alignment with what works in education and their genuine desire to provide the best tools for students to "engage, create and share."
I tried to "mix it up" in terms of finding different ways to view the conference through the Tech4Learning lens. I had a lot of fun videotaping people at the T4L booth and events. A big thank you to everyone who spoke to me on-camera!

To read more about information overload and filters, including some excellent graphics, check out this post.

image credit:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Path of Your Heart

I love Tracy Chapman's song "All that you have is your soul. " I love her voice and her words:
"Don't be tempted by the shiny apple, don't you eat of a better fruit. Hunger only for a taste of justice; hunger only for a world of truth. Cause all that you have is your soul.
As I reflect on TEDxDenverEd, what keeps coming to the forefront of my mind is this:
The most important thing you bring to teaching is your soul.
Your soul is your passion, your love for the world, your caring for students and for learning, your desire to share with others. Your passion may not be all that you have, but it's the fuel. Without passion you are an empty shell.

Many things touched me at TED last night. Even though I'm "edtechworkshop," I resonated most with the non-techie speakers- inspiring educators like Brian Crosby, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, Earthsea, and Dafna Michaelson. I was heartened by the environmental message that, thank goodness, was showcased on the TED stage with equal or greater importance than futuristic tech (5000 days to get it together, people!!!!!)

The two women who spoke as Earthsea, Pandora and Zakiya really struck a chord with me as they talked about weaving your passions into your work, walking your unique path because only you can do what YOU are supposed to be doing in this life. Was it a sign that they are from the Bay Area and showed a video from Hunter's Point, where my own path as an educator began?

Another of the speakers....and I apologize for not remembering who said exactly what. (I'm finishing this post several days later, talks are not yet posted online and I didn't take any notes during the show)....anyway, another of the speakers referred to "islands" of good teaching but asked the poignant question, "Is the ocean supporting the island?"
Sadly, in my experience, the island often has to fight for it's right not to become the ocean.

Why is it so hard to speak the truth, walk the path, be who we truly are? This is a personal struggle for me, and I feel that I do a somewhat decent job of staying one step ahead of the ocean. But I have had at least 10 jobs in 18 years, and I often feel worried. I am different- too opinionated, too passionate. I see things differently than most of those around me, and it is for this reason that I identify with the island/ocean analogy.

Finally, Sarah Elizabeth She is more than a decade younger than I, but I would like to be like her when I grow up. (that's a little nod to Adora Svitak -- watch her TED talk, she's
awesome!) I am in awe of Sarah Elizabeth Ippel's fierce determination. This is a woman who trusted her instincts and followed her heart, despite being laughed at and negated over and over again. She submitted her proposal to start the Academy for Global Citizenship 3 times before it was finally approved by the board, and I loved what she said after she submitted in year 3 and was waiting for the response. "I was waiting and thinking, 'Am I going to have to
wait another whole year before I can try again?'" She had no intention of failing, no intention of quitting. She believed in herself, even when the establishment, "the ocean" repeatedly told her no. How many of us have this kind of confidence?

I recently filled out a feedback form about TEDxDenverEd. I summed up my feelings about the night by contrasting how I felt after TEDx with how I feel when watching mainstream media. I find myself feeling hopeless in the face of television news that showcases problems, but rarely solutions or reality shows that glorify excessive over-consumption and mediocrity. After TEDx, I felt hopeful again, inspired. I hope to be able to tap into those feelings in order to keep focused on my own path, to fortify me as I push back that ocean.

A few thoughts after TED

TEDxDenverEd- An amazing, inspiring night-

1. Be hopeful. Humans are amazing!
2. Weave your passions into your work. Your path is unique- own it. Be courageous, audacious, don't take no for an answer.
3. Solve problems. Collaborate with others to solve problems. Empower the kids to solve their own problems.
4. We only have about 5,000 days left to make serious headway with solving environmental problems before it will be TOO LATE.

I needed this. I had been feeling hopeless; now I feel hopeful. I haven't been doing nearly enough in my job or in my life. I must do more.
I am very inspired by what I saw, heard and experienced tonight. Thank you, TED!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lifelong Kindergarten- Keeping Imagination & Creativity in the Learning Process

Mitchell Resnick, MIT's Lifelong Kindergarten

I decided to take my notes from this session in wordle.

Other posts I've written about LLK and Scratch:

some about playful learning:

and a great article from The Creative Educator (excellent magazine) on Iconic Pattern Play

Top 10 Components of Effective Technology Leadership

Chris O'Neal- trains principals at University of Virginia

italics are my thoughts...
the room is PACKED. We are packed in so tight I can't drink my coffee...
skoodad....(introducing guy works for them)???
He is apologizing for not having paper handouts, this is the first time he hasn't made paper handouts. That, alone, is making me question whether I am in the right place.

Equity of Access- we can't solve the equity of access issue in students' homes, but we MUST solve the issue during the school day. (Covey-- area of influence, area of control. work on those things that are within your control)
In 2010 kids using technology as a reward for finishing work is educational malpractice.
Every kid in every class must have the same access, not just to the equipment, but to the experiences.

Understanding and Using Data-
Lots of schools make (expensive) decisions based on superficial data (ie: student survey "strongly agree....strongly disagree). need to dig deeper into the data before making decisions.

Effective Professional Development-
What is effective professional development? (good question, even at ISTE, not all sessions are created equal!) He is talking about customizing pd for different grade levels. (I don't think that's necessarily the right approach. I agree about differentiating, but I don't know that just focusing on different grade levels is the answer. I personally, after Educon and EdubloggerCon and my learning style which thrives on interaction, have a hard time sitting in a 100 degree lecture and just listening.....I guess that is the point of blogging and twittering for me.)

"Walk the walk~Talk the talk"-- Model what you want
Leaders use the technology themselves, make it look easy

for vision prioritizing
then paste into wordle, very quick way to bring everyone's ideas together to reshape the vision

Reward Growth- recognize and reward when people are trying to move out of their comfort zones.

Genuine Reflection- most education professionals do not reflect in meaningful ways. We need to reflect after professional development, not just ooh, I want that cool thing. Allow time for refection and encourage others to reflect. What is the one thing I am pulling from this session that I am going to DO? (again, the power of is a good start, no?)

Student-driven technology - let the kids do the tech stuff. takes some of the pressure off the teachers.

PLN- get one.

It appears that I missed one of the 10 components of effective technology leadership; I only recorded nine. What do you think #10 should be?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Stories We Tell -EduBloggerCon #2

What stories do we tell about education? What stories are broken? What new stories are emerging?
What's "true?"

Old story- The teacher has to know everything.
New story- We all learn from each other. Everyone can be a teacher.

I like "stories we tell" as a way of thinking about what is happening in schools/education.

Old story- all learning takes place in the 4 walls of the school building, School year based on agricultural calendar
New story- Learning is participatory, learning can happen anywhere you are, learning is creative.
Old story- If you aren't attentive when the info is given, you lose.
New story- People learn at different times of the day, in different ways.

Old story -Learning is linear and subjects are separate.

What story or stories do we have to tell about technology in education?
Can our system of education truly adjust or will there be a whole new system that will emerge?

the story about one-to-one laptops is that they're not working... ?? (I hadn't heard this)

Old story -Learning is neat, quiet orderly
New story- Learning is messy!

Old story Curriculum focused on knowledge of information (ie: everyone should know the parts of a flower)
New story learning how to learn

competing stories.
Technology doesn't improve instruction, teachers improve instruction.

New story - Learning is social.

Should the "new stories" be mandated? J. Alba- how to we move toward a paradigm shift large-scale? must be mandated and supported. and a movement away from testing as assessment.
Kevin- Not mandated, invited, inspired-- meet teachers on the front porch with their stories

What can we take away from this that has value? Knowing that these are stories...As humans we identify with stories as a way to explain things but stories change. We are going through a period where we are redefining the way things work because of the internet.

Book recommendation from Kevin Honeycutt- Don't Think of an Elephant

Building Your Brand Online

Simple K-12

do you see yourself as a mini-biz? Scott do you market yourself in a way that reaches people outside of the space you are operating in? brand/marketing helps reach more people.
have to find a personal voice
there is worth in having a brand as a teacher-Scott Mcleod

hiring committee- we looked for people's online presence
- important for employment

Carol Broos- sees a lot in college, wants to see more in K-12
wherever you participate online you are creating a brand, a lot of people haven't consciously worked on creating their brand yet.

How to transition to a new personal brand? move content to ebooks and link to it

keeping "selves" separate ie: having a separate facebook page for personal contacts, a professional brand that is only professional
schools have a fear of social media, need to teach kids how to use it , create brands, represent selves. (Yup, so true)
time commitment, get out of it what you put into it.

What is your goal?
different goals for different people.
many agree that you don't need to necessarily have a goal

How to get districts, schools, classrooms to use twitter?
See EdTechLeader's twitter resources for teachers.

how to increase presence with the blog, using all the pieces to build your brand (twitter, blog, etc). Go to every social networking platform and secure your brand. Even if you don't think you want to use it, secure it. Also think about securing social media sites for your school, even if you're not using them yet. - to check for availability of your name across sites

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Postcards from ISTE

I'm getting so excited for ISTE.

This year, I will be wearing a new hat at the conference- that of ISTE2010 blogger/tweeter for Tech4Learning. It is a wonderful opportunity on so many levels. I only hope I can do justice to the task of sharing all the amazing things that will be happening.
In the old days (when I was a kid), people sent postcards. I remember when my parents or grandparents would travel. They usually arrived home about a week before the postcard arrived.

Tech4Learning has recently introduced a web-based version of Pixie called (what else?) Wixie.
You can use Wixie to create a digital postcard from ISTE that can be shared immediately. Here is mine:

If you're going to be at ISTE, stop by booth #526 to make yours.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Workbook Agita

Another school year has ended, and once again I am having agita (cool word from a book I am reading, blogger says no such word, but I like it)....anyway having agita as I go through my daughter's big bag of workbooks.
Here are my issues-
1. The workbooks are expensive. Parents are required to buy a workbook for every subject, including a series of workbooks for Hebrew.
2. The workbooks are by-and-large unused. Some of them have only a few pages that have been used.
3. I would prefer for my child to use more authentic tools and materials to learn many of the skills presented in these workbooks. (Boy it took a lot of restraint for me to write that nice sentence. I wanted to just write "Workbooks suck" but I held back.)
4. I hate waste. The books are just used enough that it's hard to find an incoming 3rd grade student who would take them. I certainly don't think my daughter will want to spend her summer answering contrived workbook questions about random paragraphs. I might as well just throw some dollar bills into the recycling bin at the start of each school year, and skip the whole charade.

Every year now I have questioned the reasoning behind having parents spend a lot of money buying workbooks that won't be used. I have not yet received an acceptable answer.
I wish the teachers would have the courage to order only the one or two workbooks they really plan to use. I am ok with my daughter practicing D'Nealian handwriting with a workbook (one of the only books that got used). Who knows if cursive writing will be of use to her in the future, but she enjoys it, and that is fine with me.

If each parent took half the money they would normally spend on workbooks and donated it to a class fund, the teacher could buy lots of real books for children to read and lots of other useful and authentic materials for the classroom.
After 3 years of buying school books, I have spent almost as much money as it would cost to buy my child a macbook, which she would love and could use for a long time, something that would kill those workbooks.

Our school seems to be moving in a new direction. We will be reading Curriculum 21 as a staff this summer and working on upgrading our content, curriculum and assessments. I particularly don't understand the decision to make parents purchase these wasteful and expensive books, year after year. We must not only talk the talk, we must walk the walk. We must take time, at the end of each day and the end of each year, to ask what is working and what is not?
We must have the courage to be real, to let go of the old and to change. If not now, when?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trust a Teacher

Perk up your listening ears and you will notice that everyone has an opinion about teachers. Parents have strong viewpoints on which teachers are "good" at their child's school though Parent A and Parent B might strongly disagree on which teacher is the best.
Politicians are forever searching for a way to measure good teaching. Should good teaching be rewarded with better pay? How, then, will we measure good teaching? And, of course, bad teachers should be forced from the classroom!

I purposely use the vague and almost meaningless words "good" and "bad" to introduce the idea that perhaps we need to look at teaching and teachers through a different lens.
What I think it boils down to, in the most basic way, is relationship. Teaching is one half of a relationship.
The teacher-student relationship is archetypal. It is certainly not dependent on a classroom or a school. As I think deeply about teachers and teaching and what I consider to be a good teacher, I keep coming back to trust. As a student (or a parent of a student) I must give over a certain amount of trust to the teacher. This is what, I believe, is being eroded with our personal and societal preoccupations with measuring and quantifying teaching.

As a teacher, you must earn your student's trust. You must commit to do the hard work necessary to be worthy of that trust. You must reinvent yourself, your practice, your lessons, your knowledge. You must deeply understand the way in which each class and every student is unique. To be a true teacher is to want to be in relationship with students, to realize that you teach human beings, not subject matter.

On the flip side, teachers are also special and unique. Teachers are not machines. We are not robots. We can not be expected to talk alike, work alike, manage classrooms alike, have the same notions of what is most important for our students.

As a student and a parent I have my ideas of what good teaching looks like, sounds like, and feels like to me. I also try to remind myself to put these expectations aside, to trust a teacher who may, in many ways, differ from my ideal of a good teacher. Each caring teacher imparts a different lesson.

From time to time I hear the question, "Will computers replace teachers?" With good software and instructional media, can't I learn whatever I want to learn without a teacher? Good instructional design (designed by humans!) is an excellent way to reach learners. However, learners are individuals and instructional software and materials can only reach so far into a learner's soul.
Will computers replace spouses? Will computers replace having children?
"Computers are magnificent tools for the realization of our dreams, but no machine can replace the human spark of compassion, love and understanding." -Louis Gerstner
A story-
Some years back I wanted to learn to play the guitar. I envisioned singing my favorite songs and strumming easily in accompaniment. It was difficult and frustrating to be a beginner, and I had to tap into everything I knew about being a learner.
First of all, I found a teacher. But after weeks of lessons, practice, chords and scales, I still couldn't play a song. I began to get antsy. I started to question my teacher.
When he finally taught me a song, it was not a song I chose, but a song he chose. I was beginning to really question whether I had the right teacher. Other friends with other teachers had learned to play songs early-on. Why was he making me suffer? Why did my first song have to be a difficult jazz song? Why, why, why???
Being a teacher myself, and one who reveres the teacher-student relationship, I calmed myself. Trust him, I thought. He is the teacher. You are the student. He is your guide; you must trust him. Finally he allowed me to choose a song. I chose "Here Comes the Sun" and boy, was I excited. I will tell you that no beginning guitar student has ever played such a complicated and lovely rendition of "Here Comes the Sun." Not just chords, my teacher taught me every note and nuance of the song. The proof came when I played for my friend, Scott, an extremely accomplished guitar player. Scott had been playing guitar for decades, and had not taken a lesson for many years. When he heard his beginner friend play "Here Comes the Sun," he requested my teacher's phone number.

The other day a friend told me she was interested in trying yoga. I mentioned how much I like my studio, that she might want to try a class. She said she had a yoga program on her wii fit. Now, I have to admit I don't have a wii fit, so I don't speak from personal experience. But it seems to me that while a wii fit might be a decent tool for getting a little exercise, I have a hard time imagining how the wii fit could hold a candle to a real yoga teacher who sets the mood, imparts bits of wisdom, adjusts certain poses and guides the journey. I can't imagine the wii fit having a passion for yoga. I have trouble imagining a new student falling in love with yoga through the generic program that is created basically the same for everyone. I will take a real teacher over a machine any day of the week.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Off the Mat

This is my son, Jack.
Today was Jack's last day of Kindergarten.
Like any parent, I could go on and on about my son-- his talents, his unique attributes. Jack is smart, adventurous, strong and athletic, sensitive and kind, outgoing and friendly. He loves learning, has an incredible memory, is enamored with reading and writing, and craves constant mental stimulation.
He is also fidgety, impulsive and loud. He forgets to raise his hand. He "HAS TO SAY SOMETHING!" Not always welcome attributes in the classroom setting.

Although he was in a small class (only 8 students) at a private school, Jack struggled to fit in this year due to his impulsive behavior. Every day he came home with a number written in a folder, representing how many smiley-faces he received (or didn't get taken away) that day.

As Jack and I discussed his behavior, and why he might have lost a smiley that day, it became apparent to me that a lot of his troubles seemed to occur on the mat. Jack lost smileys for talking on the mat, scraping the mat, writing on the mat, etc. Once he even received an extra smiley for good behavior on the mat.

Our school, in general, seems to struggle to meet the needs of kids, like Jack, who don't seem to fit nicely into the box (ie: sit nicely on the mat). Put Jack in a tree and I think he would listen more attentively.
Look at the mat:
It even looks like a box.

I have just finished my fourth year of teaching at the same school Jack attends. I continue to grow and learn and am lucky to be in a place where I am able to evolve professionally. When I got into the field of educational technology it was sparked by my interest in what motivated students. As I started blogging and tweeting, I chose the name EdTech Workshop because, at the time I was thrilled by the new and exciting potential I was discovering as I became an expert in the field of technology integration.
Although I still believe tremendously in the potential it holds, technology in education is no longer new to me, and I find myself feeling a bit "boxed in" here at EdTech Workshop. I want to feel free as I work through my ideas about learning and life in a broader, more open space, as silly or arbitrary as that may sound.

I have taken the "tech" out of my job description. In honor of Jack and all children who don't fit into the mold of schooliness, I am calling my new blog "Off The Mat." This also reflects my growing commitment to my yoga practice, and my desire to explore how I can take that practice off the mat and into the rest of my life.

There are a number of absolutely brilliant EdTech blogs out there. Instead of continuing to sing with the choir, I am ready to find and share my own true voice.

"What the world tells you is to be like everybody else. What the world needs for you to be is YOU." ~Ralph Marston

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What should I call it?

What's in a name?
I think words carry a great deal of importance. They are seeds that help turn dreams and ideas into realities. I struggle, in speech and even more so in writing, to find just the right words to express that which I truly mean.

So, what should my job title be?
My title for the last 4 years has been "Technology Coordinator." I no longer want to be the technology coordinator, and I have been somewhat successful in passing on many of the technology-related responsibilities.
Our school has grown and changed and adopted more of a 21st Century learning perspective, and I, too, have evolved professionally. Now I have the opportunity to redefine my role and with that, one of my first tasks is to figure out what to call myself.

My first thought was "technology integration facilitator." But with that, the emphasis is still heavily on technology. And technology integration. For me, I want the focus of what I do to be on learning. I plan to work closely and collaboratively with teachers in a coaching or co-teaching style model.
Should the title include the word "learning?" "Curriculum?" "Coach?"
Should I purposely eliminate the word "technology" from the job title?

Here are some similar job titles I've considered:
Instructional coach
Instructional technology coach
Literacy coach
21st century learning specialist

I have created a wordle with some ideas of what I see myself doing, my strengths and what I hope to contribute.

I welcome your input!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Imagery Name Poems

Instructions and Example Below:

You will be writing a poem using your own name and connecting it to an image.

•Go to Piclits.

•Browse through the pictures and find one you like.

•Choose "freestyle" from the create menu, and create your poem based on the the format below.

Here is an example:

After you write your poem and read it over, skitch it. Save the skitched image to your server. Print out a copy, making sure that your image is horizontal and fits the page.

If you have time, you may use the drag and drop to write a "found word" poem. Or write another freestyle poem. Explore. Create. Have fun.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Day in the Life of an MJGDS 3rd Grader

Our 3rd graders created this Voicethread showing what it is like to be a 3rd grader at MJGDS. They planned it, took all photos of Sammy, the class teddy bear, and recorded comments in Voicethread.
Please watch, listen and enjoy a peek into our school.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society

In an earlier post, The Science of Play, I shared my ideas about the importance of playful learning, the type of learning observed in very young children. In my personal experience as a teacher, I have seen that as children mature they often lose some or all of their natural comfort with learning through spontaneous and playful exploration.
Think of a toddler with a big pile of blocks. Does the toddler ask an adult, "What should I do with these blocks?" or does a toddler start with a "product" like a big tower in mind and ask, "How do I stack these blocks to make a tower?" No, the toddler jumps right in and begins to explore, trying whatever he or she wants to try. Does the toddler feel upset and frustrated when the tower of blocks topples over? Doubtful. It is more likely that he or she is delighted by this and may knock it over and rebuild it again and again.

MIT recognizes the importance of the creative exploration of early childhood to the extent that they have created an entity called The Lifelong Kindergarten group.

Lifelong Kindergarten :: MIT Media Lab via kwout

As part of their mission to "sow the seeds for a more creative society," the MIT media lab has developed a free program called Scratch that encourages the kind of open-ended exploration and creative problem solving that is not on the test, but that promotes the trial and error learning that is the heart of math, science and technological innovation. The beauty of Scratch and similar applications is that while the processes they engage are complex, most children are naturally drawn to them and find them fun. Kids ask to "play Scratch."

In my STEM classes and, to a lesser extent, my weekly lab classes I attempt to provide students with the time and space to engage in this kind of exploration using freely available resources. In my role as the teacher I model possible approaches, support students in their attempts, validate and encourage them as they proceed, and open the door by introducing them to what's out there. When appropriate, I push students to go a little deeper. Some students are more inclined than others to enjoy the open-ended, for those who require more structure I can help by defining a problem or assignment for them. I can also help them to reflect on their learning styles so that they grow in an understanding of their own abilities. Some students can't wait to get to the computer and play, others prefer a tutorial (there are many tutorials online for most applications. It can be great practice and reflection to have students who are more advanced create tutorials for others), some students are more comfortable watching first before trying. Any and all approaches to learning are valid as long as students understand the process and challenge themselves.

In addition to Scratch, here are some other recommended resources for open-ended, creative exploration:

Whizzball -from Discovery Education, whizzball is a puzzle creator. Students can design puzzles, submit their puzzles for others to solve and solve puzzles created by others. I have found this to be challenging and fun for grades 1-5.

Fantastic Contraption- physics challenge. Use the materials provided to create a contraption that solves the challenge of getting something from point A to point B. There are multiple challenges and endless solutions. I am using this with a first grade STEM enrichment class, and they LOVE it. I could see it being popular with older students as well, although I haven't introduced to other grades yet.

Lego Digital Designer - design tool using virtual legos.

PHUN - 2D physics sandbox. This one is more advanced. I recommend viewing at least one tutorial before jumping in to play. I used this with 5th grade, and it was fun (phun) at first, but many of them became frustrated quickly.