Skip to content

50 Important Links for Common Core Educators – Online Colleges

July 15, 2012

See on Scoop.itCommon Core Social Studies

Many teachers still have a lot of questions about what Common Core will mean for them; these resources are a good place to look for answers.

See on

Advertisement / Steal These Tools

July 14, 2012

See on Scoop.itCommon Core Social Studies

Like the Close reading examples prvided, in detail on the Gettysburg Address and the Preamble.  Easy to model other close reading activities of complex non-fiction text.

See on

Countdown: EdCamp Social Studies

March 16, 2012

Let’s Camp!

Written with EdCamp Social Studies Co-Organizer, Heather Kilgallon @irishteach

Are you doing something amazing in your classroom that engages students and helps them to learn more? Do your students love social studies and love learning in your class? Or, perhaps, you feel stymied or frustrated by the current state of our education system? Do budget cuts and dwindling resources leave you little choice but to teach in isolation?

Join about one-hundred educators, coming from all corners of the country, on March 24, 2012 in Philadelphia, PA, for EdCamp Social Studies for what is sure to be an inspiring and energetic day of learning and sharing at the Science Leadership Academy, a partnership high school between the School District of Philadelphia and the Franklin Institute. You can register to attend and participate, for free.
Edcamp is based upon an unconference model. It’s a motivating, participant-driven day of professional development, by teachers and for teachers. There is no set schedule of sessions ahead of time as we build the schedule together shortly before and/or the morning of the event. This is not your grandmother’s PD. This is the epitome of creation and collaboration at work. You matter. Your learning matters. Your voice and ideas matter. You deserve the opportunity to discuss ideas freely and to turn your ideas into something tangible for your students. You can also listen to the TeacherCast Podcast about Edcamp Social Studies with co-organizers, Ron Peck and Shawn McCusker for an extended discussion and additional information.

Bring It!

In order to be prepared, it’s best to bring along the following to an EdCamp

  • An open mind
  • A positive attitude
  • A willingness to collaborate and share
  • A couple of your colleagues
  • EdCamps are NOT about formal presentations. They are about conversations and they are fully participatory.
  • A concept or idea that has worked really well in your classroom that you can share and about which you are prepared to guide a discussion.
  • Ideas about things you’d like to learn – you don’t need to teach everyone else if you lead a session, you can just as easily lead a session by asking others to teach you. In other words, practice the inquiry-based practice in leading a session.
  • EdCamps are not techno-centric, however, it is a good idea to bring a laptop or other device as many people will be filling backchannels and Twitter streams around the conversations taking place. Conversations can be centered around tech and non-tech ideas and concepts.

You Can Expect

  • Passionate educators sharing their tricks & techniques
  • Collaboration with others like you in learning new tools, content, etc. together
  • Instantaneous excitement, networking and camaraderie
  • Rich, meaningful conversations that will last far beyond the construct of the day

    image via Flickr by Ann Leanness, used with permission

  • A blank schedule at the start of the day. You’ll be encouraged to put a session idea on a sticky note that you’re willing to lead and the schedule being built from it. This is participant and teacher driven.
  • A rule of two feet, or as fellow organizer, Shawn McCusker would say, the ability to “go where you grow” – if a session doesn’t meet your needs, you keep moving to one that does.
  • A smackdown – at the close, participants have one to two minutes to share a favorite tool, lesson, website or concept in a highly energetic fashion. The resources are curated and shared with all participants and beyond through Twitter.
  • An energizing discussion with best-selling author, Kenneth C. Davis about Don’t Know Much About History. This is the first content-specific EdCamp. Folks will be traveling from near and far and will have the opportunity to challenge their thinking about textbook historical concepts.
  • To leave the event a “happy camper”

Stay tuned! We’ll be posting additional tips and tricks to help you prepare for your EdCamp experience throughout the week.

Let’s Camp!

Related articles

What? Innovate? You Want Me to Decide?

February 6, 2012

From Idea Champions 2012

Not that long ago when talking in our 21C Global Studies class about Daniel Pink concepts, we came across the notion of FedEx Day and some students thought it would be a very cool way to
design their own projects, based on their own interests.  In fact, we began the school year, with students’ initial blog posts answering Pink’s “What’s My Sentence” activity.  They were interested in what Daniel Pink had to say about motivation.

So, the time has come and we’ve decided to partake in a classroom FedEx Day of our own.  Students were given no real parameters other than:

  • Think of a topic that is interesting to you
  • Research it and learn more about it
  • Pitch it to the rest of the class for feedback, ideas, etc.
  • Learn more about your topic.  Is there a problem for which you could offer solutions?
  • Create something that shows what you have learned and/or proposing.

Sounds awesome, right?  Inquiry-based, student-driven learning at it’s best.  Well, we aren’t finished yet, but it is an uphill battle.  I am experiencing a lot of push back.  While I anticipated some, I didn’t quite expect it to be this much.  The thing is, our students here are not used to learning like this.  It’s not their fault…  the drill-and-kill system has become what it is.

But, how do I keep going?  How do I keep pushing them more towards this type of learning when a few of them are so discouraged over what they are beginning to view as an outrageous assignment.  This is the email I just sent to my students:

Dear students,

I’ve been receiving emails that NO ONE has any clue what they are doing regarding this project, however I know that is not true.  I spent a considerable amount of time talking with people one-on-one and I heard some pretty amazing project ideas including:

  • Implementing a senior advisory program that would eliminate some seniors having 8+ odd study halls and actually let them be out in classes as assistants to teachers in areas of interest to them, in lieu of a senior project
  • The effects of nuclear fallout and why the US needs to keep focus on Iran, including building a model or diorama of a city and creating some chemical reaction (safely, in a lab, of course), of what nuclear radiation looks like for people.
  • Getting the school to empower students instead of manage and punish students – dress code, etc.
  • Creating a tutoring website for our school where students could create short video clips about a teacher’s lesson to help other/younger students.  Something like this is very real and could be archived to be used long after you’re gone from here…  it’s leaving a legacy of yours behind for others.
  • Funding for college and higher education
  • How to create a website for a small-town business to attract more business from outside of the area
  • Looking at whether or not schools that are 100% digital are really better than schools that are not.  One student wants to reach out via a twitter chat to find and talk to students in another school who work in a completely digital environment
  • One student is looking at and studying the possible, expanded uses for geothermal energy
  • One student is looking to compare how war looks through the eyes of an American teenager versus a teen on the other side of the world to help raise understanding.
  • One student is creating a “How-To” guide for teenagers to transition from high school to the real world or college
  • One student talked about creating a video that would be a public service announcement  to dissuade teens from bullying others – online and in school.
These are only some ideas, off the top of my head, from YOUR own classmates.  I provided this post before as examples of what sixth-graders did with their FedEx day.  Sixth-graders!  Surely you all can come up with something that interests you and is important to you.  Learn about something and show me what you’ve learned.  Propose new ways to make something function better.  I talked, too, about another class where the teacher had students read The Hunger Games and come up with two alternate types of arenas.  Do you love to read?  Have a favorite book?  Maybe use that book and create an alternate ending or plot.  Create an iMovie that is a movie trailer for your new “story.”  The possibilities are endless, but I can’t decide for you what is interesting to you.

From Christian Lenses

If you are frustrated and uncomfortable, that is OK.  It is in these spaces that research studies show we learn the most.  Complaining and repeatedly offering up an “I don’t know” will not get you any closer to completing this assignment.  Stop looking for the things that make this difficult to do.  Be part of the solution.  I just heard a great quote somewhere in which someone gave a motivational speech and said, “If you are not a programmer, then you are part of the program.”  I want you to find ways to be a programmer as the latter leaves you subject to be taken advantage of.  I’ve seen the work each and every one of you are capable of…  In fact I recently shared some of your accomplishments on my own professional blog.

You CAN do this.  No more complaining.  No more negativity.  If you let go of your fear of failure or not ‘getting it right’ you’ll be amazed at what can happen.   I know this is a different type of learning.  And, it is messy.  There is no absolute checklist.  Just give it a chance is all I ask.
If, in a year or three, you have a job and your boss comes to you and says, “Our business might have to close because our sales/service is down.  What ideas do you have to help keep our business afloat?”  … will you know how to think for yourself and solve problems?  That is my question to leave with you for the day.
Good luck, stop stressing!
Tomorrow and Wednesday, students will pitch their ideas to our class and their peers – not for approval, but to garner ideas about how accomplish what it is they’re setting out to do.

Global Education – When Hard Work Pays Off

February 4, 2012

Flat Classroom Conference Mumbai, India

Mount Carmel Area High School students are featured for their global collaborative efforts in the classroom through participation in Flat Classroom Projects.  The Flat Classroom Projects were founded by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay.

In Education Week: U.S. Schools Forge Foreign Connections Via Web, experiences in global collaboration are shared from our classroom.

While a challenging project for students, the rewards that pay out for some of them are transformational.  These experiences allow us to figuratively go outside of our classroom and our tiny town in order to experience what it is like to interact with people in different cultures.

In the most recent round of the project, FCP11-3, our students collaborated globally with students in  Canada, Germany, South Korea, United Kingdom and Australia.  Throughout the US, participation schools were from Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio and Iowa.  The project utilizes multiple Web 2.0 technologies that allow our students to collaborate with students around the world, despite time zone barriers and language barriers to research, peer edit and design a variety of multimedia, despite location and cultural barriers, much like how the real world is starting to work.

Each student worked with an international partner to create a multimedia presentation based on one of the ten “Global Economic Flatteners,” as described by Thomas L. Friedman in his book The World is Flat:  A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.

Student projects were judged internationally by a panel of professionals in both the education and technology fields.  Of all videos and across all categories for the project, twelfth-grade student, Kyle, won first place in his topic category and the Meta-Judging second place video award of over two hundred videos submitted for his video titled, “World Wide Web Changes the World”.  Kyle’s topic was about social entrepreneurship and the World Wide Web.  In reflecting on his experience in the project, Kyle writes,

This was an amazing project. When things were first explained, the project sounded extremely difficult. It was also a bit scary, to have to work with people from around the world that I had never met before was a thing that I had to really get over. I was nervous at first about how I would work along with them. But as I got to the work, I found out that it was very exciting. And so, to anyone that would like to join a project like this, my number one piece of advise would be to expect a lot of work. Be ready to have to look into things that you have never had to experience before. In the end, there is a lot that you will learn.

Additionally, Mount Carmel Area students were granted the following awards within their respective topic categories:  

While there are so many rewards that a teacher experiences through empowering students to be able to do aproject like this, perhaps one of the greatest is the increased level of student engagement.  While not all students are engaged all of the time, theseImage students had a real-world deadline in order to submit their videos to be qualified for judging.  One of the most valuable lessons they learned was one of time management and procrastination.  Many students were not quite ready to submit their final videos and waited until the last minute when the process for submission would end by midnight.  Because they were empowered, they took it upon themselves to come back after school and many students stayed until 8:00 or 9:00PM.  They ordered pizza, got to work and got the job done…  much like aspects of the real world work today.

So You Want to Be A Principal?

August 3, 2011

Grad School…  Round 2

Flickr image from ecastro

And so it began.  About three weeks ago marked day one of a journey on the academic highway to a second Master of Science degree, this time in Educational Leadership.  While I am a teacher, I am first a learner, so these opportunities are intrinsically motivating for me.  Learning is something I am most passionate about and never pass up the opportunity to learn more, do well and be better.

For some time, others, including my own superiors, have occasionally commented, “You’d make a good principal.  Are you going to get your certification?”  I can easily visualize myself in that role as I have teacher-led a number of technology efforts in our districts, I help oversee a variety of programs, and I lead students by example in teaching from a global perspective with many real-life participatory citizenship opportunities.  I’ve affected change somewhat among my students.  I get a bit dreamy and euphoric about it, you know.  I think, “Heck yes, I can make a difference!”

On the first day of a week-long campus residency, the professor said, “So you want to be principal?  Have you considered all of the responsibilities that come along with that and all of the time associated with school activities?”  And, especially, “Have you considered that you will be working longer, harder, year-round for sometimes less of a salary than your more experienced teachers?”   I needed to sit back for a moment because as these are all given tangibles of the position, it is easy to get lost in the euphoric idea of having a greater ability to be a change-agent. This really made me think.  I do well with discipline (but, really I’m not a disciplinarian, I’m a teachable moment kind of person), conflict resolution, forward-thinking instruction, etc.   I already put in an obscene amount of hours, but with the principalship, those hours will be much more physical in that principals are regularly present at many, if not all school functions.  I can calm the fist-shaking, ACLU-backed parent before they leave the building.  I can stave off the parent who is about to run to the local media to tell their story of how they’ve been wronged by the system…  again.  I can because I enjoy building relationships.  I can because I am genuinely interested in what matters to them and what is best for their children.  I may not agree, but I am still interested.

But, as any good principal knows, helping to turn a school around or improve student achievement isn’t just about passion or relationship building or hope.  They’re all necessary, but it certainly can’t be done on a wing and a prayer.  The data and research are important.  There still needs to be a plan.  There needs to be an understanding of change theories and a knack for involving all stakeholders in that process.

ABC’s and PPT

Don’t get me wrong, the instructor was great.  She has a plethora of experience as both a principal and superintendent.  Her experience transparently spoke for itself.   She’s a stickler for APA and research and I like it because she challenges me.  During our residency,  she went on about the real “ABC’s” of the principalship – that is Athletics, Band, & Cheerleading.  She talked about how much time is spent dealing with issues around these types of activities and did so in a way to bring our heads out of the clouds and back down to reality.  Then, the pre-made, course LMS PowerPoint came on the screen.  Uh-oh!  Here comes the death by PowerPoint lecture.

The discomfort started to set in.  Most around me were taking notes diligently and listening attentively.  I was trying really hard not to open TweetDeck.  Not because I was bored, but because like most of the students we teach today, I can no longer focus on just one thing (no wonder I get my students).  It’s easier for me to do multiple things simultaneously.  I can’t explain it, it just is.  I need the noise and the busy-ness.  I need movement. Then the talk of policy (many of which I don’t agree), standards (don’t even get me started), data analysis (aka – propagandized misinformation purported by legislators), common core, liability, procedure, etc.  Surely you get the picture.

Where is #cpchat?

Discouragement set in.  I began to question my resolve in moving in a leadership direction.  Maybe I really don’t want to be a principal.  I love to teach.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s kids or other teachers/adults.  I love to watch someone else ‘get it’.  This is what makes me tick.  Sometimes, as I watch from afar, they may not always use what I’ve taught them for the best, but nonetheless, I’ve taught them.  Maybe I don’t belong in this principal role after all.  Where is the passion here?

Where are the principals who want to challenge the current system and transform the current model?  Where is George Couros (@gcouros)?  Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann)?  Chris Wejr (@mrwejr)?  Eric Shenninger (@NMHS_Principal)?  David Truss (@datruss)? Where are the principals who know how to extend the current learning model despite the challenges of the antiquated system in place?  Where is Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt)? Justin Tarte (@justintarte)?  I’m sure I’m sure I’m forgetting a few…

I took a deep breath, opened TweetDeck and BOOM!  I found Chris Wejr talking and reflecting about a FedEx Day in his school based on some of Dan Pink‘s principles from Drive (a must-read, by the way, if you are in education and you want to understand real motivation).  Chris Wejr offered to cover teachers’ classes for a day for them if they worked on a new, innovative project of their own creation.  I thought, yes!  That is what I want to learn about in this classroom right now!  Those are the stories and examples I want to be shown.  Given my state at that moment, reading Chris’ post got me through the rest of that day and I responded in kind:

This is a great post, and one I needed to read today more than anything. It is so important to recognize that although only three teachers may have responded, it is, nonetheless a start. This is also a fantastic example of what Lyn Hilt refers to as being not only a leader and a manager, but also an instructional leader in the 21st century.

A few weeks ago, I was helping a former student of mine, now in college, gather resources for an educational leadership paper. As a powerful PLN would have it, you, Lyn, George Couros, Patrick Larkin, David Truss and Chris Lehmann, amongst others were quick to respond with a number of fantastic book recommendations. Of course, Drive was one of them and I can honestly say that book would rank among one of the top ten things that transformed my own teaching practice this year, as I’d read it when it first came out. You modeled a great example of playing out the principles Pink lays forth and successfully so.

I needed to hear this today as I am in day three of an intense, on-campus residency beginning my administrative certification in PA. Don’t get me wrong, the program is great and obviously a necessary stepping stone, but after sitting through several days of bland PPT’s, hard-core data analysis, liability, procedure, policy, standardization, common core, etc., some discouragement set in. I kept thinking, “Where’s the passion? Where’s the drive?”. We were even asked if we were certain principalship is what we really wanted… long hours, major responsibility, etc. in a manner that almost seemed intent to discourage us from continuing on. There was no remote semblance of #cpchat in the room and I felt, well, kind of lost. I needed to read this today as a solid reminder that there are others out there that ‘get’ what I get. It makes it a bit easier to trudge onward through the red tape and do best to enjoy the journey along the way. You’re reaching many more teachers beyond your school. Thank you for that!

Principals need to find ways to serve as an instructional leader to work hand-in-hand with reluctant teachers to help them/model for them how to develop instruction that is inquiry-based, encourages real problem-solving & critical thinking and incorporates the tools and techniques with which much of the world is operating.  Arguably, this is part of the leadership role, but in order to truly model what schools need today, a better label of instructional leader could easily be applied to the role of principal.  If teachers are expected to implement technology and new pedagogical approaches to it, it is crucial the principal can lead this effort in the manner of showing, not telling.

Actually, there is so much change occurring right now in education that in some ways, there couldn’t be a more exciting time to be a principal.  We have the opportunity to shape what the future of education will look like if we take action.  I’m fortunate to have great role models in my own school who welcome the opportunity to deal with swift change.  I’m even more fortunate to have found this PLN as they have inspired me more than they could know.  Please keep teaching me as I’ve so much to learn.  I’ve had people tell me that I’ll never be able to affect change locally because people don’t want it.  Watching others succeed assures me that I can.  For this reason, more than all of the others, yes, I do want to be a principal.

Baptism by Fire ~ A Newbie’s ISTE ’11 Reflections, Part One

July 1, 2011

I Could Have Ignored the Email

Image by Nina Amaho via Flicker

My ISTE 2011 story goes a little something like this.  Since last year, I’ve had my sights set on attending ISTE given that it would be nearby, in my home state, and I would not have to worry about airfare.  Initially, I hoped I could convince my school to send me.  Unfortunately, state budget cuts caused recent furloughs in my district so making a request for an extravagant PD conference was out of the question.  In the end, I decided it worth my while to invest in this opportunity myself.

I scheduled a number of sessions I thought I would be able to learn from.  I packed.  I tweeted.  I connected.  I was excited and due in Philadelphia late in the evening on Friday, June 24, 2011.  Early Friday morning, an email labeled “URGENT” came from my dear friend, Vicki Davis.  Due to a family emergency, she was unexpectedly unable to make the trip north for the ISTE 2011 conference.  Vicki was scheduled to present in multiple sessions and was doing everything in her power to see that none of them were cancelled.

Image representing Diigo as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I’ve worked with Vicki pretty closely over the past two years through the Flat Classroom Project, the Digiteen Project, & the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher  course.  We’ve been together, in person, on multiple occasions and have developed somewhat of a friendship.  Between the circle of folks who received the “URGENT” email, Vicki was able to assure every one of her sessions was covered and then some.  That, my friends, is the power of a PLN.

So, of course, in responding to my friend’s need for help, and with the help of ISTE’s  Program Coordinator, Anita McAnear, I agreed to serve as lead presenter for the Diigo BYOL workshop, Bookmarks, PLN’s & More:  Supercharge Your Learning, Teaching & Research.  Vicki and I spoke and decided of all the workshops she had herself scheduled to do, I could easily do the Diigo workshop given the various ways I use Diigo in my own classroom with students and the way we utilize Diigo in the Flat Classroom Project.  In about two hours, this was made official.  I went from first time conference goer to lead presenter.  How exciting!  Right?

I could have ignored the email, but this was my time to give back and help a friend in need who has given oh so very much.

I Could Have Let Fear Get the Best of Me

Absolutely exciting!  Except, I’d never presented at a conference before, let alone one of this magnitude.  After the excitement died down within the next few hours, I sat down and fear and dread began to set in as the following thoughts began coming to mind:

There will be over 17,000 people at this conference.  This is the end-all, be-all of educational technology conferences.  This particular BYOL session is one of the ‘sold out’ sessions.  People who signed up for this session are coming to see Vicki (if you’ve ever had the privilege to work with Vicki or see her Keynote or present, you’d understand why).  I am not Vicki.

Coincidentally, this was staring out of a store window at me in Philadelphia on Day One of ISTE. I couldn't resist taking the photo.

And then the final, near crushing thoughts to myself:

You agreed to WHAT?  WHAT were you THINKING?  You need to leave in several hours to travel to this conference.  You’ve only three days to prepare (in the middle of the flurry of other conference activities).  You’ve no presentation ready.  Are you CRAZY?

At one point in the phone conversation I did ask Vicki if she had a presentation ready to go and that I could easily and simply present on her behalf.  Vicki’s response went something like, “I do.  But you need to do this your own way.  You’ll figure it out and you’ll do fine.”  Gee, thanks Vicki. (sarcasm intended…  keep reading)

I could have let fear get the best of me, but I didn’t.  What kind of example would I be for my students if I didn’t embrace challenge and new opportunities to learn?

I Could Have Said No

In an effort to fend off the potential stress, I could have just said no.  Simple enough, right?  I have a bit of a problem saying no in some instances.  Others generally criticize this tendency about me because I take on too much.  I am a “yes” person.  It’s just who I am.  Period.  Had I said no, I would have missed some incredible experiences like:

  • Examples of Student Groups in Diigo

    The opportunity to show other teachers how my students utilize Diigo groups to conduct authentic research, socially.  Students create their own groups based on similar topics and annotate and comment on each others articles for social studies classes such as Current Events and Principles of Democracy.  After all, this is about our students.

  • The opportunity to Skype Vicki into the session for an introduction at the beginning in an effort to still give folks in the room a piece of what they came for in the first place.
  • The opportunity to meet and co-plan this workshop with Maggie Tsai, co-founder and Chief Ambassador of Diigo.  We Skyped Maggie into the beginning of the workshop to briefly introduce Diigo and its wide array of features.  Maggie worked with us in the short three days to help organize the session in a way that participants would get broad, yet detailed, ideas about the ways to utilize Diigo in education in just an hour’s time.
  • The opportunity to work first-hand with an outstanding PA Technology Integration Coach, Michelle Krill.  Michelle noticed Vicki’s call for help on Twitter and was quick to respond and lend a hand given her own experience presenting about Diigo and how some of her classroom teachers use Diigo with their students.
  • The opportunity to work with a jam-packed room full of engaged educators, passionate about learning more ways to engage students in their very own classroom.  The audience was fantastic and had great, relevant questions.  We hope we met the needs of all levels of Diigo users and tried our best to pace the workshop accordingly.
  • The opportunity for a flood of feedback that looked something like this:

I could have said no, but I would have also missed these incredible experiences and opportunities.  I learned more than I taught. 

Could Haves, Should Haves & Would Haves

I simply refuse to fall into this habit of going back and questioning everything.  I may have missed out on some of the workshops I wanted to attend, but still managed to get some in.  More on a few fantastic sessions later. I would not trade this experience for anything. It was worth every bit of sweat and stress.

This was only but one of my newly found presenter opportunities at ISTE ’11.  I co-presented with Wikispaces Co-founder, Adam Frey & Flat Classroom Co-founder, Julie Lindsay in the Wonderful World of Wikis workshop.  I also helped Julie to facilitate the day-long Digiteacher Workshop, along with Barbara Barreda.  It was rewarding to watch participants work throughout the day to create their own multi-media presentations and wikis.

Perhaps, however, the most fulfilling aspect of participating in ISTE ’11 in this way was helping Julie conduct the Flat Classroom Global Gallery Learning Station Session.  Personally, this was the most rewarding professional experience for me because I got to talk with numerous teachers and technology integration specialists, one-on-one, about one of the things of which I am most passionate:  global collaboration.  There was no preparation necessary for this.  I talked and talked and talked about how this type of Project-Based work has changed my teaching practice, my students, and quite frankly, my life.  I could have done this throughout the entire conference.  It was just that fulfilling for me and I met some fantastic teachers.

When I returned to my room later that night, I emailed Vicki.  Here is an excerpt from that email:

I just had the MOST fun EVER talking about FCP for 1.5 hrs. straight.

Helped Julie earlier w/Digiteacher workshop and it was great, but working the poster session and getting to talk about the project and what it means to students… well, can’t quite put it into words. You’d of thought I was part of a hired sales team. Funny, while I never consciously think about it, as I was talking (and talking and talking and talking), one-on-one w/ teachers and tech integrators, I realized how much this project genuinely means to me, how it benefits my students, and how authentically passionate I am about this stuff … I could’ve talked for hours (and I’m not the best upon initially meeting new people) but it came so naturally tonight.  It finally felt like someone, other than the students, were REALLY listening.

My eyes are bloodshot & swollen w/ dark circles underneath, back is killing me, feet hurt, I’m laying on the floor in Marie Coleman’s hotel room typing in the dark because I had to change hotels due to a mix-up and she took me in.  AND I’M LOVING EVERY BLESSED MINUTE.

You’ve just empowered a teacher… again. Thank you. Just wanted you to know. Miss that you’re not here, but I know there will be other opportunities in the future.

And so, I will not ‘could have, should have or would have’ about much of my ISTE ’11 experience.  Neither should you.  Vicki, yet again, empowered a teacher, who will in turn, go back and empower her students.  This is the very essence of what ISTE should be and is all about.

Stay tuned for more about the socialization aspects and my own struggles acclimating myself to the overwhelming, but still fantastic,  ISTE experience.  While I’m a very outspoken person, I tend to be quite introverted around new folks.  This gets interesting…

Family picnics, graduation parties and social gatherings await me.  As much as I’d like to keep writing right now, my family and friends come first.  A blessed and safe holiday weekend to you and your family, wherever you may be!

**This post is undoubtedly dedicated to Vicki Davis for her willingness to share, ability to empower, and belief in me to do right by her. 

Connecting, Cooperating & Collaboration

June 28, 2011

This post was inspired by Beth Sanders who blogged about PBL and collaboration. Beth’s blog is a unique blog in that it serves the purpose of initiating dialogue. I am cross-posting my response, here, as well because as we work toward a truly 21st Century learning model, it is important to purposefully move projects to a more collaborative level.

I am working through the creation of a wiki for a new course I’m designing called 21st Century Global Studies which is a convergence of participatory citizenship, both authentic and digital, and digital literacy. I will share wiki links once I have more put together. Still trying to work through the tools, as well.


Before a classroom can cooperate or collaborate, teachers, students, & classrooms must first make a connection. Typically, connections come through a PLN. Yesterday I experienced a great example of simple connection, while attending the ISTE ’11 conference in Philadelphia, PA. While in a session about What it Takes to be a Tech-Savvy Principal, a friend within my PLN, David Truss, who is currently in China tweeted that he wished he could listen in on the session. Within two minutes or so, I skyped David in on my iPad and he was able to listen to the entire conversation and contribute to the conversation. This is powerful stuff. David blogged about the experience immediately following. This is the basis on which collaborative learning is built.

Collaborative Learning vs. Cooperative Learning

It is important to make this distinction. From my experiences, true collaboration means students working together to explore big ideas and create a meaningful product. In a recent Twitter #sschat (Social Studies Teacher Chat), this was discussed in terms of group work, however, cooperative learning is often interchanged with collaborative learning. Granted, during the chat, it got me thinking about other instances wherein many have casually interchanged the two.

For the most part, cooperative is a type of collaborative, if that makes sense. Collaboration is a bit higher on Bloom’s taxonomy on the creation scale in most cases wherein collaboration requires wide-scale efforts, often online. Students have equal responsibilities versus leadership, etc. and then they work together to make something cohesive from everyone’s input. The significance of the learning occurs through the process of collaborating; the journey along the way. The end product does not necessarily reflect all of the learning that has occurred throughout the process. Cooperative learning is more structured, specific duties and roles, and often face-to-face in small groups. Both are important and both beneficial. Ultimately, though, if we want to incorporate 21st Century purposeful skills, we need to take cooperation to the next level: collaboration.

In other words, when I group students in class for a small activity and they work on it together, it is cooperative. When my students are building a wiki, online, based on a broad-based inquiry topic with students (either in another class period later in the day, or with students in other states and countries), it is collaborative. Wes Fryer gives a good distinction of this here in this visual:

Image by Wes Fryer on Flicker

I never understood this until participating in projects like Digiteen and Flat Classroom. These projects offer a level of authenticity that makes the learning so much more meaningful. When Beth asks, “How do we make these projects purposeful?” My personal experiences would again offer up authenticity.

Authenticating Collaborative Learning

When students created their own Interest Groups and corresponding, propagandized media campaigns via a collaborative wiki, they authenticated their work by writing to our local state representative. One group made an interest group called Xterminate Cuts to Education. Another group did an amazing wiki on Climate Change The representative visited our classroom. Purposefulness comes full-circle.

When students worked on the Digiteen project (with students in China, Qatar, Houston, Oman, to name a few), based in part on Mike Ribble’s Digital Citizenship in Schools, the project co-founders were able to have author Mike Ribble participate in an Elluminate Q/A session with the students. Some of the things my students asked blew me away. And they logged in from home, on their own time, with no graded ‘requirement’ to be there. Assessment in these instances becomes self-evident. Listening to students question and discuss on this level needs no additional assessment ~ it is transparent and it is self-evident. This is where I believe standards-based practices miss the boat (just IMHO).

Some consider this practice unfair. But really, is ‘equal’ EVER ‘fair’? Why are we still trying to equalize humanity? There is nothing equal about who we teach. Our students are richly diverse in so many ways and we need to capitalize upon it, not extinguish it in the name of standardization. Collaboration and PBL allow diverse aspects to flow. Most importantly, the students truly learn something.

When students were learning about Congressional powers and taxation (which can be incredibly boring for adolescents), they each did their own W-4 and 1040EZ form based on a variety of W-2’s with which I provided them. I made sure there were vast differences in income and at the end we graphed a comparison of how much more in taxes some folks had to pay. The light bulb went on. Several returned to school to relay that instead of paying H&R block, they helped their parents do their taxes (the simpler cases). So, purposefulness? Make it relevant to something in the real world.

Dear Class of 2011

June 9, 2011

In celebration and honor of our graduating class, this message was sent earlier to my students.  Today, they’ve earned their own space on my blog.

Dear Class of 2011

My sincerest apologies…. unfortunately you will not be getting extra credit for any response to this email. Actually, no response is necessary this time.

Later this evening, your high school career will officially come to a close. Some of you are off to college or some other form of higher education, some of you are off to a job, and some of you are off to figuring out your place in this world. No doubt, many of you have longed for this day ALL YEAR LONG. (This I know, because I heard it near daily). I am sure there are a good number of you, though, for whom anxiety is setting in. You may be sitting there, now, thinking, “Oh no. This is it. Where do I go from here?” For some of you, it feels like it’s all happening too quickly. For others, it is taking forever to get here. Both feelings are normal. And whether you like it or not, it is going to come and go like the last week of summer vacation – fun, but a little too fast, with the onset of September lurking larger each night.

Most adults offer the same rhetoric: These are the best years. Enjoy it while it lasts. Youth is fleeting. The real world awaits. Blah blah blah. All of it is quite true, but for the most part you don’t care. Prom night, Class Night, summer jobs, “will our relationship survive when the two of us go to different colleges,” and so much else is on your plate that rightfully trumps a supposed pep-talk from parents and other seemingly well-intentioned adults.

I plead with you to listen to their regards, though, and file them away somewhere deep in your memory. You will recall them one day and be glad they are there.

I need each and every one of you to know how very proud I am of you at this special time. And, I do mean ALL of you, even if I tried to keep you from roaming the halls so that you would remain in class with a better chance of engagement and learning. 🙂 And, I know you learned. You told me so on your final exams.  And, I cried when I read many of them.  I wish I could post many of the responses, but here are some I would like to share with others:

Most importantly, I learned about myself.  You are honestly the only teacher I had during my entire high school career who has called me smart.  Academics-wise, I’m nothing special.  I have a low B average and no scholarships coming my way.  However, in your class, I felt like I was truly learning and grasping the concepts you were showing me.  You taught me to believe in myself, voice my opinion, and have confidence.  For that I thank you truly.

Thank you for taking the exam seriously. Some of your uncanny insights and discussions about what you learned this year that is relevant to the real world and your future blew me away! Some simple, like

I loved the movie Freedom Writers so much that I told my parents about it and I got it as a Christmas gift.

Some more profound and I will find a way to showcase more of them at a later point.

You may all be at a different place in your achievements, but I know that each and every one of you has grown this year. I’ve watched you mature into young men and women. Thank you for allowing me that privilege because in return, I have learned so very much from you.  I learned why choices for students matter and that students learn so much more than what any test can measure.

You are beginning an exciting new chapter in your life. You have the opportunity now to explore who you are and what you may want to become. This is a time in your life to look both inside yourself and forward to what may be. In whatever you choose I know you will do your best and will continue to grow along the way.

I try always to end the year on a very positive note with seniors. It is such a bittersweet time for me. I’ve grown close to many of you, so it is hard to see you go. Unfortunately, the past two weeks have been not-so-good for me with one tragic, traumatic event after another looming large in my personal life. Because I have been unavailable to some of you in the past two weeks, I thought it important to try one last effort to end your Principles of Democracy class year on a positive note because you are a special class. Life happens. And, I had to deal with it. It doesn’t change how proud I will be as I watch each of you walk up for your diplomas  tonight.

It’s been fun and challenging this year. This is your time. Question everything. Aim high. Stay true to your values and remember to respect others’ values, as well, especially when they are different from yours. Remember:

Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.” ~ Aristotle

I wish you all the love, luck and success this world has to offer and an interesting journey in finding it.

Best wishes!

Things We Learned, But Did Not Teach: Takeaways from EdCampPhilly

May 22, 2011

cc Image from kjarrett on Flickr Image designed by @mritzius' students

A New Model for Professional Development

Dear Principals & Superintendents, please do not pay obscene amounts of money to training companies for professional development.  Or, at least, let that kind of training be supplemental, as necessary.  There is a better way.

Once again my PLN came through for me.  A special thanks to Shelley Krause  (@butwait) for the invite to participate in this event.  I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.  Another testament to how real our virtual world becomes and, her brownies were anything but virtual.  (Don’t ever turn down one of Shelley’s brownies ~ they are amazing!)

I attended my first unconference experience yesterday on the beautiful campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where there was no set schedule of events or predetermined workshops, no teachers being paid to attend, and no vendors trying to push their latest and greatest, costly tool onto us.  It was just passionate teachers who wanted to learn and share from & with each other.  And, none of them needed a substitute for the day.  They gave up a Saturday to do it.

There is a movement spreading throughout the United States for this new model of professional development and it began a year ago in Philadelphia by a group of passionate teachers. Fitting as one of my favorite sessions of the day was educaTED:  Getting Educated with Ideas Worth Spreading from Karen Blumberg (@specialKRB), the EdCamp movement reminds me of a TED video where Derek Sivers talks about leadership and how to start a movement:

Transforming Lone Nuts into Leaders

Takeaways from the Day

  • Putting faces & humans to the many twitter handles with whom I interact regularly or have just met ~There are too many folks I met face-to-face to talk about them all here, but meeting Jamie Josephson (@Dontworryteach) and Andy Marcinek (@andycinek) were definite highlights of the day.  I’ve participated in #sschat with Jamie many times but only through meeting her face-to-face did I come to learn how very much alike we are in both professional and personal ways.  Making the human connection has so much more meaning.  I just met Andy for the first time and learned he is originally from a neighboring small-town.  My parents know his parents, yet we were unaware of each other.  In just brief conversations in passing, many new ideas were generated.  Andy & I agreed to collaborate on developing a new course for high school that has a focus on 21st Century global studies, literacy, and citizenship. While some folks question the legitimacy of connections in the virtual world, EdCampPhilly served as yet another reminder of how human those folks are on the other end of the hyperlink.
  • Our educational systemic issues are more universal than we think ~Rich, poor, rural, urban, large, private, or public.  Each type of school has its own set of issues and challenges far beyond test scores and data.  As I’ve suspected for quite some time, this is more of a societal issue.  Most commonly, educational bloggers share their successes.  It can be intimidating for those trying to incite change in our classrooms to only read the success stories.  I needed to hear others talk about their challenges, as well.  I needed to hear Jamie share her experience from  EduCon 2.3 earlier this year where tours through SLA showed even they have their many challenges as a school.  After all, we are all working with teenagers.
  • Smackdown list of tools recorded by Kristen Hokanson ~ I could easily list the multitude of cool new technology ideas, but it is so hard to pick just a few as there are many favorites. Here is the Google Doc with a list of  the tools shared.
  • TED talk videos to use with our students recorded by Meeno Rami ~TED talks can be very inspirational and aide in leading thought-provoking critical thinking activities & discussions in the classroom. Here is a list with specific TED talks and ideas about how they are used.
  • Things That Suck from Dan Callahan ~ Every school should have a faculty meeting like this several times a year.  Period.  It is a comfortable, contained means by which to discuss the positives and negatives about educational issues and what we can do about them.  If nothing else, it provides an outlet for teachers to vent and discuss which could help alleviate too much complaining in the faculty lounge or venting negatively via blogging(although this type is NEVER acceptable.  If you ever feel like saying these things about your students, you should rethink teaching as your career.)  Things That Suck, however, discusses issues within the educational system, NOT students.
    sleep deprived brains

    Image by Will Lion via Flickrl system, NOT students.

Advice for Unconferencing to Future Newbies

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before.  You will be exhausted and you’ll come out with your head spinning.  I made the mistake of sleeping just a few hours.  Big mistake.  It was difficult to think straight at times with so many ideas being thrown about.
  • Don’t let fear get the best of you.  I did a little of that yesterday.  I had so very much more to share than what I did.  My students and I have had many positive experiences that could have been better shared.  I’m one of those types that take a bit to warm up to people I do not know.  I needed to listen and learn yesterday.  I need to get a feel for this model.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Now that I have it, I hope to keep moving and participate in EdCampDC and EdCampNYC.
  • Choose one thing or project that worked really well for you in your own classroom and be prepared ahead of time to present it.
  • It is OK to get up and go to another session if the one you are in isn’t what you thought it was going to be.  I had a hard time with this one, as it is a different feeling than what we are used to in our structured institutional settings.  Imagine if kids could get up and do this throughout the school day and move to the place where they will learn what they want.  Impractical?  Maybe.  Powerful?  Absolutely!

My head is still spinning.  I am inspired.  I’ve learned much without anyone really teaching me anything.  They involved me, they didn’t teach me.  Imagine what Mondays at school would be like if we had this kind of experience every weekend.

What was your most memorable moment from EdCampPhilly?  I’m sure I’ve left out many.