Category Archives: Uncategorized

Innovative School in Our Backyard

I just finished watching this video about Project Based Learning at King Middle School. King is right down the street from us and they do incredible work with kids. I often wonder if we can do some of the projects they do with our students. Why not? Take the time to watch this video – it’s worth it.


As a fellow introvert, I enjoyed this NY Times essay by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which led me to her TED Talk:

Cain brings up some good questions.  Do the extroverts get the positions of leadership because they are extraverted or because they are leaders? Is it always the squeaky wheels that get the attention?  I think the issue is similar in the classroom – just because a student is quiet, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t learning.  Some students (people) take a little longer to process ideas and cannot respond immediately in a discussion; some are better at writing their ideas; some are better at expressing ideas in ways that are not verbal or written.  Everyone has a different style – learning, leading, processing, etc. – and hopefully, everyone will have the opportunity to see and understand where they strengths lie and how they can use them.

Following NAIS

I was unable to attend the NAIS Conference last week but I was able to follow much of the conversation thanks to Chris Bigenho.  Chris set up a blog, Twitter, and Diigo accounts to help us follow the action in San Francisco.  In the NAIS Conference blog, Chris did a fantastic job summarizes blog posts and twitter posts every day.  He was supported by many conference bloggers and tweeters – the coverage was great!  Thanks to Jason Ramsden, Demetri Orlando, Jamie Baker, Jonathan Martin, Jenni Vorhees, Peter Gow, and the vast many other bloggers of whose pages I have open in a tab on my browser but haven’t had the time to read yet.

One post I really appreciated was this one on Michael Thompson’s session on teaching boys by Jamie Baker (new to me in the blogger/twitter world).  Jamie did a great job summing up the session.  I’ve heard Michael speak before but I really enjoyed being reminded of his message (especially because I have to young boys at home).  I liked what Michael Thompson had to say about homework – it should be short, meaningful, and, if possible, online so they can get immediate feedback.  Homework should not be for show.  He also said that school work should be authentic and connected to the real world.  Boys are not “future-oriented”.  This is so true in my family – my boys are truly about the “here and now” and not motivated by the more abstract.  Boys are also great “strategic learners” – they are motivated by getting a decent grade in the shortest amount of time.

I also appreciated what Michael Thompson had to say about video games and technology.  Boys like technology because it empowers them.  And I think it satisfies them with immediate feedback. We need to understand this appeal and use it in our classrooms.  I think Michael Thompson’s message is an important one to be reminded of from time to time.  Classrooms need to be differentiated, not only to learning style, but also to gender. I will also keep these points in mind when I am at home at the dinner table wondering why my 4 year old needs to get up and do a little dance between bites.

I encourage you to visit Jamie’s site and read her whole post as well as her other NAIS reflections.  I am eager to continue reading more on the happenings at NAIS and will share my favorites here.

Is it Multitasking or Filtering?

There has been a lot of talk about multitasking in the past year.  Students (and some adults) think they can do it and parents and teachers say there is no way.  Brain scientists have study this as well with varying results.  Where does that leave us?  I don’t think there is any concrete answer to this – can we multitask?  Well sure, we do it everyday when we drive our car – we drive forward at the same time as we check our rear view mirror, shift gears, and then talk to our children in the back seat.  Certain tasks, however, distract us from our main task – if you are talking, I’m a much better listener when I’m not updating and checking my Facebook status.

I have followed Howard Rheingold and I like what he has to say on the subject especially in this post:

We are in charge of which information we pay attention to, but if we don’t actively construct, tune, and manage our own information filters, the raw flow of info, misinfo, and disinfo around us will take charge. It’s up to each consumer of information to make personal decisions about what to pay attention to and what to ignore. That decision-making is a mental process that all humans have always deployed in the world, but the world that we evolved in through pre-digital eons has been hyper-accelerated recently through our use of the media we’ve created.

I also enjoyed reading Henry Jenkins post after the release of PBS Frontline, Digital Nation, where he takes issue with the statements made about multitasking:

The film makes the point that they are often multitasking in the classroom and that they believe they are better at multitasking than current lab research suggests. I certainly encountered situations where most of the students had a lap top open in my class. In some cases, they were performing quite mundane tasks, such as compiling code, which required very little of their attention and would be mind-numbing if performed with their full attention. They are multitasking in the same way that a faculty colleague would knit during faculty meetings: the actions were routinized, most of the time they didn’t require much thought, but they absorbed a certain amount of nervous energy.

I highly recommend reading that post, he makes some great observations about tasks and how they are not all “created equal”.  I think we cannot just push multitasking aside and say it cannot be done.  I think we do it all the time.  I DO think we need to teach students the skills of filter their attention – knowing when and what they need to pay attention to. The world and learning is just going to get messier.

Now, I need to finish this post so I can answer my phone, post to twitter, and turn up my music!

Photo credit: Secret Blue

Sharing PD

This morning I had an email in my listserv asking about how teachers share their professional development opportunities once they get back to campus.  This is something our school struggles with and we don’t typically do much more than a quick share in a faculty meeting.  So in an effort to share my recent professional development (at EduCon) as well as my quest to get back to my blog, I have decided to sum up my notes and thoughts from EduCon in this blog post.

This was my 3rd EduCon and it felt big this year.  The panels and opening sessions were packed and I didn’t get a chance to meet up with many as many people from my PLN as I would have liked to  (or thought I would).  Unfortunately, I also attended this EduCon without anyone else from school.  I try to bring someone with me every year in order to share this experience but it didn’t work out this year.  So I will have to work extra hard to share my experience.

First of all I made a special effort to get to more SLA-led sessions (something I didn’t do last year).  Chris Lehmann has done a tremendous job with SLA and it shows in the teachers and the students who were everywhere and doing everything during the weekend – it’s inspiring.  In each classroom you can find these hanging on the walls – SLA’s “Rules”: Respect Yourself, Respect Community, Respect SLA as a Place for Learning; and SLA Core Values: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation, and Reflection.  In each class a student takes, these two things are there, in their face, as a reminder of goals.  SLA also has a standard rubric in place for grading projects, big and small.  I think this consistency is great for all students.

The first session I attended was one led by SLA math teachers.  I should say that it is so hard to pick one session to go to because there are always 2 or 3 others that sound great so I am hoping to spend some time watch the archived footage. This session was titled: Projects in the Math Classroom: Learning Through Doing.  The SLA teachers did and outstanding job of sharing a sample of how they conduct their classes which are largely project based.  Most of the people taking part in the session (me included) were trying to get a handle on how much of the class time was student-project learning and how much was teacher teaching content.  At SLA they use UbD approach so each lesson begins with guiding questions which they give to the students at the beginning of the lesson so they have them in mind as the “goal”. The give homework and quizzes as well as smaller projects throughout the term.  The projects are given before the material is covered so the students can begin to make connections to the project early.  The SLA teachers also shared some other nuts-n-bolts about their department in general – they meet as a department once a week and they also meet in teaching pairs; there classes meet for 65 minutes 4x week; they usually schedule 4 benchmark projects each year with another 4 smaller projects; sometimes they run into scheduling troubles when more that one department schedules major projects at the same time.  I heard several words repeated over and over again which seem to be key in the success of this school:  meetings, feedback, and collaboration.  The department posted several sample projects from each class here – worth taking a look.

After lunch, I attended a session given by David Bill and Basil Kolani of The Dwight School, High Noon.  David and Basil talked about their experience of launching an online class at their school.  It seemed to be a mix of struggles and success but it was great to hear them talk about it and I think it was probably good for them to talk out loud about it.  They had trouble with buy in from school and from some parents who were worried about exposing their children to these tools. right now, it seems like the school still views this course as an experiment (unfortunately) but I’m sure by the time David and Basil are finished it will be more widely embraced. We also got to hear from some of their students about the experience through the eluminate chat room.

On Sunday I attended a session given by the members of the SLA science department. They did a nice job modeling good teaching in this session – we did a lot of small group discussion, whiteboard work in pairs, and reporting out.  It was great way to get us all talking and we were able to share with other science teachers our experiences, our dreams, and our immediate plans.

The weekend at SLA and EduCon was terrific.  It comes at a great time in the year to get me recharged.  I also come home with a lot in my head and I hope that I can manage to apply some of what I’ve learned here at school.

Photo Credit:

Defining a new vision

I recently reconvened our technology committee to discuss an update to our school’s technology vision/plan.  Specifically I wanted the committee to focus on the academic/curricular portion of that vision.  Here’s our curricular paragraph as it stands now:

We recognize that students will require a different set of skills to live in the 21st Century and that technology can create new learning opportunities for all students.  Specifically, we will utilize the strength of computers to promote collaborative learning, to improve research skills and information literacy, to develop critical thinking skills, to encourage creativity and to individualize learning across the curriculum. While teachers may choose to apply technology to varying degrees, each teacher recognizes that using technology in support of their curriculum can enrich and extend a student’s learning experience and support a range of learning styles and abilities.  Faculty will receive meaningful, ongoing, and individualized training in support of these initiatives as well as in their administrative duties.

I think it still sounds pretty good but it’s not a true representation of what is happening here.  I would like the committee to reflect on this statement, tweak it if needed, but more importantly focus on how this statement can become more of a reality.  In order to frame this discussion I have asked the members to go out and do a little research on their own on what other schools are doing.  We are sharing those links using Google Groups, then, at the beginning of February we will come back together to discuss our vision.  There are so many good resources out there I do not want to overwhelm them but I do want to give them some good background in order to have a discussion.

Here are some of the links I’ve put together:

NETS for Students – they are from 2007, but written in a way that still applies

NETS for Teachers – drafted in 2008, but these will be good for our discussion

NCTE Position Statement on 21st Century Curriculum & Assessment Framework – NCTE addresses the changing landscape of reading and writing

A Vision of K-12 Students Today – a K-12 version of Michael Wesch’s “A Vision of Students Today”)

The Networked Student – Wendy Drexler put this video together in the “Commoncraft format” – nicely done.

Are there other resources you would add to the list without muddying the water too much?  What is your vision?  And more importantly how do you see it through?

More and More Online

(jeeesh – i can’t believe my last post was in September!)

I just was trying to catch up with some blog reading and I ran across Jeff Utecht’s post showing some great Art and Science online projects using Voicethread and video. I can’t wait to share them with some people here but it brings up an issue that keeps popping up around here – putting students online and parental permission.  There is a lot of paranoia about putting students on the web.  We have every parent sign a form granting us permission or forbidding us  to use photos of their child in publications and on our website.  Now that teachers are beginning to use video in their classes, slideshows of their students, and other ways to showcase student work, do we need to get permission from parents every time their child is involved in one of these projects?  How do schools handle this?  How do you educate parents without raising this paranoia?