Friday, December 19, 2008

Reading in a digital world....

Reading has been a theme at school and in my life recently. Grades 3, 4 and 5 are participating in a program through e-Pals called in2books. It is an awesome program and today the 5th graders shared with me how much they love the program. The students get to choose books to read and every student receives an online adult mentor who has also read the book and then they have conversations about it. the students are really excited about reading these books and they are learning a lot about communication skills too.

As promised I will include pictures of my new kindle. I love it! I will being really putting it through its paces over the holidays but one of the things that totally excites me is its potential for education.

Not only can you download whole books at the push of a button but you can access wikipedia, highlight passages, clip text, make notes, look up things online or simply look up a word in the dictionary. Tell me again why we need those big heavy textbooks? It is only going to be a matter of time until there is enough academic content avaialable .

Oh, did I mention you can also load audio books or your own text documents and subscrible to newspapers and magazine. if you love to ead and love technology ...well you should see my smile!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Rising from the Ashes

They say a picture is worth a thousand word so I think this photo story speaks for itself. Once again thank you to all of you who are walking with us! You are all my heroes!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Risk- takers learn by doing: The Road to Change

"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow" George S Patton

This was the theme of our three day in-service that marks the beginning of our school year. It is a kind of mantra for us and it reflects the catalyst for the changes we have embraced. One of the lessons we learned at NECC this year was that there are a lot of people who really want to move forward and try new things but they are held back because they feel they "do not know" how or what to do. What we discovered was that we did not "know" either but we accomplished a great deal because we went ahead and tried.

We are continuing along this path this year. We understand the importance of educational theories, and the research that informs practice and those certainly are the underpinnings of our vision and our plans. And as a educational leader I have a responsibility to read and do research but the purpose of gaining this knowledge is not to teach it to others but rather to drive school improvement which focuses on student learning. Good teaching we know comes from good planning and is supported by teachers having a firm grasp of their curriculum, well defined goals and an understanding of their students needs. These conditions help teachers be risk takers and give them the time energy and focus they need to be innovators and learners. The question is how do we get there?

Two things that I have been reading about and struggling with for over two years are the concepts of curriculum mapping and Understanding by Design. I have made various attempts to introduce these concepts to the teachers and encourage their use but only with limited success. Perhaps because they were not well scaffolded. Perhaps because I did not not fully understand. Perhaps because I was trying to get it perfect- What is a really good essential question? After watching Chris Lehman do two down and dirty Ubd lesson plans with his audiences at NECC I realized I was trying to hard. To borrow from Nike we needed to "Just do it"! thus was born our 3 day in-service.

This is a salute to an awesome staff and too the ability to move mountains if you have the courage to take risks and believe in yourself.

Day One I gave each teacher a packet of curriculum standards and benchmarks that had been cut apart into slips for each standard and were color coded by subject. Subject by subject they sorted through these slips of paper and marked them 1st quarter, 2nd quarter 3rd quarter or 4th quarter and put them in corresponding envelopes. When the sorting was done on they laid out their year on big tables and looked for cross curricular connection and did some rearranging. Then they filled out a monthly map to make a record of what material they planned to cover. And so Day One was finished and everyone already had a plan of action for the whole year.....

Day Two
- I introduced Ubd- Not with lengthy explanation , philosophy or theory ( they had heard snippets of allof that before) but by using a template and writing a lesson plan together for a unit on California Missions. We worked through stage one and then tried our hand at it. by lunch time everybody had completed stage one the understanding, essential questions content and skills for one topic/ standard. We repeated our mantra- "A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." After lunch we finished our model lesson with the assessment piece and then the activities. And then it was back to work on their own plans. With much bouncing around of ideas and discussion by the end of the day everybody had finished one complete Ubd plan! Wow!

Day Three- With new confidence and the promise that Sunday nights could be reclaimed from the lesson planning monster we dug into write more plans. We focused on big ideas, why we teach these topics and real world assessments. By days end plans had been written for all of the beginning units and in some cases for the whole quarter. We face the unfolding year with a new sense of purpose. We know that the plans will get adjusted and that we will get better at doing this but we also know we can do it because we have done it. I believe the benefits of these three days will be reaped twenty fold. Already there is discussion about not being tied to the text and having the time and the focus that will allow the exploration of a whole host of other kinds of resources.

Technorati Tags:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Finding the Path

A_path (Cross posted to LeaderTalk)
The path to understanding and change. This is a personal journey but one that has been formed by the many people who form my personal leaning network. In the discussion surrounding NECC08 one of the things that people have talked about is how this NECC may have been different from the last. NECC is different each year because we are different having journeyed, grown, changed over the course of the year. In reflecting on this reality for myself , in thinking about about leadership and learning, I have had cause to think about my journey, my perceptions and the ongoing act of transformation.

A vision is shared,

connections and exploration begin,

a personal vision is developed,

a shared vision is built,

learning about tools, connections, and possibilities,

exploration/ practice begins,

reflection on practice leads to reflection on pedagogy,

establishing big picture goals for student learning

and knowing where to find the tools to help achieve your goals,

Obviously this is not solely a linear process but it does summarize my journey and the journey for our school. (The highlights represent our current focus.)

The first agent of change I encountered almost 4 years ago was Alan November. At NECC this year I attended his session "Designing Rigorous and Globally Connected Assignments". The ideas were not new but their value lay in how they embrace the big picture and they serve as a waypoint to evaluate your course of action. Alan always touches on the fundamentals like using country codes and other tricks of good searching and some basic tools ( a concept I will comeback too) but the heart of it all for me was in the following three statements.
  • Give the children problems to solve.
  • Rewrite the job description of learners.
  • We need more voices teaching

What impact does this have on my planning for next year? What do I need to do?

First, I need to know where my staff is with regard to the journey. I was fortunate to take 4 people with me to NECC and we will debrief tomorrow night and talk about where we are and where we perceive our colleagues are with this journey. The tools discussion also fits in here. What are the essential tools? We are re -imaging all the computers in the school with a basic tool box to ensure everyone has access to what they might need and to ensure some platform uniformity. We will include Google docs and open office, picassa for basic photo editing, skype, photostory3, Google notebook, diigo, audacity, Google reader, google earth, voicethread, primaryaccess one of the mindmap programs, wetpaint wiki and learnerblogs. The emphasis is on ubiquitous access to tools but it is driven by the pedagogy that says that learners need access to information, collaboration, global connectivity and the ability to be content creators.

With regard to Alan's statements particularly the middle concept that we need to rewrite the job description of learners I am thrown back into the whole discussion of how to be an agent of change. Chris Lehmann's NECC presentation on Understanding by Design (UbD) hit the nail squarely on the head because it addresses how we think about what we teach and what learning is all about. UbD will form the other part of our before school to do list. UbD is not a magic bullet but it is about thinking and planning and with each passing year I become more convinced that one of the reasons change is slow is because for the most part we plan like we always have, chapter by chapter, sticking in blogs and wikis or some other tool because we know we should but not because we are thinking differently or setting different goals. Once the school year starts and the busier we become we are more likely than ever to fall back into what is easy and comfortable. So starting our planing with the big picture and working with Ubd can change our thinking , our framework for learning and become a tool of change. At least that is what I am thinking.

The final piece I am going to strive for in the coming school year is to create an environment that values, supports and rewards risk takers.

So here are the questions: Tools are cool but what are the basic elements we really need? Personally and for your school -How did your journey unfold- Where are you and what is next? How can you rewrite the job description of learners? What agents of change are you putting into place for the coming year?

Photo credit:
Uploaded on January 21, 2007
by ionushi

Technorati Tags:

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Back from NECC- Where the real learning begins

NECC is over and now I am home sorry to have left the face to face leaning community but I am also ready to begin to think deeply, reflect and move forward. Tomorrow is Leadership Day and I am also thinking about what I have to contribute to that conversation.

This NECC introduced me to a few new tools ( not that there weren't plenty of them out here) but most of what I sought was a deeper understanding of the pedagogy and the learning that the tools facilitate. To that end there are several presentations I want to reflect on including, Wes Fryer's session at Edubloggercon on Digital story telling and Oral histories, Alan November who always helps put the big picture in focus and Chris Lehmann's presentation on pedagogy. (Those will form /inform my next post).

What tools am I using, what tools are we using at school, and why are we using them? What do we need to be doing? Having teachers with me this year was a great opportunity to hear what they needed, what they were excited about and what structures I can facilitate to enable them to move ahead.

A few ideas are already surfacing..

Mentoring...teacher to teacher...who will really learn what tool well and be willing to help others

As a community we need a repository ( social bookmarking) of tools and tutorials for just in time learning and to share academic content

We need a way to bring new teachers quickly up to speed and fire their imagination with possibilities

To avoid projects or technology being an end in itself we need to have clear curricular goals.
and a clear understanding of the big picture....inclusive of the concepts of Global awareness, digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity and innovation in problem solving etc.

So in the end what do you need from technology? Perhaps it is only three basic things- Connectedness, publication capacity audio and visual, & collaboration tools. It does not matter which specific tools ....It is about what tools work for us and about the learning and skills they facilitate.
Chris Lehmann said tools are invisible (not to put too much of a spin on semantics ) I was challenged by that to move beyond simply transparency for our tools. At what point do tools truly become invisible?
Technorati Tags:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

ThinWalls- NECC- A Transformative Experience

Clarence has done a nice post outlining some of our plans for the future of ThinWalls. And I have to echo his reflection about our face to face meeting being a wonderful experience and an opportunity to also deepen the connection of all involved.

This morning we discussed briefly another aspect of a ThinWalls classroom, the interpersonal connectedness or community, we hope the students would establish. To foster this we have discussed opening some channels of communication, like Twitter, that would help them develop that sense of connection beyond the specific content area. We also hope to make use of social bookmarking which I hope will move beyond the specific academic content they are working with to embrace their leaning in all areas.

From the perspective of the NECC experience I think another important thing happened for the ThinWalls classroom. Doing the poster session served as a form of publishing that allowed us to reflect on , recognize and celebrate what we had actually done. For the classroom teachers, especially Lucy and Terri, the day to day work and planning kept them so busy that they did not recognize how much they had done or the significance of their work. It was a great opportunity to see the big picture and to realize the significance of the ThinWalls work. But even more importantly from and administrative perspective I am seeing that "publishing" teacher work to an authentic audience is every bit as important as publishing student work!

Technorati Tags:

Monday, June 30, 2008

NECC- The Mega-Conference Syndrome

Three days into my San Antonio stay I am trying to get my head around the pros and cons of this kind of mega conference. I have attended Eubloggercon, gone to some formal and informal sessions, had some conversations, visited the exhibit and completed our poster session in the Global Gallery.

Everybody in the Bloggers Cafe this morning told stories about sessions over run with people or closed. The members of the faculty here with me have talked about having to run from one session to the next in hopes of getting a seat. My question about the conference scene in general is whether the more intimate conferences are more effective. Certainly I know the more intimate format of the BLC last year fostered some great conversations for me.

At the end of the day a few of us talked a little bit about the conference audience and conference spaces. Jeff Utecht shared about the organization of the conference in Shanghai and the ability to create both formal and un-confernce sessions that were open to the flow of the conversation they generated. Formal conference sessions all had a back up physical space where the session/conversation could be continued if warrented for a full 45 minutes after the completion of the session. The un-conference sessions ebbed and flowed and were assigned spaces as requests were made for conversations.

A conference the size of NECC has a very diverse audience. For many ( maybe most) it is a fairly new experience.They are looking to figure technology out and they are looking for cool tools, examples or ideas. If you visit the exhibit floor alot of people seem to be looking for software and gadgets too. There are others who are looking for the conversation, the pedagogy and the chance to converse on a different level. And of course there are many others with many other goals . The point is that there has to be way to meet these diverse needs and I think it has a lot to do with providing dedicated spaces and not filling every corner ( let alone every minute) with scheduled events.

Technorati Tags:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cell Phone Conundrum

(Cross posted to LeaderTalk)

In my position as an administrator, sometimes I feel adrift in a sea of information and an ever changing landscape of responsibilities and possibilities. I am already a day late with my post and I have at least three topics which I want to explore but for now I will stick with two related topics that stood out in my recent reading.

The Cell phone conundrum. There is an article in the latest Technology and Learning which does not offer any real opinion but which exposes the wide disparity of policies. The most extreme example of allowing/encouraging cell phone use is:

“Three middle schools and three charter schools in Brooklyn, New York, started a pilot program in direct opposition of New York City's public schools' cell-phone ban. The schools gave 2,500 free cell phones to students, preloaded with 130 minutes of talk time. Students will be rewarded with additional minutes in return for good behavior, attendance, homework, and test scores. Teachers, meanwhile, can send text messages to students to remind them of assignments or upcoming exams. The $2 million program was funded by private donors through the Fund for Public Schools.”

The reader survey, which accompanies this article, however shows almost 89% of the respondents ban cell phones on campus. Greg’s blog prints and excerpt from a New York Times blog on cell phone in the classroom. While most of the discussion centers on higher education there are some good points ( along with the usual fears, liability, responsibility, cheating, posting you tube videos etc).

At about the same time David Warlick posted the same example I have above but the primary context of his discussion was the development of acceptable use policies. This all comes together at a time when I am wondering about the application of cell phone technology at the Junior High level and wondering about how to help the students develop the maturity they need to responsibly use this tool.

I entered the conversation with the following comment which I am reprinting here because I think it is an important question and because I want to highlight David’s follow up post.

“Since both cell phone use and AUP are things I am thinking about let me raise a question that I have not seen addressed in the last year or so..

The givens: We talk about teaching students to use “all technology” in a responsible manner ..we see the potential of a whole variety of connectedness like cell phones

The question: Should we have a tiered AUP? That is should Junior High students have the same AUP as 9th graders? As 11th graders? What are realistic expectations based on maturity and responsibility?
(I work in a K-8 school)”

I have a host of questions about cell phone technology but for a moment I wish to diverge to explore the AUP issue. David posted again a couple of day later a link to a wiki to explore AUP policies and to give us an opportunity to collaborate on a tiered approach. The post and the wiki have some nice resources that are worth exploring but even more important in my opinion is the concept the AUP is much more than a set of rules . that it should be part of a technology policy statement.

Join in the conversation here or on the wiki.

Just a few of my other questions include: Is the cell phone a viable technology for the Junior High Classroom. If you have a one to one program is there a need to use cell phones? What are possible applications?

Photo by compujeramey

Thursday, May 01, 2008

RSS Awareness Day

I did not know until i read Clarence Fisher's blog..

How has RSS changed things? It is not a tool just for the classroom but also a tool for administrators. What professional journals pile up on your desk? How many education trends, curriculum ideas and legal issues do you try to track?

I use Google reader to track my subscriptions and I have it on my iGoogle homepage.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reference Materials- What do our students need?

Library 2.0- Print resources and web resources for student learning- What do we really need?

I recently attended a professional development day designed to help us spend our allocated funds on research materials for our school libraries. I work in the private sector and I do not have the luxury of having a librarian so the day was informative and it did get me thinking about evaluating and maintaining our library. It also raised some very important questions about today's school library which I hope you will help me to answer. In this particular instance the allocated funds had to be spent on print resources and so in choosing those books I struggled with what our students needed.

What do today's students need?

What is the balance between print and web based resources? Is there a balance? Does it matter? What if any print resources do you think are essential? I have a nice chart from the workshop that breaks down by percentage and Dewey categories the rough proportions a elementary or secondary library should follow in building their collection but it does not address the questions I have about print resources.

Please don't misunderstand. I am not against books, in fact an avid reader. But I need you to help me think aloud here... What are essential tools for research for our students and how much of the budget should go to print resources?

We have set a goal to ensure our students are effective researchers* but now I have to considerer and evaluate what tools we need to make sure this happens.

Please share your insights...

*Specifically we state: “St Elisabeth Students will demonstrate effective research and information fluency by developing original conclusions, re-evaluating and interpreting their assumptions, and assessing the reliability and validity of their sources.”

Friday, April 25, 2008

A conference , two tools and getting moving again..

Just so I can restart my engine I am not going to even try to explain why my posting has been so sporadic since the beginning of 2008. Here however are a few quick notes on some recent experiences...

A Conference for Administrators

Last weekend I was in San Fransisco with 200 other principals and administrators for Leadership 3.0. You can read more about this conference in my post on LeaderTalk. The keynote address was made by Sir Ken Robinson who challenged us in our leadership to refit our schools. He addressed a particular concern which we really need to make a priority which is to address, nurture and work toward an environment which values creativity and innovation. To set this up he made an interesting observation that one would generally assume the goal of education is to discover and develop the intrinsic gifts and talents of the students, He suggests however that a great many people pass through he educational system with their talents uncultivated and he suggests that is because the educational system in the United States has ,since its inception ,had a different purpose-preparation for the industrial age. The conclusion- Refit our schools.

A New to Me Tool

Even though you have probably read other posts on this tool I have to put in a link. The Digital Vault is an easy to use tool for work with primary sources. It is a tool which will easily become transparent because its use is intuitive for most students and the primary source history materials are just what teachers need. Check it out for yourself.

I Finally Get PicLens

When I first saw it I thought it was kind of fun but wasn't sure how I would use it. Now I get it and like Digital vault it makes a lot of sense for our students. The application is simple. Once it is downloaded it allows you to “swing” through thousands of photos in an iphone style interface. ( the website calls it an "immersive view”) It works with most image collections and now instead of pulling up page after page of flickr photos to find the right one i can view literally thousands of images in a very short time.

There are a couple more posts that will follow now in short order...Time to think and write really is a critical piece of my own personal learning but sometimes “stuff” just gets in the way.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Technology is not the sugar on our cereal…

In today’s faculty meeting, we watched a short video from YouTube called 3 Steps. If you haven’t seen it I think it is worth taking a look.( The tags mention NECC 2007 and David Warlick so evidently this has been around for a while but I had not seen it) I used it as a lead in to today’s meeting. It address three steps we need to take to prepare the students in the 21st century:

1. Making our classrooms creative spaces Photo by gongus
2. Teaching students to be competitive ( with themselves), to cooperate and collaborate
3. Connecting them with their global peers.

( It is on Teacher tube also in case you can not access You tube)

It was a good review of what we are trying to do and why plus it brought home the idea of changing how our classrooms look and function. The next stop was to consider the role technology plays in education. I told the teachers, “It is not the sugar on our cereal” . Technology is the means to access information learn and connect with others. As professional educators if our job is about information and teaching students how to access and use information then our job is about technology. I believe there is no way around this basic truth. It is not about cool projects it is about teaching and learning because teaching and learning are about information.

So with all of this out in the open today we embarked on something new. Armed only with our standards and a laptop I shared a iGoogle tab with the teachers on which I had preloaded some basic resources and I challenged them to go textbook free. They picked one subject, Science or social Studies and worked together to plan all of Marches lesson only with the resources they had at hand.

The standards helped us to look at the big picture and with the help of their peers everybody was successful. They explored video resource, Google gadgets, you tube, teacher tube etc. The next step is for the teachers in 6th 7th and 8th grade to build an iGoogle tab for their subject area for the students to use !

Today I think we made a big step forward….and kudos to the whole staff who didn’t even flinch! Today technology became a viable source of teaching and learning in a new way for all grade levels , Pre-k to 8!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Doodle4Google- Explore your creative side

Over the weekend I stumbled on this contest and I am posting it here because I think it sounds like fun. Check it out for yourself. It is open to students from K to 12.

Design a Google Doodle and have your artwork viewed by millions on the Google homepage (plus win a
college scholarship, computers for your school and other cool stuff).
Check out
for official rules and ask your teacher for
details on how to enter.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Thiwalls, A Colorado conversation, and MeBeam

Learning 2.0 A Colorado Conversation, a one day conference took place today at Arapahoe High School. I listened in to a few of the sessions through ustream and Clarence and I did podcasts for the opening session and participated in a live round table in the afternoon. One of the things that stood out was the fact that this conference was truly about conversation. In the words of the conference organizers… “Education is conversation. Conversation creates change. The future of education does not exist in the isolated world of theory and abstract conference sessions. Instead, it exists in conversations. It exists in creating a robust learning network that is ever-expanding and just-in-time. Learning 2.0 is not the beginning of this conversation. It is merely a stopping point, a time to talk about the visible difference that we all seek.” (You can access a great deal of the material from their wiki so use it to continue the conversation.)

For the afternoon round table we used and interesting little application called mebeam. It was very simple to use and while it worked pretty well for our round table discussion it is probably best suited to conversation where everyone has a headset. It certainly started me thinking about the classroom possibilities for collaborations like our Thinwalls classroom. It would allow groups of students to work together real time with face to face style communication. IM and skype our great but there is also something to be said for seeing each other while you talk. With mebeam you can have several people together in one room. I think this is a tool worth exploring!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I know the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time...But sometimes I forget

Where have I been? This is the season when my administrative role focuses on a broad range of issues that take me away from my day to day work with curriculum. It has also cut into my time for professional reading and when you are not reading it seems that it is much harder to write because you are not engaged with new content and ideas. ( I know that is pretty obvious…but it seems important to articulate this simple truth and to own it)

In the last several days I have begun reading and I also have been engaged in some reflective work as we begin to prepare for next years accreditation. So over the next several days I am going to blog a variety of things that are beginning to percolate to the surface.

Over the last year I have been exposed to a lot of cutting edge ideas. I have been challenged on many levels to provide leadership, support, professional development, and direction to the faculty to ensure that we are pursuing best practice across the curriculum. I have had the opportunity to hear some truly dynamic and motivational speakers including Paula Rutherford and Robert Marzano. I have talked about assessment with Scot Mcleod and I have picked the brains of many who are brighter than I am. Each interaction has left me excited and with a vision for what we can do and where we can go in ensuring that we provide an excellent education. But the real task is to translate the ideas and the head knowledge into practice.

A key to learning, a key to professional development, is to find a way to break the work down into “bite size” tasks. As an instructional leader who gets very excited about the possibilities the most challenging thing I need to do it is promote and encourage change and growth without overwhelming the faculty. Compassion and fear of overburdening already busy teachers however can paralyze our growth and so today I hit on an idea that I think will work. Daily 5 minute tasks that keep us moving forward seem relatively painless and which over the course of several days will yield real accomplishments.

With the second semester just beginning it is time to review our curricular standards to take stalk of student mastery and of what standards we have covered. We need to complete curriculum maps for second semester but that always sounds like a daunting task to teachers who only have two prep periods per week. Math is our focus subject this year so one page a day I am distributing standards work sheets to mark mastery level of the benchmarks taught. By next week we will be looking at a completed standards worksheet and be ready to plan for the rest of the year.