Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Read Later

What is the difference? Are we limiting kids when we call them students as opposed to learners. What about educators? How many of us see ourselves as students? Isn't it a goal to be a life-long learner?

I welcome the chance to catch up on some reading over the break. At times during the work week articles, updates and recommended texts get placed in "Read Later" pile. Winter break provides an opportunity to reflect upon past practices and goals and consider establishing new challenges for the upcoming year. It cannot be stated enough on how educators have to see themselves as learners. Accepting the status quo is comfortable but it stands in the way of progress. The passion needs to come from within to be progressive and constantly evaluate the way things are done.

Here's to a peaceful break and hopefully, everyone can find time to make a dent in the read later pile.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Changing Roles in the Classroom

I received the following response from a teacher. The reply was in response to a weekly podcast I send out to departments I oversee. I was touched by the teacher's genuine and reflective commentary.

"I was glad to hear you say that it was a good thing that the line between teacher and student was being blurred in some instances. For I found that that was the case with my classes last week. They did a research and presentation project that used technology that I had never manipulated before. Even though I "tutored" myself before we started the project, I still had to turn to them several times in order to have them teach me. Thus, it was as much of a learning experience for me as it was for them."

The last line of the response was refreshing. Classrooms need to be a place where all participants learn and grow. Without that standard, it is impossible to foster a learning environment that is authentic, challenging, meaningful and rewarding.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cross-Posted on Between the By-Road and the Main Road

How would you answer the following question:

* What is the role of creativity in education?

I’m confident that a collection of responses to the above question would reveal a wide range of insights into the meaning of creativity and its role in education. An open-ended question such as the one shared above is powerful in that it has the potential to stimulate critical reflection. Before offering a response, one has to give considerable pause to confront their own beliefs, consider competing perspectives and prepare to be engaged in a complex debate.

The role of creativity in education came from an online forum discussion. A teacher at Morristown High School developed the question and posted it in an online forum discussion for students to access. Considering the demands of the 21st Century and the need for students to think critically and creatively and for teachers to be instructional innovators, dissecting what creativity means is a worthy intellectual pursuit. However, how can this inquiry, with the potential to generate a heated debate, be contained within a single or even multiple instructional periods? In short, it cannot. More time is needed and a space privileged to extend meaningful exchanges. The forum in which the question about creativity was posted generated 80 individual responses from students enrolled in the class. One post by a student elicited 37 replies. Weeks after the question was posted it still garnered attention from students.

Students accessed the question through a teacher’s Moodle page. Teachers at the high school where I am a supervisor of instruction have realized the importance of establishing online learning communities for students. Numerous instructors have turned to Moodle as a platform to virtually extend teaching and learning. The notion that learning is confined to a scheduled block of time is outdated. Virtual learning communities such as Moodle ensures that learning can occur at any time and anywhere.

As one of the two educators who oversee our use of Moodle, I am afforded the chance to see how Moodle is being deployed across all academic disciplines. At first, teachers used Moodle as a place to post assignments and links to resources on the internet. This current school year, teachers are moving beyond a basic use of Moodle to explore collaborative activities integrated into the open source program. Teachers have been developing chat sessions, surveys, choice lessons and forum discussions for students to support the delivery of curriculum.

Collaboratively inspired spaces on Moodle have subtly transformed interactions between classroom stakeholders. By initiating an activity on Moodle, the teacher is no longer the sole purveyor of content. Learners are empowered to assume responsibility for leading class discussions and developing meaningful content. Activities on Moodle rarely draw a distinction between classroom roles. Participants are viewed as equals and provided with an outlet to voice beliefs and share in the exchange of information. Through spirited exchanges about creativity, a hero's journey through a work of literature, or the meaning one might make of abstract art—students are active in the development of scholarship. When teachers engage students in these spaces, a team approach to learning transpires.

It is important to move beyond the hope that students are engaged and instead strive towards creating learning environments where students are empowered. What students think matters. Providing a platform for students to publicly articulate personal insights is critical and necessary considering the demands of the 21st Century. The work centered on virtual learning communities and in particular Moodle, has instigated changes to our learning environment. Traditional paradigms governing time, space and scholarship have been questioned and new models for the ways in which class is conducted are forming.

I want to thank Mary Ann Reilly for the opportunity to serve as a guest blogger.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Were There Dinsosuars When You Went To School

On a trip down to Philadelphia for a mini family vacation, one of my daughters (I am a father of twin seven year old girls and a three year old baby sister) shared how they learned math through daily contributions to a Math Journal. My wife asked the twins questions about the daily assignment and how it helped them learn math. After some initial explaining by the twins, one of them asked how we learned math. My wife shared experiences as a math student when she was in school.

The conversation revealed differences between the authentic application of math the twins were exposed to and the memorization and recall assignments my wife had to address. Even after the conversation switched to where we wanted to go first in Philadelphia, I was still thinking about the exchange. I guess one would hope that the way I or my wife learned math would differ from the learning engagements prepared for my daughters.

The world I grew up in is different in so many ways from that of my girls. My three year old can sit at the computer an navigate her way through a series of links. One of the twins is a budding photographer, snapping shots on her digital camera or shooting video using an iPod Nano. This daughter snapped her way through Philadelphia in preparation for her scrap booking class. They are growing up in a world where the demands and tools to access and share information is so vastly different.

What truly resonated was how different is school from let's say 15-20 years ago and today. Would my 9th grade experience differ from current 9th graders? For that matter could a teacher use the same lesson plans from 10, 5 or even last year? There should be notable differences between in the way class and learning is structured.

The kicker of the exchange was after listening to how my wife explained the ways she learned math, one twin asked if dinosaurs were alive when we went to school. She was joking, however, it provided a humorous take on the differences between the first and last row of the family mini van.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is the System Worthy

A considerable amount of attention has been paid towards education in the wake of Waiting for Superman, Mark Zuckerberg's donation to the Newark public school system, the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative and the results of the D.C. mayoral election. Criticism has been directed towards teachers unions, school systems and teachers protected by the tenure system.

Everyone seems to offer an opinion on how to fix America's education system. I agree with other educators in stating that current public discourse should focus on learning. Parents, educators, students and politicians need to re-imagine learning. The factory model of scholarship no longer addresses the needs of students looking to make a difference in the 21st Century. Without intense and reflective discussions about how technology impacts learning, schools will be stuck supporting outdated practices.

Another important conversation that must happen has to do with systems that govern students assessment. A colleague of mine always asks what does a C or a B represent. Grades are supposed to represent student achievement, but can be viewed as an arbitrary delineation based upon a formula that varies from teacher to teacher. Can one be assured that an A represents the same level of achievement in every classroom?

Isn't the bottom line about whether or not students meet program benchmarks. Going under the assumption that a course has clearly defined objectives, it should be the job of teachers and students to collaboratively work towards ensuring that benchmarks are met.

Are we currently supporting a system that works against student progress? Where outside of education are grades that represent such a broad range of proficiencies used to determine one's capacity. In addition to critically thinking about learning and the types of experiences privileged for students, educators need to examine how student progress is defined. As the traditional approach to teaching and learning dissipates, it will become harder to evaluate students based upon the letter grade system. Just consider the standards produced by NCTE for 21st Century Literacy. Students cannot address just some standards or parts of a particular benchmarks, but should demonstrate proficiency in all. Without that, how can students progress within a school and eventually, graduate from high school.

The time is ripe for these conversations to happen. Let's hope the moment does not slip by.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Power of Sport

I do not know if you had the chance to watch the latest installment of ESPN's documentary series 30 for 30. Tuesday night was the premier of Once Brothers. The documentary presented the story of the former Yugoslavian national basketball team. The documentary traced the rise of the team that captured the 1989 European Championship to teammates pitted against one another as war erupted in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

The documentary followed Vlade Divac as he traveled back to Zagreb, Croatia twenty years after capturing the European title. Along the journey, Vlade Divace recounted the story of how his relationship with the Croatian players on the national team changed once the conflict erupted in Yugoslavia. In particular, Divac shared with the audience his relationship with fellow national team member Drazen Petrovic.

Petrovic was a member of the Yugoslavian national team and all star in the NBA. Petrovic was a star in Europe and a national hero in Yugoslavia. Exploits of his scoring prowess were legendary. For Divac, Petrovic was a player he greatly admired and looked up to (Petrovic was four years older than Vlade). Divac would get a chance to play with Petrovic when he named to the national team. The two roomed together during training camps for the Yugoslavian national team and both entered the NBA in 1989.

Divac, drafted by the Lakers and Petrovic by the Blazers, relied on each other to get through the first year. Thousands of miles away from family and friends, the two would spend hours on the phone at night talking about the transition to a new country and life in the NBA. This tight bond between Divac and Petrovic dissipated as the conflict worsened back home. It got to the point were both men barely spoke and only exchanged quick pleasantries when their teams met.

Petrovic's promising career was cut short when he died in a car accident in June 1993. Divac always believed that once the war ended these old teammates could come together and rekindle what once was a treasured friendship. It was not meant to be and Divac has had to live with regret until he returned to Zagreb and sat down with Drazen's mother and visited Petrovic's grave.

The story shared by Divac was genuine, emotional and gripping. It also personalized a moment in history. As the title suggests, a tight bond formed between teammates was destroyed as war in the Balkans escalated. The documentary demonstrated how neighbors, colleagues and teammates took up arms against each other and that relationships and past history was of no consequence.

Think about how defining moments in sport can be a vehicle to examine the world. What enduring understandings can be established from examining Jesse Owens' performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics or Jim McKay's tragic remarks, "that they are all gone," during his marathon telecast from Munich in 1972. Similarly how can a picture of the medal podium featuring Tommie Smith and John Carlos spur further inquiries into the mystery behind the single black gloves.

The use of sport as a vehicle to engage and stimulate meaningful inquiries cannot be overlooked. The inherent drama and personal struggle embedded into each contest causes an emotional reaction amongst those who are viewing an event. For 90 minutes it was impossible not to reflect upon the relationship shattered by war.

If you have not had the opportunity to view Once Brothers it will be replayed and is also available on iTunes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Networked Student

"Networked Student Model that promotes inquiry-based learning and digital literacy, empowers the learner, and offers flexibility as new technologies emerge."

The above quote, shared from an article written by Wendy Drexler, and published in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (2010), suggests the types of learning engagements students should experience in the classroom. Teachers should occasion inquiry driven endeavors that also, take into consideration the expanding definition of literacy in the 21st century. As students explore challenging classroom initiatives in a connected environment, they assume greater ownership over learning and bring to the surface unique processes for constructing knowledge.

The latter part of Drexler's statement reveals another reality educators and students must face. Considerable attention has been placed on the development of 21st century skills and the need to either embed in existing classes or create stand alone courses that foster effective and ethical ways students can produce and share information. Infused into discussions about literacy has to be the development of personal learning networks. Ultimately, there is a need for students to develop their own personal learning network and access this network to meet challenges faced in the classroom.

At the high school where I am an administrator, we have encouraged teachers to develop Moodle pages for their classes. Moodle is our school's personal digital community where students, teachers and administrators can post and exchange information. The use of Moodle has grown over the past year. Each day more and more teachers are developing class pages. Whereas at first Moodle was a site used to post classroom resources, now classroom participants are engaging one another in forum discussions, chat sessions and collaborating to complete academic tasks. Meaningful exchanges are allowed to develop as the traditional notion of class time has been altered to where learning occurs 24/7.

While the use of Moodle is encouraging, in a sense, it is limited. Moodle is an internal system. Access to Moodle is restricted to only building/district educators and students. Another piece needs to be added to the sharing witnessed on Moodle. Students need to develop personal learning networks that not only includes exchanges on Moodle, but also relies on relationships established outside of the school community. Our students have to begin to develop extensive social networks. These networks can be accessed to assist with academic related tasks or be tapped in relation to a personal interest or passion.

Part of developing the global classroom rests within the efforts of learners. Without prompting from a teacher, students should activate social networks to conduct inquiry-based initiatives. Educators have a responsibility to model the process of how they access a personal network to learn and grow both professionally and personally. Through this apprenticeship students will begin to expand personal networks. The end result is a classroom where students are constructing knowledge and not relying on a single source or the person sitting next to them to address a problem.

Virtual learning communities are valuable and have helped make some significant changes to instruction. However, there is a need to broaden the sources of information and perspectives students can reflect upon. Encouraging students to develop personal learning networks is critical and has enduring value. Personal learning networks are not restricted to a single class or school year. It exists for a lifetime and constantly evolves to meet the constant changes we all face.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

iPad Launch and What it Means

Today a pilot 1:1 iPad program was launched at the high school I work at. 11 students, 4 teachers and one supervisor received iPads. The students are part of another pilot initiative to build small learning communities within a traditional high school. What was great to witness was how excited students and teachers were. Students reported to class before the morning bell rang and cleared their desks in anticipation of receiving an iPad. I guess, who would not be excited to receive an iPad. However, I think students and teachers were and continue to be excited at the prospects of what can be accomplished in a connected classroom where all stakeholders have ready access to powerful technologies.

While only small in the number of students and teachers involved in the 1:1 initiative, the impact of the program could have significant implications on how students, teachers, administrators and parents view instruction. Our pilot program is not unique. 1:1 programs exist in classrooms throughout the world and more and more educational institutions are becoming wireless environments with each passing day. However, having the chance to watch transformations in the classroom through the access being provided is significant in regards to changing on a global scale, how teachers construct space for students to grow and how students assume ownership over learning.

It will be curious to see how after the initial euphoria of receiving a new shiny device dissipates, students and teachers react to a classroom environment where all stakeholders have equal access.

It remains to be seen what occurs. However,if today is any indication, the excitement for what is possible should lead to memorable accomplishments

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Boy and A Bike

A constant challenge for educators is to make sure that learning is relevant. If we want our students to be responsible global citizens they need to be able to apply knowledge to solve contemporary problems. However, why are so many courses offered for high school students rooted in the past. I understand that learning about the past helps us make informed decisions about the present. While history does not repeat itself, I comes pretty darn close (this was a famous quote from a former college professor).

I think there is a need to construct courses for high school students that are rooted in the present. I remember reading that a school in New york City had based a class around Jean-Francois Rischard's Twenty Global Issues, Twenty Years to Solve Them. According to Rischard, the next twenty years will be of critical importance to our planet. How global problems are resolved over these years will determine the fate of our planet for the next generations. Rischard outlines the twenty global problems as follows:

Sharing our planet: Issues involving the global commons

• Global warming
• Biodiversity and ecosystem losses
• Fisheries depletion
• Deforestation
• Water deficits
• Maritime safety and pollution

Sharing our humanity: Issues requiring global commitment

• Massive step-up in the fight against poverty
• Peacekeeping, conflict prevention, combating terrorism
• Education for all
• Global infectious diseases
• Digital divide
• Natural disaster prevention and mitigation

Sharing our rule book: Issues needing a global regulatory approach

• Reinventing taxation for the 21st century
• Biotechnology rules
• Global financial architecture
• Illegal drugs
• Trade, investment and competition rules
• Intellectual property rights
• E-commerce rules
• International labor and migration rules

I see such relevance in having students examine issues that challenge the global community. We hope to graduate students who are active in solving problems that plague local, national and global communities. Think about the critical and reflective thinking that goes on as students fully engage in a prolonged inquiry into one of or several of the bullets listed by Rischard.

I wonder if we could create a course for students that acts as more of a think tank. Students could be provided with the space to convene and brainstorm possible solutions to current obstacles. To do so students would need to master content knowledge, develop a process and framework and present and defend a response. This would also be the epitome of a global classroom as students could reach out to experts in various fields.

I would recommend taking a few minutes to read an opinion piece written in today's New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. The op-ed article introduces to the reader a young boy, Abel, who has to walk upwards of six hours to get to and from school. The history of the boy's family and his struggle to receive an education and take care of his younger siblings is both tragic and inspirational. However, the article also introduces the reader to Frederick K.W. Day, a Chicago businessman who has piloted a program to provide bikes for students such as Abel. By providing Abel a bike, his commute time to school is decreased and he has more time to study and care for his family.

Kristof ends the article with the following conclusion:

"One obstacle is donor fatigue and weariness with African corruption and repeated aid failures. Those are legitimate concerns. But this column isn’t just a story about a boy and a bike. Rather, it’s an example of an aid intervention that puts a system in place, one that is sustainable and has local buy-in, in hopes of promoting education, jobs and a virtuous cycle out of poverty. It’s a reminder that there are ways to help people help themselves, and that problems can have solutions — but we need to multiply them. Just ask Abel."

Something as simple as providing a bike has made such a difference. I wonder if provided the time, space and support, our students could not find some powerful solutions.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Unlearning How to Teach

What do you make of the following:

Rather than teachers delivering an information product to be ‘consumed’ and fed back by the student, co-creating value would see the teacher and student mutually involved in assembling and dissembling cultural products. As co-creators, both would add value to the capacity building work being done through the invitation to ‘meddle’ and to make errors. The teacher is in there experimenting and learning from the instructive complications of her errors alongside her students, rather than moving from desk to desk or chat room to chat room, watching over her flock.

How much of what we learned about teaching either as a student observer or through a training program has to be pushed aside? The above excerpt challenges what was an accepted paradigm governing classroom instruction and for many of us, this was the learning environment we experienced as students.

When one considers what is valued in today's world, instruction needs to reflect an environment in which teachers and students are working together to solve complex problems. Within the quest to find possible solutions classroom participants have to be willing to experiment and construct a working process. Teachers have to see the value in working along side students and how each group of classroom participants can learn from one another. Students can benefit from watching teachers tackle a complex problem and see steps that are taken to build successful strategies. Sharing with students how educators learn needs to be seamlessly infused into the classroom.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Questions We Want Students to Answer

The following was ripped from a Will Richardson blog post:

What I’m most hopeful for, however, is that their stories about school will change. Last year, far too much of the reporting about their days started with “I got a ___ on my ___ test!” or “Yes, I’ve got homework” (said in the same voice as one might say “Yes, I’ve got ringworm.”) School was something that rarely sparked a conversation about learning. Usually, it was a topic to be avoided or ignored. I hope to hear more excitement this year, more passion about learning, more thinking and doing. To that end, I’ve been coming up with a mental list of the types of questions I’m hoping they might answer:

What did you make today that was meaningful?

What did you learn about the world?

Who are you working with?

What surprised you?

What did your teachers make with you?

What did you teach others?

What unanswered questions are you struggling with?

How did you change the world in some small (or big) way?

What’s something your teachers learned today?

What did you share with the world?

What do you want to know more about?

What did you love about today?

What made you laugh?

As we prepare for students to enter our school building, let's make sure that we are occasioning experiences for students where these types of questions are being asked and addressed by our students.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Continuous Professional Development

Came across this thought while reading Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It struck me as something worth sharing as so many of us are returning to school. A former New York City administrator was quoted as saying, "Professional development is not an isolated activity, but a daily routine in every school."

The capacity exists within schools to ensure that professional development is a continuous process and not relegated to "special" days on a school calendar. Moreover, control over professional development rests in the hands of each individual. The growth of our global digital infrastructure has enhanced the ability of educators to share experiences across a broad audience of peers and to become engaged in conversations where ideas are openly exchanged. It is in these conversations, both local and global, where professional growth is likely to occur.

There has to be a willingness for educators to see themselves as a source of professional development and be committed towards creating open learning environments. To a certain extent, student expectations should mirror those for professional educators. The dynamic of scholarship is changing. No longer does the top down / single expert in the classroom approach to learning apply (nor did it really ever). We encourage learners to see themselves as sources of information and that individual ideas, research inquiries and conclusions can assist others in the process of making meaning. We encourage students to post their work and develop an understanding that products are submitted for viewing and feedback from an audience that extends beyond a teacher or single classroom.

If we hold students to these expectations the same can be said of educators. It might be said for all professions, but teachers learn by doing. Reflecting on personal and professional success and failure leads to growth. Personal growth can be extended to present the productive friction or inspiration others need to be progressive.

As the year begins, let's make a commitment to nurture an environment where professional growth is continuous and that we rely on one another to help fulfill our potential as educators.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Podcast about the need to engage and actively participate in collaborative spaces.

"Ultimately the most valuable search is the one that connects us to people; they are often the best sources of information and knowledge”

Consider the need for educators to connect with their peers both within their school and district and on a global level.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

21st Century Education

If you have a six minutes watch the following watch the following video put together by the New Brunswick School District. The video was put together as an opening day piece for teachers.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fostering Creativity

A recent Newsweek article, "The Creativity Crisis" shared a poll taken by IBM. 1500 CEOs were surveyed and the responses identified creativity as the number one leadership competency that will be valued in the future.

The same article also presented a research study conducted by a professor at William and Mary

"Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

Professor Kim's study is alarming and compromises the beliefs of current CEOs. This divide also presents a challenge to educators. Considering how much time children spend engaged in activities related to school, what is our responsibility to foster creativity amongst students?

Educators have to seriously consider experiences constructed for students. As cited in the article other countries have made it a priority to privilege creativity through engaging students in authentic problem solving scenarios. "The European Union designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, holding conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults." Countries such as Finland, South Korea and Singapore out-class American students on a wide range of assessments.

Further studies have shown that creativity can be a skill that is developed in classrooms. The challenge is to see that students are consistently engaged in creative problem solving endeavors. While content or foundational information is critical, it ceases to be relevant if students are not able to apply, reflect, make connections and continue the process of constructing meaning. Consider each classroom as a think tank where ideas and perspectives can be accessed and freely expressed by engaged participants. Empower students with the freedom to tackle challenging problems and to develop strategies/process for determining possible responses. Encourage learners to consider a broad range of possible solutions and welcome productive friction in the classroom.

While mentioned in response to current obstacles such as the BP Oil Spill, the following sure applies to classrooms and what students could experience.

"Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others."

To sustain a "martketplace of ideas" we have to see classrooms as a place of innovative and creative thought and see that students are actively seeking solutions to complex problems.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Passion Leads to Pursuit, Which Creates Connections

I have been reading the Power of Pull by John Seely Brown. I strongly recommend that you pick up a copy and start reading. Brown discusses the "Big Shift." The Big Shift has been characterized by a profound transformation in the way information is exchanged and also, how changes to the digital infrastructure connects individuals together in a manner that challenges traditional forms of scholarship and power.

In Pull, Brown talks about Yossi Vardi. Yossi Vardi founded his first company when he was 27 years old and over the past four decades, Yossi has been involved in launching 70 Israeli tech companies. Yossi was also instrumental in helping Larry Page and Sergey Brin make some critical decisions regarding Google. As was quoted in the book, Yossi is one of the best connected people in the world.

Brown cited an intriguing observation regarding Yossi. At conferences, Yossi spends a majority of his time sitting in the hallways as opposed to attending lectures. This is not to be rude, but instead, Yossi enjoys engaging conference members in informal conversations that could potentially lead to an enduring connection. Yossi assumes that people attending the conference share similar interests and passions and that these informal interactions could open the door to greater possibilities as ideas are freely exchanged. I just found this observation to be interesting and it caused reflection regarding the need to connect with those who share similar passions.

Schools would seem or rather should be a perfect place to cultivate connections between individuals who share similar interests. A critical element is to create a school culture in which educators are encouraged to follow their interests and embed these passions into classroom experiences. Teachers who share their interests will enhance the likelihood of establishing worthwhile connections (both parties benefit from the interaction) and consistently engage in an organic flow of knowledge.

Looking towards this upcoming school year we should all be willing to share our passions and be provided with the space to pursue interests inside of school. Students will benefit through learning engagements that are authentic and genuine. Educators will grow professionally through a viable social network.

The title of the post, "Passion leads to pursuit, which creates connections" should be kept in mind as we get closer to the start of school and begin to solidify goals and how we can accomplish personal benchmarks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

An Enduring Learning Experience

If you have not already, take 20 minutes to watch Brian Crosby's talk form TedxDenver. An engaging and reflective video about an educator working to create meaningful experiences for his students.

The engagement shared in the talk is rich, cross-disciplinary, rigorous, creative, student-centered and authentic. Also, it honored the perspective of students through posting commentary on blogs and wikis. Student work in Mr. Crosby's class can serve as a resources for students in classrooms across the world.

Another point to consider is the need for consistency across a school district. What students are experiencing in Mr. Crosby's 4th grade class has to be continued until they graduate from high school. As we think about instruction, the conversation should be K-12 and not building centric. While content or intensity of content knowledge may vary, strategies, vehicles and expectations should remain consistent. What is happening in Mr. Crosby's class one would expect to see across a school district.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Walking the Highline

“Walking the High Line”

Next year shapes up to be an exciting session at MHS. Access to the MHS wifi will continue and with expanded broadband capabilities problems that have plagued the building will become a distant memory. Students will be able to use hand held devices in classrooms and the school will be linked through common usage of morristownhighschool.org accounts. Class Moodle pages will be further developed and all freshman will start experimenting with the Social Bookmarking service Diigo.

Additionally, we have move beyond the growing pains of working in a new schedule. Hopefully, teachers will feel more comfortable having had the chance to spend a summer reflecting on 09-10 school year. We will also have two classes, the 9th and 10th graders that only know the current schedule.

The Strategic Plan will influence decisions made at the high school and provide a common vision for all MHS stakeholders. As the strategic plan takes hold, more of us at the high school can have an active role in shaping a model school for 21st Century learning.

While all of these developments are exciting, personally, I am anxiously awaiting the start of next school year to sit in a string of classes being introduced for the first time at the high school. American Studies I and II and African American Studies are interdisciplinary Humanities courses that will be taught by several English and Social Studies teachers. Another Academy will be launched at MHS. The Classics Academy will involve teachers from 5 different departments, support co-teaching models and provide students with the space to study independently. Just based upon the thought, commitment and effort put forth by educators involved in each program there is no way these course will not be successful. The fact that these course will run next year has inspired other educators to conceive of cross-disciplinary opportunities.

The evidence is compelling when supporting interdisciplinary/co-teaching models. Research also suggests that schools should be broken down into smaller academies or houses. I suggest reading Linda Darling Hammond’s The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. Programs such as the Science or Classics Academy could be the future of how MHS is structured.

The thought of academies and what can be accomplished at MHS came across my mind this weekend. I finally had the chance to walk the High Line in NYC. I have been waiting to walk the High Line since it was refurbished and opened last June. Within a year, the High Line has become one of the most trafficked attractions in NYC. It is hard to think that the decrepit weed infested rail line that ran through the meat packing district could be transformed into an urban botanical thoroughfare. I was able to walk the High Line at sundown and return after dinner (Dos Caminos great Mexican) to stroll some more. The transformation is impressive. A new lens has been created to view the city and for the city that never sleeps, the High Line had this vibrancy that’s hard to explain.

Besides the beauty of the walk, the High Line also represents human ingenuity. Thinking about the High Line’s transformation stimulated reflections about MHS.

Any small learning community that is created needs to be relevant in that students are being challenged with authentic scenarios and can apply skills and knowledge to current dilemmas. Let’s say we wanted to construct a pathway through the high school that connected to sustainability/environmental consciousness.

We could ask students to consider the use of space within existing communities. Morristown could be a think tank for our students as they investigate was to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly community. Is there a parallel between community gardens projects or converting vacant lots into functional space and the transformation of the High Line into a pedestrian thoroughfare? If students were presented with a problem to transform an abandoned rail spur, consider the different disciplines and skills involved in crafting and presenting a possible solution.

I urge those who have not to put aside some time for a leisurely stroll on the High Line. While walking and taking in the surroundings, consider what went into the current and future planned development and the impact it has had. Also, consider how the highline could be a model of engagements we would privilege for students.

Thanks for listening and again, find some time to take stroll with friends and family.

Summer Goals

June 22, 2010

This morning Will Richardson came to the high school and delivered a presentation to 80 educators who volunteered attend. Mr. Richardson frequently blogs about education or issues related to schooling. Mr. Richardson is the author of several books and spent 22 years as an English teacher. Much of the educational blogging world is influenced by the pioneering work Mr. Richardson has done since starting his blog nine years ago

Informal feedback from those who attended appreciated the opportunity to hear Mr. Richardson speak. The presentation lasted for nearly three hours. There was a break in between and the small setting allowed for those who attended to ask questions during the presentation. The perspective Mr. Richardson shared was that of a parent. Even though he was a teacher for twenty years and has been a respected consultant for the last eight years, Mr. Richardson is the parent of a 6th and 8th grader. During the presentation, he kept saying what are schools currently doing and will do for to prepare his kids or any kids for that matter to be successful after graduating from high school.

Among the various sites, videos, tools and stories Mr. Richardson has collected and observed throughout his career, he said that change could not happen or at least would not alter from the “glacial pace” that characterizes academic reform, unless educators are able to articulate an extensive Professional/Personal Learning Network. Educators need to embody what it means to be a life-long learner and model for students how to build, in an ethical manner, a supportive learning network. Whether it is through Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Youtube or all of these social networks and more, educators need to build relationships with those who share similar passions.

In the spirit of this message, I wanted to share a few posts that I came across the other day. It is important to set professional goals for the summer. In sitting down with teachers during annual review conferences, a consistent goal set by teachers was to increase their use of technology. While that is a worthwhile focus and especially when considering where we will stand come September 1, 2010 as opposed to past opening days, technology is a powerful tool and not an entity separate from the curriculum. Technology is being infused because it adds value to the teaching and learning process. In my opinion, I see how harnessing what exists (hardware, software, Web 2.0) can alter the dynamic of the classroom and allow us to confidently address Mr. Richardson’s question of how we are preparing students.

Fellow educators posted self-design programs related to improving the effective use of technology in classrooms. Along with this cast, I shared links to some of the programs. Check out the 30 goals challenge. Over 1500 educators have joined the The 30 Goals Challenge since January 2010. This free e-book challenges you to accomplish 30 social media and professional development goals in 30 days. These are short-term goals, such as guest posting, setting up a Google alert, causing a ripple, and contributing to a blog carnival. Download the free e-book to get started.

Also, consider the 23Things Web 2.0 project created by Steve Anderson. The 23 Things Web 2.0 Project is designed to introduce you to the tools that can transform your classroom, school or district. Activities can be completed independently, as a small learning community or as a large staff.

Also included are some additional posts to read including a post on Shelly Terrell’s Teacher Reboot Camp blog about free E-books dealing with Web 2.0 professional development ideas.

Thanks for listening and good luck in your efforts to set and reach some personal/professional goals.