Thursday, September 30, 2010

Opportunity to hear different kinds of Supermen and Superwomen

Cavalcade of Stars Respond to Education Nation
Mark your calendars!

A few days ago, Edutopia asked me to write another piece voicing my objections to NBC’s Education Nation coverage and the deeply flawed documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” I suggested that they host a webinar instead. I had already tweeted, blogged and Facebooked so much that I inexplicably lost my voice.

Edutopia took the suggestion and enlisted boy wonder, Steve Hargaddon, to organize and host the event entitled, Elevating the Education Reform Debate. This two hour webinar will feature some of the voices silenced by NBC, Oprah and director Davis Guggenheim. They include my heroes and colleagues, Deborah Meier and Alfie Kohn; friends, Chris Lehmann and Will Richardson; YouTube sensation, Sir Ken Robinson; and Julie Evans. I cannot wait to hear what they (or I) will say on Monday.

Wake the kids and call your neighbors! This is an event you won’t want to miss!

This Elluminate webinar is FREE and open to the entire World Wide Web.

Date: Monday, October 4, 2010
Time: 2pm Pacific / 5pm Eastern / 9pm GMT (international times here)
Duration: 2 hours
Location: Log in at
Recordings: Posted after the event at

Note: Conference organizers have a nasty tendency to book me last on the program, this webinar may be no exception. Therefore, stick around for Sir Ken and hangout for me to bring up the rear. I promise not to disappoint!

Ends and Means, Means and Ends

Process. This is the conversation that I had with one of my classes today. They were asking me about how they were being graded on the blogs that I have had the write since the beginning of the year and what was involved in the things I was having them embed in the blogs. I truly believe that this is one of the biggest problem with education today. Students have become motivated only by grades and not by a love of learning. If you buy into the theory that external motivation is not a great way to get much of any accomplished, and that they only way for lasting learning to happen is through intrinsic motivation. We are doing our students a disservice by having them focus on grades only and not the process, not the participatory nature of education. If we are truly trying to create life-long learners then we need to come with ways to have them not mind learning so much. If the only reason that they are learning something is for the grade, then we have not taught them anything.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Elephant in the Room

As I read through my twitter messages this evening, I came across Will Richardson's post to read this article. When will we confront the elephant standing in the corner? Read on below:

"Despite some of the highest levels of education spending in the entire nation, New Jersey’s public schools continue to confront a critical achievement gap that shortchanges our children. For example, the achievement gap between wealthy and low-income 8th graders in math is nearly the same as it was 19 years ago; the gap between at-risk 4th graders and those not at-risk has remained nearly unchanged over the past 13 years. Likewise, New Jersey’s education system has failed to prepare vast numbers of students with the critical skills required to be competitive in college or the workforce. In 2009, nearly 30 percent of all 8th graders statewide lacked basic math skills."

How can we continue to believe that continuing to throw money at schools and not discuss the problem between wealthy towns and low-income towns as perhaps the real issue here? This is not about taxing the "haves" and re-distributing that to the "have-nots." This is about the so-called "education reform" movement thinking that teachers and their unions are the problem, when some of the students that we teach didn't have a bed to sleep in last night, or a breakfast to eat that morning, or any number of other issues they show up with every day. Certainly, there are some that are able to overcome the issues that they face, but how often does that happen? When those people who are making the decisions about how to fix schools actually show up at a school and talk to a teacher and a student about what needs to happen to make schools better, maybe then school reform will work.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The World I Want for My Kids

As I read Sue Densmore's blog post this morning, I thought that I should lend my voice to the choir. My children are K and under and this thought is very near and dear to me. So,

I want a world where my children's ability to think is valued over what they think.

I want a world where my children's creativity will be more important than their ability to choose what is supposed to be the "best" answer as opposed to the "better" one.

I want a world where decisions about the educational future of my children will be made with the assistance of those who actually teach.

I want a world where their thoughts will be respected for what they are and not looked down upon by their peers, where believing in themselves and having confidence in what they want and believe in will gain the respect of those around them.

There are a number of things that I would want to change about world for my children, but I think that last one is the most important. It really does come down to a question of respect for themselves and their peers. Not just their peers in their town or school, but those beyond their local community and into the larger nation and world. The world is growing smaller and flatter daily, and just when you think it can't get any smaller and flatter, some piece of technology comes along to do just that. We had all better be willing to listen to what each other has to say because more and more of us are going to part of the discussion about the world that they want for their kids, and we had better hope that they respect us as much as we want them to respect us.

About this blog carnival: “The world I want for my children” is an effort to support The Joyful Heart Foundation, which was founded by Law & Order: SVU actress Mariska Hargitay to help victims of sexual assault mend their minds, bodies and spirits and reclaim their lives. Today, the foundation is at the forefront of an effort to end a disheartening backlog of tens of thousands of rape kits in labs across the country, a backlog that contributes to a rapist’s 80 percent chance of getting away with his crime. The backlog and its detrimental effects will be the topic of an SVU episode on September 29th.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I don't know if I have talked about this before, and if I have, forgive me for the repetition. I love working with the people that I do. I love that people are willing to try new things, and even "steal" them from each other if they find that they serve their purposes just as well.

This is what students need to see in their teachers. They need to know that what we are asking them to do is something that we are excited to do as well, that we are excited to work together and share the information that we have. Our students need to know that we love learning as much as we are asking them to. Allowing us and encouraging us to work together is one of the greatest learning opportunities we could give them.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Revolutoinary War Timeline

Here is an example of a timetoast timeline. Some of the entries have pictures, some have links to other sites. Some have just text.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


"Do not mistake for progress what is merely change."

The words of my father ring in my head as I watch my students deal with the varied assignments I have given them. I enjoyed participating in a "debate" on the Declaration of Independence and watching the excitement that they brought with them to the decidedly no-tech experience. Then, later, having a conversation with one of my students about one of the assignments that they are working on in their layered curriculum was eye-opening. The excitement that appeared on his face as he realized he was getting it was very rewarding.

So while I may have changed a great deal about how I teach certain classes, and while I may not have changed some of the things I do with other classes, we are all definitely making progress.

Declaration of Independence Quiz

Here is the practice fill-in the blank quiz on the Declaration of Independence. Remember that you may only take this practice quiz once, so study a little bit before you start this.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Give It a Chance

The hardest thing to get over as a teacher is watching students who appear to be bright stop working and stop trying because they have to work through something. Just because they don't get something right away is not a reason to shut down and stop trying, at least as far as I am concerned. I have seen this more and more over the past few years and I find it aggravating because trying is part of learning. If we all understood everything that we were doing right away, learning would be a pretty boring experience.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Teach a Man to Fish...

When I took my 3-day "teaching history with technology" course this summer, one of the first things that we talked about was Ben Schneiderman's Collect-Relate-Create-Donate ideas that will in the words of one reviewer said "illustrate how technology can empower and liberate users." (Diane Maloney-Krichmar, University of Maryland Baltimore County). When I read the article that I linked to in the title, I thought about how the things that I have asked my students already this year have led them down the road to that "Do-It-Yourself" ability. I understand that this is when learning works best. I believe that if I can teach my students to do things for themselves, and learn to work through the assignments and tasks that I give them by themselves, then whatever they learn in U.S. History class will have been well worth it because they will have learned how to learn and teach themselves.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Kicking and Screaming

I told my students today that I have made the decision to completely embrace my inner "tech geek." I have now gone to the level of posting quizzes on line for my students to take. This has more to do with my desire for my students to know what is happening in my class than it does with their grades.

But, as I embrace my inner "tech geek," I have to remember that not everyone is going to do the same. That there is still a great deal of fear/hesitation/"everything has worked okay the way I have always done it" out there that I have to be careful not to push too hard. I have decided that what I really need to do is let my work and the work of my students do my talking and encouraging for me. I will help those that want it and ask for it and encourage those who are not quite ready for change to take small steps along the way.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Event Profile Quiz

CP students: you may take this quiz for 10 points on your layered curriculum.

Honors students: you should take this quiz as a quiz grade.

Something Extra

This is an additional thought to my my post about technology and teaching students and myself to use it. The most important idea is that “I not only have to be the student, I also have to be the teacher.” (Thanks to Will Richardson for posting the link on Twitter)

Lazy Afternoons

The soft, warm couch.

The lounge chair on the beach.

The float in the middle of the backyard pool.

Ahhhhhh, the comfort zone. These are places that we know we can retreat to at those times where maybe things aren't going quite as well as we might have hoped. Those places that provide safety and security for us when we need them the most. We all have them and we all need them. The thought of leaving our comfort zones often causes us distress, pain, and often forces us to stay with the familiar.

Looking back on my summer (after all, summer does not officially end until Thursday), I have realized that I have forced myself out of my comfort zone in almost every way that I could. Today, I ran almost 9 miles (averaging about 7:45 a mile, which I am told is pretty quick), and that was, until the past couple of weeks, about 3 miles than I had ever run before. (That quest goes back to the goal setting entry a couple of weeks ago.)

I also took a three-day teaching history with technology class in June that truly challenged the way I think about teaching and what my role in it should be. That class is what has inspired me to blog about my experiences this year and why I am asking my students to do the same. It was motivated me to use technology as a tool to challenge my students, not just a substitute for what I was doing in the classroom. I don't think that I can ever be the same teacher that I was before this summer, and that is a good thing.

As hard as it may have been, stepping outside of my comfort zone (a place that I found was really necessary for what has been going on over the past 16 months or so) has started me down the road to becoming better at what I do, and, hopefully and more importantly, better for my students. The growth that I believe I have gone through has made this possible, and is why I am going to spend my year challenging my students to step outside their comfort zones, to do things that they never thought they could because it seemed too difficult, because it got them up off the couch and out of the lounge chair and into a place they never knew they could reach.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Time to Reflect

I feel that time is like the weather. Everybody argues about not having enough of, but nobody does anything to change it. So no excuses for not posting about yesterday. I just didn't have time. Those of you out there who are keeping track can take a point off if you would like to.

I was inspired todby by an insight that one of my students was able to come up with in our discussion of the Boston Massacre. We were discussing whether or not it was truly a massacre, or did Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty simply hype it out of proportion. When, from seemingly out of no where, one of my students came up with the thought that it was merely a riot and not a massacre. Now, the inspiration did not come from the statement, but from the student that it came from. This student had to this point (yes, even this early in the year) seemed withdrawn from the class. This student had not handed in either of the assignments to this point and I was becoming a little scared as to what might happen for the rest of the year. After that statement, while I am still nervous about what is to come, I am at least heartened, not to say inspired (at least for the weekend) by the fact that the student was focused and paying attention enough to make that insight. This was a good day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Animoto Pictures of Revolutionary Replica Presentations

I received an e-mail last night from another adult that said I was "inspiring." I am excited to hear such a compliment from a colleague (at least that is what I am going with) and can only hope that giving my students the opportunity to show what they can do will "inspire" them to do even better work in the future. Great effort everyone!!

Create your own video slideshow at

Create your own video slideshow at

Create your own video slideshow at

Create your own video slideshow at

Create your own video slideshow at

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who Needs the Arts and Creativity?

Just something to think about as we try to figure out why, exactly, we should be cutting arts programs in schools. "Creativity is not an exotic extra for education, like literacy it should be at the heart of national priorities." - Sir Ken Robinson

Always Something

I love using technology and the web 2.0 tools that I have exposed my students to so far this year. With blogs, VoiceThread, and podcasting already under the belts, I feel that they are already ahead of a number of the fellow students not just at Triton, but at many schools in the area. Maybe I am wrong and overestimating what I am doing with my students, but I really am happy with what we have accomplished so far.

That being said, there is always something that seems to pop up that requires some kind of immediate attention. Whether its upload problems on my part (which has happened at least a couple of times in the past couple of times), download problems on my students' part, or other technical glitches along the way, it always something.

That it why often the most important part of teaching (and the one that is the least often talked about) is the ability to think on our feet and adapting to the situation around us. If the tool that we want to use that day is down or unavailable, we have to have something ready to go beyond popping in a video and calling it a day. It is too easy to blame the IT people and assume that it is their fault. If we are using the technology, we have to be the ones responsible for knowing how it works and what the potential problems will be. It doesn't necessarily mean that new problems won't come up, but it will help us to walk through the problems as they pop up.

Monday, September 13, 2010


One of the things that we as teachers learn to deal with is that things rarely go as planned and that we have to think on our feet as best we can when that happens. First period this morning, I was having trouble remembering how to get my mic to work with the computer. It took much longer than I really thought I was going to have time for. But with a deep breath and a little patience I was able to think through the problem and work out the solution. With the patience of many of my colleagues, I was able to get the files recorded for my first period and the rest of the day went relatively smoothly. Now, as I am trying to upload those files to Google groups, I have apparently gone over my limit of uploads for the moment. I was able to get the recordings for one of my classes up, but I don't know if I am going to get the recordings up for the other class.

Patience is more than a virtue, it is a necessity.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Thinking about tomorrow, which has become one of my favorites of the year, I am reminded of the importance of letting my students know what I am expecting of them. They will be recording their event profiles tomorrow and I believe that I have told them exactly what I expect of them. However, sometimes there is confusion as to what is expected. I handed each of them a sheet with the "requirements" for the presentation, but how many of them have held on to it and will have used it to write their portion of the presentation will be seen tomorrow. I have to remind myself that while communication may be a two-way street, I am responsible for 75% if not more of making sure that things go the right way.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Process v. Product

As my students have been wrestling with the assignments that I have given them over the past week (one on the first day of school, the other earlier this week), I have listened to their concerns and their questions and have come to the conclusion, with the help of many of colleagues, that we as a culture have conditioned them to only care about the end result not how they got there. Their lives are all about taking high stakes tests; they have been told that they need to pass these tests to graduate; they have been told that they have to do well on these tests to get into the most competitive colleges or to go to colleges at all; we gear our classes to prepare them to take these tests. We as a society have told these students that all that matters is the end, not the path that they take to get there. And this is what I have found as the confusion over the assignments that I have given out so far this year. I am more concerned about the process that takes them to the end. I want them to create things, but I want them to understand how to make things so that they can apply the process to other assignments and projects that they are going to have this year and beyond. I can only hope that as the year progresses, they see the process of learning and thinking as just as if not more important than the product they create.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Road Map

Today was a another great learning experience for me as a teacher.  I realized again the importance of having exemplars for students who are struggling to understand what I am asking them to do.  There was a great deal of confusion surrounding the expectations of my event profile assignments for my sophomores, which at the time I couldn't understand.  But as I thought about it, I realized that maybe the best thing that I could do for my students is provide them with a short snippet of what I expect them to do.  So, here it is:

Hopefully, this will help to clear up any misunderstandings that they might have along the way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Surprises Around Every Corner

So, today I introduced one of my classes to Google Docs (don't worry, the rest of you get it tomorrow) and it was such a great experience watching their eyes light up as they realized what they were typing was showing up on the machine next to them.  I made sure that each of them was typing in a different color so that they could see what the other members of their group were adding and changing and suggesting.  Just a great time to be a teacher.

The other exercise of going over the similarities and differences in colonial America was just as interesting, if not as entertaining.  Listening to them throw out answers about what colonies were in New England and the Middle Atlantic region was the most interesting part.  Watching them help each other in groups was great.  The groups that succeeded the most were the ones that worked the most together and did not simply rely on one person to figure out the answers.

We'll see what happens when everyone else gets to see Google Docs tomorrow.  I am excited to see how it plays out.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Finish Line?

I don't know at what point yesterday I was going to finish the 8-mile run goal (which actually turned into 8.45 according to, but it was long before I passed back in front of my front door to finish.  Maybe it was when I reached the half-way point, and felt pretty good about what I had been able to do so far.  Maybe it was when I climbed the last big hill about two miles from the finish and knew that it was fairly flat the rest of the way.  Or maybe it was when I set the goal of running 8 miles way back when in the spring.  Maybe the actual creation of the goal pre-ordained the fact that I was going to finish it.  And that is why I have decided to have my students write down their goals for the year, what they are willing to do to achieve them and what they are going to do to achieve them. 

I see those two things "willing to do" and "going to do" as distinctly different, but not opposing, forces.  For me "willing to do" suggests that "yeah, I would be willing to do these things if everything else works out for me," whereas "going to do" suggests "this what I WILL do to achieve my goals."  Maybe the difference is a subtle one and maybe I am being to philosophical for high school sophomores, but I don't think either is true.  All students need to be introspective and work through the reasons that they do things.  What they do can no longer be something they do "just to get it done" and move on to whatever comes next.  Thinking needs to be a process for them, as it is for all of us, and the only way to get better at the process is to practice doing it. 

Will this exercise in goal setting help my sophomores become better students?  Undoubtedly, yes, as it force them to write down a more "permanent" record of what they hope to do.  Consistent reflection on it will help them to stay on course and make their own subtle corrections along the way.  Could their goals change?  Sure, based on what evidence they have collected along the way, but even then their goals will have to change at their own initiative.

My goals for the year for my students are fairly straightforward.
1. I want for each of them to become better thinkers, to be able to examine all of the different pieces of evidence from the history of the United States and try to make some sense of who we are as Americans.
2. I want for each of them to become better writers.  Those people who have told them that this new creation called the "Internet" will lead students to read and write less were selling them a false bill of goods.  If anything, the Internet requires these students to be better writers.  They have to be able to get their point across more quickly and more persuasively than ever before.  They have to provide the reader with something worth reading. 
3. I want for each of them to become better citizens, not just of the United States, but of the world.  These students need to try and figure out what it means to be an American, what we have stood for, why we have stood for it, why those things that we once stood for have changed and why those changes happen, before they can go on and figure what America's role in a constantly changing, shrinking, and flattening world should be.   They need to understand that the choices we as Americans make an impact around the world and the choices they make should be well-thought out and reasoned, not just "because."

My job as the teacher is to provide them with opportunities to practice these things.  So my personal goals for the year are:
1. To provide more opportunities for my students to discuss their own thoughts on the documents and pieces of evidence both with their classmates and with me.
2. To provide more opportunities for an authentic display of their knowledge.  This is more than just discussions and answers to questions on tests.  These are tangible things that the students themselves create out of the research they do and the things that are running around in their heads.
3. To provide more feedback to my students in an effort to help them formulate a clearer understanding of what they are writing.  This is not necessarily about the validity of their arguments, but about their way to create one and convince others that what they are saying has value.

If all of these things happen over the course of the year, then it will be one of the most successful that I have ever had as a teacher.  But, then, maybe this year will be successful because of going through the process of sitting down and setting these goals for myself and my students.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


All of us who are "of an age" remember that late 1970s/early 1980s commercial featuring the chorus of the Carly Simon song "Anticipation" for Heinz ketchup.  While the lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with ketchup (and yet most of us associate the song with the product), it does serve as a fitting opening for that start of a new school year.  For the past few days, I have found myself alternately dreading the arrival of this day (for fear that I am not ready, the students won't like the things that I have planned, etc.) or hurrying it along (so excited that I get to share some of the things that I want to share with my students, colleagues, etc.), and Carly Simon has been running around in my head.  (I know, I am not particularly happy with it either).

But, whether dreading it or hurrying it, today came and went with what was probably the amount of fanfare expected for the first day of school with sophomores.  I guess that is the reality of all things.  By the end of the day, my head was going 'round and 'round, but I hope I got my basic message across to the students who crossed my threshold today.  That collaboration is OK and that often the person sitting next to them has the right answer.  That technology is going to be their friend and that they are going to be exposed to new ways to do some of the same old things.  And that just because they haven't experienced something before, they shouldn't be afraid of what is to come.

Tomorrow my students will register for the web 2.0 tools that we are going to use during the year.  Only time will tell what the reality is that will come of that.