Monday, September 5, 2011

The New Year

As Labor Day weekend is about to come to a close, and marks the traditional start of the school year, it seems like a good time to think about what this year is going to bring and what I hope to get out of it.

This is the second year of my relatively heavy investment in using technology in the classroom.  I think that I am better at it now than I was at this point last year, but I know that I have a long way to go.  I can only hope that I get better at how I use technology and that I use it to engage my students more in the history, because technology is a tool, not a toy.

I am also a mentor again this year, for the first time in three years.  Being a mentor is always enlightening because it really forces me to think about how I am teaching and engaging my students.  Being a mentor is a two-way street.  I always feel as if I am better for the experience, because I get to examine everything about my work as a teacher and educator.

My biggest personal goal is one that I have been working on for the past few weeks and that is the completion of a half-marathon, which I will be running at the beginning of October.  The training has been tough (this past weekend's run of 11 miles was not particularly enjoyable), but I feel that I have put in the time and the effort and that I will be able to finish the race and run it in the time I want.  We'll see what happens in a couple of weeks.

These are always subject to change and the accomplishment of one goal leads to others down the road.  So, I will be re-evaluating this post as the year goes along.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Continuing Experiment

(Truth in advertising - I sat down to write this on Sunday, and, well, yeah...)
Last year at about this time, I was taking the information that I had gained through a variety of resources, most notably a workshop on Teaching History with Technology, and figuring out how I was going to use it in my classroom.  With the calendar page turning to August tomorrow and, therefore, the real start of the school year, I decided this was as good a day as any to take a look back at what I was able to accomplish with technology, for myself, my colleagues, and most importantly, my students.

Their are two things that have made me a better teacher this year: this blog and Twitter.  This blog has allowed me the opportunity to really reflect on what it is I do as a teacher, what works, what doesn't.  But, I hope that it has been more than that, as I have tried to share my experiences with whatever new technology I am asking my students to use.  Whether it was the first VoiceThread post about King George III, or the popplet that we all made together in class, this blog has been a great repository for my year.  I am thrilled to have started it, and truly hope that I can continue to improve my posting to the one a day (once school starts again), and really use this to continue to be better at my craft.

As for Twitter, I only have so much space to share my thoughts on what has become my go-to professional development tool.  #sschat on Monday nights at 7 has become appointment viewing/participating, with the only problem being that it is bedtime around here.  That doesn't always work well, but we manage.  There is an enormous amount of give and take in those sessions and I can only hope that the people who have helped me become better have gotten a little piece of something in return from me.

Over the course of the year, I managed to find some like minded co-conspirators at Triton.  @suedensmore and @lisa_herzl have truly helped me along the path to being better at what I do simply by their encouragement and influence.  I knew that one way or the other, the three of us would keep each other up to date on the latest idea and how we might be able to best use it.  It also led the three of us to reach out to our colleagues in the district and offer them some, what certainly came back to us as, valuable professional development.  #tech4triton was our first effort at sharing our thoughts and ideas about what technology worked for us to make us better teachers.  We had 10+/- of our district colleagues come and take our course and their responses were overwhelmingly positive.  Any number of them have already set about making their own blogs, wikis, and websites, which will help them be better and help them to work better with their students.

Most importantly, I feel that I made my students better, and not just because I had so many of them get involved in blogging or creating things on their own.  I just feel as if I was able to make them better learners.  While there was some early guidance with many of the projects that we worked on, the end of the year brought with it, the idea that they could do it on their own, that they had the skills necessary to create and share some very valuable evidence of their learning.  What I was happiest with my students for was their patience along the way.  They got to see me learn right along with them, and they helped me through my mistakes and misunderstandings just as I got to help them.  They certainly made me a better teacher during the year.

Now that the calendar is turning to August and truly thoughts of  "Back to School," I am excited about what this coming year will bring and the challenges that will go along with it, but more about that later on.

Photo Essay Solution?

So, I am going to have my students design and create a photo essay as their first real "tech" assignment of the year by asking them "When I think of the Constitution, I think of..."   The natural choice would be to go to Animoto and have them work from there.  However, I read about another tool called kizoa through one of the many valuable people I follow through Twitter.  (It am fairly sure it was @web20classroom, but if it wasn't I sincerely apologize and hope that you will comment below if it was you that tweeted about it.)  Anyway, as I played with Kizoa, I found that text could be written over the images that I was using.  Now, there may be a way to do this with Animoto, I just couldn't find out how to do it.  I thought this was great for my students because they could overlay their citation on the image, and not take time away from their photo essays.  The "finished" product is below, and while it is not perfect, it does represent a good exemplar for my students to start with and, hopefully, expand on.

When I think of the Constitution... - flash slideshow

Please let me know what you think, either of the assignment or kizoa in general.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Isn't This What Professional Development Should Be?

Last summer I took a 3-day course entitle "Teaching History with Technology" run by Tom Daccord (one of the men behind @thomasdaccord) and ably assisted by Greg Kulowiec (@gregkulowiec).   It really changed who I was as a professional and the opportunities that I gave my students to demonstrate what they had learned. It was the best professional development that I have ever been a part of, mostly because they, and the other professionals that took the course with me, forced me to examine who I am and what I want my students to get out of my class.  I believe that it made me a better teacher.

Tomorrow, I get the opportunity to pay their work forward by starting a 4-day workshop with two of my wonderful colleagues, Sue Densmore (@suedensmore) and Lisa Herzl (@lisa_herzl), about the advantages that we have found using various tech tools.  Tomorrow is an opportunity to discuss the benefits of twitter, diigo, and google docs with a small, but excited, group of educators in the Triton Regional School District who want to figure out how to use these tools to their advantage.

As I think about professional development, and I think about my PLN and how far the people that are in it, those that I have met and those that I know only through social media, I have decided that this is what professional development should be, teachers teaching teachers.  At their heart, teachers are what Tom and Greg are, and I can only hope that I inspire the same kind of excitement about using technology in the classroom that they did in me.  Thanks to you both for that.

Friday, May 27, 2011

You Can Never Have Too Many Tools

Today was one of those days where I realized that you can never have too many tools to use with your students.  We are studying the Industrial Revolution and in my continuing efforts to "flip" my classroom, decided to use an Edsitement lesson plan on the strikes of the period.  I broke them to groups and they did the research using the primary source documents.  I had looked at the work earlier in the morning and thought that it would take much longer for them to complete the research.  All of the sudden, as I walked around the media lab, I realized that this was going to take much less time than I had planned and had to come up with something.  All of the sudden, a thought appeared in my head.  The students were going to have to present their findings at some point, so why not have them create a Google presentation that they could all work on and complete on their own at home if need be?  (In reading some of their blog posts later on, I discovered that not all of them remembered using the Google presentation feature earlier in the year.)  Most of them were able to finish the assignment and I will be able to share their work with everyone when we return next week.  I feel that I accomplished something today, being able to use the right tool at the right time to help my students showcase their work.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Opportunity for Students to Show What They Can Do

Every time I fire up my computer (which my wife seems to think is every hour on the hour), I always manage to find my way to Richard Byrne's "Free Technology for Teachers" site.  The times where I don't find something worth somehow incorporating into my classroom are few and far between.  I find myself always wondering how I would use whatever his latest post (and he makes any number of them everyday) with whatever I am teaching at the moment.

This afternoon was no different, except that what I found was an opportunity for my students to display their creativity, which I can only hope that I have helped to cultivate this year.  This link in the title will take you an explanation for a new contests for students to use web-tools to create a 90-second video in which they help others learn something new.  It would appear that the topic could be just about anything, and there are more specific rules at the page, but I will be walking in to my classes tomorrow encouraging them to be a part of it.

Oh yeah, there's a contest for teachers as well.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

We Have Forgotten

 I have discovered a wonderful blog over the past few months entitled "The Relentless Teacher" (you can find it in my "Blogs I Follow" column in the right hand column).  There are frequently posts that make me think about what it is that I do for a living, but the post that I read today was one that should make all of us think.  As a nation, we need to remember why public schools are so important for the future of the republic.  That from time of our founding, the United States has relied on education to ensure that future generations would understand what it means to live in this country.  All of us, educators, parents, students, general public, would do well to remember that the students who come to the public school everyday are all of our "children," not just some one else's.  That we need to be concerned about what happens to them in as they become thinking human beings and, hopefully, contributing citizens to our society.  I will be using this post with my students to start next year in an effort to make sure they understand why they are in school and how fortunate they are to be receiving the opportunity they have to learn what it means to live in this republic.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Students Helping Teachers

I asked my students to sign up for a new on-line discussion forum,, which seems to be better than the portal that I was using in that this one allows for posting images, pdfs and links directly into the discussion area so that students do not have to click back and forth.  I am still waiting to see how it works, and will certainly share that information along the way.

What I was happiest about was that one of my students took it upon himself to create a screencast to help his classmates along in the registration process.  This is a HUGE deal for me, because it has taken me the better part of the school year for my students to help each other in a tech assignment in this way.  This is not to say that my students have not collaborated on projects like this in the past, I know that they have and that those who have worked to help their classmates have made the integration of technology into the classroom much easier.  But this is the first time that the collaboration has become public.  I feel as if my classes have finally reached the "donate" phase of technology.  His screencast is below.

I can only hope that future students of mine are able to move to the donation phase of what I want them to do more quickly.  But big things come from small first steps.  Thanks Neil!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

New Opportunities

This is a very quick post about the power of working with students.  My students are busy studying for a test tomorrow.  How do I know you ask?  Because they have been asking me a series of questions at, which I initially used during a course last summer.  At the time, we used it to ask back channel questions or to make points during a presentation.  Tonight I used to answer questions about information that will be on the test.  One of my students didn't have some of the information that she needed, and couldn't read it from my blog.  So she let me know and I was able to go to the original web site, download the information from the site as a pdf, and send it off to her as an e-mail attachment.  In the past, I would have had to listen to a story about not being able to get the information that she needed and that she isn't ready to take the test.  This solved the problem quickly and painlessly.  Another victory for Web 2.0.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Power of PLN

It is always flattering when other people recognize the contributions that you make to whatever organization you are a part of.  But when posts that you make are recognized by people beyond your four little walls, you realize the power of your PLN.  Really the only reason that I had made the post in the first place was in response to a tweet by @ about her recommendation for people to use as a mind map tool for students.  I realized that I had something to contribute and thought that I owed it to her and the others who might want to try to show an example of what my students had created that day in class.

But when my post made "The History Teacher's Daily" for today (April 28), I was more than a little surprised.  More often than not, I feel as I am posting for myself, which is perfect for me, because it helps me reflect on how well the day went.  But knowing that I may be helping people that have never met me, and may never meet me, is very empowering.  I am thrilled to be a part of Twitter and to blog even a little bit (if not as much as I should) because it allows me to help people and, more importantly, people to help me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Popplet Look at Westward Expansion

Why Go West

The Push-Pull Factors of why people went west in the years following the Civil War is a challenging topic.  As I have tried to come up with different strategies over the past few years, but none of them have worked particularly well.  So, today I tried something different.  After having my students analyze "The Veteran in New Field" by Winslow Homer for 10-15 minutes and listen to the last 10 minutes of a podcast featuring James McPherson and his interpretation of the piece (also available at iTunes), I had each class come up with reasons why people from the east would want to leave and what was in the west that those same people would want to be a part of.  As they came up with ideas, I made note of them on a popplet and had it displayed on the overhead projector for them to see while we worked on it.  It certainly wasn't an exact science and there were a number of fits and starts as the students tried to figure out why people would want to move.  I have included the copies of them below.  Many of them aren't ideal, but they are the authentic efforts my students to free think their way through the problem with little to no knowledge of the topic beforehand.






I am proud of what they were able to accomplish today, but certainly there is always room to make it better.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What's Going On?

A piece on the front page of yesterday's Boston Globe talked about high school students who stay up all night wading through off and on sleep waiting for some all-important text message from one of their friends.  While I might not understand, and certainly don't agree with, the value of staying up all night waiting for something that can clearly wait until the next morning, the most striking part of the article was said by a student at the end of the piece.

"a senior at Norton High School, said she sometimes falls asleep during lectures. 'But I can just get the notes from someone later,' she said."

As I thought about that statement, I was drawn back to one of my previous posts about "pseudoteaching" (scroll down to my post from February 24).  While I do agree that all of my notes are available on-line, and I do spend a portion of many classes in direct instruction and lecture, I wonder if my class is really something that can just be learned by getting the notes "later." 

And maybe that is what we need to think about in my class and in our classes.  I/We should be making my/our classes less about getting the information "later" and more about getting connected with the information today.  Today, I gave my students the opportunity to use a series of interactive maps to learn about the early years of Reconstruction.  As I read a couple of blog posts from my students, I found some of them were confused about what the purpose of the assignment was.  Maybe it wasn't particularly clear.  Maybe I didn't explain what I wanted them to do as well as I could have.  Maybe I didn't explain what was going on with the assignment.  But maybe all of that was good for them.  Maybe all of that will lead them to ask questions tomorrow that will engage them in what we are trying to do.  Maybe they will make the decision to stay awake and not wait to get the information "later."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Not Every Day is a Winner

Wow!!  My Personal Learning Network (PLN) has been making my blog all business outside of the classroom lately.  As I scanned back over my past few posts, I saw just much that group of people has been influencing my work here.  I suppose that is a good thing, but I wonder sometimes if I am spending too much time following them and not enough time reflecting on what is going on in my classroom. 

Today was one of those days in the classroom where I wonder whether my students have learned much of anything.  I have been using a layered curriculum approach with my college prep (CP) level students from the beginning of the year.  The initial thrust of this went very well and was very encouraging.  The students seemed into it and did really well when the final assessment came.  The one for the second marking period was a little less encouraging and this one, on the Antebellum Period and the Civil War has been perhaps been even less encouraging.  Yesterday and today were I what I call "points only" days when the focus of the days lesson is for them to defend orally the work that they have done.  (For a clearer understanding of layered curriculum, follow the link here)  During different classes, at the end of the instruction for the day, students also have a chance to turn in points, but for some reason, many of them waited until today to turn anything in, which was also the last day for turning points on the "C Level" to be able to move on to the "B Level."  (Again, follow the link for a clearer explanation.

What concerns me is that despite me repeated efforts to get them to turn in whatever work they might have done earlier, very few of them seem to take advantage of that.  I wish I knew why that was.  I wish I understood why they leave everything for the last minute and then think that they are going to have enough time to finish.  I realize that I am not much better when it comes to procrastination, and I suppose in many ways what I am trying to do is help them to learn from my bad habits. 

When I do the layered curriculum in the fourth marking period, I am going to try and use along with the idea of "flipping the classroom."  Maybe by giving them the option of participating in the direct instruction at home, keeping them moving with activities in the classroom, and hopefully allowing for more opportunities for them to earn points outside of points only days, I will find more of a answer to my wishes.  Until then, I will just have to sit and wish.

However, the day was not a total loss as I was able to collaborate with a teacher in ELA about a unit for our new American Studies program for next year.  That, though, is a post for a different day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do I Pseudoteach?

Yesterday, one of the things I talked about was the importance of my PLN and how much I valued the connections I have made through the people and the lists that I followed.  On my Twitter #edchat list tonight, an article was linked to about an apparently tremendous physics teacher at MIT and the impact that direct lecture had on his students and how MIT changed their classroom practices because of it.  (I linked to the article in the title of this post, but will do it again here.) 

I would like to think that I have improved my teaching by avoiding the temptation to "pseudoteach," but the article has really caused me to reflect on what I am doing and how I am doing it, which I suppose is what this blogging and PLN all about.  I have worked hard to involve my students more in my lessons, and make each of them less about me standing at the front and more about them analyzing the information I am trying to have them understand and discussing it with me and each other.  It is why I will continue to have them blog, to force all of them, even the ones who may not want to or feel that they may not get the opportunity to do so in class, to interact with the material.  I hope that has made my students not just better history students, but also better students in general.  That they understand the importance of becoming a part of all of the material they are studying will help them in the long run. 

I will continue to reflect on my lessons, to make sure that I take my students into consideration when I am developing them and work to make sure that they are more than just present in my class, but participants in their own education.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where To Begin

The hardest part of being one of a few people in a school that tries to implement technology in the classroom is continuing to find ways for us to inspire ourselves and, in turn, each other to keep using trying to be innovative. Two things have come across my e-mail this week that have really made me think about that and about what those of us who are trying to be innovative need to keep doing to help others in our building to see what that we were are trying to get our students to accomplish can be used in their classrooms as well.

The first e-mail that came in was a question from an edWeb community that I belong to and was entitled: Does your school have a culture of innovation or does your school have pockets of innovation? I really believe that we have only pockets of innovation or as I said "a pocket" of innovation. It just seems as if four or five of us are willing to do what we can to bring new ideas into our building, and others are willing to listen to us as we come up with different ideas, but how many of them are willing to truly implement them. It appears that they are politely listening to us and saying "wow, that's really great" and then they go about their business as usual. I wish I knew the answer as to why that is, but I just know that I can only worry about what I am doing and the opportunities that I am providing to my students to enrich their lives and, hopefully, give them the tools they need to continue their learning beyond the classroom.

Which brings me to my second e-mail, a post from the principal at Burlington High School, Patrick Larkin. His most recent posterous entry entitled Lifelong Learners asked the question Where would you start in your classroom or school being the model for the change that is necessary? Now, because Principal Larkin is frequent "Tweeter," blog poster, and general zealot in the cause of bringing technology into the hands of all of our students, I am quite familiar with his thoughts on technology and so I found his question intriguing. I would like to think that my willingness to show my students that I am doing all of the things that I am asking them to do (blogging, VoiceThread, etc.), that that would be enough to demonstrate to them the importance not only of using technology, but also the importance of wanting to learn about new ideas regardless of age or station in life. I guess if I were to suggest to someone where that modeling needs to begin, it needs to be with joining an on-line PLN and learn as much you can about what is out there to motivate and inspire our students. We can't be afraid to tell our students that we are learning right along with them and showing them the product of our learning.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Days, Flipping, & Activities

I don't know which snow day we are on today.  I know that it is either #4 or #5, but either way it is about 3 or 4 too many.  As a teacher, I try desperately to make sure that my students are able to finish units before vacations or extended time away from class, also known as MCAS.  Losing yet another day to the snow (with potentially more to come next week) has put my classes in a potentially difficult position with regard to that.

What the snow is allowing me to do, however, is try an experiment that I have been intrigued about since I first read about it a couple of weeks ago.  It is the concept of "flipping" the class.  I first read about here and after reading the post and watching the video that went with it, my understanding of this concept is that my students will participate in the "direct instruction" (i.e. lecture/notes) of the lesson outside of the classroom, thereby opening up the class time for activities surrounding that topic.  My hope was that I would be able to do it with Uncle Tom's Cabin, but Mother Nature has intervened, so now I am going to try and run two activities at the same time and conduct activities based on UTC and the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  By dividing the class in half, giving them a chance to work with each other on the individual activities and then allowing them time to pair up and share their experiences, my hope is that we will be able to get back on track with our look at the 1850s.  

More to come tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Ahhhh, mid-terms.  The time of year where we ask students to put in context everything that we have talked about for half a year in a 75-minute span.

As a teacher, I have recently started to struggle with the value of mid-terms as a practical exercise.  There is the idea that we need to prepare students for the high stakes exams that are to come, whether they are MCAS, PSATs, SATs, or whatever college exams they might take.  But if we are preparing them for something else, should we be assessing what is essentially practice (particularly freshmen who have yet to take such an exam)?  Is it right that 10% (in my case) of their final average for the year is based on one day's testing? 

There is also the thought that students should have to demonstrate to us what they have learned over the course of the first half of the year.  Does this make mid-terms just a knowledge dump then, and not allow them to actually use the material they have learned in any kind of meaningful way?  What are we telling our students about what we have done for the first half of the year?  That they can now forget about and move on to what comes next?  Some teachers, at the school I teach at and beyond, have great end of term/end of year projects that allow students to truly demonstrate what they know.  Is that the directions that we should go in?

This is not to say that I am opposed to mid-terms or what they represent, just that maybe there is a different and, perhaps, more meaningful way for our students to demonstrate what they have learned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Is Including Technology Into Teaching So Important

So, I have used my recent "vacation" (snow days combined with weekends and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) to do some much needed professional reading.  I have used it to come up with new assignments for my students, new ideas for keeping me going professionally, and new ideas for blog posts.  The latter is certainly my focus for tonight.  When people ask me if I ever take a day off, I guess I have to say "no," because education in the 21st Century is always changing.  As I watched the video of a recent TED talk posted by its caretaker, Chris Anderson, I realized that so much of what I am asking my students to do is preparing them for the world in which they are going to need to be part of the Crowd Accelerated Innovation that he is talking about here.  Our students need to be ready for a world in which they learn from watching what people around the world are doing.  Maybe it's a new dance move picked up on YouTube, or a new way to view science and medicine through Jove, or it's their participation in a digital debate about whatever topic they choose to debate about.  If they are not ready to add to this world-wide discussion, then we as educators are doing them a disservice.  As much as I want my students to learn and understand their role in American history, I need to realize that they are part of something much larger than that.  That I am not doing my job to prepare them for what comes next, not just as students or as adults, but as citizens in a world community that may develop goodness only knows what.  I am proud to be part of the technological revolution in education, and can only hope that as many of my colleagues as possible jump on board and join me.

(For more information about the TED talks series, click on "Chris Anderson."  To see his thoughts on the importance of video technology and its future importance on the global stage, click on "Crowd Accelerated Innovation." or watch it here.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Inspiration

As the calendar turned to a new year, I decided it was probably time to get back into the blog-o-sphere.  Part of what motivated me to start writing again was reading what some of my students have written and posted about Transcendentalism over the past couple of days.  Many of them have really grasped the concept and have shown they are willing to work with a rather difficult philosophy.  More importantly from my "let's try something new to help my students work more with the curriculum" point of view, many of them are really starting to move beyond the basic "here is what happened today" blog post and start to go beyond that and use the blog as a place for them to share their connections to the curriculum that they have found on their own.  Maybe I can use their work to inspire myself to write more consistently again.