At the start of National AP Appreciation week, the MSSAA hosted this day of professional learning for Assistant Principals around the state of Massachusetts at the Doubletree Hotel in MIlford.  Dr. Henry Turner, Principal of Bedford High School, was the keynote speaker.  He acknowledge that “APs and school secretaries are the real people who run schools.”  He gave the crowd of about 120 people the ground rules for the Edcamp model, including “vote with your feet” and “good conversation and good coffee.”  He challenged all participants to use today to challenge the way you think to try to discover new ways of doing things or improve practice that you’re already committed to.  The more diverse the group of people you invite into the discussion, the richer the discussion will be.  Henry’s message was very eloquent and deep that if you take a risk by sharing, you will grow your own professional learning network that will keep on giving.

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb.

Henry’s main recommendations if you want to bring Edcamp to your school to push forward from the PD model into the Professional Learning model are to start small and keep it focused on your learners.

After Henry’s presentation, our participant proposed topics for the breakout discussions by  building the board of discussions for the day posted here.

We moved into a presentation by Deb & Dana Hult of Core Trainings.  They politely asked us all to close the laptops and put away the devices so we could do the hard work of making personal connections with our team.  We had a very fun activity of building a tower with uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows.  It was a blast!

The sessions I attended were very productive.  All the notes for every session can be accessed on the MAIN BOARD, set up by Mary Anne Moran

Thanks to the MSSAA for putting on this great day of Professional Learning and Networking!



5 Ways to Reboot, Recharge & Reconnect over summer


Looking back at my last year in blogging, I notice that it was a challenge for me to post frequently. This was my first year in a new position so I was learning the ropes in the new school. I also went through a bit of an identity crisis as a blogger. My blog had been kind of an electronic journal of a teacher using tech tools in the classroom. Now that I’m an admin and not in my own classroom everyday, I’ve had to re-envision the blog to help keep me grounded in what I am passionate about: using technology to provide students with rich learning experiences.
Just as educators use summer to recharge their batteries, I’ve started the summer by recommitting to writing more frequent posts.
Today, I’m sharing the five things I’m doing to Reboot, Recharge & Reconnect this summer. I hope this helps you do the same!

1. Reboot the blog
I started by re-reading the tag line and asking myself if this states correctly the purpose of my blog. As I am not a classroom teacher anymore but I am still an educator of around 600 students on my caseload, I refreshed the language to better fit what I want to write about in my new position. I also snapped a selfie in summer attire and updated my gravitar and About page.

2. Sign up for an Edcamp or other PD activity. I live in Massachusetts and it just so happens that summer coincides with the yearly Edcamp Cape Cod.
Edcamps are known as “unconferences” because there is no pre-determined agenda. Just show up, mix and mingle with the creative folk who attend and attend any number of ad-hoc sessions that attendees decide to offer that day. It’s a great place to make face-to-face connections with some of the people in your PLN. If you don’t have a PLN, then it’s a great place to learn about the idea and begin building your own. Here’s a site where you can find an Edcamp near you: edcamp.wikispaces.com

3. Participate an a weekly Twitter chat that is new to you! I am a regular visitor to #satchat, which takes place most Saturdays from 7:30 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Twitter. I’m comfortable there as I am familiar with many of the moderators and participants. Over the summer, I try to explore other chats so that I can engage in discussions with new educators whom I can add to my PLN. It can be refreshing to follow people who are outside your immediate circles. I think it’s professionally sound to do so so that your thinking gets influenced by folks in different disciplines and levels. You can search for a new chat on this fantastic google doc put together by @cybraryman1 to help educators find one another in weekly chats.

4. Read a book. Does this need to be expanded upon? Stop making excuses! Just find a book–for personal preference, for professional edification, or just to escape into a fictional world–and set aside time to just read. You might like to check in with Twitter to see if there’s a book group to chat with about the cool, if that makes it more fun for you. I will recommend @edfocachat, if you are interested in Ed Leadership. The educators who moderate this chat are really smart and very welcoming.

5. Disconnect. At some point in the summer, I try to keep off the internet and social media for a week or so. It’s nice to recall that time in. Your life when you weren’t connected all day, every day. I’m traveling to Italy for two weeks with my family this month and while I tempted to want to document the experience on social media, to keep my friends and family updated or to document it for my kids, I’m committed to enjoying the time away from technology and the quest to keep up. I will use that time to enjoy life in real time with the people in my immediate vicinity. It’s important to remember how to do that! I can always post the photos when I get back! Remember when you’d go away on vacation with several rolls of film and not get to view time vacation photos until months later? We are too spoiled nowadays with the instant gratification that technology provides us. It’s good to get away from that for a little or long while. Just do it!

The American Dream Project

Ever since I started this blog, I wanted it to be a place to engage parents in the discussions we are having in the classroom.  That has been a challenge because I teach three different classes and I chose to write about topics that applied to all three cohorts of parents.  I have written here about what my sophomores are doing with technology and have linked to our Modern Global Communities blog.  What I’d like to do here, is showcase a project that some of my juniors have recently completed.

I’m going to try to embed as much here on this page as possible, so I can keep you here!  But I will have to also link to content that I cannot embed.  Please feel free to leave your comments!

As you know, we read The Great Gatsby in April.  If you would like to refresh your memory of this book, before the new movie comes out, please click around my Pinterest board dedicated to Gatsby.

The essential questions for the project are:

  • ­What is the American Dream?
  • How is the American Dream portrayed in art and popular culture?
  • How can the American Dream be oppressive and liberating at the same time?

Students were asked to develop a thesis that thoughtfully addresses at least two of the essential questions and then to support their thesis by analyzing The Great Gatsby and two other genres of American Art from the 20th Century.  Students were given creative license to create their own art and create conversations around the idea of the American Dream.

Here’s what students did:

A student blog, by Alex and Eric, with the following embedded interviews:

Several Prezis: (I can’t figure out how to embed the prezis here, so I will link to them on our class edmodo site.)

Oliver’s Prezi

Monica’s & Marissa’s Prezi

Monica T’s Prezi

Josh’s Prezi

Rowan’s Prezi

A bunch of PowerPoints:

Gabe’s  the_american_dream presentation:

Vinh-Hop’s presentation:

Kanika’s presentation:

I have figured out how to embed the Powerpoints, by converting them using SlideShare.net.  I was not able to embed the Prezi’s so I hope I did not lose you once you clicked on a link to one of the Prezis. I also encountered problems converting some of the Powerpoints done on Google Drive to Slideshare….so the quest continues!

I have a couple of posters, so my next challenge is to take photos and upload the photos of the posters!

Here are Sophia’s and Samantha’s posters:

photo_cen_388502681_4332752 photo_cen_388502664_1266342


Relationship Building

IMG_1391This week is vacation week here in New England. It is a time to rest, recharge and reconnect with friends and family outside of school. It’s good to get away for a while so you can get a sense of perspective on the issues, challenges, and opportunities facing you in school. As I look forward to the remainder of the school year, I can’t help but feel excited about using social media in the classroom to collaborate outside of regular school hours, connect with other learners outside of the classroom, and showcase our mastery of skills and essential understandings.
In this moment of quiet contemplation during February vacation, I also take stock in the relationships that I am lucky enough to have in my professional life. Relationships are a valuable resource and if we are successful in our efforts to teach the value of collaboration and cooperation, our students will benefit from this resource in two ways. They will move forward with the relationships they have forged in high school serving as a valuable network. In addition, they will benefit from the skills we have helped them develop regarding relationship building and maintenance.

I am thankful that I took the leap last August and made social networking central to my professional toolbox. Social media has helped me feel closer to the parents of my students in a way that I have not experienced in my 16 years in teaching. I may not get feedback from all of the families who read this blog, but at least I am reaching out and keeping them updated on the big picture as I see it. In reaching out frequently to my stakeholders through social media, I have become more approachable in face to face interactions. When parents come in to school for meetings or conferences, it seems to me that they feel more familiar with me. This allows our interaction to be more relaxed and personal. When parents have meetings with teachers and staff about any variety of purposes concerning their children’s education, it is important that parents feel they are being dealt with personally. This can not be overstated.

In my role as teacher, I depend upon the trust and the willingness to participate that I have built with each of my students. Social media is essential in extending my availability to students. In order to keep students engaged, I have to show them that I am there to support them at every step of the way. Thanks to social media like Edmodo and Twitter, I am able to interact with my students on their time.  As I conduct part of my professional life on social media–whether it be curating content with my professional learning network on Twitter or replying to student questions about homework–I am also welcoming students into that professional life.  As we move forward conducting the official business of teaching and learning during the school day, students also come to know me for the life I lead outside of the classroom.

This past week was a momentous one in my family.  We welcomed a new baby boy into our family.  As we enjoyed our first few days together, I was warmed by the outpouring of well-wishes from my students and colleagues on social media.

IMG_1423 IMG_1426

Relationships are precious resources not just in education but in all fields of life.  Through social media, we are able to build more personal relationships with our students and colleagues.  When we break down walls and let students into our professional and even our personal lives, they see us for who we are and trust develops.  When students trust us, they are willing to follow us as we lead them just outside their comfort zone, where the learning takes place.

7 Ways To Assess Students with Web 2.0

On Saturday morning, before heading off to activities with my kids, I participated briefly in a very popular Twitter chat for educators called #satchat.  The general topic was using web 2.0 tools in the classroom.  There were hundreds of educators all logged-in and participating so the tweets were streaming in faster than I could keep up with.  Many were sharing links to many of the “best of” sites.  I wasn’t really interested in finding new web 2.0 tools, but I was impressed with the vibrancy of the discussion.  Thousands of educators discussing their experiences, their methods, and their philosophies on a Saturday morning.  What I took away from that chat is a renewed sense that web 2.0 tools help teachers and students communicate.  This year, I have been able to communicate more broadly and more deeply with my students and their parents, thanks to technology.  A teacher’s biggest challenge every day is to effectively gauge each student’s grasp of the content at hand.  We call this kind of assessment “formative” because it instructs our pacing and sequencing of new material.  In a regular 55-minute period, it is quite challenging to check-in meaningfully with each student.  In each of my English classes, we spend a majority of the time discussing the major and minor details of the previous night’s reading.  I encourage students to write down comments made in class, especially when their thinking about a character, a conflict, or a theme changes or deepens.  The discussions I have with my students this year look about the same as the ones I have had  since I started teaching back in the 1990s. I may ask students to use their smartphones to tweet notes or, if we have the laptop cart, to add notes to a common Google doc. The skill of notetaking is still worthwhile and challenging, and students need to practice it daily.  We rely on technology to share notes so that students can self-assess and add pieces that might be missing.  The function of class is still pretty much low tech or traditional.  What has changed is how I am able to reach out daily to students using edmodo, twitter, gmail, and goodreads to informally assess their progress towards our greater learning goals.

For this reason, I see technology, mainly web 2.0 tools, as a game-changer for how I  conduct formative assessment.

The tools that we use in the classroom are simply that: tools.  Our purpose is not teaching the tool or the use of tool.  Of course, we have to explain how to use the tool to our students and we have to be willing to explain it again and again.  Once the student becomes adept at using the tool, we can begin to assess the student’s engagement with the material and understanding of the themes at hand.  The tools also allow us to evaluate how the student is progressing in developing essential skills.

Here are a few ways web 2.0 tools have helped me figure out where students are in terms of current knowledge, understanding, misconceptions, and mindsets:

1.  I can post highlights to in class discussions on Edmodo and ask students follow up questions to evaluate their grasp of the concepts discussed in class.  Here’s an example of such a post on edmodo from recently. This helps students make thinking visible to me and to themselves.

2.  I can assign outside reading books that deal with similar themes as the books studied in class, and can read comments on goodreads posted by students as they make their way through the outside reading to see if they need any support.  I can use what I find out to plan lessons that help link class content to the outside world.

3. I can view student comments on web-based readings that they do for homework using Diigo to check what points they are picking up and what they are missing.  This link also might not work if you do not have a Diigo account.

4. I can answer student questions about HW and larger assignments using web-based email and social media like Twitter & Edmodo so that students so they can hand in work that contains their best effort, or at least an effort they are confident about. Check out our #modglobalcom hashtag on twitter!

5. I can create projects that put students in a position to use critical thinking skills in real-world contexts to create authentic products that will be a foundation for further endeavors.

6.  I can create, assign and evaluate quick writing assignments that aim to build capacity by helping students and teacher understand where to go next. These can be uploaded to edmodo and results are gathered into an integrated grade book.

7.  I can provide ongoing assessment at every step of the way to give students multiple pathways toward the content goals.

The exciting part for me is using web 2.0 is that it helps me manage students learning to use the tools at their own pace.  Some students are very comfortable with technology and others are wary of it.  I can get them comfortable using one tool that will then lead comfortably into use of another one.  If I know one student used one tool effectively, I can return to that tool to make sure each student can communicate with me in a way that is most comfortable.

My job as an educator is to build a trusting relationship with students and using web 2.0 technologies helps me be available to students, to listen to their questions, to read their revelations about texts, to coach them on their pathways toward success.

I would love to hear how you use web 2.0 in your practice!

Torn between two blogs

I established this blog at the beginning of this school year as a way to reach out to the families of my students and engage them in discussions about technology as a learning tool.  I have gotten very warm feedback from some parents, but I’m not quite ready to claim that I’ve heard from enough of my parents.  I would love to hear from more, but I respect each parent’s right to keep abreast of their student’s learning in their own way.

As a professional educator, I also hope this blog attracts a broader readership of like-minded teachers, technologists, and ed. leaders with whom I engage as part of a Personal Learning Network on Twitter.  I use Twitter daily to share articles and blog posts about current educational practice and it has been a true inspiration to me.  I marvel at the quality and volume of Tweets and blog posts of my colleagues in my PLN and, while looking at the time stamps on most posts, I notice that lots of us work long hours into the evening and rise early in the morning to pursue this passion for sharing ideas about trends, methods, and new technologies via Twitter and on our blogs.

But at times I feel like I’m not worthy.

Up until Thanksgiving week, I faithfully posted once a week and, though it added one evening of extra work to my already full plate, I looked at that work as a labor of love.  Now that I’m sitting here and seeing what I’m writing, I admit that I still feel that way about it.

So what have I been doing in the past two weeks?

Well, I’ve been cheating on the teachingcontext and giving my attention and my love to a new blog. I apologize for the adultery metaphor, but I’m currently reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with one of my junior classes and so that’s why adultery is on my mind.  My wife can rest easy!

My new blog is not a competitor to this one in content, though it does compete for my precious time.

I am quite proud of it and I will tell you that it is going to explode (figuratively) in the next couple of weeks because I am asking my sophomores to author posts on it.

So please check out my other blog and keep visiting it often to see the kind of content students are creating on the rival blog.

My latest post is an assignment for students called The Prominent African Project.

My hope is that you too will be torn between two blogs!

Why I Want My Students to Blog

Having had the past two days off from school thanks to Hurricane Sandy, I “discovered” time to do some research on student blogging. I was reading the help pages of edublogs.com, an affiliate of WordPress, which hosts this blog, when the power cut out at my house.

I then was granted about twelve hours of time with my family, without the distraction of electricity.

My kids are young, in kindergarten and pre-school, and so, while I’m not in the same place as many of my readers who are parents of current high school students, I want to keep them safe above all. I understand how creepy the internet can be and that there are people out using the internet for uses other than education.  But I also understand that technology is already a part of their lives and I want to carefully monitor their use of it and keep it educational more than for entertainment.  One day, I will surrender to the idea that they will, alas, use it to socialize as well.

As a teacher, I have plenty of evidence that my students use the technology with which their parents entrust them for positive, educational purposes.  I get many emails, tweets, and direct messages on Edmodo each day and evening from my students asking for clarification or for help.  They use it often to collaborate with their peers on homework, projects, and other school-related activities.

As a blogger, I can tell you that having an instant audience to my writing, forces me to choose my words and my topics with care.  I have learned this lesson the hard way over the past two weeks as I have posted before being completely satisfied with my content.  I haven’t figured out how to save my post as a draft, especially when using the WP app on my iPhone.  That explains why my followers on Twitter and LinkedIn have had to tolerate multiple broadcasts for publication of single posts.  Every time you edit a post, you have to publish it anew, which sends out an automatic blast to your followers.  However, on the positive side, publishing a weekly blog has been exciting and rewarding, while it has made me feel even more invested in what I do in the classroom.

So, I want my students to blog to develop the skills of:

1.  writing to a world-wide audience

2.  organizing thoughts through writing for a purpose

3.  engaging in discussions with teachers and students all over the world

4.  collaborating with classmates in the production of high quality content

5.  formulating, expressing & owning personal viewpoints

6.  being an active participant in learning

As far as getting started, my approach is cautious and measured.  I have read our schools acceptable use policy and am aware that parents can opt out if they don’t want their student to blog.  I also am going to review the guidelines with my students, so they can act in accordance with the policy, especially around guideline #3 (prohibiting the revealing of personal information).

I will begin with creating a class blog for my Modern Global classes, as we being our Term 1 Project dealing with the essential question:

Once you are informed of a violation of basic human rights, how do you, as a global citizen, carry out your responsibility?

I will get students signed up for free accounts and have them work in groups to create pages for that blog.  The web address for that site is: modernglobalcommunities.edublogs.org.

As for my Juniors, I will begin in the next term with “microblogging” and will work to build their facility using Twitter as an educational tool.

If you would like to do more reading about student blogging, here’s a link to Larry Ferlazzo’s Website of the Day.., which is one of my go to sources for help in all things edtech.  If you like it, please leave him a comment!

And as always, I appreciate your supportive comments and I welcome any feedback you might have to offer!