Virtual Classroom Visits – A Great Opportunity!









Last night I took part in something both powerful and exciting… A Virtual Classroom Visit. I had received an email from Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) co-founder, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, asking me if I would be interested in being one of three “peeks” into classrooms implementing TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge). If interested, I would have to videotape a TPACK lesson in my classroom, upload it to YouTube, and write a description of the content, pedagogy, technology, and how inquiry was embraced in my classroom. PLP would post the video online, and I would respond to any comments or questions for a week. Then I would participate in a 30-minute webinar in Blackboard Collaborate where folks could come discuss the lesson with me and ask questions.

I was truly humbled by the request to be one of these three Virtual Classroom Visits, and yet I was a bit nervous airing a video of a lesson and opening it up to feedback from both strangers and people I have a great deal of respect for! Despite my anxieties, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to share what I have been working on since I completed PLP’s Connected Learner Experience professional development program two years ago – integrating technology in a way that cultivates connected learning in my classroom, and focuses on student-driven learning and inquiry. I chose a Mystery Skype session, and quickly set up a Skype call and recruited a videographer.

My Lesson

Briefly, Mystery Skype is a fun activity that supports our study of states and regions in 4th grade. Students receive a Mystery Skype call and use yes or no geography questions to determine the location of the other class. Students are in teams with different roles, and must use reasoning skills to determine the next question that will help them narrow down the class’s location. After the exciting moment when each class correctly guesses the other’s location, the students share interesting facts about their state.

The video turned out well, and I was excited to show others how I merely had to facilitate, and allow my students to drive. I couldn’t wait for folks to see their engagement and visible learning!

Despite this, I was quite nervous going into the webinar session. I had no idea how many folks would come, or what questions I might be asked to answer on the fly! Of course, my fears were immediately assuaged when I realized I found myself immersed in a wonderful community of dedicated, enthusiastic, and supportive educators. The thirty minutes flew by!

So What’s Next??

These Virtual Classroom Visits are unique opportunities to watch teachers in action, obtain information and resources about their lessons, and chat with them about the work they do. Next week, on March 14th at 8:00 p.m. in Blackboard Collaborate (Click Here), PLP will host another webinar based on the practice of middle school teacher Alan Fletcher. Alan’s lesson is packed full of great topics such as using technology to find and share current events, creating Google presentations to inform others, and the art of commenting on student blogs. Although he works with middle school students, the information and methods he’ll share are applicable to all grade levels. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the great things he does in his classroom.

One more session will be held on April 11th, with high school teacher Beth Sanders. So mark your calendars for these remaining two sessions. Make the time to step into some innovative classrooms, and learn from these great educators in only 30 minutes! In the meantime, if you missed my information about Mystery Skype, click here for information, resources, and a lesson plan.

My deepest appreciation goes out to Sheryl and to Lani Ritter Hall for this opportunity – They are brilliant leaders, inspirational educators, and they never fail to push me out of my comfort zone!


Image courtesy of [digitalart] /

10 Reasons Why 1:1 Advances Learning

Recently I got an email from my elementary division head. Our school is piloting a 1:1 netbook program this year, and our administration is interested in how the program is going and the different ways the netbooks are being incorporated into our curriculum. I started putting together a list, and even surprised myself at how much the availability of wifi-ready technology engages my students and supports instruction during the course of a regular school day.

1. Keyboarding – Each morning students grab a netbook and practice keyboarding skills. With daily practice, they are improving quickly. Reluctant writers are frequently students who just despise the physical act of writing. They write as little as possible, because they don’t want to have to actually “write” it. Once they can type, they are much more willing to craft longer pieces. Programs like BBC’s Dance Mat Typing make it fun to develop keyboard skills.

2. Internet Research – Because it is so convenient to “look it up” online (and fun, too), students will quickly offer to look up the answer to a question using the kid-friendly search engines we have identified and bookmarked on our class Diigo page. Research is also fun when you are trying to solve a mystery! My fourth graders look up clues given by classes in other schools who join us for Mystery Skype calls and try to figure out where their new friends are from!

3. Global Awareness – Why use a paper map when you can use Google Earth? We’ve used animated models to help us learn about the earth’s rotation, revolution, and the changing of the seasons. We were also able to easily see the earth’s hemispheres and find locations on earth by latitude and longitude.

4. Extra practice – Proofreading or practicing multiplication facts is dull and boring on worksheets. But when students can practice using interactive games, I’m finding that they spend much more time and effort to get the answers right.

5. Blogging – When a piece of writing is going to be turned in for only the teacher to see, a student is more likely to put forth minimal effort. But tell that student that their piece will have a world-wide audience, and they begin to imagine who might read their post, and what they might ask about it. Soon they’re writing with their audience in mind, and use their author’s voice to ask questions and encourage reader comments. As a result (and with a little help from their teacher’s twitter network), they get a variety of feedback and encouragement from all over the world. It’s quite the motivator!

6. Digital Storytelling – Using sites like StorybirdStoryjumperZooburst and Little Bird Tales, storytelling comes to life. Would you rather write a story on notebook paper, or create your own pop-up book or self-drawn and narrated tale?

7. Collaborative Learning – Group work just got fun. With collaborative documents like wikis and Google docs, students can be part of something bigger. They can merge individual work into a comprehensive piece, or collaborate to create a presentation or write a story.

8. Connected Learning – Through the Global Read Aloud Project, we’ve enjoyed a shared literature experience with over 3,000 other students across the globe using Edmodo. Students were attentive and engaged, knowing that they would be able to use their netbooks to get on the group Edmodo page and respond to questions, take polls, and make predictions about the story.

9. Eager Readers – With the netbooks available anytime, students can grab one as soon as they finish a book and take an Accelerated Reader quiz. Knowing that they are required to take a quiz, they read more carefully. Most of them are excited to push themselves to higher-level books and see measurable progress in their reading/comprehension ability.

10. Passion-Based Learning – Above all, the convenience of 1:1 netbooks provide students with the opportunity to learn about anything! By allowing time for students to construct their own learning, we teach them that they have the freedom and the power to learn about whatever interests them. This encourages our students to pursue their passions, and become life-long learners.

Count me a believer. Our 1:1 netbooks are providing a great return on investment. Technology isn’t everything – but when it is easily accessed and used to support learning, it motivates students and encourages collaboration, innovation, and creativity. I applaud our administration for taking this initiative, and look forward to many more days of learning ahead.

Photo: Patti Grayson
Originally posted at:

How Do You Spend Your Saturdays?







After a particularly long week, a Saturday alarm set for 5:15 a.m. was not really what I needed… Saturday mornings are my one opportunity to sleep as long as my heart desires. I’m usually WAY behind after too many nights up past midnight at my computer. Wake me on a Saturday and there’s hell to pay.

Wayyyy back in September, though, I saw this tweet from Susan Carter Morgan:

@scmorganSusan Carter Morgan

Working on edcamp IS-VA for VA independent school teachers. #isedchat

11 Sep via TweetDeck


I had never done an unconference, and was intrigued. Our grant money to have a second year PLP team had been delayed, and I was feeling lost. Susan was an amazing resource through my year of PLP, and the opportunity to work with her sounded wonderful. I emailed her and her response made me smile:

“I just had a thought one day that we really needed to organize an edcamp for VA independent school teachers. I emailed a few people, and tweeted it once. We are just beginning to chat. Please add your name to the google doc and any thoughts…”

So I joined an amazing team of planners (they did most of the work) and yesterday, December 3rd, we held EdCamp IS-VA at Fredericksburg Academy. Fredericksburg is about 2.5 hours from my house – Hence the 5:15 alarm…

I had posted two potential topics for presentations on the wiki (bold (and possibly a bit stupid), since I’d never presented anything to anyone before) – Twitter and Digital Storytelling. Surprisingly enough, there was significant interest in both, and I ended up presenting one in the morning and one in the afternoon! I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the most polished presenter they’d ever seen, but hey – there’s a first time for everything, right? Nobody shot me, so I’ll count that as a win…

It was a fantastic day… No surprise, when you’re with a group of educators who want to spend a Saturday learning from each other. Susan (aka Wonder Woman) did a phenomenal job organizing, and is already pumped about planning another unconference next year.

After leading two sessions, I was grateful to be able to attend the last session of the day. Susan led a session where we took a look at Will Richardson’s “rules”

  • Create your own education.
  • Find problems and solve them.
  • Be unique.
  • Make beautiful, useful stuff.
  • Build a network of really smart people who you will never meet.
  • Be indispensable.
  • Do real work that changes the world.
  • Have a brand.
  • Share widely and safely.
  • Collaborate.
  • Add value.
  • Be a voracious learner.
  • Tread softly but boldly.
  • Edit the world.

We talked about what these meant, where we agreed and disagreed, and even made some rules of our own! Looking at the rules, I remembered Will’s first presentation to us at the PLP kick-off last year, where he told us that we couldn’t remain “lurkers”. Over the course of the last year, I’ve learned what it means to “share widely”, and today was yet another step in that direction as I shared as a presenter for the first time. It felt good. J

Grading – What Is It Good For?

This past year, I participated in PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) and made some significant changes in the way I teach and the tools I use. I feel my students truly benefited from the shift I began to make. However, I am still developing, learning, and growing. I took two graduate classes this summer and I’ve grown my capacity to create new projects with web 2.0 tools. This school year, I plan to utilize more inquiry-based and passion-based learning in my classroom.

While I feel I have made enormous progress in the past 12 months, I’ve come to know many other educators who “got on board” years ago and are much more proficient than I am. They are part of my Personal Learning Network, and I continue to learn from them every day.

When I was observed this year, I wanted my evaluation to be based on my effectiveness in the classroom, but I also wanted it to reflect the growth and progress I have made as a teacher. For this reason, I chose to do something different with my students – something a bit out of my comfort zone. Was I afraid it wouldn’t be perfect? Absolutely. There was little likelihood that it would go as smoothly as a “traditional” lesson. It was less structured, the technology might fail, and the kids would be more talkative.

But I knew it would be OK. I’m fortunate to work in an environment where we are encouraged to try, fail, reflect, and learn on a continuous basis. What freedom. And I cherish it. I can explore, experiment, and figure out what tools and methods work best for my students and me. In other words, I can focus on learning. It doesn’t matter that the teacher down the hall might be ahead of me using writing workshops or behind me integrating technology – I’m not being compared to her. What will matter in my evaluation is MY effort, growth, and progress — that I am dedicated to my students, a life-long learner, and model that for my students.

My students aren’t so fortunate

Unfortunately, my students in 3rd and 4th grade do not have this advantage. Even though the learning parts of their brain are still developing (all at different rates, I might add), they don’t get the freedom to think and explore at their own pace, or to be assessed on their progress, effort, and growth. Why not?

We still use letter grades in my elementary school.

And letter grading just doesn’t make sense. Let’s put some pertinent research on the the table:

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development assigns wide ranges to major developmental stages. The Preoperational Stage occurs anywhere between 2 and 7 years of age. The Concrete Operations Stage occurs anywhere between 7 and 12 years of age. In other words, what might happen developmentally for one child at 7, may not happen for another until 10.  So who are we to decide that it must happen at 8?

This article in Child Development discusses the close interrelation of cognitive and motor development and argues that when something affects either motor or cognitive function, both systems are impacted.

Finally, these guiding principles for quality early primary programs address the way children learn, and are posted by the California Dept. of Education:

Some children walk at 10 months. Some don’t walk until 15 months. Human young walk when they are developmentally ready. Some learn to ride a two-wheeler at 5. Others can’t swing it until they are 8. Some kids can swallow pills at 6. My daughter was almost 12. When they are in their 30s, no one will care what came when.

Whether discussing motor development or cognitive development, children reach milestones at different times. We push students to learn multiplication facts in 2nd grade. Some pick it up easily, and some simply cannot seem to attain the skill until 4th or 5th grade. One of my daughters began reading at 3. The other was almost 6. Their rates of cognitive development were very different, and yet now, at the ages of 19 and 15, those differences have vanished. The “late” reader was recently inducted into the National Honor Society as a high school sophomore. Their elementary school years were growing years, and did not prove to be reliable indicators of later capacities or performance.

And let’s not forget the psychological effects

As important as they are, let’s put developmental rates aside for a moment. There are also significantpsychological effects connected with the use of letter grades. Alfie Kohn lists these points in his post “From Degrading to De-Grading.” I’m sharing a sizeable chunk of it here, but it’s compelling stuff:

Three Main Effects of Grading

Researchers have found three consistent effects of using – and especially, emphasizing the importance of – letter or number grades:

1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself. One of the most well-researched findings in the field of motivational psychology is that the more people are rewarded for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward (Kohn, 1993). Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that when students are told they’ll need to know something for a test – or, more generally, that something they’re about to do will count for a grade – they are likely to come to view that task (or book or idea) as a chore.

While it’s not impossible for a student to be concerned about getting high marks and also to like what he or she is doing, the practical reality is that these two ways of thinking generally pull in opposite directions. Some research has explicitly demonstrated that a “grade orientation” and a “learning orientation” are inversely related (Beck et al., 1991; Milton et al., 1986). More strikingly, study after study has found that students — from elementary school to graduate school, and across cultures – demonstrate less interest in learning as a result of being graded (Benware and Deci, 1984; Butler, 1987; Butler and Nisan, 1986; Grolnick and Ryan, 1987; Harter and Guzman, 1986; Hughes et al., 1985; Kage, 1991; Salili et al., 1976). Thus, anyone who wants to see students get hooked on words and numbers and ideas already has reason to look for other ways of assessing and describing their achievement.

2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks. Students of all ages who have been led to concentrate on getting a good grade are likely to pick the easiest possible assignment if given a choice (Harter, 1978; Harter and Guzman, 1986; Kage, 1991; Milton et al., 1986). The more pressure to get an A, the less inclination to truly challenge oneself. Thus, students who cut corners may not be lazy so much as rational; they are adapting to an environment where good grades, not intellectual exploration, are what count. They might well say to us, “Hey, you told me the point here is to bring up my GPA, to get on the honor roll. Well, I’m not stupid: the easier the assignment, the more likely that I can give you what you want. So don’t blame me when I try to find the easiest thing to do and end up not learning anything.”

3. Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking. Given that students may lose interest in what they’re learning as a result of grades, it makes sense that they’re also apt to think less deeply. One series of studies, for example, found that students given numerical grades were significantly less creative than those who received qualitative feedback but no grades. The more the task required creative thinking, in fact, the worse the performance of students who knew they were going to be graded. Providing students with comments in addition to a grade didn’t help: the highest achievement occurred only when comments were given instead of numerical scores (Butler, 1987; Butler, 1988; Butler and Nisan, 1986).

While Alfie Kohn is likely the most influential and well-known voice in this arena, many brave educators have followed his lead in the fight against grading.

Canadian grade six teacher Joe Bower has compiled a list of his blog posts on why and how we should abolish grading. He talks about how to include students in determining a final grade (if the district requires), and how to work with parents.

Jeremy MacDonald, a fifth grade teacher and tech coach in Oregon, provides this insight into why he worked to change the way he reported student learning:

It all comes down to what my purpose is as a teacher. I’ve never felt like I had all the answers. Becoming a master teacher is a long process; one of which I still find myself somewhere around the starting line.

I got a good education. I was inspired by some of my teachers and discouraged by others. That is part of why I’m doing this, shifting my focus back to where it needs to be, on the student and learning. A lot of my education dealt with tests and preparing for tests. My motivation was good grades. I can’t say that I learned everything I was supposed to, but as Kohn mentioned, I adapted to each environment and learned how to get the best grades possible.

I don’t want that for my students. I want students to be motivated to learn for the simple sake of learning. By removing the pass/fail consequences of grades, I hope to create a new paradigm for my students–one that consists of learning, reflection, and growth. My purpose as a teacher is to foster learning in an environment where students feel safe to take risks and make mistakes; and I feel I can’t do that if their motivation and my focus is on grades and test scores. Removing traditional grading will allow students to focus more on the process and what they may still need to learn to attain mastery, but without the fear of negative feedback or failing marks.

These arguments are persuasive and compelling. Parents may believe grades provide more information about where a student “stands,” but that shouldn’t surprise us. Most the most part, their school experience was also dominated by grades-driven learning. In reality, a standards-based report or narrative is much more informative.

Reporting progress and learning without grades is not easy, though. It involves intensive note-taking and feedback sessions with students. For the classroom teacher, it means gathering more detail, investing more time, and making more effort.

I recently learned about Pernille Ripp, a teacher who fought the battle to stop grading in her classroom. She contacted Alfie Kohn, collaborated with Jeremy MacDonald (above), who shared her vision, and most importantly, documented the process for others.

Mark Barnes, who advocates for “results-only learning environments” (ROLE), also points out that 21st century children are becoming more focused on achievement via active learning and purposeful feedback, and less from the process of having grades awarded to them. He recently led a session at the Reform Symposium Conference (RSCON3) entitled, “21st Century Assessment: How Narrative Feedback is Eliminating the ABCs.”

It just doesn’t feel right

Yes, this kind of assessment of learning means more work. But don’t we owe it to our students? The fact is, the more I move into 21st century tools and teaching practices, the harder time I have with our current grading system.

The more opportunity I give students to work collaboratively, experiment, and pursue their passions, the harder it is to assign grades to this kind of learning and growth process. Our standard “letter grade” system does not encourage learning. It does not encourage students to take intellectual risks and challenge themselves. It does not encourage creativity or innovation. It encourages memorization, competition, and discovering the easiest and safest path to an A. Does this seem right?

Although the consequences and effects of grading have been discussed for decades (see this 1975 article by James Leary), we continue to utilize practices that do not allow for brain development, have been proven an ineffective way of communicating student learning, and inhibit our children from embracing challenge. It feels unconscionable to me.

It’s time to foster a love of learning, develop a hunger for the challenges of problem solving, and provide students and parents with REAL feedback regarding their child’s learning and progress toward established standards.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below. We only learn by listening, discussing, and pushing our thinking. What’s holding back our transition to more effective assessments of learning?


This was originally posted at Powerful Learning Practice’s Voices From the Learning Revolution

Will My 3rd Graders Be ‘Educated’ When They Grow Up?


This blog was posted on the Powerful Learning Practice, Voices From the Learning Revolution Blog. My huge thanks to John Norton for editing my ramblings and making them sound organized and coherent!

I have the joy of spending every day with an energetic, fun, curious group of 20 third graders. They ask great questions and are truly excited about learning. In fact, sometimes it feels like they are 9 going on 29. They seem to enjoy playing “Stump the Teacher,” and I’m ok with that! They understand that many days I’m going to be learning new things right along with them.

Every now and then, I try to imagine what the world will be like when these little guys graduate from college in 2025. When I look at the advances we’ve made in the last dozen years, it’s hard to fathom where we’ll be in another dozen.
The realization that we have absolutely no idea what kind of world these children will find as they enter adulthood means we can only guess at what knowledge and skills will be important. And yet I have a role in preparing them for this world of tomorrow. This version of “Stump the Teacher” is not fun at all . . .

What does it mean to be ‘educated’ in the 21st century?

When I was growing up and struggling through pre-calculus, I asked the question all students ask – “Why do I have to know this? When will I ever use it?” One of my parents’ favorite replies was that it would help make me a “well-rounded individual.” This, of course, was very important for receptions and cocktail parties; I must be prepared to look and sound articulate. Educated. Well, I’ve never really found a need to discuss pre-calculus at a dinner party, and I’ve never used it in my career. But in principle I do understand the value of being educated.

Here’s the dilemma: With the world changing so rapidly, being educated takes on new meaning. First of all, I think even the word “educated” is outdated. It conveys the message that if you complete a certain number of steps or reach a certain level in the system of diplomas and degrees, you can relax and make a living from what you know. Not so today — the demand to master new knowledge and skills is neverending. If you want to be successful, you never finish your education.

So my mission (and I choose to accept it) is not to educate students, but to cultivate learners.

I don’t need to spend precious classroom hours cramming disconnected facts into kids who will then memorize them, regurgitate them, and promptly forget them before the year is through. I need to build on kids’ innate curiosity and excitement for new knowledge. But I’m realistic. I know I’m not going to get kids hungry for deeper understanding with topics that have no interest or relevance for them.

I can help pique interest by presenting the material in a creative way. I can create challenging and intriguing problems that require basic math and literacy skills to solve, and show kids why knowing certain material or possessing certain skills is valuable. But that’s not enough. I’ve got to give students time to pursue learning in the areas that interest them NOW.

The era of “well-roundedness” is quickly passing

Is the connected world too vast and full of information to develop “well-rounded” individuals anymore? I suspect it is. The availability of knowledge is unlimited. What combination of this knowledge would now form “well-roundedness”? (If you have an answer, please share here in the comments. I’d love some lively debate!)

If we concentrate on fostering curiosity and exploration in the early grades, and guide students to find joy in learning and discovery through their passions and interests, then as those interests change (and the world changes), they will possess the tools and insight to continue to seek learning opportunities. If my 3rd graders graduate as passionate learners and innovative problem solvers, they will be an asset in the future – no matter what that future may bring.
As adults we make our own decisions about what to learn on an ongoing basis. We have only so much time, money, and energy. We assess each learning opportunity and ask ourselves: Is this something I really want to know? If we want to lead students to define their passions at an earlier age, at what point do we allow them to start making these learning choices? With my guidance I know my 3rd graders are ready to benefit from options about the information they want to pursue.

Many folks think the education reform movement is largely about technology, but it’s much bigger than that. With the above questions in mind, it becomes clear that the framework of education must change so that we are much more intentional about creating “lifelong learners” who leverage the technologies with passion and purpose.

If I’ve done my job and helped prepare my third graders for the future, they won’t remember that I taught them long division (even though I did). They’ll remember me as the teacher who opened the world to them — who encouraged them to seek learning with tremendous enthusiasm and to relish the deeper understanding they gain as a result.

[Image from Personalized Graduate Gifts]

No More Boxed Lunches!


I spent a while today reading a paper that Will Richardson mentioned in his latest blog. It’s called “The Right to Learn: Identifying Precedents for Sustainable Change“.

The paper talked about the need for a significant change in the essential framework of our schools, allowing learning to be self-directed, and encouraging students to follow their interests and passions.

I thought about the nature of the young child. When we were young, we played wonderful, imaginative games. We taught school to our friends or stuffed animals, pretended to be firefighters or astronauts, played doctor, put on shows where we sang or danced for our friends and family, or put a variety of seeds and plants in a bucket and made magic potions or stews. We imagined what it would be like to teach, be on stage, cook gourmet meals, and heal the sick. But tragically, this period of exploration is short-lived. By third grade (if not sooner) we have squashed that wonderful creativity that came so naturally. I could cry when I see my third graders walking around the playground bored, claiming there’s nothing to do. What have we done??

Have you ever asked a teenager what their interests or passions are? How many graduating seniors do you know that have no idea what they want to do with their lives, or what they want to study? All they know is what has been fed to them at school – They have never had the opportunity to explore or try different things, so they have no idea what their interests or passions are!

In our current system we are delivering every child an education. This amounts to feeding them a boxed lunch education that is the same for every child regardless of talent, ability, personality, interest, or background. Do we leave any time or opportunity for them to focus on the things that interest them? If we don’t give students this “right to learn”, we shouldn’t be surprised when they reach high school or college and have no idea what they want to do with their lives…

The world has changed. Facts and information are available 24/7 with a quick Internet search. Our students must know how to channel this technology, and become creative, innovative problem solvers that can make significant contributions to the new world. The boxed lunch has gone bad and is no longer nourishing. The time for change has come.

My question is this – How do we change the current framework of our schools to meet the needs of our students? What can schools do to start moving in this direction? How do we bring back the freedom to think, explore, and discover?

21st Century Revelation – It’s Not About Me…


The other day I was thinking about what an incredibly different year this has been for me. I didn’t make a career change, a school change, a grade level change, or even a room change. So why on earth has this year been unlike any other? For the first time, my job isn’t only about MY students, MY lesson plans, or MY goals. Friends, I know it’s shocking (you can only imagine how hard it was to swallow), but it’s not all about ME!

All joking aside… I feel like I’ve had a 21st century revelation. My participation in Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) has shown me the power of collaboration. This has been an intoxicating experience! I’ll admit it – I started out a “lurker” as Will Richardson would say… I developed my PLN, and started reading blogs, tweets, and ning posts. But I remember Will wagging his index finger at us at the PLP Kick-Off in Dallas way back in September, telling us it wasn’t fair just to lurk – We had to contribute. What did I have to contribute??

Well here we are, six months later, and I feel like maybe I’m finally getting it. I’m getting a ton of good resources and ideas from teachers all over the globe – but I’m not sitting on them! I think we’re called upon to be channels for this information. I’m always on the lookout for things my colleagues can use. My boss was looking for information on a Digital Citizenship curriculum, so I’ve been sending things her way when I find them. Today she put out a request to our team to find instructional materials for the recent events in Japan. My division head has encouraged us to learn more about reading and writing workshops. Our PLP team is looking for web 2.0 tools to share that will help teachers integrate technology and really make a difference in instruction… The list goes on.

So what does this mean? It means I’m spending a pretty serious chunk of time each day cruising my Twitter feed and reading blogs!


But it also means that I’m not only learning and hopefully improving my impact in the classroom… Hopefully I’m serving a greater good, and giving back to those in my PLN that have given so much to me. I’m more likely to ask a teacher if I can observe a lesson, pick someone’s brain on a new idea, or ask advice on a student situation. I’m not afraid to admit I don’t know it all and consider myself fortunate to work with incredibly talented colleagues from whom there is much I can learn. Together we are so much stronger than we are alone!

Do You Practice What You Preach?

A good friend and fellow educator wrote a blog recently about how to convince teachers to leave their dated teaching methods, and explore some of the technology and 21st century teaching methods that allow students to drive their own learning. ( The blog got me thinking… Actually, it got me angry. Why should we have to beg and plead these teachers to stay current in their field? Why should we have to offer incentives? In what other field can you fall behind in current trends and methodology and not risk losing your job to someone who is willing to work harder for less??? My 100 wpm fingers spun off an angry retort to the blog – Don’t ask them to do it, MAKE them do it! It’s their JOB to do it!

Why do we teach – it’s the big paycheck, right? Not so much. We teach because helping to develop young minds is our passion – Because we have the incredible opportunity to help feed a child’s natural curiosity and foster a love of learning. So what should be the primary goal of a teacher? Not to teach skills or content (although these are secondary goals), but to teach children HOW to learn. How to find the answers to their questions. How to solve problems. Why? So they can continue learning for the rest of their lives.

How can we convince our students to become life-long learners, if we have stopped learning ourselves? I am frustrated by teachers who talk loudly and proudly about how they are not jumping on this latest “fad”. They boast that their methods have worked for years, and will continue to work, despite the fact that children are learning differently in this age than ever before. The world is changing around them, and they are painfully stubborn and stuck in their ways. It reminds me of the Dr. Seuss story of The Zax. These characters will only walk in one direction. They refuse to step to the side when they run into each other, even though this stops them from making any forward progress.


I’m not suggesting that anyone blindly abandon everything they are doing for something new and unfamiliar. I think that’s just as irresponsible. I’m just asking them to do what we encourage our students to do – LEARN. Get out there – Develop a PLN (Personal Learning Network). There are folks to help, and even online tutorials. ( Watch videos. Read books, blogs, and tweets… There are teachers out there who are willing to SHARE what they have learned and what works for them. Then make an INFORMED decision. If something sounds like it has potential to light a fire in your students, give it a try! Be a role model for your faculty. Be the best teacher you can be.

Push Me… Gently

new push button

I don’t like to be pushed.  Who does?  But when I look back at the big professional changes I’ve experienced in the last year, I find that this is how they happened…  I got pushed.

When left to my own devices, I work hard, but hesitate to make really big changes.  Let’s face it.  Big changes usually involve a huge amount of work, time, and discomfort – Sounds like fun, right?  As teachers, we are busy people.  We have after-school coaching or clubs to sponsor, grading, lesson plans, and often children of our own with extra-curricular commitments, homework, etc.  If we are involved in church or community activities, we may have meetings, rehearsals, or events to organize as well.  Making a fundamental change in what we do and the way we do it is something we don’t even have time to get our heads around… unless we’re given no choice.

I tend to be strong-willed.  Opinionated.  Ok – a control freak.  Sound familiar?  These are common traits of educators.  So when I’m pushed… I push back!  That’s my initial reaction, anyway.  Then I take a deep breath, step back, and acknowledge that I can’t ALWAYS be in control.  That’s when I’m finally ready.

As part of our PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) professional development this year, our team was pushed – Before the kick-off event, we had to complete a “pre-game” activity that involved 13 activities to set up a PLN – A Personal Learning Network.  This involved creating a Gmail account, an RSS reader, a Twitter account, a blog, and joining a Ning.  We had very little time to complete these activities before the kick-off.  I did them ALL over the Labor Day weekend!  I felt I had been pushed into the deep end without my first swimming lesson.

What happened?  I struggled to tread water for a while… but then I started enjoying the water, and the new challenges of the deep end.  I tested my abilities a bit more, and found new ways to grow and learn.  I whined and complained a bit, but I kept swimming (click on link below).

\"Just Keep Swimming\"

I had a similar experience this year when we got a new Head of School.  He was excited to bring new practices to the school, and pushed our faculty to start changing our methods – to incorporate a Morning Meeting, use less paper and pencil, more workshop-style lessons.  AGAIN, I felt I was out of my element.  My confidence was shaken, but I refused to go under.  I started learning, and doing – My job depended on it.

Now our Digital Learning Team is getting ready to prepare an Action Research Project as part of our PLP experience.  It’s our turn to push.  I am conscious of this as we think about the professional development project we want to prepare for our faculty.  We are excited about what we have learned – how far we have come – but I don’t want to push so hard that the faculty pushes back.  We will make them uncomfortable – that is unavoidable.  But hopefully we will help them, support them, and encourage them as they learn.  Together we need to first BECOME 21st century learners, and then use our skills to bring 21st century learning to the classroom.  It will happen.  If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to read NAIS’s document “A 21st Century Imperative: Becoming a School of the Future”

Even though it’s not fun to be pushed, it is often the way we are forced to move forward.  Change is uncomfortable, and we naturally avoid things that bring discomfort…  So sometimes we need a little shove in the right direction…  🙂

Free2Learn Fridays

learning1I’m not sure why the graphic you see here appeals to me, except that the overall shape looks like a brain to me…  I see individuals in a colorful, inviting place, on their own path, taking the time to explore and discover.   I want this to be my classroom!

Today was a pretty awesome day in 3rd grade…  The best part was that I had no idea what was coming.  It was entirely spontaneous!  In our Morning Meeting, we talked about what we were going to learn today, and a student asked me if we were going to learn about something that is not part of our studies.  This launched a wonderful discussion about learning that was too good to pass up…  I reminded them of a journal topic a while back, asking them to think about what they would like to learn.

I’ll admit here that I had truly intended to schedule some time for them to pursue these “passions”.  Unfortunately, things got busy, and it seemed there was never time to go exploring…  I felt I had to maintain a strict pace in our core subjects.  We never got to it.

Today we took the time.  We talked in more depth about the things they might want to learn that were not taught at school – The topics ranged from animals to authors to historic events to inventions…  I ignored my lesson plans, dropped everything, and got the laptops.

I can honestly say that I have never seen my students so enthusiastic about learning.  The freedom they felt to explore any topic was overwhelming at first, but soon they felt like they could tackle anything!  They quickly learned how to follow links from kid-safe search engines, and were off and running.  I walked around and saw a Roald Dahl website, a video about flying cars, a National Geographic site on monkeys, a math game using coins, biography information on soccer player Steven Gerrard…  Kids started getting up and checking out what others were finding, then going back to explore.  Before I knew it, over an hour had flown by and it was almost time for P.E.!  At 10:30 I delivered them to P.E., and collapsed in my desk chair exhausted, yet exhilarated.

This prompted a decision to formally incorporate student-driven learning into my curriculum, now known as “Free2Learn Fridays”!  For one hour on Friday morning, we will take the time to explore and learn.  Students will be held accountable, and will be asked to share or write about what they have learned.  I showed them my Diigo page of bookmarks, and we’ll learn to keep track of their favorite sites on a class Diigo account.  So cool.

The fun didn’t end there.  When I picked the kids up from P.E., I found them in small groups on the gym floor.  I soon found that our P.E. teacher had charged them with creating a game!  They were busy recording the materials needed, rules for play, and other important information.  When finished, the groups had to take their “proposal” to the P.E. teacher and explain their game.  They will get to try the games and make any necessary modifications.  The final game rules will be published and kept for them to play in class.  What a great creative activity!

I’m excited about these great steps we are taking.  This quote I found sums it up quite nicely:

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.” ~Clay P. Bedford