Creativity and Problem Solving – A 21st Century Marriage


Originally posted at Many thanks to my editor, John Norton for his brilliant editing and images!


It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Creativity is an invaluable tool in problem solving. In a digital age where innovation is highly valued, teaching creative problem solving is essential.

It seems everything I’ve been up to recently has been leading to a focus on creative problem solving. The convergence of these events has had quite an impact on my thinking and teaching.

In January, I went to EduCon . . .

I attended an EduCon session entitled Learning Environments: Rethinking K-12 Communication and Collaboration, led by David Bill, Director of Educational Technology at The Urban School of San Francisco. In this session, the goal of the conversation was to define the different needs and challenges facing communication and collaboration in a variety of learning environments and to identify solutions that could be implemented in our schools.

David facilitated our small group discussions by providing a problem-solving model for us to use. In this model, the groups worked to identify the specific problem of one of its members, brainstormed possible solutions, and then worked to identify and refine an idea that could be integrated at their school.  Good fortune was with me that day, and my problem was the one chosen to be solved by the group. But wait… It gets better. In my small group were none other than David Ginsburg, noted educational consultant and Ed Week’s Coach G, and the remarkable Holly Jobe, President of ISTE!

David Bill got us started by having me talk about my school and our issues with communication and collaboration. The group asked me questions and identified the main problem. From there, we began to brainstorm ideas. David encouraged us to get really crazy with these ideas – to go big. The kicker was that we could not discuss them. We could not judge them or break them down. This phase was for idea generation only. It took us a few minutes to warm up to this approach, but eventually we were building on

each other’s proposals, and we soon had plans to invite the entire school board to my classroom. Bruce Springsteen would be there via Skype and would perform a concert so they could see the benefits of connected learning and collaboration in the classroom. Pretty sweet, huh? J

In the next phase of the problem-solving model, we assessed our crazy over-the-top ideas, and began to narrow or refine them. We had to admit that the likelihood of getting Bruce to Skype my classroom might be a bit unrealistic. But was it possible to invite board members in to observe connected learning and collaboration in action? Absolutely. I was beginning to get excited. We talked about creative ways to extend the invitation and what board members would see. I had no idea that David’s session would not only help me think of ways to improve communication and collaboration at my school, but would also provide me with a very powerful problem-solving tool.

A week later . . .

My graduate classes for the spring term began. One of my classes? Creative Problem Solving. Kismet…

715 Current Trends in Curriculum & Instruction: Creativity & Problem Solving

In this course students will explore strategies to foster creativity and problem solving skills in the classroom. Students will gain an understanding of the habits of mind that lead to creative thought. Additionally, students will participate in authentic experiences as they learn a variety of problem solving approaches. Finally, students will identify opportunities within their curriculum to foster creativity and problem solving skills.

The text for this course, Creative Problem Solving: An Introduction, defines some of the methods that were now familiar to me, thanks to David’s session at EduCon. The text walks the student through “framing the challenge” (clearly identifying the problem) and then moves into the “generating ideas” phase. In this phase, you work to spin out “many, varied, and unusual” ideas. The rules are that “you must hold back judgment or evaluation of ideas during much of your work in this stage so you will be able to be as productive as possible. Do not react to them, judge them, debate their merits or demerits, or even discuss them.” The text provides some helpful generating tools such as SCAMPER and force-fitting.

As you may have guessed, what comes next is the “focusing” stage where these ideas get refined — and finally, “preparing for action,” where you complete specific plans for implementation. At this point, the value of teaching creative problem solving became so critical for me that I ordered this book for my students: CPS for Kids: A Resource Book for Teaching Creative Problem-Solving to Children.

Just when I thought the planets had aligned . . .

I read this blog post by my daughter, a Graphic Design major at Longwood University. In it, she talks about her process when presented with a new design project or job. I was astounded to see many of the same concepts. First, her rules for generating ideas – no stopping to judge or think!

I try to list words or images that I feel associate with the concepts I’m working with. Sometimes, while I’m making the lists, a few ideas will jump up. I try to jot them down and keep moving. If I stop to flesh out those ideas, I’ll likely get stuck with them and stop listing words.

She also uses what I learned as “force-fitting,” but she refers to it as “brute thinking.” She defines it this way:

Brute thinking is the act of forcing together two concepts or objects that aren’t normally associated. I always visualize it as two hands with a different word in each hand, crushing the two together like squishing a soda can. The actual process isn’t very different, honestly – you’re just crushing two concepts together and trying to make something from them. If the designer does a good job with this, they can often force the viewer to see the objects in a new light. Changing the way a viewer sees something is a powerful tool, because it makes the design memorable.

I am quite frankly amazed that I am just learning these concepts (although some of them are intuitive) at my “advanced age,” and am more convinced than ever that we can and must teach them to our students for them to be competitive in today’s world.

Do you teach creative problem solving? What tools or methods are the most useful? What projects can we use to develop these methods in our students? I’m looking to expand this practice in my elementary classroom. I know your ideas and suggestions can help. Let’s do some brute thinking together!

Dice image: jscreationzs /

Planets image: Dreamstime / licensed

Dig Deep with Project-Based Learning


Originally posted at: Many thanks to my editor, John Norton for his editing genius!

During my year with PLP, I heard Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach talk several times about student-driven, inquiry-based learning. I thought I knew what Sheryl was getting at, but it wasn’t until I took a graduate course this past term on Project Based Learning that I really began to understand all its implications.

PBL was never something I spent too much time pondering — just another way to assess learning, right? Instead of a traditional test, I allow my 4th graders to choose a project that demonstrates their learning. Choice is important – by differentiating, students can create something using an area of interest or strength. Incorporate technology? Even better! Got it. I couldn’t imagine what we would do for 14 weeks in this grad class. Simple as 1-2-3.

Well, I didn’t quite “get it.” Turns out PBL is not simply a culminating project at the end of a unit. It’s the learning experience that happens as students attempt to solve a problem or answer a question. For that reason, you will also hear the term “inquiry-based” learning.

If you want to see your K-12 students’ eyes light up with excitement and watch them approach learning with more enthusiasm than ever before, PBL/Inquiry-Based Learning is for you. I encourage you to read on…

PBL Online provides this excellent definition:

Project Based Learning is an instructional approach built upon authentic learning activities that engage student interest and motivation. These activities are designed to answer a question or solve a problem and generally reflect the types of learning and work people do in the everyday world outside the classroom. Project Based Learning is synonymous with learning in depth. A well-designed project provokes students to encounter (and struggle with) the central concepts and principles of a discipline.

Project Based Learning teaches students 21st century skills as well as content. These skills include communication and presentation skills, organization and time management skills, research and inquiry skills, self-assessment and reflection skills, and group participation and leadership skills.

Finally, Project Based Learning allows students to reflect upon their own ideas and opinions, exercise voice and choice, and make decisions that affect project outcomes and the learning process in general.

Combining these considerations, we define Project Based Learning as:

A systematic teaching method that engages students in learning essential knowledge and life-enhancing skills through an extended, student-influenced inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.

When you ponder all of this, PBL becomes a daunting task! I tore through a fantastic text entitledReinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss. The book is published by ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education. I highly recommend Boss & Krauss if you’re considering making a commitment to PBL in your classroom.

In my graduate course, my culminating task was to create a PBL unit and implement it in my classroom. Suddenly 14 weeks seemed like nothing!

Fixin’ to Get Ready

A quick note here: Many teachers don’t like PBL because they feel their students don’t work well in groups. This is a significant issue in many classrooms, and is not something that will just “happen.”Students must be taught how to work together. From the beginning of the school year, exercises in active listening, role-playing of conflict resolution and teamwork can help students learn how to function as a group working toward a common goal. In today’s world we are not likely to work in isolation. These are critical skills to be developed and part of becoming a PBL classroom. There are websites that offer activities to help teach team buildingconstructive criticismactive listening,conflict resolution and to provide general information and activities to support cooperative learning.

The Planning (a Big Deal)

This heading might need to be in all caps, bold, and 72 point. Planning is the biggest part of a PBL unit. Creating one “on the fly” in the middle of the school year was hazardous to my health. My project was based on a 4thgrade Social Studies unit. The students were learning about representative government, and the roles of our three branches. Their mission? To create rules for the school’s common areas (playground, lunchroom, restrooms, etc.). They functioned as the legislative branch, meeting with constituents (students in other classes) and writing the proposed legislation. Our head of school was the executive branch, and had to sign the legislation into law. The teachers were the judicial branch, enforcing the laws once approved. I used a wiki to organize the project and was very happy with that format. Using the format recommended by Boss & Krauss, the project wiki is broken down into these elements:

  • The Project Framework. This includes the unit of study, learning objectives, 21st century skills, standards, NETS·S, and learning dispositions that will be covered in your project.
  • Evidence of Learning. This covers any projects, presentations, collaborative documents, or individual reflections that students will complete as part of the project.
  • Entrée to Project. Here is where you plan how to build student excitement/engagement by providing the relevance and importance of the project, and plan your kick-off event.
  • Project Sketch. This is a summary of the project, defining the stages, tasks, items produced by students, and a timeline for the project.

Time is necessary to ensure you have a project that is not too big or small, meets learning objectives, has the necessary rubrics to assess student projects/presentations/reflections, and is scheduled to be completed (preferably) in 3-6 weeks, depending on the size of the unit. If you’re planning to do some Google searches around PBL, a great website to start is the Buck Institute for Education. Their Project Based Learning for the 21st Century section offers information and a search tool to look for projects by subject and grade level.

The Payoff

Although my first real PBL project was far from perfect, I immediately saw the benefits in my classroom. From day one, my students were chomping at the bit. They would have been totally happy not to worry about any other subjects and just work on their projects all day. I was blown away. The key to this is a sense of importance and meaningful work. There was a real need for the rules they were creating, and they knew they would be implemented and utilized. Therefore they took their job seriously and were excited and motivated by the responsibility of creating something important for the school.

There were a few bumps along the way. I began by having each group visit every lower school classroom to meet with students and get ideas. This turned out to take a ridiculous amount of time. We modified on the fly and had each group visit three classes. I also had too many elements involved in my project. My decision to have them research rules in other schools, create a list of rules to post, present the rules for the school, establish a Google Doc where all the rules would be put together,and write reflective blog posts was simply too much for my 4th graders. There was no way the project could be completed in time. I definitely got carried away, and in my most recent efforts, I’m learning to limit the scope of my projects and manage my time more effectively.

Even though things can get a little stressful and chaotic in a PBL experience, what makes it all worthwhile is the learning. Students don’t remember the problems or pitfalls, they remember the excitement they felt as they solved a problem, and they remember the lessons (content) they learned while working. Why? It’s what Sheryl promised in those PLP webinars last year: Student-driven PBL projects push students to go deep into the content.

By “going deep” and taking an active role in their own learning, our students retain a great deal more than when we “stand and deliver” and they zone out — wondering how long it is until recess!

Image: Girl digging, Claire Bloomfield, Free Digital Photos

Feelin’ the Love in my PLC


Originally posted at: Many thanks to my editor John Norton for his brilliant editing and images!


Have you made the commitment to become a connected educator – a teacher or school leader who takes full advantage of digital tools and virtual networking to improve your practice and better prepare your kids for 21st century lives?

I’m choosing the word “commitment” carefully. It’s easy to find information about the importance of becoming connected — and the necessary “how-to” steps to get there. Need to set up a Personal Learning Network (PLN)? Google those three words and you’ll harvest a great heap of helpful hints.

What isn’t so easy is committing the time to learn how to use the necessary tools — to find the best folks to follow — to not only subscribe to blogs but actually reflect deeply on the understandings of other practitioners. Hardest of all: making the time to connect with education colleagues via Twitter, a Ning, Diigo, Skype, etc. and establish real communication.

Not there yet? For me, it took almost a year before I truly felt “connected” – but as you’ll see below, it’s been well worth the effort. First though, I’d encourage you to take two minutes to listen to an expert. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, co-founder of Powerful Learning Practice, recently made this brief but persuasive video entitled, “Why be a connected educator?”

Thanks to the support of Sheryl and many others, I have learned a great deal. Last May, after writing a reflective post about my PLP experience with my own school team, I was contacted by PLP editor John Norton, who wanted to post my piece in a new group blog written by PLP participants and consultants: Voices From the Learning Revolution (VFLR). I was then invited to become a regular contributor to the blog, which you’re reading right now. You have only to browse a few posts to see that I joined an amazing group of educators who are totally committed to shifting classrooms and schools in ways that put students in charge of their own learning.

True learning communities encourage us to grow

This loose but well connected group within my professional network meets my personal definition of a true Professional Learning Community (PLC). I’ve come to know these Voices folks a bit better than others in my PLN, and we connect more frequently via Twitter or email. We often comment on each other’s posts and we’re making plans to begin a regular Twitter hashtag group where we’ll invite all educators to discuss topics growing out of what we’ve written. I feel a kinship with these VFLR writers, and enjoy learning with and from them. Recently, we found that five of us will be attending the EduConconference later this month – I’m determined to meet them face-to-face!

Several weeks ago, something very powerful happened to me, as part of this community. I had been through a rough couple of months, and hadn’t submitted anything for the Voices blog in some time. Finally, over the holiday break, I was able to relax and do some writing. I crafted a post entitled “SHIFT: A New Year’s Resolution for 2012”. It was published on January 3rd, and I was hopeful that it would provide some simple, first steps toward change in the new year. It was a brief piece, though, and I admit I was nervous, wondering if it would have any impact.

The day it was posted, I received a direct message via Twitter, from fellow VFLR blogger Marsha Ratzel. Marsha is a profound and creative thinker about teaching. Her VFLR posts (and her personal blog) provide useful, specific examples of the shifted practices within her classroom. Here was her message:

This was huge for me. A brief message, which didn’t take but a minute of Marsha’s time, had an enormous impact. This, I realized, is a critical element in Professional Learning Communities. The support and encouragement we provide to other members of the community makes a difference. As simply stated by Sheryl, “We need more of this.” Teaching is not a zero-sum game.

In an effective PLC, members share freely, learn from one another, push each other’s thinking, and celebrate success within the community. Marsha reminded me that while our personal growth is important, the steps we take together in bringing about change are what it’s all about.

What does all this have to do with making the commitment to become a connected educator? Commitment is hard. Giving up outdated but comfortable ways of doing our work is hard. We all need encouragement to stay on course.

After reading Marsha’s uplifting message, I was encouraged to do more to support others in my PLCs who are working to make a difference. Finding time to read, shift, and share can be difficult, but if we are really committed to transformational change on behalf of kids, we can sure take a moment and let someone know his or her efforts are worthwhile.

Technology opens the door, but it’s the support and encouragement we find in authentic learning communities that connects us.

Image: jscreationzs

Appreciative Inquiry: Why I Choose to See the World through Rose-Colored Glasses

Rose-Colored Glasses by rnjtc1, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  rnjtc1


I hit a bump in the road last week, while traveling on my personal Connected Coaching journey. It was actually a bit more than a bump… Maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere and got a lost for a little while. Ok, let’s be honest here. I think I may have skidded off the road entirely, ended up in a ditch, and needed someone to pull me out! Regardless, thanks to an amazing community of leaders and learners, I think I’ve found my way back.  🙂

I was really upset when I ended up in that ditch. I felt like I was the only one there, while everyone else was cruising merrily down the Connected Coaching highway. I was sure I was the only one who didn’t “get it.” I wanted to shut down. I started thinking that maybe Connected Coaching wasn’t for me. Holy cow – Is this similar to what my students feel like when they face struggles in their learning??? It was amazing how quickly my confidence was shaken. I was much like the students I teach – so wired for grades, performance, and success that “failure” of any kind became unacceptable and debilitating.

I lost sight of an important fact: In any learning experience, some bumps, wrong turns, and yes, even ditches can and will happen.

Time for some reflection… But instead of asking, “What went wrong?” I’ve chosen to don some “rose-colored glasses” and take an Appreciative Inquiry approach. This is new for me, and is precisely why I ended up in the Appreciative Inquiry Ditch!! In fact, I did some research on seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, and found some interesting benefits

So what went RIGHT, you ask? What an outstanding Appreciative Inquiry question! Here are the great things that happen when you end up in a ditch:

  • You figure out how you got there. Once you’ve assessed the immediate damage, you look back and try to figure out what happened. You thought you were cruising along just fine, and didn’t realize there was something important you needed to know to stay on track.
  • You cry out for help. I did this, in the form of a post on our Connected Coaches Ning page. I placed a “911” call to my learning community, and sure enough, someone came to my rescue with some resources to help.
  • You find courage, support, and validation from your community. In addition to the resources I received, I also heard from folks who said they had felt the same way. I wasn’t alone! Some others held me up, and encouraged me, or thanked me for putting my thoughts out there.
  • You might help others out of their ditches. Hence this post… If nothing else, I want you to know that once you get pulled out of that ditch, you’re better for it. You’re stronger, smarter, and better prepared for the road ahead.

More than ever, I want to strengthen my ability to use Appreciate Inquiry, whether with the teams I coach, or the students I teach. We can’t afford to focus on or wallow in our failures. Negativity is debilitating. Appreciating the positive aspects of our “ditch experiences” will help us to grow and use our strengths to move forward with confidence down the learning highway.

Connected Coaching: Learning to Lead











Many months ago, I saw a Facebook post by Powerful Learning Practice about becoming a “Connected Coach.” This is an opportunity to work virtually with Year 1 PLP teams as they wrap up the year by supporting their efforts to create an action research project for their schools. I remembered my experience the previous year with PLP, and wondered if I could possibly be of help to others. I completed the application, but honestly doubted I would hear anything. I was not any kind of an expert in action research, and PLP probably wanted someone who had completed more than the Year 1 experience to help guide these teams. I wasn’t surprised when months went by and I didn’t hear anything.

Then suddenly, in late January, an email appeared, asking if I was still interested in this opportunity! Although my schedule should have led me to decline, I was honored to be considered, and was very interested in learning about connected coaching. Our e-course began the next week, and before I knew it, I was up to my eyeballs in new terminology like “appreciative inquiry,” “wayfinding,” and even “wonderings.” What on earth was a wondering?!? I was looking at models, protocols, and thinking I was definitely in over my head…

Before I knew it, I had “met” my lead coach, Gene, and had the list of the nine teams we were to support. Nine?!? For some reason I thought three… maybe four? I couldn’t imagine keeping straight the names of people on nine different teams, and their conversations on the PLP Community Hub in addition to completing the online activities for the e-course!

The more we talked about the qualities of a connected coach in our e-course webinars, the more I wondered why PLP thought I would make a good connected coach. I’m talkative, loud, opinionated, and a “jump in with both feet” kind of person. On a good day, I remember to make sure there’s water in the pool! Connected coaching was all about starting slowly, developing trust, listening, asking questions (mostly in the form of “wonderings”), reflecting, and patiently working with teams. Hmmm…

Fortunately, this was modeled beautifully for me from day one by our fearless leader Lani and my lead coach Gene. This was invaluable, as we were thrust right into our jobs and began posting our introductory videos on our teams’ sites immediately. We began to exchange hellos, talk about ourselves personally, and then eventually discuss some details about project ideas. I found myself remembering what I had heard and seen Lani do in our activities for the course, and without thinking, actually started a reply post with, “I’m wondering if…” It felt good! I also started seeing the benefits of using this questioning technique with my students. Suddenly, the challenge to help a team discover their own answers was so exciting!

At the same time, we were practicing trust building activities, co-creating content, and using video and images to connect with our community of coaches in the e-course. I was amazed at how quickly our diverse group bonded, encouraging and supporting each other through challenges and victories! Our weekly webinars are inspirational. There’s something about spending time learning with and from such a committed group of professionals that is a real “high” for us. It revitalizes us and gives us ideas and a fresh perspective to carry into our coaching.

I’m pleased with our progress thus far. I recently attended a webinar for the community, where I listened to our teams present their action research ideas. Since then I’ve helped them to focus their essential questions and wondered aloud how they would plan different aspects of their research and project.

As I reflect, I’m wondering if becoming a good coach will also help me become a better teacher, a better parent, a better friend…   🙂


Image: Ohmega1982 /



Constructing Creativity in the Classroom

I just finished reading a stimulating article by Laura Seargeant Richardson, The Kaleidoscope Mind: Some Easy Ways to Teach Creativity, published in The Atlantic magazine. Richardson’s article was a breath of fresh air, focusing on the ability to train the mind to view the world not just in a different way, but in manydifferent ways. She writes

The term kaleidoscope is Greek and is loosely interpreted as “an observer of beautiful forms.” So what, then, is a kaleidoscope mind? The Hans family would say it’s “a type of mind that is agile, flexible, self-aware, and informed by a diversity of experiences.” It’s a mind that is “able to perceive any given situation from a multitude of perspectives at will — selecting from a rich repertoire of lenses or frameworks.” They would say that a kaleidoscope mind is playful, and it must be able to “see patterns, connections, and relationships that more rigid minds miss.” And they would say that a kaleidoscope mind can be taught. I would agree.

I agree as well. I have coached an Odyssey of the Mind team for five years now, and I’ve seen evidence that creativity is definitely a skill that can (and should) be taught. In fact, in a post about the benefits of Odyssey, I said just that. I confessed that I didn’t always think so . . .

Originally, I thought kids either “had it” or didn’t when this type of thinking was involved. Yet, in almost 5 years of coaching Odyssey of the Mind, I’ve seen that this type of thinking can indeed be developed.

So how is it done? Like strengthening any muscle, you must exercise it – stretch it – challenge it. Here are a couple of the exercises I have used with my team of elementary kids:

What is it?

Take an ordinary, everyday object, such as a CD, and pass it around. As of that moment, it is no longer a CD. What is it? A mirror? A headlight or wheel on a cardboard car? The sequins on a huge disco ball? A Frisbee? A skating rink for ants? The rotor on a gyroscope? Sir Ken Robinson explored this a bit in his RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms. He says: How many uses can you think of for a paper clip? Most people might come with 10 or 15. People who are good at this might come with 200. And they do so by saying things like, “Well, could the paper clip be 200 feet tall and be made of foam rubber?”

Things that  _____.

In this exercise, you provide a word, and students brainstorm for different ways to use the word. For example, you might ask them to think of things that run. The creative mind will think outside the box and come up with answers such as politicians, water, or refrigerators. They’ll think that you can run your mouth, or get a run in your pantyhose. Then there’s a musical’s run on Broadway, a trait that runs in your family. You can run errands, run a fever, or run out of time…

Richardson wraps up her article with this wonderful quote by biochemist Szent Gyorgyi:

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”

A creative, kaleidoscope mind is one that innovates – invents – inspires. It takes what it knows and turns it upside-down, inside-out, and backwards to see what new possibilities and patterns emerge. It will be able to view a problem from many perspectives, and find a solution/design more rigid minds could not.

Have you noticed that these are natural instincts for a child? Hand them a rope and suddenly it becomes a fire hose, a belt, a necklace, a lasso, a shoelace for a giant. Somehow we stifle and restrain their brains, when we should be freeing them to design the future and solve the problems of a 21st century world our black and white brains can’t even imagine.


Originally posted Dec. 8, 2011 at
Edited with love by John Norton.

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan, under terms of

















The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age – My Review

Was scrolling through my RSS reader today and found this review by Beth Still of Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall’s book, The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age. I have also finished the book recently, and thought Beth was brilliant to post her review in her blog – so I’ve done what every great teacher does – stolen a great idea for my own! 🙂

In all seriousness though, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall have produced an invaluable resource for educators. They gently escort the reader through a clear, systematic approach to connected learning and leadership while sharing personal stories and experiences. Their transparency is a gift!

The strength of this book lies in its organization. Each chapter begins with the authors’ personal stories, continues to provide clear, well-defined information and helpful models, and then highlights educators who are “Putting It in Practice” in the classroom. The chapters wrap up with a bulleted “Where Are We?” summary, a “Think About” section to help the reader apply learning to their unique situation, and a “Where to Now?” section that looks ahead to the next topic.

In addition, the authors push readers to begin connecting right away, by providing instruction and areas where they can connect with each other to discuss the book. Practical tools such as VoiceThread, WallWisher, and Diigo are used to connect readers. As the reader begins to create connections and use tools, Sheryl and Lani help them to construct a connected learning community by providing lists of educators to follow through Twitter and RSS readers. They explain the roles within the community, and identify the qualities of leadership within these communities. Finally, the authors look to the future, exploring the changing roles of teachers and administrators as education transforms.

After spending a year immersed in the Powerful Learning Practice program, co-founded by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, I can attest to the value and necessity in becoming a connected educator. This book belongs on the shelf of every teacher and principal as a practical, hands-on reference for learning and leading in the digital age.

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

Honoring Those that Serve the Education Community

I learn so much from my PLN, and would like to recognize some of the folks that work so hard to keep educators informed… So here are my nominations for the 2011 Edublog Awards. Thanks to all who add to the body of knowledge and take the time to share – We are all better for it!

  • Best individual blog – Will Richardson: Will never ceases to push my thinking and give me the confidence to keep fighting the fight.
  • Best individual tweeter – @plnaugle – Paula Naugle shares EVERYTHING. She is an amazing resource to teachers everywhere!
  • Best group blog – Voices From the Learning Revolution: – This post by Powerful Learning Practice features writers who give insight to what shifted teaching and learning look like in their classrooms everyday.
  • Best ed tech / resource sharing blog – Free Tech for Teachers: – This continues to be the best resource for finding the right tool for the job!
  • Most influential blog post – – Mind/Shift is willing to take the controversial position and stand behind it. They make people think.
  • Best teacher blog – – Great examples of fun activities that make me want to be a second grader again…
  • Best School Administrator blog – The Principal of Change: – George gets it. Period. He is genuine, funny, and a model for administrators everywhere.
  • Best free web tool – Diigo: – Great for students, teachers, sharing resources, highlighting, bookmarking, and so much more.
  • Best open PD / unconference / webinar series – RSCOM: – I attended many sessions last year and was impressed with the organization and quality of the presenters.