Make Time to Celebrate the (not so) Small Stuff

This video just came out on YouTube yesterday and it’s quickly going viral. I heard about it on my local radio station and The Today Show gave it a mention this morning too.  Give it a watch first then I’ll share some thoughts on the other side.

That’s your feel good video for the week right there isn’t it? The Dad’s reaction, and his son’s excitement to share with his dad, is priceless. If you don’t know the back story (and I don’t know many details) the boy had majorly struggled in Math for a long time. As in, he was failing and success in Math was looking bleak. I don’t know what steps the boy and his dad took to be successful at Math but he brought home a C (or at least a passing grade) and the son getting to share his great news with his Dad is what was captured on video.

Based on Dad’s reaction, I’d say this was a monumental accomplishment in this student’s school journey. What a sense of accomplishment the student must have felt! Dad did such a great job at what I can only assume was the beginning of a major celebration.  This was a milestone for this young man. I hope his teacher made a point to celebrate with him just as vibrantly.

My last post I shared some thoughts about how movement; no matter how small, always matters.  It likely wasn’t an A or B that this young man brought home to share with Dad, but it was movement in the right direction. It was a major victory for him. Dad didn’t say, “That’s all you could do?” or just give a “Keep up the good work” and a pat on the back. Dad made this a huge deal; a reason for celebration.

I think this is something we need to make the time to do more for our struggling students, not just for our students who success in school comes naturally. We want all students to be successful in everything they do. In school and in life. That’s our ultimate goal for them right?  I believe that a crucial part of that journey means to help them feel success as much as possible while they’re with us, no matter how small it may appear from the outside.


Awesome Empowerment

First, a great story to share about an email I got from a couple of kindergarten teachers this morning. They had emailed me to share exciting news. But first some back story. I have partnered with these teachers many times over the last few years to help them with various instructional technology topics. Last year, they had found a video on YouTube that was produced by another kindergarten class (not in our district) on the life cycle of a butterfly. They decided they’d like to re-create this project for teaching this important science topic. I helped with the “talent” (kindergartners), camera work, and worked with them as they learned the editing and finalizing of the video. I was also lucky to get to attend the video’s premiere at a parent night. The teachers and their students did a fantastic job with their production of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”.

Now back to their email they sent me earlier this week. The subject of their email was “Look what we did!”. When they say “we” I knew they meant that in reference to their students, not them. They had attached the video of this year’s version of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”. I watched the video while smiling ear to ear the entire time. The students did a fantastic job acting out all the different stages of the butterfly life cycle (how can you not smile at them?!?) and the teachers did all the planning, preparation, and video production work on their own this year. I am really proud of them and told them how lucky their students are!

Being an Instructional Technologist, I always strive to empower teachers, not enable them. What I mean by that is, it doesn’t matter if it’s one teacher or a group of teachers; no matter if it’s the first time they’re learning about a topic or it’s part of the continual support I offer, I will not “do it for you”. By enabling, or making it easy, doesn’t empower someone to step out of their comfort zone and learn something new.  I will teach, re-teach, and always be there for support for any teacher that wants it; without fail. I always make sure teachers know this. Teachers need to know this. Our students need to know this. My goal is to equip with the necessary tools, resources, and knowledge base to increase comfort-level and success rate.  Doesn’t project-based, authentic learning lend itself nicely to empowerment? Shouldn’t we want this for all learners, regardless of age?

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”–William Arthur Ward


Wired for Sound

This video has certainly made the rounds in the last couple years with over 3 million views to date. It’s posted over at TED, however, it is from the  2009 World Science Festival. Take 3 minutes and give it a watch. The video features Bobby McFerrin. You might remember him from this video (but don’t watch that one right now, watch the one below…unless you really want to).

Interesting and entertaining at the same time isn’t it? Over at TED the title of the video is, “Bobby McFerrin hacks your brain with music”. He shows that by creating a “common chorus”, or finding something we’re all commonly connected by (in this case music), we can tap into the ways we’re naturally wired to produce something great.

What if we took more time to learn how to do this for our students? That is, finding commonalities that give deeper connections to learning for everyone, that tap into those ways we’re naturally wired; rather than trying to re-wire (back to a previous time period many times).  Is this just another way to say “differentiated instruction”? Or is it more than that? Will Richardson calls this “Beyond Differentiation” in his latest piece over at ASCD called Preparing Students to Learn Without Us, where he states:

For schools and teachers, it means connecting our expectations to students’ passions and interests as learners. That is both a challenge and an opportunity for educators working with 20 or 30 students in a classroom. The reality is that despite having talked about personalized learning for more than a decade, most schools and teachers have been slow to discover its potential through the use of the social web, interactive games, and mobile devices.

Would you agree that our students are coming to us being naturally wired this way? All of this technology (social networking, devices, etc.) is not just part of, or an add-on in our students’ world. It IS our students’ world. A world we as educators need to catch up to.

I had the pleasure of being invited to keynote TeachMeet Georgia a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta, where I talked about a new responsibility we (teachers) have to our students: the ability to Connect, Collect, Curate, and Create. Most of the time I was working on that presentation, in my head I kept referring to these as “skills”. I was then reminded of Howard Rheingold’s “Crap Detection 101″ , where Dr. Rheingold conveys the importance of this not just being a skill, but a literacy. We should want all our students to have these new literacies to truly empower them with the tech and devices that is their world, the “wiring” that they come to school with if you will. It must be more than consumption of information. It needs to be creating, investigating, criticizing (constructively), and sharing.

However, these literacies start with us. Teachers, Administrators, Librarians, and Parents.  We must model them and refine them. Regularly.

Which is harder: to change how we’re wired or how they’re wired?


Create, Create, Create!

I have had many a conversation about students’ ability to consume digital content vs. creating digital content.  Which do you think students are better at? I’ve always leaned toward consumption over creation. They use Google, social media, and other online places to intake great amounts of information, but how often are students actually contributing something back for others to benefit from? How many times do we ask students to go grab this or that bit of information from the web or go to YouTube and watch this video or that video? Is it possible that we’re proverbially “stuck” in our education system because we don’t give our students enough opportunities to create and in turn share their creation? I’m not saying that students creating “stuff” is going to be the magic that fixes everything, but what if it could be? Should there be more of a conscious effort to give plenty of choices for our students to be creative with that information they find for this project (homework, assignment, etc.) or that project?

There’s certainly no shortage of information that’s produced for you and I and our students to learn from. We teach our children, students, and each other to “pay it forward” in face to face spaces, but should we do the same in online spaces too?

These are just some thoughts I had bouncing around after coming across this video: 29 Ways to Stay Creative. It’s certainly not exclusive to the digital world, it even reminds us to step away from all things digital from time to time. It just reminded me that we need to have our students see the value in creating something not only as a way to express ourselves, but possibly to the benefit of others as well.

Thank you for reading.

29 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE from TO-FU on Vimeo.


What’s done is done…some thoughts on Missouri SB 54

'The Straight and Narrow Path' photo (c) 2009, Eric Nielsen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There has been no shortage of tweets and blog posts around this new legislation that is MO SB 54. You can read the full legislation, which is known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and establishes the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, here. The part of this legislation that is creating a stir is SECTION 162.069 Paragraph 1 which states:

By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

Everyone is in an uproar about this. Why? The legislation has been passed and was signed by Governor Nixon three weeks ago. Sure, I think it’s unfortunate that we are legislating common sense to Missouri educators. Why is this law being geared solely at school districts? Are private schools having to follow this same mandate? Are any other institutions that work with children having to fall in line and follow the same rules? It’s unfortunate that we’ve passed legislation against the medium, rather than the behavior. Am I incorrect here? Here’s where I’m headed back to: where was everyone before this bill was signed on July 14th? I heard nothing about it before it was too late. Who failed who here? Had Missouri school district and teachers been better informed could something have been done before this bill was signed into law? I digress, since the title of this post is “What’s done is done” after all.

So my question is, to Missouri school districts, what are you going to do now that what’s done is done? Do we want to take the wider, more traveled path (blocking and banning and such) or the narrower, less traveled path (making this a priority to educate our teachers and students on positive and effective use AND allow it). Why weren’t we already widening the narrow path?

Missouri, let’s head down the narrow path as a state please. I would hope we can protect children and also be effective in our instruction by continuing to move forward rather than remain stagnant.  I’d like to see teachers and students work together in the process of creating this new policy.  To other districts in other states not wanting repeat legislation, what are you going to do?

So what can be done now? Here are some thoughts I have about it. Please note: this is my opinion only and does not reflect what’s going to happen in my school district. Please consult with your administrator to confirm policy specific to your district about what is permitted and what is not. If you’re in a district that allows teachers to use Facebook to communicate with students, obviously teachers are going to need to delete any current or former students they are “friends” with on Facebook. Note the definition of “former student” included in the link mentioned above:

Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

Remember, it is possible to still use Facebook as a communication tool without having to “friend” students. This is where it comes in handy to know how to create a Facebook page. You can get all the info on how to create a page that students, parents, and the community can “like” in the Facebook help center. Start here to learn what a Facebook page is, then you can read further on how it differs from your personal profile, and then how to begin creating your page. If you want to see some examples of how Facebook pages are used in education here are a few to check out:

Lee’s Summit School District – Lee’s Summit, MO

New Milford High School – New Milford, NJ

Winecoff Elementary School – Concord, NC

There are many more great examples I’m sure and please feel free to leave a comment and share yours. More information can be found on Facebook’s page for teachers called Teaching Digital Kids, which has great information on how to use pages with students and parents  as well as suggestions for best practices and keeping students safe. At the bottom of that page you can also download the free Facebook for Educators Guide (PDF).

If Facebook is not allowed in your district then perhaps another alternative could be Edmodo or Collaborize Classroom. Both of these tools are very education friendly and allow teachers to create a secure environment to communicate with students and facilitate discussions, etc. outside of the regular school day. Edmodo does offer a parent access option and once you have created a Collaborize Classroom site you can also invite administrators and parents to join as well so they may access the classroom communication that is happening. Another post I would recommend reading for some additional information is this one by Audrey Watters.

Of course, if you’re looking for a classroom communication tool you certainly don’t need to look much further than Twitter. Students, parents, and administrators can visit your Twitter page to get your classroom updates in 140 characters or less. This information can be accessed without even needing a Twitter account. Provide the address to your classroom Twitter page and that’s all parents and students need. With the mobile options available for many of these tools this also makes it not only easier for students and parents to access the communication, it makes it easier for the teacher as well to post new items of information.

I just wanted to throw a few thoughts out there about this, ask some questions, and offer some suggestions that will hopefully help whether you’re a teacher in Missouri or not. I welcome your comments.

Thanks for reading.


Listen, Share, Repeat.

There are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about  lately. They revolve around listening to students (I’ve blogged about this before) and measuring technology integration success/effectiveness. I really thought that these two topics would be separate posts. The more I thought about it, which was spurred on further in a blog post I read earlier today by Ryan Bretag called The Real Change Agents, where Ryan asks this (in what I believe is essential to our best practices) question: “How many of you are having ongoing conversations with students about school – a genuine conversations about learning, leading, and teaching?”

I started to realize how important one was to the other. If you don’t think what you’re doing to integrate/infuse technology is working effectively, shouldn’t we be asking our students how to be better at it? These can be very powerful conversations that not only can impact the effectiveness of students using technology, but can leverage effective change in education. I see this as two rather basic and straightforward questions: 1) What technology opportunities should we be offering students to impact every facet of their education? 2) How can we make it better (perhaps after some initial implementation)?

My friend Russ Goerend also tweeted this out this morning that got me thinking further about the impact listening to students can have:


Now I don’t know the reason that Russ was spending his prep period with these students, but I gathered from his tweet that there was some pretty powerful (or at least interesting) conversation happening. I would love to hear what these students came up with about what “school” should look like.  I also wonder what impact Russ’ conversation made on them personally. If you are having “student focus groups” (light bulb moment) at your school, are you varying which students you gather input from? We should be.

I invite you to watch this 5 minute clip from a student panel titled “Is ANYONE listening to students? Students Speak Up About Education Technology” – and think about what kind of real change listening to students could bring to change what “school” looks like.

Students want to have access to the types of devices (mobile or not) that allow them take their learning experiences further at that moment. Our students have passions for learning and if they want to take it further than we can in one class period we’re doing them a disservice by not allowing/banning/generally frowning upon them doing so. We’ve been in the 21st century for eleven years now! When are we going to stop referring to “21st century skills” or “21st century classrooms”? How about we just make this necessary in terms of  skill sets and how our classrooms look/function?

As I look back to the title of this post I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the importance of sharing, which continues to be a critical component after we have listened to our students. I always try my best to stress this when I’m working with teachers, especially if they’re considered a “trail blazer” in their school for using said technology with students. Share with your parents, share with your staff, share with your principal. Share what worked, what didn’t work, and share feedback from students. Just share!

Listening to students. Should this be a critical component of a school’s or district’s improvement plan? Oh, and I think I’d add another word to the title after Listen: CHANGE.


Collaboration: The Lost Skill?

Click image for source link

This blog post is cross-posted over at Dangerously Irrelevant.

First I’d like to say thanks to Scott McLeod for the opportunity to write a post for Dangerously Irrelevant. The topic of student collaboration is one that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time. I want to disclaim at the forefront that I want this to be a conversation. I want to learn from you. I want you to make me think. This is not the end-all be-all about collaboration. I want to talk about the necessity of this 21st century skill and how I think it dwindles as a necessary skill as students move away from elementary school.

My daughter is almost 6 years old. She just started Kindergarten. Recently she was at a playground with her brother and numerous other kids. As I watched her play, I noticed how comfortable she was going up to kids she’d never met, introducing herself, and engaging these kids in conversation which led to a new playtime opportunity. She was probably doing whatever she could to not have to play with her younger brother for a while. 🙂

If you have young children it’s really an amazing thing to watch. She just went right up to these other kids, and started in like she had known them already. Right away I thought about collaboration. Even if it’s in the most simplest form, she is collaborating. It doesn’t matter if it’s in her kindergarten classroom or on the playground. She wants to have a productive play/learning time. That is her goal. It would seem, that she is eager to collaborate for this to happen. I feel like I’ve been a positive guide for her to be this way; but it wasn’t decreed like, “You shall speak to all of your peers and engage them!” I am blown away by her comfort level. Even when I’m in a classroom of younger students (I’m thinking Kindergarten through 2nd grade), I am always intrigued at their collaboration skills (as basic as they may be) to achieve a common goal.

All of this thinking on collaboration and 21st century skills led me to ask this via Twitter, “What field of expertise DOESN’T require some form of collaboration to succeed?” I didn’t get one serious response. My friend Andy Marcinek, however, gets the award for funniest response. “A mime.” Seriously though, how can we say that students don’t need the skill of effective collaboration? I want to hear your thoughts on this.

I have seen tweets and blog posts recently about frustration that teachers are having getting their students to collaborate. These were mainly secondary teachers and library media specialists. It was even an #EdChat topic a few weeks ago: “How do we engage students who find participatory learning uncomfortable?” What do you find most difficult when getting students to collaborate? Criticism from their peers? A bad experience with a previous teacher? It seems like there’s so many factors that can come into play.

How are we fostering this skill beyond kindergarten? What have you found that really is motivating for students to collaborate? What gives them true ownership of their learning? There’s awesome digital tools that aid in collaboration, but those tools don’t MAKE the collaboration. It’s a skill that still has to be fine tuned. It’s a skill we should all be modeling effectively if we want our students to do it effectively. If you’re looking for some great suggestions on how to foster collaboration in your classroom, I would suggest reading Michelle Bourgeois’ post titled:  The Collaborative Classroom: It’s a Juggling Act. In this post Michelle tells a story of teaching students how to juggle and says. “Just like the art of juggling, there are several skills that need to be balanced and constantly monitored in a collaborative classroom to make it all come together.” Please be sure to check out Michelle’s post on how to monitor and keep balance of some essentials in classroom collaboration.

This leads to my questions, “Where does this skill go?” Am I the only one that thinks younger students are better at collaboration than older students? Shouldn’t this be the opposite? This is something we want our students to be better at right? We should be fostering this skill in our classrooms, not hindering it. How often are you allowing students to collaborate? Not to say that awesome things can’t come out of individual thinking, but as I always like to say, “We’re better together.” Sure, one mind can do awesome things, but a collective could really rock someone’s world.

Thanks for reading.