Sunday, May 29, 2016

Taking Control Of Your Professional Development

Recently I was talking to a teacher friend of mine. He is what I would consider a very good teacher. He is engaging in the classroom, works very hard to meet the needs of all his students and regularly reflects on his teaching to understand his strengths and weaknesses. It's through that reflection that he is figuring out how to be better.

He told me about an email he got from his district. Over the summer teachers were going to go to some professional development in their content area. The district had looked over where the majority of teachers were weak and were going to provide them some learning in those areas. When he looked at what this PD was going to consist of he was dumbfounded. This wasn't at all the areas he was weak in. In fact he was one of the highest performing teachers in those areas.

And now he was being forced to sit through PD that was meaningless to him.

The fact is my friend is not alone.

This happens to educators more often that we can count. Many schools and districts are trying to do the right thing by meeting the needs of as many educators as possible when it comes to professional learning. But the reality is most schools and districts are not equipped to personalize the professional development of every educator.

Often we talk about the need for more personalized learning for students. There are countless books, webinars and other resources dedicated to the topic. Yet when it comes to the personalization of professional development there is a barely a slow moment by educational leaders to move in that direction. Time, money and personnel are just a few of barriers they face.

The fact of the matter is educators, no matter their position, can no longer rely on their schools and districts to provide the targeted professional development every educator needs and deserves. 

So, if we come to that realization, the next inevitable question is, what do we do about it?

Lucky for all of us we live in an age where all known knowledge is at our fingertips. The digital age has ushered in a new era where anyone can learning anything anytime anywhere. And the type of professional learning we need is readily available if we know where to find it.

Blogs-I've written many, many times about the benefits of blogging for both kids and educators. This open reflection of what we are doing, learning, sharing and thinking about can have very positive effects on our learning. Reading blogs as well can have a great impact on our learning. There are so many wonderful and thoughtful educators who are sharing various resources, ideas and thoughts for the classroom and beyond you'll easily find many to read and grow from. Start with the Teach 100 list. This is a ranked list that, while I think the rankings don't mean much, it's full of great educator blogs to explore. You can also visit the list of the Top 50  Must Read Edtech blogs and take a look at the Edublogs Awards Nominated blogs. Lots of great blogs in all these places.

Webinars-Virtual learning is nothing new. From correspondence courses to videotapes you could buy, watch and learn new skills, we now can learn virtually, in real time, anywhere in the world. There are so many places to take in a good webinar. Many of your favorite tools and products you use have thought-leadership programs that offer all sorts of webinar experiences. is one of my favorite places to catch a webinar because not only is it easy and free to join, the topics are endless and there are archives of everything. The folks over at ASCD regularly have the authors you read for webinars on their books and various other topics. #Edchat Interactive is redefining what a webinar means. The traditional webinar is passive; sit and get. The webinars at #Edchat Interactive allow you to be on video with the other participants and the presenter, like you are all in a physical place together.

Twitter Chats-Like blogging I've written about the benefits of hashtags and Twitter chats many times. Something simple like spending an hour engaging with other educators can open your mind to new ways of thinking or finding resources you didn't know existed. The Educational Twitter Chats calendar is a great place to start to find a specific chat for a topic you are interested in or even more simply a hashtag to follow to see what others are sharing.

In-Person Events-There are countless in-person events that take place year 'round so there's always somewhere to go. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Annual Conference for example is the largest education conference with nearly 20,000 attendees takes place the end of June every year. There are other smaller, regional conferences that take place throughout the year as well. Check with your local education agency or state department of education to learn more. The problem some (like myself) have with these conferences is they are expensive to attend and they don't exactly have sessions to meet your learning needs. Edcamps can help fill that void. These are free events, generally on a Saturday, put on for educators by educators. The sessions are decided in the morning and everyone is an expert. You can read more about Edcamps and check out the Edcamp calendar to learn when one is taking place near you.

Taking control of your own professional development doesn't have to cost any money or require you to invest a great deal of time or energy. It's a matter of using the resources you are already familiar with and combining those with non-traditional sources like Twitter chats and Edcamps and you can put together a very powerful personalized learning plan for yourself. 

photo credit: New Academic Year in the Renovated Atrium via photopin (license)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Fundamentals Of Learning All Students Deserve

I recently spent time visiting my friends at Anastasis Academy. This is a small, private school started by my friend Kelly Tenkely Several years ago she wanted to put into practice many of the ideal conditions that all learners need and deserve. During my day there talking to students and the staff there were several practices and beliefs around learning that any school, no matter the internal or external pressures could model and fundamentally change the learning environment for all kids.

From my time there I found there are 4 Beliefs Of Learning every school needs to have:

  • All Learning Is Interconnected
  • Personalization Is At The Core Of Learning
  • Inquiry Drives Learning
  • Learning Happens As Part Of A Larger Community

All Learning Is Interconnected-One aspect of learning that many educators believe in but have a hard time actually executing is the belief that what I teach in my classroom is connected to all the other learning that students are doing in their other classes.

Even I am guilty of this.

When I was a science teacher I found it easy to integrate math into my subject, history too. But I did a terrible job of bringing in language arts concepts. I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. And my colleagues felt the same about my subject. It's very easy to see the subject we teach isolation as the most important.

The reality is all learning is interconnected. This is something that is embraced by the students and staff of Anastasis every day. They don’t think in individual concepts. There isn’t a math class or a history class. The students learn in topics, most of which are chosen by them (more on that later).

When we learn ourselves that learning isn’t siloed. So why when students go to school are those subjects taught and learned in isolation? If we want to improve learning we have to come to the realization that all learning is interconnected.

This type of interconnected learning isn’t unique to Anastasis. And it could be replicated at any school with any subjects with any groups of students. Once students see the connections that what they’re learning makes they begin to see what which they learn in the greater context of all that they know.

Personalization Is At The Core Of Learning-With the advent and adoption of technology in the classroom it seems we couldn’t escape the word personalization. Online access to teaching resources, coupled with technology in the hands of students was supposed to make learning personal. While this has happened to some extent we are far from true personalization in the classroom.

The students at Anastasis are not.

When a student enrolls in the school they are asked a series of questions that help to understand exactly what type of learner they are. This not only helps the teachers understand, and the staff to group similar types of learners together but it aims to help the student understand how they learn best. Once those individual learning style traits are discovered by the student they can begin to understand the circumstances in which they learn best. And it's the use of these profiles that help the educators there best craft their environment for each kid. Once we know what specifically is driving and motivating a student it becomes easier and easier to help that student grow as a learner.

Again, this is something that could be done in any school anywhere. It could be a simple one-on-one conversation or the same questionnaire used at Anastasis. Either way, actually taking the first several days of school to learn about our students and help them understand what kinds of learners they are can go a long way.

Inquiry Drives Learning-As part of this commitment to personalization the students at Anastasis work around larger issues of knowledge rather than individual concepts. For example in one room I talked to a young lady who was building a webpage as part of a project related to gender inequality.

She is 9 years old.

Throughout the year the students choose issues they want to examine in greater detail. Many of them choose concepts that are hard even for adults to research and understand. The death penalty, economic instability in their community, politics, nuclear war, the lists go on and on. And this is not just happening in the older classrooms. Even the youngest students also have a say in what they learn.

And it's not just the issues that they want to learn but it's the methods in which they get to learn them that is important. In one room students were investigating some design principles related to physics and they choose to build a rollercoaster. We walked in a room where 4 boys were building. What was unique was there wasn't a teacher in sight. They were using saws, drills, all sorts of tools by themselves building a roller coaster. They weren’t off task. They were most solidly on task. They were using the tools, materials, and methods that they felt would get them closer to their goal.

Again, not something that couldn’t happen in any school anywhere. Admittingly it would be a difficult transition to full student autonomy for most but even just allowing students to choose their own paths of discovery could go a long way to reach inquiry driving learning.

Learning Happens As A Part Of A Larger Community-During my visit to Anastasis I heard about countless adventures and service visits and trips all the students take on an almost weekly basis. While I was there the youngest students (4-5 years old) went to visit their “Grand Friends” at a retirement home nearby. But I also heard of excursions to a rescue mission to feed the homeless, a visit to a community garden to see how it could be replicated in their own community and more. The students spend as much time in their classrooms working on individual learning objectives as they do in their community working to understand their place in it.

And that's important.

Kids need opportunities to serve and learn what it's like to be in a community outside of their classroom and school. Why couldn’t time be split between the school house and students completing service projects? Why couldn’t students adopt a cause or a charity they care about and work to raise awareness, volunteer or collect money to donate? Is it possible for most schools to send their students out on field trips once a week? Probably not. But the idea of learning in the greater context of the community is something that could be adopted by all.

I did talk to Kelly about push back. Some will read this or learn more about Anastasis and say “Yeah, but...” Sure they are private. Sure their students are somewhat affluent. Sure they have small class sizes. But Kelly and her school are committed to showing this can work with a little effort. That's why she spends the same amount per student as their public school counterparts. It's not about the money. It's about the culture. It's about what they value as educators. It’s about what learning means to them.

So why don't we work to redefine learning? By focusing on learning being interconnected, personalized, inquiry-based and vested in our communities we can help to foster a deeper understanding and help to create learners that will always love to learn.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Why Open Education Resources Matter #GoOpen

This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Imagine you need to run to the store to get the ingredients to make a cake.

You get the mix, eggs, oil, everything you need to make this most awesome cake.

When you get home you decide that cake isn't really what you want afterall. No, you want another dessert. And since you have these cake ingredients you might as well use them. You're not making the cake anymore, just using the stuff to go in a different direction.

Then a knock at the door.

It's representatives from the cake batter company. They tell you that what you did was wrong. You can't use the ingredients to make anything but cake and you violated their rules. You'll have to go with them to sort things out.


Might not be the best example but that's what happens to educators everyday. We rarely have anyone knocking on our doors but the fact is there is a lot of money in a closed system of education resources. Educators face, on a daily basis, the fact that many of the resources they use are expensive, can't be posted publically, can't be remixed and can't be shared.

This closed system of educational resources only hurts students. Using resources that require a specific piece of technology or can only be used in one particular way only serves to stifle an educator's ability to innovate in their classroom.

We are in a place where Open Education Resources (ORE) are poised to transform classrooms. The US Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology has placed heavy emphasis on the creation and use of OER resources in the classroom. When districts and educators #GoOpen they use copyright free materials, which usually come at no cost, and allow for educators and students to reuse, remix and share.

This short video does a great job of explaining why OER matters.

But you might be thinking these resources can't be all that great if they are free or can be changed around or reused over and over. Actually there are tons and tons of high quality OER resources out there, many can replace most of the paid resources educators are using the classroom right now.

Below are a few of my favorite OER sites and resources.

CK-12: I've been a fan of CK-12 Flexbooks for a really long time. These are OER digital textbooks that can be used in any classroom, for free. They are fully aligned to state and national standards. But beyond that they are completely editable. Educators can edit the text, examples, reorder chapters, completely make a textbook that is theirs, customized to their classroom. All open and all free.

OER Commons: This is a powerful OER search engine that will help you discover lessons and resources created and uploaded by teachers. It's not just lessons either. It's data sets, simulations, assessments, primary source materials and more.

PBS Learning Media: The folks over at PBS are constantly creating powerful shows and the PBS Learning Media site has all the resources to go along with those shows. Everything is sortable by grade or subject area. I can even look at specific standards to find just the right video, simulation or lesson.

MIT Open Courseware: Why stop with open textbooks and open resources. The folks over at MIT Open Courseware have created entire open courses for high school subjects. Biology, history, mathematics are all covered here and available for use and remixing.

These are just four of many. Edutopia has a deep list of OER Resources. I would also recommend spending time looking at the USDOE Open Education site. You can see what districts and states are participating along with some pretty interesting open sets of data. And coming soon, Amazon Education is releasing an OER registry too. So there are tons and tons of places to explore and find the best OER resources for your classroom.


photo credit: Come in, we're open via photopin (license)

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Some Videos of Our Favorite Things From #ASCD16

If I've said it once, I've said it 1000 times.

The ASCD Annual Conference is the must attend conference for any educator each year. The quality of the sessions is not something you find at too many conferences. The shear amount of educational leaders and growers that are so accessible is not something you find at many conferences.

I would save all my pennies each year to come to this conference.

This year I decided to do something a little fun. Rather than wrap up sessions or conversations I thought it would be great to find some emerging technologies on the show floor that are worth telling the world about.

Now this is daunting. The show floor is huge and if you've been to any conference similar to this, there are very few flowers in a sea of weeds. Many of the "tools," books, and other resources aren't worth very much time to talk about. But there are those hidden gems. Those new and exciting tools and resources that could have a great impact on the classroom and on learning.

So with the help of Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) and Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) we hit the show floor to find our favorite things. We broadcasted them live via Periscope and then archived them with to be able to embed here.

We started with Littlebits. Nick and I are both huge fans of these snap together circuits. I'll let Nick tell you more.

We are excited about what Littlebits can do for any classroom. You can learn more by visiting their website or checking them out on Twitter.

Next we visited something I was excited about and that was a virtual reality system where students could get inside a heart, take apart an engine or follow the metamorphosis and transition of butterflies.

You can learn more about what ViziTech can do for your classroom by visiting their website and checking them out on Facebook.

From ViziTech we visited another place all 3 of us were excited about. Robotics in the classroom has been traditionally out of reach. That landscape is changing with EZ-Robot.

Imagine being able to 3D Print your own replacement parts. Or just the fact the pieces snap together. And then with the technology behind coding the robots these could be in any classroom! Check out EZ-Robot at their website and on Twitter.

And lastly something for the little folks. We don't often see high-quality edtech tools for kids 3-8 years old. That is changing with Tiggly. These are manipulatives to use with the iPad that help reinforce concepts related to shapes, colors, numbers, and letters.

As a father with young girls, Tiggly is definitely coming to my house. I love how the apps are all different to help keep kids engaged. And they aren't just drill and practice. There is practical use with the digital storytelling and sharing. Visit Tiggly on the web to learn more and check them out on Twitter.

So there you have it! Our favorite things from #ASCD16. Be sure to check them all out!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reflection Makes Us All Better

Back when I was in the classroom I spent very little time going back over my teaching.

I of course went back over test questions, quizzes, formative assessments and the like to see where students had gaps in their understanding or those content areas we needed to revisit.

But rarely did I sit down and just think about my teaching. What was I doing? Could it be better? Was it effective? What was working well in my lessons that I could perhaps replicate in other lessons?

I regret that. There were so many opportunities I missed to be better or change things in my classroom for my students for the better because I just didn't take the time to reflect.

Reflection is such an important part of the learning process. We ask kids to do it all the time. (Or at least we should be.) As educators the reflection process is just as important for our improvement as it is for students. Even now, in my role or working with schools and districts on communications and technology or presenting at a conference, reflecting on my processes, methods, what I say, what I did, all deserve some internal and external review.

Reflection is how we learn and how we get better.

Whether you spend a great deal of time reflecting and want to do it better or you want to start, there are some great resources out there and some great tools that you can use for the reflection process.

Reflection4Learning-This is a site I have used often to talk about reflection in learning. Geared mostly towards student reflection this site has some great resources like reflection models and how to fit reflection into the classroom. It's been around for a while so some of the tools are a bit outdated, it can, however serve as a jumping off point to more places to learn about reflection in learning.

Learning Through Reflection-In the book Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind from ASCD authors Costa and Kallick explore what habits all educators need to develop to improve. Thanks to them, the full chapter on Reflection is posted for you to check out. In it there are methods to reflection and most importantly why it helps us all improve.

High-Tech Reflection Strategies Help Learning Stick-This great piece from Edutopia not only lays out why students need opportunities to reflect but how technology can help make that process better in the classroom.

In addition to learning about reflection its important to understand there are many technology tools that both students and all educators can use to openly reflect on learning.

Blogs-As you read in the piece from Edutopia blogs can be a great way to openly reflect on our learning and invite the comments of others to help us see differently or think differently. I often use this blog as a place to reflect on my own learning. There are many different blogs and blogging platforms so the choice is really yours. Check out this post I wrote a while back about getting started with blogging and this post on using blogs in the classroom. 

Twitter-I am a huge fan of using Twitter for reflection. I will often tweet out quotes from speakers to reflect upon my own thinking. This give me a platform to engage with others out there on a myriad of issues. Sometimes I get push back from what I tweet and other times I am the one pushing back. The debate and discussion helps us be better and think smarter. Moreover, Twitter chats have proven a great way to discuss, debate and reflect on pressing issues in edu. Visit the Twitter Chat Calendar to find a chat and take part in the discussion. Don't know about Twitter chats? Here is a post about the most popular, #edchat, and how to get involved. 

Recap-Currently in beta this app has the potential to really change reflection in your classroom. When the app is launched students (or could be teachers after a professional development session) record their thoughts and feelings on what they've learned. Videos are uploaded to the site for review by the teacher. When recording the video students (or teachers) can self report their understanding and the platform breaks out those that are still having trouble so you can focus on the learning that matters. I had the chance to take a look at it and if I was still in the classroom this would be a must-have app for me. 

Technology certainly makes capturing and sharing reflection easier and we can do more with it. But there's nothing wrong with good ol' paper and pencil. I carry a journal with me to write down what I am thinking. Sometimes just writing to get words on a page helps me see another side I hadn't considered.

Whatever you use, always take the time to reflect on what you've been learning and teaching. And allow students to do the same!

photo credit: Red and blue via photopin (license)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Quick List STEM Resources For The Classroom

This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 






I had the honor of being both a Middle School Math and Science teacher. Those were some of my fondest times in the classroom, blowing things up (it happened once!) while at the same time being able to connect the math to the science we were doing. I always had a passion for learning about the way the world works and the elegant patterns we find in everyday mathematics. (Heck, I even married a Math Teacher!).

STEM today is so much more than just the 4 areas that make it up. And it's important to embrace STEM in every classroom and at every level. But how can you do that? How can you incorporate Math into Language Arts or Engineering into Social Studies? And beyond that what about the Arts, Coding and Making? Don't those all have a place in the "STEM" classroom?

Here are list of 7 place to learn more about STEM, how you can incorporate it and what you can do with it.

ISTE: Rethinking STEM-ISTE (The International Society for Technology In Education) has a bunch of STEM related resources in their archives. In particular, this blog post that has 5 simple things Educators can do to rethink what they know about STEM. From Following STEM leaders on Twitter to taking in a free webinar there's a reason this on is at the top of the list.

ASCD: STEM Resources-ASCD (Formerly The Association of Curriculum and Development) also has a great list of STEM resources for the classroom. It's a little older but still a great collection of sites to explore.

Teaching Channel: Videos For Making STEM Come Alive-I find myself spending more and more time on the Teaching Channel and this post is why. These videos are great! There are some super lessons here and not only do you get the plan, you can see how it was done in the classroom!

Samsung: STEM Fuse Curriculum-If you are interested in a STEM Curriculum Samsung STEM Fuse is worth a look. It contains Tablets, Guides, Resource Packs and more to get STEM started in the classroom.

PBS Teachers: STEM Education Resource Center-Another not to miss resource set. Here they have tons of Activity Packs, Resources from NASA (which are awesome), discussion boards and more.

Edutopia: STEM to STEAM Resource Guide-Just about everything that comes out of Edutopia is top notch and this is no different. The Arts should be just as much a part of the classroom as Math and Science. It's actually easier than you think to bring in drawing, music and other aspects of the Arts into STEM classroom. This guide has all you need.

Resources For MakerSpaces and 20% Time-This was a post I wrote a while back that has tons of sites, blog posts and personal experiences with Maker and 20% Time. These can be the cornerstone of any good STEM/STEAM Program.

This is far from everything. What are your favorite resources, sites, posts, people to follow when it comes to STEM and STEAM? Leave your thoughts below.

photo credit: IMG_5274 via photopin (license)

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Why Not Become A @Graphite Certified Educator

Y'all know I love Graphite and the work that the folks over at Common Sense Media are doing for educators and students.

Their site is full of helpful tips for digital citizenship, the best apps and sites for a plethora of content areas and so much more. There are lesson plans, boards to share your favorite groups of content, and a community to connect with other educators.

Well now you can do even more with Graphite and become a Graphite Certified Educator.

The aim is to give teachers who are using technology through the course of their teaching a place where they can contribute their ideas, share their failures and successes and learn from a broader community of other educators.

According to the site:

Our Graphite Certified Educators say the best things about being certified include:

  • Being connected to an amazing group of expert educators from across the world.
  • Helping other teachers by sharing their experiences with using tech tools in the classroom.
  • Earning incentives for their efforts and contributions on Graphite.
  • Publicly receiving the credit they deserve for their efforts.
So what do you have to do? 

In order to apply, educators must have registered on Graphite, completed a full profile, and have already created and published on Graphite a minimum of Three high-quality Teacher Reviews and One high-qualityLesson Flow. The site has an explanation of what "high-quality" means as well so you can ensure you're on the right track. There are also some other more basic qualifications like being a good writer, working with kids, etc. You can learn more in the FAQs. 

What do you have to do?

Once approved, over the course of 2016, Graphite Certified Educators will write at least one Lesson Flow (in addition to the Lesson Flow submitted as part of the application). Certified Educators also will engage in four of the below activities in any combination:

  • Writing a Teacher Review
  • Creating a Lesson Flow
  • Writing a blog post
  • Participating in or leading a Graphite Twitter chat
  • Posting in the Graphite community discussion forums
More over you're contributing to a community of educators that is sharing technology best practices with other educators globally. That's pretty awesome!

There's more to learn to head over to the Graphite Certified Educators page to see all that you can do, how you can participate and their pretty sweet list of incentives.