Friday, May 30, 2008

Science Leadership Academy – Lessons Learned

I had the opportunity to join my colleagues for a visit to Chris Lehman’s much lauded (recently to me by Will Richardson and Jason Levy) Science Leadership Academy (SLA). Some of the best professional development I have engaged in is visits to schools that have the kind of reputation and stand for what I believe in. Then I watch, discuss, write, read about, implement, and share the best of what I discover.

Chris Lehman, SLA's founding principal, has distinct views about what he believes schools should be doing for their students as he shared with us and in an Edutopia interview. "When I hear people say it's our job to create the twenty-first-century workforce, it scares the hell out of me. Our job is to create twenty-first-century citizens. We need workers, yes, but we also need scholars, activists, parents -- compassionate, engaged people. We're not reinventing schools to create a new version of a trade school. We're reinventing schools to help kids be adaptable in a world that is changing at a blinding rate."

I knew pretty quickly that I was in for a visit where I was going to be discovering and learning a lot of useful knowledge. My expectations were met. There were many great systems, structures, and philosophies implemented at the school which I’m sure are what lead to its popularity and has resulted in attracting hundreds of visitors each year. Here is some insight into what I learned.
We’re educating humans not animals
When parents ask if SLA will prepare their children to do as well on standardized test as some other schools Mr. Lehman explains that the school is not about test scores. Instead he explains this is a place where students are not judged simply by test scores, but rather it is a place where they consider the students' head, heart, and hands. This was evident during my visit. Something I noticed early was there were no disturbing, ear piercing bells or announcements. When I asked Mr. Lehman to speak about this, he said it was because they were educating humans, not animals being trained to respond to a bell. Instead the students and staff react to the work they are doing, peers, and educators. Periods are 65 minutes each with five minutes for passing which allows for more natural conclusions of class, less frenetic and crowded halls (since not everyone is passing within three minutes) and a more human, less assembly-line feeling, environment. Instead of rushing to your next class at the sound of the bell, it’s more like heading off to your next appointment. Additionally, unlike many other schools classes don't start or end at 42 or 17.5 seconds past the hour. They start and end at times that appointments occur in the real world on the 0's and 5's. 
School-wide, weekly professional development and planning
Every Wednesday from 1:30 – 3:30 the entire staff does the work of professional development and planning based on school needs. The content of these sessions is set by principal with input from the staff. Mr. Lehman believes that he has the experts on hand with his school-based staff to provide for most professional development needs and at times brings educational leaders who influence their work to meet additional needs.
A school without students? How do they learn?
While SLA usually has students, every Wednesday after lunch his entire student body leaves. This is how Mr. Lehman is able to have two-hours every Wednesday for his staff to engage in planning and professional development. This is where some of the students' most meaningful learning occurs.
Where do they go??? Ninth graders go to their learning partner, the Franklin Institute and the rest of their student body attends the institution designated in their Individualized Learning Plans (ILP). As explained on their website three essential questions form the basis of instruction at SLA: How de we learn? What can we create? What does it mean to lead? A student's ILP gives them the opportunity to answer these questions in a new environment. The mission of the Independent Learning Plan Program is prepare students to enter adulthood by giving them the opportunity to develop and answer questions about their career goals, gain real experience working with adult mentors in the working world and expand the classroom into the city of Philadelphia. Students have advisers who oversee their ILPs.

When I asked Mr. Lehman more about the ILPs he said ILPs have allowed the students to discover interests they never knew they had or realize interests they thought they had, but really weren’t what they thought they would be. In some cases these experiences have even resulted in part-time employment. Students have the opportunity to change assignments each semester but most stay with their plan the duration of the school year. They find ILP partners in a variety of ways. One way students have the opportunity to explore and connect with these potential ILP partners is they are invited to the school in a fair type setting so students can explore their options and partners get to know students. Students display their work and accomplishments at the end of the year.

Professional Development and Planning Outside the School Day
Outside of the weekly 1:30 – 3:30 professional development and planning that staff is engaged in, there are a variety of additional opportunities, many of which occur virtually including weekly Monday evening online planning sessions/discussions in which most teachers eagerly participate. In fact as Mr. Lehman explained to us, much of the school was planned virtually months before it opened. As Edutopia reported, before the school even opened teachers and other stakeholders articulated a vision, planned curriculum, designed assessment rubrics, debated discipline policies, and even hammered out daily schedules using the sort of networking tools -- messaging, file swapping, idea sharing, and blogging -- kids love on sites such as MySpace.
Mr. Lehman also encourages his teachers to attend conferences, but with an expectation that they will present at any conference they believe is worth attending. Perhaps the most interesting professional development opportunity for teachers is the SLA hosted EduCon 2.0 described on their wiki as both a conversation and a conference. And it is not a technology conference. It is an education conference. It is a School 2.0 conference. It is an innovation conference where educators come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session is an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas -- from the very practical to the big dreams.
The conference features expert presenters from outside SLA as well as those within the school community. Perhaps most impressive and unique are the featured student presenters like Arthus who is a 14-year-old student who is also a leader in technology and educational implementation. Through his blog, Newly Ancient, Arthus shares his thoughts upon how to change the educational model and integrate technology with pedagogy and philosophy. As a 14-year-old, he offers a unique perspective upon the issues we face in education today. Arthus is an outspoken proponent of giving students a voice in the direction of their learning and believes everybody is both a teacher and a student.
For a peak into other conference presenters click here. To find out about next year’s conference click here.
Recruiting Teachers
A small insight into Mr. Lehman's efforts to recruit teachers is called for here. Those who've worked in education may be wondering at this point how SLA has a staff that is committed to working to plan a school before it even opens, having weekly Monday evening conversations, and are folks motivated to travel the world speaking at conferences. Mr. Lehman has recruited teachers in a variety of ways, but a rather unusual method at this point in history is through his blog. Mr. Lehman wrote of his intentions in his blog and as a result many educators passionate about his vision asked to join him. He has readers from around the world and a large number of his staff was recruited from outside of Philly. One of his favorite interview questions: who are the educational leaders that most impact who you are as a leader, teacher, and learner?

In the Classroom
When touring around the classrooms and speaking with students and teachers I discovered a lot of great and different practices being implemented.

The first thing I noticed was the tone of the school. Despite the physical environment (a bit factory-ish) the tone of the school was anything but that familiar cold factory feel prevalent in many schools. The atmosphere was more relaxed, there were lots of smiles and engagement from the students, the teacher blended into the classrooms rather than standing front and center. In addition to the teacher as facilitatorm students seemed to be learning independently, from each other, in collaboration with their ILP partners, their school partners, and in general through learning networks they had developed.

Students and teachers shared that they are assessed using a customizable rubric with a standard structure. Mr. Lehman explained that this is one of the many ways in which they reduce situations where students have to figure out the teachers. Using a common or shared language is another. Students know what and how they’re assessed across the school. What I really liked with the assessment is that the teacher often is not the sole assessor of student work. Much of their work is evaluated by peers and/or their learning partners. There are a number of learning partners across the school. The partnerships are formed based on the actual needs of the project and could be organizations such as NASA or expert authors, engineers, or scientists. Testing is not the basis for most assessments. Students at SLA learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes. Some of the most interesting part of what I learned from students and teachers was the presentation part of their work.
Something I noticed that I found interesting is that when speaking of written projects teachers and students often refer to project length in minutes rather than the traditional “500 or 1000 word essay.” This seemed to be true even if the work they are doing is an essay. This makes sense since their work eventually becomes a presentation so the focus is on the presentation length rather than the length of the writing which is ultimately driven by the final product. The presentations students produce take on great forms and are driven but what the students and staff deem most effective to convey their message. A presentation may be a podcast uploaded to iTunes, a video uploaded to YouTube, or a discussion they are preparing to have with an elected official to try to drive change.
Publishing Student Work on YouTube
In a literacy class I visited I spoke with a few students and their teacher about the project they were working on. Students were working collaboratively in groups of 3 or 4 to write a short 5 – 7 minute play and using Google docs as the tool to do the collaborative writing. Once the plays are complete students will perform their work and many will tape their performances and post the videos on YouTube. I asked if YouTube was filtered at the school and the answer was yes. I asked, then why not publish to an unfiltered site like TeacherTube. The common sense answer was that students determine how they want their work celebrated, shared and who their audience is. There were no students who felt TeacherTube served the audience they wanted to reach. The school teaches students to produce work for their real-world in the real environments in which they operate.
The Technology-less Technology Lab
One of the things I loved seeing at SLA was their technology lab which was devoid of any technology. Instead it had really comfortable chairs and tables. If you’re a School 2.0-er this makes perfect sense to you. Technology/productivity is tied to people, not places. All SLA students travel with their own laptop and with laptop and internet access you harness a tremendous amount of 21st Century educational power.
I love the technology curriculum for the school because as I’ve rarely seen elsewhere, it is driven by the non-technology, content curriculum. The content teachers share what their plans are for the year and collaborate with the school technology specialist on what skills would make sense for her to reinforce based on the curricular goals. The idea of PowerPoint by grade X and Excel by grade Y has no place. Additionally it can have no place because many of the technologies that she will be teaching we may not even have heard of yet. How could there be a technology curriculum when just a few years ago most people didn’t even know what wiki, rss, Twitter, or Ustream meant. I love it!
Tech Support
The school does most of it’s own tech support with a combination of having a tech-savvy staff and a MOUSE Squad student tech support team. One very innovative idea the school is employing is using low-cost laptops as temporary replacement devices for students. The students believe these devices are sub par when compared to regular laptops, but they get the job done. A nice thing about this is it enables all students to have continual access to technology and serves as reinforcement for doing everything in your power to ensure your laptop does not need to be swapped.
Home-School Connection
Students use laptops as an extension of their brain/work and it doesn't appear this school could function as it does without enabling students to take their laptops with them when they leave school. Mr. Lehman does not have an elaborate security plan around this. The laptops are treated much like other instructional tools students carry. However, each student is provided with a nondescript backpack (important) that has a padded sleeve for protection. To date there have been few issues with device theft. He adds that enabling students to bring devices home reduces issues some schools have with overnight theft of devices within schools or holiday break ins. During the summer laptops are refurbished with the help of the school MOUSE squad.
I saw much more than this during my short visit, but I think this is a good start at sharing some of the great ideas that are being implemented at SLA. I hope my insights have inspired some new ideas for others. If they have please take a moment to comment on how, what, or why.
To learn more about the school you can visit their website, the principal’s blog, their fantastic family guide, read this article from Edutopia: My School, Meet MySpace: Social Networking at School, this one from Technology and Learning's Visit to SLA or read what the Techomnivore had to say about his experience during A visit to the Science Leadership Academy. You can also visit the school by Contacting the School to schedule an appointment.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Developing Mentors from Your Personal Learning Network

I recently commented on The Brazen Careerist post entitled How I got my current favorite mentor. Many readers wrote to ask how they could go about getting mentors along with questions about how to ask someone to be your mentor. This made me reflect on who my favorite mentors were, further question the actual meaning of mentor, and wonder about the relationship between personal learning networks and mentors. I realized that my fav five mentors had never been formally named as such and I had not told any of them the role they played in my life. Instead the relationship developed organically through their role in my personal learning network.

A personal learning network (pln) can be defined as a collection of people and resources that guide your learning, point you to learning opportunities, answer your questions, and give you the benefit of their own knowledge and experience. In the 21st Century there are many tools to help these networks along including websites, social networks, rss feeds, and podcasts that allow you to have advice and guidance from your personal learning network mentors delivered right to you.

Even though I had not formally defined these people as my mentors, I realized that at any given moment they were with me in my daily life as my advisory committee who guides my actions, reactions, decisions and writing. Here is a peak into my PLN mentors (listed alphabetically), how they mentor me and what I hear them saying to me that influences my work.

My Top Five Personal Learning Network Mentors

Alan November

What I hear him saying: How are we helping students develop skills that will enable them to succeed in a global society?
How he mentors me: Through reading his book, articles, attending his workshops, great conversations, and email communication.

Lucy Calkins

What I hear her saying: It is important to develop purposes for authentic writing/reading and model this in our own practice. It is important for teachers and students to know they are experts and help them find their motivation to read and write for authentic reasons. How are we publishing and celebrating our work?
How she mentors me: Through reading her books, attending workshops, and lively emails that push my thinking.


What I hear him saying: IMMERSE yourself in a topic and spend TIME growing to see multiple perspectives on a topic. Whenever ANYONE makes a public statement they are claiming some expertise in the matter they are talking about. I learned this in Bible college -- every time a preacher gets up there is a degree of arrogance, a degree of conviction, and a subtheme that includes proclaiming to be an authority in the area.

How he mentors me: Through reading his blog, Technology and Learning column, tweets, heated conversations and debates in person and via email.

The Brazen Careerist

What I hear her saying: What's your point? Who's your audience? How will you get them to hear you?

How she mentors me: Through reading her blog, books, and tweets, emailing, texting, and talking.

Will Richardson

What I hear him saying: What is your digital footprint? Who do you want the world to know you are?

How he mentors me: Through reading his blog, book, and tweets, hearing his keynotes, email communication about thoughts and advice.

As I write this I wonder who considers me one of their personal learning network mentors? Do any of my mentors reciprocally consider me their mentor? How have personal learning networks impacted others? Coincidently, as I was writing this I received an email from one of my PLN members with a link that readers can visit to see the impact of PLNs on other innovative educators.

Friday, May 23, 2008

X's & O's for the OLPC XO - A View from the Classroom

As my colleague and I were debriefing on our visit to Kappa IV middle school in Central Harlem where we saw a class in action using the OLPC XO laptop, she said, “Wow! These kids really had the freedom to learn.” I answered, “That’s the whole point isn’t it?” As what she said, sunk in I said, "Wait. Isn’t that the name of a laptop program? I think it is.” I was right. Freedom to Learn is Michigan’s laptop program. The OLPC sure brought the concept to life. Many of my grown up colleagues have tested XO devices with mixed reactions, but most have yet to see them being used by a class full of students. Read on to find out how the XOs gave this class the freedom to learn.

Teaching Matters is piloting a set of OLPC laptops in a middle school in Harlem to determine if the laptop will provide the access necessary to take advantage of the programs they offer to support technology-rich learning environments. The first program they are testing is Writing Matters which is designed to enhance literacy instruction. Though this is how the laptops made their way to the school, the lesson I observed was an original from the teacher and not a part of the TMI program.

Entering The Class
I was in the class prior to the students which allowed me to see how they interact with their laptops at the top of the class. The first thing I look to see is if the laptops are a "learning tool" or a “production.” What I mean is that in some 1:1 environments the amount of time it takes for students and the teacher to get ready for learning is highly disruptive to the learning environment…it is not seamlessly integrated as notebooks and textbooks are. In other words, it's not really part of instruction. This is a reason some teachers and administrators are turned off by technology.

Before the students had arrived, one disappointing issue we noticed was that the laptop power chargers did not fit in laptop carts. That’s an issue for sure. The plugs are too big. As a result there were surge protectors and plugs snarled outside the cart. Not good. We’ll have to determine a solution for that.

The snarled cords had no effect on the students though. As they entered the room students went to the laptop cart got their device and had a seat. Two students headed directly to the front of the room pulled the SMART Board to the center of the class and connected the instructor laptop and projector. This was completed in about a minute. Within a couple minutes everyone was at their seat and the class began with a hand-clapping, foot-stomping chant. In less than five minutes of when the first student entered the room all eyes were at the front of the room and instruction began on a very upbeat.

Mr. Almanzar began his mini lesson with an overview of what the class had learned so far about writing plays. They went over the seven essential elements to consider when writing play direction which included things such as indicating motion and emotion. The students were given a sample passage and were asked to copy the passage and infuse some of the appropriate seven direction elements into their work. After that, groups of three were to act out their plays by taping themselves with the infused direction (i.e. trembled, happily, with trepadation), then they watched their video to see if they brought these elements to life.

While Mr. Almanzar was speaking all laptops were closed and the students were eagerly listening and sharing insights as appropriate. The students were really engaged in what he had to say, excited to know what they were about to be able to start doing. When Mr. Almanzar was done, he said, “Okay, are you ready to start playing???” The students anxiously opened their laptops and got to work. I found myself wondering if Mr. Almanzar should have said, “Are you ready to start playing?" This is school work after all. I was trying to reflect on why this was an issue to me and it hit me. Back in the NYC BOE days when Project Smart (4 computers in a classroom) was launched, many teachers saw computers just as a reward and sent “the good” students to “play computer.” They were not seen as part of instruction. In Mr. Almanzar’s class, learning had become playing and the kids couldn’t wait to get started.

Work time
The students got to work right away. I’m a great eavesdropper and I couldn’t find a single group or student doing anything other than the task at hand. The students copied Mr. Almanzar’s dialogue from the board onto paper and then were to begin editing their work to infuse the seven elements.

It took about 15 minutes for the students to copy the dialogue and infuse elements. One thing I would have done differently is avoid having students copy work off the board and onto paper. There are two reasons for this. One is about efficiency. Copying took the kids about ten minutes and could have been accomplished by having them download the dialogue off the internet or through passing some usb drives around the room. If this was a routine they were used to, it could have been done non-disruptively during the lesson. The second part is that I would have instructed students to type directly on their laptops. Some students thought to do this, but I would make it explicit. This then would serve as a real-looking script they could edit and revise. Taking this another step, I may have used a Google Collaborative document set up in advance for each group that they could have collaboratively revised and had available to them. This way download wouldn’t even be necessary.

Still it was a great lesson and the kids were excited for the good stuff. They infused the elements and were ready to test out their screen directions and see what happens when they taped themselves acting out what they wrote. Each group had three laptops. In some groups they had used one laptop as the teleprompter for their acting. In other groups they set up all three laptops taping from different angles. One group had a violinist who played music to accompany the work.

It was loud and a bit difficult to hear each piece, but the learning absolutely occurred and the kids were excited about what they saw. Many adults who’ve seen the XOs complain about video quality. This was besides the point. The tool did the job of capturing the kids and allowing them to view and reflect upon their work. They weren’t concerned about a high-quality technical production.

Mr. Almanzar went to each group of students and conferred with them on the elements they selected to infuse into their scene and how they could bring this to life on video. The students were excited to get his feedback and recommendations and show him what they had discovered when they tried different strategies.

Mid Workshop Teaching Point
Mr. Almanzar asked students to watch their videos and let that influence how they would revise their scripts to capture the action and direction more accurately and then take 2. The kids were excited to watch and revise. Imagine that? Kids excited to revise. Impressive.

Work Time Continued
The students all watched their videos, reflected on their work and revised their writing. Students started noticing the techniques other groups were using and incorporating those ideas i.e. multiple laptops, teleprompters.

Work Time Noticings

  • Every laptop has a different color “X” and “O”. This is how class sets come. Everyone is different. When students have their laptops on they can look at a view where they see every other student in the class by the color of their XO and they can click on the student to see their name and do other things like share documents and chat.
  • The file storage system is interesting and very simple for the students. They can view file by file type i.e. writing document, video, etc. and also by when it was saved i.e. today, past few days, past week, past month, past year. The laptop also indicates their name on the file (i.e. by Lisa Nielsen) This becomes important when students are sharing documents. I also recommend Google Docs and Wikispaces for file storage when applicable so as not to use limited file space on the device. See how this is done at CIS 339 in NYC for insight into how that would work.
  • The laptops connect to the internet slowly, but easily at school. The ease of connection was due to some heavy lifting from Teaching Matters and the NYC DOE's DIIT Department upfront which you can read about in their blog in entries like this.
  • The swivel screen allows students to easily share their work with their peers and they're excited to do so.
  • Students are excited they get to use the devices at home. More on that below.
  • There is no projector port on the devices. They get a big thumbs down from me for this. One of the strategies we love teaching is that every student is a teacher and should be proudly projecting, teaching and celebrating their work at the front of the class. I hope the design on this changes or that we get usb projectors. This is an issue.

Full Disclosure
My colleague and I couldn’t just watch what was going on. We couldn’t help it. We wanted to be a part of the action. We joined a group and played...errrr worked with them to act out the play full with stage direction. It was fun!!!

At the conclusion of the lesson Mr. Almanzar brought a group up for the class to watch together and he lead them through how to thoughtfully watch their dramatization and think about how the seven elements were incorporated and consider what could be revised. The students learned to critically look at their work and collaboratively reflect on how to strengthen it.

Ending Class
Mr. Almanzar matter of factly said, okay table 1 and 2. Table 3, 4. etc…Within minutes the kids were packed up and out the door.

Taking Devices Home
In my experience, one-to-one can not fully reach potential success without enabling students to take devices home. Since this is the student’s digital assistant, they need the device to access work, retrieve information and connect to others. The low cost of these laptops (under $300 makes this less of an issue. I spoke to students about how they feel about taking the laptops home and boy were they excited! They told me their parents and guardians were so impressed with the work they were doing and their siblings were VERY jealous. However, one of the great things about this pilot is they have student bloggers, so rather than hear it from me, I’ll share a few excerpts straight from the students. Notice how one student Blogger connects with an educator from Minneapolis (first comment below) to assist with the student’s research on ferrets. How amazing is that???

XO internet search

At first the wireless in the neighborhood did not work. but then i rebooted it and then i got internet. The first time it was not easy because the wireless was not flashing. The second time was easy because i just had to click on another persons. I am going to try to do it at home tonight. I am researching about ferrets.

One Response to “XO internet search”

  1. on February 25, 2008 at 12:17 am1 Mr. Knaus

Hello! I am a teacher in Minneapolis and fan of the XO laptop. I have one that I am using but am hoping for a class set. I’m writing to tell you that I owned a ferret for 6 years before he got very sick. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you might have about living with a ferret or any other ferret questions.

Good luck with your research and your XO!

-Mr. Knaus

XO First Impressions

I was very excited to take my xo laptop home. As soon as I got home, I went to record. I showed my family how to take pictures, record videos, and do more things on the xo as well. I was able to connect to the Internet very easily.

My dad was amazed at how much the little xo could do! I can’t wait to explore more on the xo. -CRA

My feature article is about the potential depressive dangers of video games

Since I have had my XO for the last 4 weeks, I have been able to do a lot of research. I am not able to see the internet all of the time on my XO, but that is o.k. We were told to just keep writing on the XO and save our work. I have taken the xo home with me like my friends. I get to do extra work with it and catch up when i fall behind in class.

4 weeks in counting

Having a xo made me really feel happy because it’s like a little toy but a toy that you helps you get better as a writer and etc. I feel i got a good grade because of the xo it helped me write fast and put me in a position that made me really think of ways of making my feature article better and better every week.

I can’t think of a better note to leave you on then these experts from the students. If you want to read more you can visit what Kappa Students entered on the blog here.


Were there any surprises in what I’ve shared?
What do others think or have they found when using sub laptops?

What do you think of the work as play concept?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cell Phones to Enhance Education - Update

Several of those who read my blog ask that I keep them updated on various blog posts. Here’s a peak into my day when the Sun article appeared in relation to my post on The Value of Using Cell Phones to Enhance Education and Some Concrete Ways to Do So.

Excerpt from the email from my mother…
- How long has the schools system's technology department been offering teachers the classes on how to incorporate cell phones into lesson plans? Shouldn't Mayor Bloomberg have been aware of these classes?
Me – We began offering this class this year. As far as I’m aware the Mayor has never discussed or inquired about classes or asked for our thoughts on his decision to ban cells. I would invite him to do so.
Mom - How would you be able to control student's use of cell phones to only things involving classes and education, if the ban were lifted?
– It would be similar to what we do with laptops. Year 1: I would recommend that leaders who are interested incorporating cell phones into their schools have teachers attend professional development on how they can harness the power of cells in education. I would point them to many of the ideas and resources I share in my post about The Value of Using Cell Phones to Enhance Education and Some Concrete Ways to Do So. I would share the blog and soon-to-be-published book From Toy to Tool – Cell Phones in Learning dedicated to conversing on methods for integrating cell phones into classroom learning by Liz Kolb. I would ensure the teachers were modeling best practices of using cell phones for their students and I would point them to the website I feature in my class simulating cell phones so they can show kids how they can use cell phones to gain knowledge.
Year 2: I would have teachers and students write a proposal about how they intend to enhance education with cell phones and have teachers and students have a hand in creating and agreeing to an acceptable use policy that outlines consequences for unacceptable use.
Mom - I am proud that you are comfortable speaking out and making your views known. However, I still feel that as far as the blog is concerned if you attach your blog URL to your school e-mail it can be construed that the NYC Bd of Ed is endorsing your blog.
Me – If I include my phone are they endorsing my conversations? If I include my email, are they endorsing my emails? If I include my address are they endorsing all the professional development I deliver? I am not promoting including recreational blogs, but rather professional blogs that are extension of our work. I also am fine including a disclaimer on my blog. I would hope my employer, the DOE would endorse having teachers share their voice and celebrate the few of us who are doing things to push ideas and conversations about education. I understand they have a right not to, but I am disappointed.

Excerpt from the email from 20/20's John Stossel…
Him -
Good for you.

Questions/comments from participants in the class containing Google SMS…
- Wow, I never knew cells had all these great educational applications. Can we use ours in class to show our kids?
Me - I’m not sure. Ask your principal, but you can certainly use the website I shared.
Them – This would be so great on field trips! Since that’s outside of schools can students bring their cells to learn there?
Me – I’m not sure since they can’t enter the school with the phones. Ask your principal.
Them – If kids could use cells in school, how would we make sure they were used the right way?
Me – See answer to my mom.
Them – But if we had cells in school kids could use them to capture pictures and videos of teachers doing things wrong and put them on the internet and they could take pictures and videos of each other and put them on the internet.
Me – Ummm…cameras aren’t banned. Laptops which also can capture photo and video are not banned. These issues exist regardless of whether or not we allow students to use cell phones.

A Quirk in the System?
Ironically one of the class participants worked at Dial a Teacher.
Me – So you work at Dial a Teacher?
Her – Yes, I do.
Me – Can you share a little about what you do?
Her – Yes. Students call to get help with their homework and teachers help them over the phone.
Me – So, kids are using phones to get help with their learning?
Her – Well, yes.
Me – What are the hours of Dial a Teacher?
Her – Monday – Thursday from 4 – 7, but budget cuts are going to shut us down.
Me – Interesting. Maybe after this class you’ll have some ideas about how Dial a Teacher can let students know another way they can use their phone to help them with their homework.

Request from the NYC DOE School Library Services Coordinator after taking the class –
I want to thank you for a fabulous Google Apps class tonight. I was thrilled to see that you used our own Information Fluency Continuum to frame the discussion of infusing Web 2.0 tools into the inquiry process. I invite the two of you to present this valuable workshop to the 800+ school librarians we are expecting at our Fall Conference on November 4. Please let me know if you can join us.

Excerpt from my conversation on the car ride home from the class with my boyfriend.
– How was your day?
Him – Pretty good. I was at a medical training and the trainer was making reference to some terms I didn’t know. Fortunately you taught me how to Google SMS and I quietly tapped in define: chorea then define: dysphasia. Within seconds the Google response came back and I was relieved not to have to interrupt the class or distract other participants to find out what those terms meant.

What the press is saying...

New York teachers learn cell phone lessons -
Lisa Nielsen, the creator of the class and a manager of professional development at ... is not to undermine Mayor Michael Bloomberg's school cell phone ban. ...

Despite School Cell Phone Ban, Course Sees Them as Aid - May 16 ...
The creator of the class, Lisa Nielsen, who manages professional development ... encourage teachers and principals to flout Mr. Bloomberg's cell phone ban. ...

NYConvergence - A digest of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut ...
In spite of Mayor Bloomberg's cell phone ban, the Department of Education is offering ... Lisa Nielsen, the course's creator and the manager of professional ...

-Chalk Talk - 4/16/08

Cellphones for Learning? Check it out! Great post for great conversation!

May 16 in Angela Maiers Educational Services · Authority: 231

-Cellphones in the Classroom!? Crazy but I like it.

In an educational settings where technology is scarce, it might just be that every student has technology in his or her pocket– a cellphone. So how can we take advantage of cellphones in the classroom? In another blog post I found these ideas: 10 Ideas for Using Cell Phones in Education 1. Student response polling or pop quizzes (no need to invest in additional devices) 2. Use sms to find definitions, currency conversion, math equations, translation and more 3. Use as an internet browser to access endless information

May 16 in Blog English, Baby!

-Cell phones in school

Thankfully, some people out there, smarter than I, challenge the conventional wisdom and give me ideas that I can use in the future.
Check out this NY Sun article where Lisa Nielsen talks about ways to use cell phones in the classroom, which, of course, one can’t actually do when cell phones are banned. Finding Lisa’s blog there has now brought me up to 37 education blogs I follow.
May 17
in geek.teacher

What T.H.E. Journal is saying...

Fill 'Er Up
Rather than banish cell phones from the classroom, educators are loading the devices with content and capitalizing on their versatile instructional capabilities.
by Rama Ramaswami
May 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why Every Parent and Teacher Should Learn MySpace and Facebook and A 30-Day Guide To Losing Your Digital as a Second Language (DSL) Accent

As our Cyber Safety class approaches and in light of the recent Megan Meier cyber bullying suicide case, I'm reminded of the importance of ensuring digital immigrant parents and teachers are empowered with ways to become comfortable communicating with their digital natives kids who never knew a world without chatting, social networking, and texting. Currently most adults still have what Marc Prensky refers to as a DSL (digital as a second language) accent to some extent which educational technology expert Will Richardson brings to light when he speaks about this around the world. Richardson explains, “Often in my presentations I ask how many folks are teaching MySpace or Facebook in their schools. Not teaching with MySpace, but teaching the literacies of networking through the lens of a SNS. Rarely do more than a few hands go up.”

The reality is that until recently I was among those whose hand didn’t go up. Like many other immigrants, I was being an irresponsible innovative educator because although I had joined Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, they just weren’t a place for me. Despite my membership, I was not active. Mainly because it was not until recently that people in my physical network became active in those spaces in ways I would want to connect with them. However, I realized I had to start Educating More Innovatively and fortunately I also recently became aware of Classroom 2.0. This is social network that people in my physical world were also a part of and in ways I would want to connect with them. I connected and reconnected with people around the city and around the globe to get, give, and share useful advice, suggestions and ideas. When I became comfortable I started my own Social Network for Innovative Educators so I could connect in new ways with those I meet here and in my physical world. This network also provides a safe place for those just getting their feet wet in the whole social networking arena. In my informal conversations I've learned most have never been a member of a social network before (good profile question). I do my best to help guide them along the way (both inside and outside the network) with what I've learned so far. That’s a good thing because part of my job is to ensure that people know the importance of Social Networking For Innovative Educators and Parents.

It wasn't until last summer that my colleague The Techomnivore opened my eyes to the obvious importance of connecting and communicating with students in their environment when we were collaborating on the creation of the NYC DOE’s Family Guide to Internet Safety. I sent him the 2006 version of the guide which was devoid of this advice. He thankfully included information ensuring the guide contained information on communicating with students in their world. Whether it’s a school dance, a playground, the mall, or a park, or the internet, chatting, texting, or networking, students need us around their world as their chaperons, guides, and protectors to ensure they are safely, appropriately and acceptably engaging in activities.

As our upcoming Cyber Safety class approaches next Tuesday I realize the need to incorporate this message. Going forward, I will invite participants to read this post and others like it (please recommend more in the comments) and encourage them to join a social network where they will have an opportunity to become comfortable in the environment into which our digital natives kids were born. To help my fellow immigrants succeed in losing some of that DSL accent and become comfortable communicating with the natives I am sharing the plan that has worked for me.

My 30-Day Guide to Losing Your Digital Accent


Join a social network that you really are interested in.

Innovative Educators can start here.

Parents can look here.

Educators can look here.

Job seekers can look here.

Volleyball players can look here.

Hint: I don’t have a secret great list of every site for every interest. I just did a subject search at (Just one of many ways you can search. Another is to do a search for "your activity" and "social network.") Do it and join! It’s free.

Week One:

Look around and see what’s going on. What might you be able to dig into? This is called lurking. There is a lot to discover. You can start by investigating interest groups to join. See who is friends with who. See if you know anyone. See who's friend you may want to be. Find out what people are discussing.

Week Two:

Start participating in the network. Make friends. Participate in conversations. Join a group. Update your profile. Work on “My Page.” Think about kids when you’re doing this and what you would teach them.

Week Three:

Take a deep breath and join MySpace, Facebook or whichever site you feel is applicable. Put what you learned from your network to work.

Week Four

You’re ready. Really! Request friendship from your kids/students. Start talking to them in their space, but don’t be a space invader! Remember, it’s just like the mall, playground or social dance. You want them to know you’re there, and can pop up anytime, (and you know many of them secretly find comfort in that), but they don’t want their space to be invaded or to be embarrassed. Discuss your space, their space, your page, their page. Be their mom, dad, teacher. Guide. Facilitate. And, let them teach you too!

I asked social networking pro The Techomnivore if he would add anything to my plan. Here's what he shared.

My advice would be to tell them to join facebook and look for their special interest group within facebook so that they experience the synergy and purpose of social networking in its true form -- where there is people to connect to. AND they can find old friends, AND they become fluent in the network of their children, AND they can connect with special interest groups of ANY topic.

So what are you waiting for???? Go join the natives! I bet you’ll even discover that you enjoy exploring new territory and finding new friends.


Want to learn more?

Read Social Networking for Innovative Educators and How I Use Social Networking to Keep My Students Engaged All Summer Long

Join the Classroom 2.0 discussion here.

Need help using social networks in an educational setting? Join Ning in Education.

Read more about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants here.

Read ‘07 The Year of the Network, ‘08 The ‘Live Web’.

Check out this presentation Embrace MySpace: Safe Uses of Social Networking with Students

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Five Googley Ideas to Engage Learners

Google has become a terrific teaching and learning partner to me over the years which is one of the reasons I was excited to become a Google Certified Educator (GCT). Now, one year later, I am reflecting upon my Fav Five (and freee!) Google educational tools and then I’ll give ya a peak into how they can be used to enhance classroom instruction.

Fav Five GooglelyTools to Enhance Instruction

Earth - Explore the world from your computer

Docs - Create and share your projects online and access them from anywhere

Book Search - Search the full text of books

Translate - View web pages or any text in other languages

SMS - Use text messaging for quick info about anything you can imagine

These are incredible tools with amazing educational value, but you’ve heard that before about other technologies, nodded your head in agreement but perhaps also wondered…how???? I’ve collaborated with some colleagues to come up with a couple classes that show exactly how these tools can be used to enhance teaching and learning.

Get Going with Google Research Applications class

In this class participants discover how various Google research tools can enhance their ability to use the inquiry process and build understanding. The Information Fluency Continuum is used as a guide to thinking about these research tools. Participants leave able to use a Google collaborative document to develop and share thinking, and tools to discover and create knowledge including Google SMS, Google Scholar, Google Books, Google Blog Search, and Google Translate. Here is an outline of each session.

Enrich a Severe Weather Unit with Google Apps

In this class participants become hurricane detectives and discover how to use Google Apps, such as Google Earth and Google Collaborative Docs, to support a “Severe Weather” unit of study. Here is an outline of each session.

Google Me at...
In this class participants discover and explore how they can create an active digital footprint that will impact how they are seen by Google. Here is an outline of each session.

*Note: this class has yet to be created. If you are interested in collaborating to create it go here.

Innovative educators can access all materials in these classes for free and use them to enhance teaching and learning in their own communities. If you do, or plan to, please comment here to share your plans or results.

Good luck in your Googley Goings On.


Learn more.
Join the I Love Google group here.
Join the conversation about using Google Apps here.
Visit Google for Educators.
Learn how to become a Google Certified Teacher.
Explore Google Classroom Activities.
Learn to use Google Apps for ePortfolios here.
Read how about Digital Storytelling with Google Maps
See how CIS 339 in the Bronx uses Google to Build Professional Learning Communities.