Thursday, April 30, 2009

Free Video Resource with Lesson Plans and Standards Alignment for New York Educators

VITAL NEW YORK is a new resource from Thirteen/WNET that innovative New York educators may be interested in learning more about. It is a FREE online library of digital multimedia resources for the K-12 classroom that features dynamic public television video and interactive content. VITAL NY brings the world into the classroom by providing real-life applications of concepts that engage students and stimulate discussion and learning. The collection has over 2000 resources and is fully aligned to the NY State Learning Standards and designed to support the New York State core curriculum.

The videos provide a powerful resource to enhance teaching and learning as was shared by the following feedback from these New York teachers who said:
  • I loved not having to make up activities or lessons to go along with the videos. It's also made me smarter in choosing videos. I really like the format of using short videos and follow-up activities.
  • It might be that using the computer to show the clips and the short duration of the clips gives students the impression that it is more important. Who would have thought to use a video clip to improve reading comprehension skills? But it works.
  • It was great to hear the comments from my students on how 'fun' it was to watch a video AND learn!! I think using VITAL helped my students (especially those with special needs) expand their thinking in different ways.

NYS Educators: Access VITAL NY at (First visit requires simple, free self-registration.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gates Foundation & Stephen Colbert Team Up to Support Teachers Looking to Fund Innovative Educational Ideas that Prepare Kids for College Success

In my new role as a Technology Innovation Manager I have been working furiously on writing three grants that will provide funding for schools across Manhattan to receive support in educating innovatively with 21st Century tools. The grants are $700,000 each per year for three years. If funded these grants will definitely support schools in implementing innovative practices, however, what I, and the schools, need to keep in mind is that these grants are just a piece of the puzzle and while they will certainly support schools in using technology to enhance teaching and learning, they will need to find ways to supplement and grow upon the opportunities provided by the grant.

At a classroom level when I was a teacher, library media specialist, staff developer, and literacy coach one of my favorite and most effective ways I found to support the innovative practices I was trying to implement was At there is a simple process where you can write a grant for what you want funded and philanthropists looking to contribute can select your project and fund it in exchange for a follow up narrative and photos sharing with them how they helped impact student achievement.

Now the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is putting some additional muscle behind the organization with something called the “Double Your Impact” program to fund 50 percent of teachers’ classroom projects aimed at promoting college readiness among students in high-need and underserved urban and rural public schools. I see this as a great vehicle for teachers at schools who are awarded grants and trying to supplement their efforts in using technology to educate innovatively.

I was honored to be invited to the program announcement this week at an event moderated by TV personality Stephen Colbert, a board member (Sadly, work related to the looming grant deadline prevented me from attending). “Double Your Impact” will be funded with a $4.1 million investment from the Gates Foundation and is expected to support more than 17,000 classroom projects, touching more than 300,000 students across the nation. By enabling to contribute half of the required dollars, the grant helps to incentivize individual “citizen philanthropists” to donate and accelerate the process of fully funding projects.

“Teachers across the country are creating classroom projects and lessons that engage kids in creative and innovative ways. Generous citizen philanthropists, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s invaluable support, are making sure they have the materials needed to spark the passion for learning,” said Charles Best, founder and CEO of “This grant helps us drive attention and contributions to projects aimed at preparing kids to succeed in college.”

“ supports teachers in a truly powerful way—engaging the public in support of teachers and the innovative energy they bring to the classroom,” said Vicki L. Phillips, director of education at the Gates Foundation. “We hope this partnership will give citizen donors an added incentive to support projects that empower public school teachers to help prepare students to graduate ready to succeed in college and beyond.”

“ allows people from all walks of life to help specific classrooms directly,” said Stephen Colbert. “As I endeavor to protect our children from bears, is protecting public school kids from classrooms that lack the materials necessary to rigorously prepare them for college.”

While many organizations raise funds for basic school supplies, the model supports specific classroom projects that are submitted and designed by any public school teacher in the U.S. to further defined educational goals. Under the “Double Your Impact” initiative, the requests eligible for 50 percent funding from through the grant from the Gates Foundation are those that promote college-readiness. Such projects include student trips to college campuses as well as classroom books, SAT/ACT preparation materials, and other resources that strengthen the learning experience.

“ has helped provide the additional materials, such as college essay prep books, that can help teachers like me create programs that are targeted to the unique needs of our students and get them really excited about learning,” said Elizabeth Smith, a teacher at Manhattan Bridges High School where the announcement was made. “My goal is to create opportunities for my students to learn in innovative, inspiring ways. This has made all the difference in what our students believe they can achieve.”

To date, 88,000 public and charter school teachers have used the site to secure funding for $30.3 million in books, art supplies, technology, and other resources that their students need to learn. Visit, and help your class join the 1.8 million students who have already benefited from the support provided by

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Immunization for an Uninteresting Curriculum Found at the iSchool

Here I sit in this boring class

Oh how slowly the time does pass

A wasted hour every day

Doing busy work, but receiving no pay.

-Excerpt from a poem I wrote in science class at age 14

As I shared in my first post when I launched this blog, the primary reason I began working in education was to address the issues of boredom and irrelevance which I had experienced in schools. This is my constant reminder as I see other kids like me who are literally bored to tears in class. My teachers, some who threatened to quit if I were to remain in their classes, had to deal with kids like me who screamed out in Marc Prensky-fashion, “Engage Me or Enrage Me!!!” I demanded my teachers make class relevant, stimulating, fun. Unfortunately back then such spirited outbursts usually fell on deaf ears or landed me in the principal’s office. Alternatives were sparse as there was little opportunity for my voice to be heard. Today, as Sir Kenneth Robinson shares, kids like me would fall victim to a more current epidemic…the rate of children who are diagnosed (and prescribed medication for) ADD/ADHD. His opinion is that students are being diagnosed and drugged to cope with an uninteresting curriculum. I agree and provide for you a prescription to treat kids suffering from the uninteresting curriculum syndrome…

The iSchool

At the iSchool all students are involved in real-world, authentic curriculum where they are involved with addressing actual societal needs. The school has interesting, high profile “clients” throughout New York City and the students are working on exciting projects. For instance, one of the projects students are working on as part of their global studies program is assisting in designing a teen exhibit at the future September 11th museum at ground zero. The students are perfectly suited to the task of being in touch with what teens know and want to see, but here’s the interesting part. When you think of who is visiting this museum, sure, it’s the local kids, but in Manhattan there are kids from around the world. So these teens have to research perspective of September 11th from teens around world. What might an Iraqi student be interested in seeing, or student from London who experienced the subway bombing? These are the questions these students are figuring out answers to, and then designing a museum exhibit to meet their needs.

In addition to the school-directed projects, students have the opportunity to explore a wide range of options. They work with their advisors to set goals, select courses, and design independent studies that meet their personal interests and needs. These may include art, foreign language, music, technology, and roboticts. There are also student run organizations driven by student interest and may include athletics, school newsletter, student government, or the student computer support team. The school also supports students in experiencing a variety of career fields through problem-based courses and internships.

These projects last for 9 weeks each, 8 hours per week. Like all classes at the iSchool, all material exists online and includes clear goals, objectives, deadlines, and expectations. Part of what the students need to do when working on these projects is connect with an expert. For instance in the climate change project, every student is connected to expert scientists and science journalists. What’s also interesting is that in general, these 9th grade students take the responsibility of finding and selecting their own experts. Since the school was built on the premise that access to technology is a right, not a privilege, this task is much easier as the experts can be of amazing support without having to physically be onsite. This is also fantastic because the walls of the school are broken down and students are connecting with students and expert adults around the world both online and through video conferencing.

Another philosophy the school’s co-principal, Alisa Berger shared that I found extremely interesting and enlightening was based on a white paper by Greg Nadeau about Virtual Education Spaces. Alisa contends based on her experience and research, that one-to-one isn’t quite the panacea it is touted to be. Instead, she argues that the key is a virtual education space. She believes student ownership of laptops, doesn’t provide all the assumed benefits. Instead, what’s important is that students can access “their” work, just like 21st century employees who can log in from any computer including using vpn at home. She shares that providing ubiquitous access, but not one-to-one alleviates a plethora of issues. For instance, there are a lot of problems with reimaging because students with their own laptops love to customize them. Her laptops automatically reimage and it doesn’t matter. This results in the devices being indestructible. She doesn’t have to worry about inventory issues that have become a nightmare and burden for some one-to-one schools. Finally, she says she has piece of mind that she doesn’t have to worry about safety or breakage issues that can occur when devices move from school-to-home across a school. As Alisa shares, most kids today have some sort of computer at home. With this option it doesn’t have to be top of the line as the virtual education space provides access to all school software and resources as long as the student can find someway to obtain internet access. For the students with device or internet issues, Alisa and/or her staff figure out a way to either secure devices or figure out alternate internet access options (i.e. libraries, community centers, family members).

With all this technology, one might suspect the students may not be getting their physical-world needs addressed. Especially as you notice what was once the school gym has been turned into an area called the “Creative Commons” filled with bright light, thinking and conferring spaces, a video conference area where students recently connected with NASA scientists, and high-speed/power computer stations. Well, the school has developed a fascinating independent study program that replaces gym. Students must submit their own personal fitness plan which they carry out in the community aligned to their fitness goals and interests. Student options are limitless from plans that include shooting hoops, running, weight lifting and dancing. The students are empowered to become self-directed in determining options and interests that work for them and determining, with the guidance of school staff, how to meet those goals.

By this point you may be thinking this all sounds wonderful, but if kids don’t pass the regents they don’t graduate, so how do they account for that? There’s a plan for that, and coincidentally happens to be a plan that has been at the top of my mind lately. They offer online courses for all the regents. The tests are offered every 9 weeks and many students are motivated to complete their modules successfully in advance of the test. The model has proved extremely successful with all the kids who’ve opted to take the test early, passing. The school has designed their own online Regents classes, but not by choice. This is a tremendous undertaking and they would have much preferred an option to buy, however, none currently exist!!! They are still looking at options going forward for such partnerships. This, I believe, is an area of GREAT NEED across New York City from which all students can benefit.

If you’re an innovative New York City educator reading this, you may be wondering just what kind of students attend this school. The population is diverse on many levels from performance level, to race, to interests, to socio economic status. This year the school has sorted through 1500 applicants who completed their Online Admissions Activity that includes these three questions:

  • Why do you think you would make a good iStudent?
  • Which aspect of the program most appeals to you?
  • At the end of the 10th grade we ask students to identify a Focus of Study, this can be anything from Dance, Visual Arts, Computer Programming to Entrepreneurship to Scientific research. If you were asked to select this focus today (and it does not have to be from the list above – it can be anything) what do you think it would be and why?

Based on their application and personal interview, 110 students were selected who were thought most likely to be interested in this type of environment. Once at the school students are always striving to answer the question, “What is an expert?” and “How do I develop expertise?”

At the core the school’s philosophy is that more important than anything is the deep intrinsic belief system of not only their students, but also the teachers they hire. In fact the principal’s have even played with the idea of an eHarmony-type personality screening to accurately get at the heart and minds of each individual’s deep belief system and passions. They truly must believe that this way of non-traditional teaching is the best possible prescription for student’s achievement and success.

Monday, April 20, 2009

If you could have one innovative educational idea funded, what would it be?

I asked my Facebook and Twitter friends, "If you could have one innovative educational idea funded, what would it be?" Here's what they said:

David Give every kid a laptop. Turn it into a virtual textbook from the 1800s. Make them read it and write a paper synthesizing what they've learned. Either that or putting exercise bicycles (or just those yoga balls) for students to sit on in class.


Automating performance based assessment so teachers could actually teach again.


Give every child a multiple-choice literacy test in January. Spend the two months before the test drilling them on the skills they will need for the test. Give them lots of practice tests so they can hone their test-taking skills. Make the data from these tests available to the teachers no later than July, so they can see what skills their students were having problems with during the school year.

I realize that this is the system that's in place now. But it would be nice to have it funded.




I think bill is on to something


Have Google put each grade level curriculum in an easily accessible format for self learning. Provide every child with a laptop. Get rid of all schools, textbooks, teachers, and boards of ed. Let the kids and their parents take responsibility for their progress. Huge tax cut for all with money not being wasted on inefficient school system.


Portability (netbooks + wi-fi + online collaboration) leveraging social media to create more change.


Laptops (small) for every student, with software


Install streaming servers in every school and load it with best practices and videos


I would have to for teachers in the use of technology.


Mobile learning would be my choice


Creative globalization - encouraging students to become actively involved in creative change in community, nation & world about.


Provide each one of my students a Kindle


I would have the greatest resource funded...teachers...teachers are my districts greatest and most innovative educational resource.


For more ideas join the "One Innovative Educational Idea" discussion on Classroom 2.0.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Text and Email Alert Systems Can Increase Home - School Communication

My colleague the Techomnivore often talks about and has shared in his blog information about how Notification tools are increasing parental involvement in their child’s school life. Though I haven't had personal experience with schools that are using these systems, I do believe that cell phones provide a powerful resource as a home-school connection tool. I was recently contacted by one such service that is available free (with advertising). If this is something your school might want to investigate, here is an overview of Schoohoo, one such service. You can read the Techomivore's post for additional resources.

Innovative educators who are looking for ways to better communicate with parents, students, faculty and staff may be interested in looking into Schoohoo. They offer a free web based service at that allows schools of any size to send text message and email alerts to parents, students, faculty, and staff. Developed by parents of elementary school students, they set out initially to just make a system that made sense for their own school district in Champaign, Illinois. They had come up with the idea years ago, but it wasn't until an emergency lockdown in their elementary schools that they put their own financial resources into developing an easy to use and universal program that any school could make use of.

Jonathan Hoover, Executive Director shared that, "We wanted to build a system that was easy for everyone to use, from both sides - that of the school district and that of the parent". To that end, the software is entirely web based, and yes - entirely free. Eventually they hope to get local sponsors behind them, to append a brief text only message at the end of the alert - maybe from a local grocery store, class ring jeweler, or other school-approved vendor. Until then, they’ve put their own funds into it and with low operating costs they can keep it going for years without a hiccup. They've also kept it very easy for schools in several ways. One important feature is that schools don't have to maintain the contact list - parents register via the Schoohoo website and "subscribe" to the school or schools they want to receive messages from. These schools can be across several districts, public and/or private, and the parents only have one contact form to maintain - leaving the schools free to simply inform them of the service and send alerts.

Mr. Hoover is happy to answer any questions you may have - he jokes that it often takes a couple of conversations before people get that it really is free, and that Schoohoo is truly just out to do some good in tough economic times. He can be reached at, or you can leave a message with Schoohoo’s answering service at 217-819-4678.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Google Launches YouTube Edu

I recently wrote YouTube University – An Interesting Opportunity for Innovative Students and Teachers. Well now this idea is getting a boost as recently reported in the Wall Street Journal's story YouTube Edu Launches. From the story:

"YouTube launched a new section of its site Thursday that organizes the video channels of more than 100 colleges and universities.

The section, called YouTube Edu, is the result of about a year’s work on the part of Google employees using their 20% time for outside projects, said Obadiah Greenberg, a partner manager at YouTube. Several of the search giant’s products and services, including Google News and its social-networking site Orkut, had a similar start."

The popular educational blog ReadWriteWeb said this:

This is a great idea and we expect that young people who discover it will appreciate it. At first glance it looks better to us than iTunes University. This could genuinely help young people make more informed decisions about what schools to apply to. There's also a lot of great content on the site for anyone to learn from. If you like academic videos, make sure to check out Academic Earth as well.


Re: The Innovative Educator : Google Launches YouTube EduNote to pre-k to 12 educators. Youtube has mixed the edu content in with the rest of the site – no separate URL, no dedicated directory. This makes it impossible for school systems like the NYC DOE to unfilter just the edu content. This may be an intentional strategy on the part of Youtube to try to get the whole site unblocked rather than provide a separate, dedicated space for instructional content. As a result it will be difficult for schools to take advantage of this resource across a school. Innovative educators may be able to come up with creative workarounds such as computers that are on an unfiltered line specifically for these students who would be monitored, or this can be an afterschool option for some students like the one in my post YouTube University – An Interesting Opportunity for Innovative Students and Teachers.

To read ideas on how this site can impact education visit the discussion at Youtube EDU.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

April is Not Just Tax Season, It's Also Financial Literacy Month

As the big tax day approaches, financial literacy, the economy and personal finance is certainly on all of our minds. So, what great timing for a teachable moment! I guess whomever makes up random holidays agrees because April has been named Financial Literacy month.

Of course innovative educators will want some ideas of how to make this learning engaging to their students. I've found a couple ways to do so.

Remix America has launched their “Coping with the Economy” challenge. This initiative is designed to provide a forum for all Americans – young and old – to tell their stories of the economic crisis. Inspired by the “Is Anybody Listening?” video by a high-school class in Pomona, Remix America created the “Coping with the Economy” initiative as a forum for young Americans to come together and discuss the issues that are most important to them.

Remix America is definitely an organization that cares about what innovative educators think. For this challenge, they’ve also included (on my suggestion!) an oral history lesson plan for teachers who wish to do a “Coping with the Economy” oral history assignment of their own.

Another resource is Thinkfinity. They are sharing free lesson plans, videos, photos and student activities.

Included in the collection are the following materials:
1) lets students see, via several video clips of FDR’s speeches, how America dealt with hard financial times during the Depression.
2) URL= displays compound interest calculator suitable for students as young as in the third grade.
3) And by playing this fun you’re going to college game, players get information about different ways of funding college.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Five ideas for Innovative Educators On The Job Hunt

Readers of this blog know that the spiraling economy has recently made its way to my neck of the woods at the Department of Education where threats of layoffs are looming, Departments are being “strategically re-aligned”, and grants like Reading First are in jeopardy of losing funding.

So, what’s an innovative educator to do? Something innovative of course! Innovative educators aren’t your regular run-o-da-mill types. We are a cut above and a step ahead of the rest. Here are five ideas for innovative educators who are on the hunt.

Brand Yourself
Whether or not you realize it, you are a brand. Any brand marketer can tell you the importance of establishing your identity. You should quickly and easily be able to convey what hiring [your name here] means. What does someone get when they hire you? What do you stand for? What is your identity?

Read: Three Steps to Building Your Brand

Build It and They Will Come

Dream with a potential employer. Study their school/department/etc. and share what you think you could build together. Give your new employer a vision of what they could have or grow with someone like you. Tell them your excitement about building a project, program, deliverable that hiring you brings. Will you help a school start a broadcast news center with community involvement? Can you help the school with a green campaign where students can grow their own food? Do you envision creating an online community for the school? Share your enthusiasm and bring your new employer onboard to the dream you can help accomplish.

Google: Your perspective employer and figure out what you can help them build

Control Your Digital footprint
As most of us know today, we all have a digital footprint. There is a good chance you will be Googled by a prospective employer. What will they find? Many educators have passive digital footprints. They haven’t taken control of their online selves. Innovative educators have an active digital footprint. They are not only keenly aware of what employers will find if they Google their name, but they know how to get their name, ideas, published articles and more to the top of Google. Google “November” and you’ll see innovative educator Alan November. Google Educating Innovatively and you’ll see me. How cool is it to say to a prospective employer, “If you want to know more about me, just Google educating innovatively?” or, "For more information Google November."

What do you want your prospective employer to find when s/he searches you? What key words do you want associated with your name? Think about it and start making your digital footprint active.

Read: Ideas for Making a Purposeful and Professional Digital Footprint. Footprints in the Digital Age, and Digital Footprints: Online identity management and search in the age of transparency

Educate Abroad

Have you been a little jealous of that teacher down the hall who talks about their experiences teaching abroad? Do you regret not taking advantage of life in another country earlier in your career? Now could be your perfect opportunity to pursue this opportunity. Give the U.S. economy a little time to get back on its feet and experience a whole new world. It will definitely make you a better educator, and bring you closer to understanding this global world we all live in.

If you don’t have children, this is a no brainer, but even if you do, don’t rule this out as an option. Taking your child out of the country for a year or two would be an extremely rewarding and eye-opening educational experience.

Follow: Jeff Utecht’s Blog about the journey of a educator and his learning experiences around the globe.

Visit: The International Educator or if you want to teach as a certified teacher overseas or if you want to teach English abroad.

You Gotta Have a Gimmick
We can learn a lot from Gypsy Rose Lee’s stripper friend’s explanation about the secret to a successful career. What’s your gimmick? What’s that special thing that you come with? What will an employer receive if they choose you?

Are you a wiz with the Smartboard? Are you a track and field champion? Do you have a special relationship with a company that will adopt the school? Did you create a documentary that won an award at the TriBeCa Film Festival? Do you have a coveted certification? Can you bring programs into the school that will help the students? Do you have a famous sister, father, husband? Did you, have you, could you win a grant that would come along with you?

Don’t underestimate the power of the gimmick. These are the things that stick in the minds of employers and differentiate you from the rest.

Watch: You Gotta Have A Gimmick - from "Gypsy"


Note: I am resurfacing this post which I initially ran a few months ago in response to several of those who I know reaching out to me for ideas recently. As I think of more ideas, I'll be sure to post them here, and, if any other innovative educators have ideas, please comment here and share.