Monday, November 30, 2009

R.I.P. on Facebook

This weekend I attended my beloved Uncle David’s funeral. He was an amazing man and I am grateful to have had him in my life. As the day’s that lead up to his death approached and his funeral and Shiva arrangements were put in place, I was confronted with the question personally and from others about what is appropriate in these circumstances when it comes to Facebook. Unfortunately, every reader of this blog has or will also be confronted with this question for themselves, and/or from their friends, family members, students. When it does, I hope these ideas are helpful.

Facebook provides members with unique ways to confront this difficult time in their lives. Here are some of the benefits I noticed during this difficult time.

We all know that many people have friends on Facebook with whom they may not have well-established friendships, but what I love about Facebook is that it provides an opportunity for me to make some fantastic and unexpected connections with people. This holds true for remembering a loved one. Posting a status update may elicit a response from friends with whom you may never have otherwise connected. These persons (thank you to Larry, Tonia, Kyle, Danika, Danita, Carolyn, Samantha, Ann, Susan) may bring unexpected comfort and camaraderie.

I am not sure if I'm alone, but I am uncomfortable sharing difficult situations in part because I’m afraid of how the other person may react. What if they dismiss what I’m saying? What if they act like they don’t care? What if they seem uncomfortable? What if I say something weird or wrong? Facebook provides a nice way to put a thought out there and kind of test the waters. Who can relate? Who wants to relate? Who might I not seem to be bothering? Who may I have a shared experience with? Who is out there, that I may not have thought of, but is really just the right person to communicate with?

If the close friend or family member of the loved one posts a comment as my cousin did, it not only helps the person grieving, but it helps their Facebook friends as well. My cousin posted the following about her father/my uncle.

During his last days: dad

Upon his death:

I will miss you so so much

I was uncomfortable reaching out to my cousin during this time. I knew she was spending her days and nights juggling a job, taking care of her father and raising children. This gave me a bit of a green light to give her a virtual hug without feeling like I was a burden. It also allowed me to learn from the comments of others more about my uncle and how he impacted many of our lives similarly. I made virtual bonds and connections I never would have had. A warmth came over me and I knew exactly what she meant when I read this friend’s comment, “one of my playful and fun, treated me like a little lady instead of a kid, brings a smile to my face when I think about him.”

Finally, for someone like me who doesn’t fancy herself as being too great at sharing these sorts of things with others, Facebook allowed me a comfortable and comforting way to do so.

My cousin did such an amazing job of sharing when delivering her eulogy yesterday. She was so strong and I was truly impressed. It was such a sad day and I was so proud of her composure in sharing her important message about her father with the congregation. My boyfriend remarked, “When you have that kind of relationship with your father, I imagine such fond memories are easy to come by and are eagerly shared.” After my Uncle’s funeral yesterday my cousin asked me, “Do you think it was bad that I posted about my Dad on Facebook?”

“No! I said. “Thank you so much for doing so. It helped me and others.” When I got home that evening I went to her wall and saw this message:

is relieved today is over...and having some good cuddle time with the kids while we watch Spongebob.

I smiled and hoped I had a part in letting her know what I perceived as her “got home safely” not only was okay, but was also appreciated by those who knew of her loss. Myself and some of her online friends commented. I wrote,

Amazing daughter. Amazing mother. Amazing cuz.

While I acknowledge Facebook is by no means a replacement for other ways of communicating, it provides for some, an important way to make a difficult time less difficult. I know this is an uncomfortable topic and I thought that like me, others may have wondered about this. I hope I’ve provided some helpful thoughts on this topic that may one day be helpful for you, a friend, loved one, or student.

This post is written in memory of my wonderful Uncle David who treated me like a lady even when I was a little girl. He was one of the rare individuals who made me (and many others) feel like I had valuable opinions that should be shared, heard, and responded to, even when, by societal standards, my age, gender, birthright, relationship status/history, or title may not have warranted it.

As my Uncle liked to say, "It is what it is," though many of us wish "It wasn't."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Whachu Talking 'Bout? Find Out with Facebook Status Clouds

Editor's Note: Please forgive the cheesy title. My father worked as a Director of Photography on the sitcom "Different Strokes" for a large part of my adolescence. I couldn't resist.

Facebook has a new app called Status Cloud that got my innovative educational juices flowing. It's a tool that makes a word cloud (think wordle) of your past year's status updates. It basically allows you to take a look at what's been on your mind for the past year and in essence places your Facebook brain in a word cloud. I instantly thought of so many terrific ideas to promote fun and engaging learning. Here they are.


Team building ideas to help students learn and connect.

-Have students print out their status clouds and try to decide which status cloud belongs to which student.
-Have students tag their cloud in Flickr using a teacher created account and in the comment box either place their status cloud narrartive or use the comment box to guess who the cloud belongs to.
-Have student compare and contrast their status clouds, perhaps with a Venn diagram. They could also write a narrative explaining what they have in common and might never have in common with another class member.
-Have students place their cloud as a note on FB and tag 20 of their friends asking them to share common words.

Personal Narrative
-Have students write a personal narative expanding on the words found in their cloud.
-Have students create a personal narrative video based on words in their cloud.
-Have students create a personal narrative audio cast or voki based on their cloud.

Arts and Crafts

-Print the word clouds onto iron on paper and make tee shirts with students word clouds on the back. This could even be used as a fundraiser.

The Facebook status cloud is a great tool for students to get to know each other and provides a vehicle for students to reflect upon what messages they are sharing with their friends over the past year. How might they want their message to change in the new year? It also provides a fantastic way for students to get ideas for further sharing and publishing about the topic they are most expert in...themselves.

If you want to share your cloud with me, friend me on Facebook at (include a message if you haven't already) and share here.

Update! I just discovered there is a my friends link which allows you to instantly see the clouds of all your Facebook friends. These pictures could all be saved, tagged, and used for a number of cool purposes. Awesome!

How cool, this was picked up by Facebook in Education and spread to hundreds more people.
Facebook in Education

Facebook in Education This educational blogger was inspired to come up with creative ideas for using the Status Cloud application in the classroom.
Facebook has a new app called Status Cloud that got my innovative educational juices flowing. It's a tool that makes a word cloud (think wordle) of your past year's status updates. It basically allows ...
November 29 at 11:28am · · · Share
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Update #2
You can now do this via twitter too! Here's my twitter status cloud.
And, check out the Twitterlytics at

And, visit - if you are researching & need the whole conversation.

Update #3
Two more great year in review apps from Facebook.

Status collage:

A year in pictures:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Innovative Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!

During a recent visit to a school I was disappointed because although the school is noted as being a model technology school I was hearing from students, teachers, and leaders that the students had “handed in” a lot of great work, but none of it was being published. Instead their writing, videos, and podcasts lived mainly in obsolescence in a hard to find folder on their various teacher's computers or in obscurity, tattered on a bulletin board sadly with only some educator chicken scratch on it as its insignificant and sole form of comments and ratings.

I see schools like this all too often. Educators, parents, families are dazzled by their flashy assessment and data systems, charts showing kids progress, and fancy, static, one-dimensional bulletin boards. All this is evidence of what their kids are “capable” of achieving. Isn’t it ironic? All this data, assessment, and evidence that lives nowhere that is authentic, relevant, or important to the actual student we are trying to develop. It takes more than collecting data or creating on computers to be a 21st century school. If educators are not having students publish regularly in thoughtful, authentic, and relevant places they are NOT preparing them for today or tomorrow.

If the first decade of the 21st century was about data driven instruction and assessment, can we make the next decade about realizing potential of the student behind the data and publishing to authentic audience as part of student’s school lives?

When I tweeted, “Educators who ask students to, "Hand it in" rather than, "Publish it" are stuck in the past and not preparing 21st century students.” I received a lot of kudos and retweets, but I also received a bit of push back along the lines that it’s not realistic to expect all student work to be published. My response is this. The authentic publication of student work should be a part of EVERY SINGLE UNIT OF STUDY. If an educator can’t figure out a way to help students publish anything in a unit of study they need to either 1) Rethink the unit or 2) Rethink the assessment. While data in an expensive database may be impressive to educators, leaders, and test prep companies, it is not intrinsically meaningful for students or helping them in an authentic way. So how can teachers change practice and move from a “Hand it in” to a “Publish it” culture? Here are some ideas.

6 Ways Innovative Educators Can Move from “Hand It In” to “Publish it” Teaching

Hand it in teaching:
Write a report about [place boring topic or classic book title here] and hand it in to the teacher. If you’re lucky, we’ll place one
copy of your final work on the bulletin board or in the class library.
Publish it teaching:
Publish your own book or work in a group to publish a real book for a real audience,
that can be purchased by anyone in the world who is interested in your topic. After you write your book I will help you promote it in appropriate places. In addition to well-known authors, student written books will also be offered for purchase in book fairs and during fund raising efforts.
Technology used:
Lulu or Blurb
Hand it in teaching:
Read the book I tell you and write a book report which I will read and hand back to you with some comments. Some papers will end up in the trash and some our bulletin board.
Publish it teaching:Join our class online learning network where you will join a group based on the book you are reading. You will select a character from the book whose profile you will take on in the learning network. In the network you will create your profile page, engage in discussions and contribute blog posts as if you were the assigned character.
Technology used:
Hand it in teaching:
Read the chapter and answer the questions at the end. Or, complete this worksheet.
Publish it teaching:
Students demonstrate their knowledge of mathematical concepts by creating screencast tutorials that other students can view, rate, and comment on and discuss. Here is an example:
Technology used:
Either Jing, Screentoaster, or Screenjelly
Hand it in teaching:
Translate this passage in your workbook.
Publish it teaching:
Have students create a Voki or use Google voice to share an oral presentation that shares something about themselves that they want other people to know in the language being studied. Set up a place where the Vokis or recordings can be published and where students can comment upon one another’s work. This enables to listen to and respond to each other’s work and even respond with another Voki recording.
This is what a Voki from a French class might look like. Don't forget to click on the comment bubble. This could be comments from the teacher or other students.
Here is what a Google Voice assignment might look like:
Hello class 7-403. Please submit your oral French report to me by clicking on the Google Voice icon below and entering your phone number. Remember your report should be 1 - 3 minutes.

Technology Used:
Voki or Google Voice
Technology used:blog, video, photos

Further reading / ideas:,

Hand it in teaching:
Students learn to cook something. Write down the recipe and cook the meal. At the end of the class they have a cook book of meals with their notes. The teacher grades this and gives it back to the student with comments.
Publish it teaching:
Students learn to cook something. They post on a blog the recipe, how to make it, nutritional facts, and for what a teenager might want to make this meal. They embed a cooking show like video of a different “Kid in the Kitchen” with each post as well as a photo of the finished product. Class members comment on the blog entry and rate and comment on the video. The blog is shared with other cooks and students around the world for feedback, rating and comments.
Technology used:
blog, video, photos
Hand it in teaching:
Read the chapter or read the website and complete this worksheet or complete the questions at the end of the chapter.
Publish it teaching:
The Entire Span of Human History Is In Your Hands! Dominate 6,000 years of history from the Ancient Age to the Information Age. Which forces will you deploy to lead your nation to global prominence? Trade, espionage, diplomacy…war? Whichever path you choose, you’ll experience the pulse pounding thrill and speed of real-time gaming combined with the epic scope and depth of turn-based strategy games – brought together for the first time ever in Rise of Nations. Rise of Nations is a historical real time strategy game. In Rise of Nations, you'll create new cities, improve city infrastructures and expand national borders. Conquer foes through military might using everything from sling-shots to cannons to stealth bombers to nuclear weapons; corner the market on key commodities and consolidate power under your rule; wheel and deal across time with history's eminent cultures.
How often do we tell our students, “The Entire Span of Human History Is In Your Hands!” How exciting is that for students to know? For those wondering why I’m considering this “Publish it teaching” it is because this is a real-time online game. Students are playing just with a computer game. The other game characters are other people…perhaps classmates, perhaps not. The students literally becoming a part of an immersive historical environment where in real time they are a part of history…interacting, chatting, strategizing. They must know the historical ages, conduct research, and be familiar with society at the time period they are in to succeed. And…this is available in multiple languages allowing students with a variety of different languages to interact together.

Take a look at the video that explains the game.
Rise of Nations Video from Ted 21C on Vimeo.

Let’s Stop Making Students Power Down at School

Unlike parents or teachers at their age, 21st century students are fortunate to have what Marco Torres refers to as "the global stage" which describes the worldwide publishing potential now offered by the Internet. Yet, for the most part students are performing on this stage completely devoid of teacher or adult influence. It is unfortunate that outside of school students operate in a world where they are interacting, publishing, and producing for thousands, yet as they enter the school building, they have to power down and produce work usually for an audience of one.

The self-proclaimed, almighty teacher.

I remember a story Alan November shared with me about a student he met who struggled with this. She felt her teacher was always wasting her time with unimportant writing assignments and reports that she cared nothing about. Her teacher never even bothered to learn what she actually did care about. The student was much more interested in the writing she was doing on FanFiction where she had discovered the world's largest archive and forum where fanfic writers and readers around the globe gather to share their passion. This student literally had thousands of fans around the world reading and responding to her stories. She had no interest and didn't care to make time to prepare work for the teacher who didn’t have interest or seem to care to take the time to learn to allow her students to express themselves in areas of passion and interest.

When school started this Fall, I was impressed with 9-year old Sarah’s two-minute recorded response to President Obama’s speech, posted to YouTube. She had 187,632 views, 1600 comments, and a 4 star rating. Talk about authentic assessment, authentic audience, and real learning.

Today there was another video I saw a little closer to home that I was extremely impressed with. It is this video which my boyfriend’s daughter created.

It has received more than 15,000 hits in a day! His 13-year old was excited to discover that her voice was heard and her message was shared with thousands of others who rated her work an impressive 4 stars and left relevant and meaningful comments. She also was excited to read the comments from other educators about the video that I posted on my Facebook wall which included:
  • Wow that's pretty amazing! She's got mad iMovie skillz yo! What grade is she in?
  • Your daughter is a great teacher for both teachers and students. Rather than taking classes, you should see if she could teach a class at her high school. All the teachers can be her students.
  • The immediacy of technology displayed in its best form.
  • Wow! Outstanding work! I've shared her work with our media club students - her work is sure to inspire our members! Thanks.
  • I'm impressed too! She did a great job in capturing not only the events of the day but the sentiment also. Great storyline and organization. OMG thank goodness I wasn't at the mall that day!

Barry (the video producer's dad) BBMed me saying, his daughter was smiling ear to ear and wanted to know, “What’s so good about my video?” Huh, would you look at that! A student requesting authentic assessment feedback from the educators that were impressed by her. There should be more conversations like these in schools for sure. When I asked her dad how often his daughter has these opportunities at school, he said, “as far as I know she doesn’t have such opportunities.” To answer her question here are a few things that are so good about the video. I’m sure I and others will come up with more.

-She learned how to use the software on her own. She didn’t need to take a movie making class. She just needed a subject that inspired her to learn how to make a movie.
-She is exploring a topic she is passionate about and her interest shines through.
-She teaches her peers through her comments how to employ movie making techniques.
-She tells a clear and focused story with a message.
-She employs mart and appropriate use of graphics and subtitles.
-She has a great eye for capturing engaging video and photography.
-She incorporates a range of important story elements from real-time tweets, to audience reaction, to appropriate background music and commentary.
-She provides smart on target transitions.
-She lays out a clear sequence, flow, and story line.
-She is an on the street journalist with a story to tell and thousands of people who want to watch that story.

As an educator of innovative educators, I urge you to remember these students, their voices, their passions and don’t force students to power down when they come to school. Encourage and embrace their excitement, their passions, their enthusiasm, their need for socializing and authenticity. Help make school a place your students want to be, discover, grow, learn and share.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

8 Innovative Schools Provide Ideas and Inspiration for 21st Century Education

As the saying goes, if he woke up today, schools would be one of the few places that Rip Van Winkle would recognize after his 100 year slumber. Unlike business, medicine, the media, etc, most schools look very much as they did 100 years ago. Sadly, even in schools where leaders and educators want to move into the 21st Century, many don't know what this looks like. One of the best ways to provide inspiration to leaders and educators searching for innovative ideas for providing a 21st century education is to explore successful models of innovative schools. However, it is difficult to develop a vision of a 21st century school because there are few well-know publicly-available models that are captured and shared. Though they tried, Microsoft’s School of the Future became a lesson in failure and while there are islands of success at schools like Science Leadership Academy, CIS 339, and The School of One, there are few known established places that one can visit to read about innovative schools such as these.

That is, until now. Under the leadership of Bruce Lai, Chief of Staff, Office of the Chief Information Officer at New York City Department of Education eight NYC DOE schools have been identified as those providing students with an education that looks different from that of their parents and grandparents. These are schools that are making progress along the continuum of 21st century success.
The Model Technology Schools Project was created to document and disseminate effective practices that are already in place within the New York City Department of Education school system. More specifically, the project aims to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from some of the City’s most innovative schools to schools that may need guidance in moving toward a 21st-century model. A data-driven school in Queens, for example, may be struggling to use Smartboards effectively, while a school in Brooklyn may have mastered Smartboard technology, but needs assistance in setting up a data system. This project is a first step toward connecting schools like these.

This project was made possible as a result of a key component of the New York City Department of Education’s Children First reforms…the empowerment of school principals. Because principals know more about the on-the-ground reality of their schools than anyone else, they have been given greater power over decisions relating to budgets, programs, and personnel. In exchange for this increased freedom in shaping their schools, principals are held to higher accountability standards.

Many principals have used their increased autonomy to develop innovative practices and programs. However, the tremendous amount of responsibility principals have on both the instructional and operational sides of their schools may limit the time they have to communicate with other principals throughout the City. As a result, best practices can easily get lost in the shuffle of day-to-day realities.

This is particularly true with regard to technology, which is a relatively new leadership arena for principals. For years, technology in the schools has been seen as an “extra.” However, it has become clear that technology is part of the foundation of a 21st-century model of teaching and learning: a blend of face-to-face and online teaching, communication, and collaboration between students, educators, school leaders, parents, and educational partners. This model may just be the next game-changer when it comes to improving student achievement—and improvement is necessary if we expect our children to thrive in the 21st-century global economy.

The eight schools chosen for this project—though they in no way comprise an exhaustive list—all reflect the standards outlined by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). These schools, which range from very small to very large, span four of the five boroughs and have diverse student bodies. They are all eligible for Title I funds and a high majority of their students receive free or reduced price lunch. The principals are exemplary leaders who ensure that technology is integrated into instruction and leveraged to differentiate learning. They have all managed to create cohesive communities in which technology is understood to be an inextricable part of the school fabric, and a foundation for their instructional visions.

The eight comprehensive case studies that follow highlight schools that have used technology to improve student achievement and operational efficiency. Although they offer only a snapshot of the exciting advances schools have made, they are designed to encourage principals to reflect on their practices and look to other schools for new ideas. When reading the case study consider if any of these schools provide inspiration for what could be implemented at your own school site. Then use the 21st century school visioning tool as a resource to structure and capture ideas that you may want to consider incorporating into your school or classroom. Results can be viewed here.

The Model Technology Program Schools
If you would like to connect with a specific school, please feel free to reach out to its principal:

As you read each case study you will notice a number of themes emerge from this diverse group of Model Technology Schools. They are as follows:

Student engagement through digital content
It is easy for students to disengage when teachers do not require active participation, or when education is delivered in a one-size-fits-all model. Digital content makes it easier for teachers to engage “digital natives,” or students who have grown up with Internet technology. Principals have reported improvements in behavior and attendance since the integration of technology in their schools. At The Verrazano School, students who come in for breakfast go straight to the auditorium afterwards, excited to play a version of Jeopardy with Smartboard remotes. At The Goddard School, students are particularly enthusiastic about a media elective offered in the school’s fully-equipped television studio.

Motivation and accountability through public nature of work
Many schools post student work online. School Web sites often feature multimedia student projects, such as podcasts, videos, and music. Students are also asked to contribute to class and school-wide blogs, and to comment on work contributed by their peers. On all grade levels, principals have found that the public nature of work motivates students to meet or exceed standards and expectations. For example, the elementary school students at P.S. 5 express excitement about seeing their writing “published” and posted on class Web sites and online educational magazines. The middle school and high school students at East-West and Brooklyn Tech regularly contribute to blogs. Although these blogs are not moderated by school leaders, students monitor themselves and meet self-imposed standards of appropriateness. They learn the responsibilities that go along with public presentation on the Web.

Focus on literacy
Reading and writing are often reinforced through specialized software, such as online leveled libraries, which can assess a child’s reading level, as well as “speak” the story or specific vocabulary words. Literacy software can be used in small groups within the classroom, or in labs (I.S. 318 has a small lab dedicated to Scholastic 180). As mentioned above, blogs give students an outlet to practice their writing skills, as well as a forum to express their opinions and engage in discussion with others. Principals stress that blogs are not diaries, and emphasize their utility as instructional spaces. In addition, programs such as Google docs make it easy for students to share documents with each other and with their teachers, which facilitates peer editing.

Internet literacy
Along with reading and writing skills, Internet literacy is also becoming more and more important; 21st-century schools teach students how to analyze online information for accuracy and assess the quality of sources. In the past, students relied on school library books for research. Now, they must learn how to deal with the tremendous amount of information—of varied quality—available to them on the Web. Whether or not principals require students to take a basic technology/Internet course, they agree that Internet literacy must be explicitly taught.

Data-driven instruction
Computerized databases and assessment tools give teachers access to unprecedented amounts of student data. Teachers and administrators can use this data—compiled in ARIS or in other systems—to tailor instruction to different skill levels. Teachers at The Verrazano School and The Goddard School make extensive use of Smartboard remotes to incorporate quizzes into their lessons. This allows them to access real-time feedback on student comprehension, which they can use immediately to modify their lessons.

Student-centric classrooms
Since computers make it easier for students to work independently, teachers can create small groups of students according to skill-level. They are then free to move around the room as facilitators, providing more or less attention as needed. At P.S. 5, for instance, a group of ELL students may be working on pronunciation with headphones plugged into their laptops, while another group may be reading independently.

Multimodal learning
Not every student is a purely auditory or visual learner. Technology makes it easier to engage multiple sensory modalities so that students have a greater chance of learning in the ways most suitable for them. An effective Smartboard lesson, for example, may integrate video and audio clips, as well as interactive components that allow students to answer questions via remote or touch screen. A multisensory approach can be particularly helpful for ELLs and students learning foreign languages.

Project/problem-based learning
In order to connect learning to the larger world, teachers engage students in project-, or problem-based learning. With so much information at their fingertips, as well as easily-facilitated connections for distance learning, students can act as consultants who solve real world problems. At the NYC iSchool, the curriculum is based around interdisciplinary modules that connect traditional subject knowledge with contemporary issues, making learning feel more relevant.

The increased facility of communication makes it easier for students, teachers, parents, school leaders, and educational partners to work together to reach educational goals. Collaboration can be as simple as teachers sharing lesson plans with each other through Google Docs, or as complex as live streaming presentations and sharing student projects as part of a world-wide Internet conference (M.S. 339). East-West partners with schools in Shanghai and London, and the NYC iSchool utilizes video-conferencing to connect students to organizations, experts, and professors, both nationally and internationally.

Student empowerment
One of the premises of an education at the NYC iSchool is that students take charge of their own learning, and at Brooklyn Tech, students are given access to high-level technologies that are used by professionals in the field. Technology empowers students to seek information independently rather than waiting for it to be delivered to them.

Students as tech support
Students play a crucial role in the operation of their schools as members of tech-squads. Schools usually need trouble-shooting assistance that goes beyond the capacity of a tech coach, and trained students can respond to requests teachers submit, often through an online system. They usually receive service credit for their work. On an informal basis, students constantly assist their teachers with technology, which gives even elementary school-aged children the opportunity to feel like leaders.

Overcoming staff buy-in challenges
Teachers at different stages of their careers may not see a need to change their practice, so it isn’t always easy to convince them that technology integration is important. Principals have dealt with these challenges in various ways. Some have found specialized professional development to be helpful in making technology less threatening, and others have integrated technology into administrative practices first in order to ease it into instruction. Principals emphasize that teachers should not be forced into technology use; they need to understand how it can help them and how it can help their students.

Contact Information
The Model Technology Schools Project is sponsored by the NYC DOE’s Division of Instructional and Information Technology (DIIT). DIIT in conjunction with the Office of Educational Technology would love to hear about innovative technology practices taking place at your school. To share your ideas or for more information on the Model Technology Schools Project, please visit our survey link here.

The Model Technology Schools Project was conceived and led by Bruce Lai, Chief of Staff, Office of the Chief Information Officer / DIIT. In addition to the principals, assistant principals, and teachers who were crucial to this project, DIIT would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance: Cara Spitalewitz (Education Pioneers Summer Fellow), Catherine White, Marina Negroponte, Roya Rahmani, Anissa Moeini, Niko Cunningham, Gazelle Javantash, Hannes Klopper, and Professor Kevin Kelley (Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs), Celine Azoulay-Lewin, Lisa Nielsen, Julian Cohen, Gregg Betheil, Andrew Gallagher, Patricia Paddock, Jane Pook, Troy Fischer, Joel Rose (NYC Department of Education).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Meet the Press: Duncan, Gingrich, Sharpton

A lengthy clip, but worth a watch as Duncan, Sharpton, and Gingrich talk about every education issue on the table right now (and all under 25 minutes) -- national standards, teachers unions, Race to the Top funds, charter schools, etc..

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

National Educational Technology Plan

The U.S. Department of Education is developing a new National Educational Technology Plan to provide a vision for how information and communication technologies can help transform American education. The plan will provide a set of concrete goals that can inform state and local educational technology plans as well as inspire research, development, and innovation. A draft plan is expected in early 2010.

The plan development team is looking for insights from the field to help us understand how to improve education through the innovative use of technology.

What would you like to see considered in the National Educational Technology Plan?

You can contribute your recommendations here.
You can see what others have recommended here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lost and Found 21st Century Style

I recently had an amazing adventure in lower Manhattan as I tried to find my “lost on the NYC MTA Transit bus” pocket book. The ordeal left mean thinking, “Why Aren’t There 21st Century Solutions to Our Lost and Found Problems.” Here’s one idea.

Twitter as a Lost and Found Solution
One simple and free solution would be to utilize Twitter which could serve as a perfect tool to help lost items become reunited with their owners. All that would be required is a format protocol to be put in place and shared. This could work for schools, transit systems, and more. A simple tag could be L&F followed by (lost or found) the organization, the date, the item and either who it belongs to (first initial, last name-if such evidence exists) or where it can be retrieved. Here is an example of what this might look like:

Lost items: L&F Lost @ MTABus14D 09/12/09 - silver pocketbook belongs to LNielsen

Found items: L&F Found @ 05M123 Class8-242 09/12/09 - black polo retrieve from room 526

This could be sent for free via twitter sms (, twitter voice (877-893-3822), or via computer ( A transit worker or educator without access to a phone or computer could radio this into dispatch or the school dean.

The benefit of this is that people can instantly figure out anytime/anywhere if their item has been found and they can also have a notification to organizations when items are lost.

During my recent amazing race through Manhattan to find my pocket book I learned that there was no set protocol in place. While I was lucky to have had myself and a friend chasing and hopping buses around Manhattan a more efficient, effective, and economical approach like the one I am suggesting could make life easier for the driver trying to get to his destination on time, the passenger trying to find her lost item and/or the educator who has found an item or the student who has lost one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bus Spotting and Chasing - The Innovative Educator's Amazing Race to Find Her Lost Pocket Book

While on a rare shopping trip (I do most of my buying online) my friend Tonya asked what I thought about a shirt she was considering purchasing. I was about to answer when suddenly, I felt something seemed off. We were 15 minutes into our shopping excursion and I noticed my pocketbook was not on my shoulder. Ummm...I said calmly, "Tonya, my pocket book is gone...with all my money, phone, credit cards, house keys - in general my life. What do we do?" "When did you see it last?" she asked. I told her I knew I had it on the bus we took to get to the store because I used my Metrocard. I looked at each shoulder one more time and did a spin around the store. It wasn't there. I was thinking about what they say when you are caught in the undercurrent in the ocean. Stay calm. Don't panic. Follow the current.

Tonya was my current and without skipping a beat she said, "Let's get a taxi and try to find the bus that we took." I followed her lead and said, "Okay! Let's go!" That was the extent of our plan.

We jumped into a taxi and she said to the driver, "This may seem a little weird, but...follow the 14D bus route. We have a bus to catch!" Of course none of us knew the route beyond where we were -- We are Westside girls venturing to the Eastside. Tonya immediately called her boyfriend to try to determine which street the bus took. He looked it up online and we had our route.

Within minutes, our plan became, this: As soon as we find the first bus, I'd hop off and ask the bus driver to radio in the lost pocketbook. She would stay in the taxi trying to find the bus we had got off about 20 minutes ago.

We spotted our first bus. I jumped out of the taxi and onto the bus. Tonya would continue in the taxi trying to track down the bus. I explained my saga to the driver and asked him to radio in my lost item. The bus driver was clearly feeling more disturbed that I was delaying his route then helpful. "Can you call this in, please???" "No," he said. "We can't do that." He rattled off a number for me to call trying to get me off the bus. I explained I had no phone, no pen, no paper, and sadly a memory that probably couldn't hold those ten digits in it for very long. I asked for a little more help please. He quickly scribbled a number on a piece of paper and scooted me off the bus.

Following the not-too-well thought-out plan I ran to the next bus stop, but after I saw a bus pass on the other side of the street, I realized I should go there and try to catch the driver toward the end of his route. Maybe I'd be able to find my bus.

Of course I had no way to tell Tonya this, but I just hoped it would work out or that she might figure out what I was thinking. What I did have with me was a laptop with an almost dead battery. I thought maybe I could get an email out to some people who would see it who could call Tonya and tell her where I was. At the same time I knew I would be hopping on buses trying to find my pocket book. So, I held my laptop (think waitress) in one hand and logged in with my other, while I kept an eye out for a bus. I had 17 minutes of battery power.

The first bus came before I could start typing an email. I couldn't close my laptop, because it would take to long to reboot and probably die. I told the driver my saga and he lets me take a look around even though I don't think it's the bus. I find nothing and get off the bus.

While watching out for the next bus, I go back to my laptop. There is 14 minutes of battery power left and I typed an email out to two friends, my boyfriend, and Tonya with the subject line "Help!"
left purse on bus. no money. no keys corner of East 10th and ave c
stopping all busses.

no blackberry only laptop with almost-dead battery.
Then I jump on the next bus. Not my driver, but he says he'll radio in my lost item for me. I'm not sure if he did, but I was thankful he offered and a bit disturbed at the earlier driver who told me that was not possible. I get off the bus about to go back to the laptop. When I look up and another bus had come right away. My laptop and I get on the bus and I tell this driver my saga.
I ask him if my lost pocket book was radioed in and he said he hadn't heard anything. Hrumph! Was that other driver just trying to get me off the bus or maybe he just hadn't had a chance to radio it in. I wonder. This driver offers to drive me to dispatch, which he says is at 14th/9th. He said maybe someone turned it in there, or maybe someone brought it to the main depot in the West 40s. I asked if there was a definite system of turning lost items into dispatch or the depot. He said, he didn't know, but if he he found something that's what he'd do. I decide to stay on the corner because at this point I'm not sure if Tonya is still looking for me, and I think maybe my boyfriend got the email and he may be coming so I didn't want to disappear. I have a plan B to ask a subsequent driver to take me to dispatch if Tonya or my beau don't find me.

Even though I felt relatively confident I would be collected, I was a bit concerned as I realized it was going to get dark soon. I started to occur to me that I was on a corner in the East Village without any money, credit card, phone, house key...nothing and this could be bad if Tonya can't find me and she is not reached. Still holding my laptop waitress-style and with 8 minutes of battery, I send out my next email, entitled, "Help 2." I write:

purse gone. I'm staying at ave C and East 10th for a bit.
like 30/40 mins looking for my bus. then 9th/14th to dispatch.

can someone call 2127125012 and report this. gray purse. blackberry. credit card. drivers license. whole nine yards.

Can someone call tonya's beau. jen has the number and let her know i'm on 11th and ave c. She may be able to get me.

oy vey!

I check my email and I receive two messages. 6 minutes of battery left. My boyfriend replies:
I'm heading in now to get u.

Phew! I think. I won't be left on the corner all night.

The second was from my friend Mel who writes that she is at her office and if there is a problem I should just come there. Double phew-at least I know I have a plan to get home safely if need be. 5 minutes of battery power left and I realize I need to write down the address and directions to Melanie's office since my computer will be dead and I won't remember. I ask a few people on the street and find someone who lets me borrow her pen. I quickly copy the address and directions on the back of my hand as another bus pulls up.

It's a woman, and I know my driver was a man. I ask her if drivers ever switch between the start of the route and here. She says they don't and I get off the bus and check my laptop again with 2 minutes of battery left. I see a "New mail" message from Tonya responding to my help email. It says:

"Got it Lisa! I'm on 14th St now walking to Mel's office."

I quickly shoot an email to my beau saying:

purse found. i think. crazy adventure. going to mel"s
office union sq east

And with that, battery dead and my computer shuts itself off.

I close the laptop hoping "Got it!" meant Tonya got my pocket book and not my email message. I decide she meant she got my pocket book and literally skip down the street in my high heel boots that certainly were NOT made for walking. I had about a 30-minute walk ahead and tired feet, but I was happy as could be. I couldn't believe my purse likely was found and I didn't yet know how.

I got to Mel's office around sundown and Tonya explains how she and her taxi driver chased buses all along the route and at about bus #5 she actually found our bus driver. When she asked, he told her to get on the bus so not to delay the route and asked her to describe it. Gulp. She realized she never asked what it looked like and she had yet to receive my email at this point describing the pocket book. A lady on the bus shares with Tonya that someone had turned in a missing item and perhaps it was what she was looking for. She asks the driver if she could take a look as she was sure there would be something with my name in the pocket book. She found ID and was off the bus with the goods-elated, and skipped to Melanie's office too.

I have no idea how I walked off the bus without my pocket book. I had never lost it before in my life, but somehow I just did. I felt fortunate that so many circumstances and wonderful friends and strangers jumped into action to enable this story to have a happy ending, but I couldn't help but think...couldn't there be a system in place to help people who lose items? This could be a win-win-win all around. The unfortunate soul would have an answer, the driver's time wouldn't be wasted, and people would know how to help. This could be free and easy if a system was determined. That will be the topic of another post.

Stay tuned...

Quick & Dirty History of the Internet

~Dana Lawit

Great context for innovative educators and their students alike. Digital ethnographer Michael Wesch frames the evolution of the Internet to Web 2.0 and raises some compelling questions.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Should We Ban School Leaders From Embracing Technology?

My most popular Facebook status update ever. Over two dozen comments and counting...

Lisa Velmer Nielsen Looks like I rubbed off on this school leader who said in our grant eval report-Perhaps you could encourage the Chancellor to remove his ban of cell phone use because it is a good way to have students use technology to produce better educational outcomes. Yesterday at 10:57pm
Comment · Like / Unlike
| Carol likes this.

That's all fine and I agree but you have to remember who signs your check!
Yesterday at 11:00pm · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
I don't advocate that anyone not follow a mandate, but I do advocate for enlightening, inspiring, and informing my boss. I also hopeful I work for someone who believes he may be able to learn something from his employees and celebrates their voice. I think one day in the not too distant future it will seem unfathomable that we banned students from bringing their personal learning devices to school.
Yesterday at 11:04pm · Delete

He will come around if his comment during the week long School of One kick-off is any indication. Without explicitly saying it was a mistake, he hinted that perhaps he could have done things differently on this one. It might be worth some key folks broaching this subject with him on a whole new level
Yesterday at 11:10pm · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
@Andy, good to hear. I do believe he will indeedy come around. Kinda crazy that at the same time he was banning I was consulting with Roland Fryer's folks at the NYC DOE to determine ways cells could be used as ed tools. It's gotta change. He's smart enough to change his decision if provided proper evidence I think.
Yesterday at 11:12pm · Delete

I am optimistic that we can change things, we use cell phones, ipod touches and laptops (1:1) in our school already. The major difference is that we are a high tech school using online curriculum and pbl as a model for our face to face classes.
Yesterday at 11:14pm · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
@Jeffrey, that's the key. Good examples and reasons for it. I don't think there were many until recently.
Yesterday at 11:15pm · Delete

the new android phone is the kicker and the new evidence..
19 hours ago · Delete

Lisa, I do agree with you about the potential of cell phones in school. However, whenever I have spoken to classroom teachers about it, most (by far) are against it. Food for thought.
13 hours ago · Delete

With all innovative technologies there is the other side of safety. Have you researched the number of schools in NYC that have had safety incidents due to students having their cell phone in school. (texting their friends to gang up on students) This number unfortunately is very high. Until there is a safety plan that addresses all the other ... Read Moreissues that come along with students having cell phones in schools, I do not believe it will be endorsed by the administration for all schools. We may have some schools in the Innovation Zone lucky enough to pilot mobile technologies but I do not see a city wide implementation in the near future for all schools.
12 hours ago · Delete

It is up to teachers ultimately. As teachers begin co-opting this personal technology for use in schools, the rules will become irrelevant. It's not the chancellor's mandate that inhibits their use - it is the challenge teachers face with fear of inappropriate use, increased pressure to be accountable for students learning the basics, etc. As we ... Read Moreprovide teachers more suggestions for ways to use them (and support/encouragement in doing so) and their ubiquity becomes status quo, we will see them be adopted for classroom use regularly. It is an inevitability. It's like the teachers' union rule that mandates all schools must have a pay phone - is that rule really relevant anymore? Is anyone enforcing that? I imagine not. The technology will often move faster than the rules...
10 hours ago · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
@Jeffrey, yes! Totally get that and have a nice plan for this that involves a small amount of professional development and the teachers starting by using cells as a homework option for the first ½ - whole year. Part of my issue is that this should be a school decision, not a mayoral or chancellor driven decision. If teachers/principals want to ... Read Moreembrace the potential of the power that exists in a students pocket they should be allowed. Another side of this Jeff, is that there are teachers stuck in the past that don’t want to use technology in general. Should the drive to use tech be teacher or student driven?
10 hours ago · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
@Jeffrey, one more thing, in a school run by this leader who wants to incorporate innovative practices, it is unfortunate they are not allowed?
10 hours ago · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
@Ceci, I very much disagree with this argument. Cells are a communication tool. Fights can be organized by texting sure, but they have also been organized simply by talking, passing notes, emails, or IMs. We shouldn... Read More’t be banning the tools i.e. paper, computers, freedom of speech, but instead inform the behavior. The other side of this is of course, the frequency that lives are saved because someone has a cell phone or was in danger. Finally, if we make student’s world in schools look so different than outside, then we are turning our backs to the fact that we haven’t prepared them for the world in which they live and the world where they will pay their three bucks after school to get their phone out of the local bodega.
9 hours ago · Delete

Jon, I think you are correct in the ultimate inevitability of cell phones in the classroom; same happened with many preceding technologies (albeit without a system wide prohibition). I still would like to hear the opinions of classroom teachers in this thread, though. I am sure many would be willing to use cells, but i believe many many more would... Read More not.

Lisa, I like the idea of first using cells as a homework option, and being a school option. Start in a small, volunteer, nonthreatening way. Build up a base and a consensus.
8 hours ago · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Jeffrey, I agree with your on target approach. It is very Chris Lehmann-esque. It should be an option and least to start. A big part of what I believe is that we should empower schools to be innovative, not ban them from innovation. Eventually, though, schools must be required to have the world inside the brick and mortar look more ... Read Morelike the world outside it. If we don't, we will be enforcing the cliche of preparing kids for our past rather than their present and then sadly schools will continue to be irrelevant to the lives of students.
46 minutes ago · Delete

Think about it. Cell phones are banned because rather then make school more interesting they attack the symptom. Another example of how long a path we have to travel before the kids become important.
8 hours ago · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Sheldon, so happy even a retired guy gets it :))))
No wonder we connected so well since my very first days in this field :-D
8 hours ago · Delete

I do think they should start making it a school leaders decision. This needs to be all or nothing and its not appropriate for one teacher to do this. You need the whole school on board.
8 hours ago · Delete

I figured you would disagree lisa, my suggestion would be to step out and be at one of the schools during dismissal that have daily safety issues that result from students texting outside of school during the day and see the issues from a principals perspective. If you want the name of a couple of schools to visit I would be glad to share them ... Read Morewith you.

Mobile technolgies should be explored and integrated into daily instruction, but that does not mean it is the right solution for every school.
7 hours ago · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Celine, I agree that it is not the right solution for "some" schools, but blanket policies and mandates for all are dangerous and halt progress. Especially in a time of empowerment, shouldn't a school leader, teachers, students (not the mayor or chancellor) have the right to decide what is best? At the same time shouldn't schools with leaders (... Read Moresuch as the one mentioned in my status update) that embrace personal learning devices as a way to enhance learning, connect with students, and engage learners, be empowered to do so?
about an hour ago · Delete

I concur with Celine's point. Unfortunately, the negative aspects of cell phones is all too real.
22 minutes ago · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Jacob, this is sooo sad! So you think that a leader and teachers who see how this can be a tool of learning and empowerment, like the one in my status update shouldn't be allowed to embrace the power of technology? And, if you really believe this, then you might as well ban computers and laptops because any communication device can be used or ... Read Moremisused. I find this sooo disheartening. And, if you do that, then you should also probably consider finding a different line of work since what we do is help folks embrace these tools to prepare kids for the world in which they live.
16 minutes ago · Delete

You or anyone can embrace whatever they want. Clearly a ban is not the answer given the potential technology offers. Having said that, one must consider the real dangers that exist as in this day and age "ignorance is not bliss". In the end, it should really be a school decision in which "we the technology leaders" provide them with the information needed to make a decision that works for their particular school community.
4 minutes ago · Delete
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
@Jacob, of course there are real dangers, but as Shelly said above, you don't ban the tool because the tool can be a pen, paper, mouth of kid, computer, etc. Our job is to teach educators, students, leaders, to embrace not fear the power of technology and use the tools that the kids have in the real world ...both inside ad outside of school.
4 minutes ago · Delete

As I said previously, a ban is not the answer. However, one should not underestimate the dangers out there. I know you will not agree with this. However, I believe a sound policy is needed for the "real dangers". One that embraces technology but also protects from the real dangers.
2 seconds ago · Delete

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
I do agree with a school making a policy that meets individual school needs. I don't agree with a mayor or chancellor making a policy that bans students from bringing any personal learning device to school. If we do that, we are letting fear of some overpower possibility and promise of others.
2 seconds ago · Delete

Note: Content is intact, but names have been changed to protect the privacy of those who may want this conversation to remain within the Facebook conversation of friends only.