Sunday, January 31, 2010

Using Shmoop to Make Learning Relevant

Students often ask - "Why must we learn this?" Shmoop helps educators answer this question through its digital resources that make learning fun and relevant for students. The online resource uses relevant and current cultural points-of-reference to help students see how inspiring and useful these subjects are to their daily lives. A conversational writing tone is also used to make topics both approachable and accessible for students.

Shmoop offers free Learning Guides in seven subjects: literature, poetry, bestsellers, history, civics, biography, and music. Written by experts and educators, Shmoop Learning Guides contain analysis, questions, quotes, and multimedia for each topic. Popular topics include The Great Gatsby, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Causes of the Civil War, and the US Constitution. Shmoop also provides book summaries translated into Spanish for English language learners or students learning Spanish.

To help educators use Shmoop in the classroom, Teacher's Editions are offered for 18 of the most popular Learning Guides, including Hamlet and Twilight. Accessible through Shmoop's Teacher Resources Center, Teacher's Editions provide free access to standards-based activities and related interdisciplinary readings. Premium teacher resources are also available, including discussion and essay questions, quizzes, and activities for relating the topic to current events and pop culture.

Check out this video overview for some ideas about using Shmoop with your students.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Transforming a School for 21st Century Learning - PS 4: Moving Along the Continuum of 21st Century Success personal trainer often shares with me the accomplishment and satisfaction she gets from watching her client's bodies transform from flab to fab (I hope to be on my way!). During our recent session, I realized my own work in many ways is similar to hers in the great pleasure I receive when seeing a school transform before my very eyes and knowing that my staff and I had even just a small piece in that transformation.

That happened recently when I visited PS 4 in the Washington Heights section of New York City. This school has been involved in a leadership grant since last spring. Principal Delois White shared the grant came at the right time as the school leaders had a strong 21st century vision and were eager for the support to realize it. That process started with the formation of a school-selected innovation team comprised of the principal, AP, and school tech liaison. We worked with those team members to assess their school on the continuum of 21st century success first through a simple assessment (their school is emerging), and later using a more complex assessment tool. This enabled the school to set some goals for becoming a 21st century school which were articulated and shared in an innovation roadmap.

The next stop in the process was participation in the Building Learning Communities conference. It was at this conference that we asked school leaders to share how what they learned would impact their effectiveness as a 21st century leader. In his post, school innovation leader, Jacek Polubiec shared My 21st Century Transformation where he outlined a personal action plan for the transformation of his school. The school was interested in transforming school leadership and creating change in the way their school did business. While at the school it was a pleasure to see so many of these ideas in progress in such a short time.

Of course, it starts at the top and I knew this principal was hooked on innovation when I entered her office to speak to her and she excitedly said, I've just got to show you this free and engaging gaming site my students, staff and I are hooked on that helps develop Math, Language Arts, and Geography skills. Then she said, "Please have a seat and play with me. You just gotta see this." And, this principal not only gets it, but gets right into it as she hooted and hollered for her penguin to land on the right iceberg. We connected, had fun, and learned some geography too. Of course, it wasn't just this moment when I dropped by her office that I saw evidence of how Ms. White's infectious love of teaching and learning was spread. Along with her innovation team, Ms. White contributes to the school's newly launched blog where she shares her message with her school community. In it she says this:

"Our plans are enormous and quite promising as we embrace the need to prepare ourselves to live productively in the 21st century. I'm sure that you have noticed that technology is moving at a rapid pace. Yesterday's T.V. set is today's antique. The telephone, though still a viable communication tool, is fast becoming an instrument for our parents and grandparents. The youth of today communicate through iPods, Wikis, web posts and blogs. Therefore, here at P.S. 4, we've taken on the challenge of teaching all of the skills and knowledge that our children will need to enter the job market and be able to exchange ideas with scholars around the world in an instant. Our staff began the school year by asking this question; "are we preparing our children for our future or are we preparing them for our past." Clearly, the answer must be that we will embrace the winds of change with the help of our teachers, parents and staff. With our new 21st century grant, we will realize our goals and aspirations for the 2009 - 2010 school year."
When you have a message like this, published from your principal, in a know you're off to a great start!

The principal is also highly supportive of sending her innovation team members to professional development to support their work. It was at that professional development that AP Polubiec learned how to launch the school's own learning network and began encouraging staff to Use Educational Networks to Build Teacher Leadership. As an active member of the Manhattan learning network, Mr. Polubiec certainly leads by example leading and engaging in multiple conversations.

Mr. Polubiec also attended the
Eight Ways To Use School Wikis professional development and received additional onsite suport provided for by the grant. This lead to attainment of the school goal to launch a school wiki as well as one for each academy. This has been tremendous as the wikis are being created to allow communication, collaboration, and conversation in ways not previously possible. Another benefit of the wikis that the school innovation team is quite excited to realize is that next year, there will be no more paper, no more books (ahem...binders) that took hours to create, copy, and collate. All important school resources will be posted right on the school and academy wikis and if there are any questions, comments, or feedback, staff can easily use the discussion tab. The school is eagerly embracing this free time saving, tool that is great for the environment and stimulates conversation.

Another way they are using the wikis is to collect the lessons that teachers create for units of study. Currently, with paper, these exist with various teachers, in various classrooms, in various notebooks and binders. Now, they've set up a section on the wiki for lessons collected by grade and subject. They are now writing these lessons using Google docs where teachers can engage in collaborative curriculum writing. They have a document they use to begin creating the lessons and units of study and all those involved can contribute anytime/anywhere. These final lessons / units are uploaded to the lesson section of the wiki. These lessons are then available on demand to any teacher, anywhere, any time, this year or next and...because of the Google docs and wiki format, they can be revised, customized, and discussed!

The school is also excited about their innovative learning walk process. They truly embraced 21st century tools to do learning walks in new and more effective ways. During the learning walk educators visit classrooms armed with their cell phones which they use to collect data on what they saw in each room that is captured and shared via text using Poll Everywhere. This instantly enables all data to be collected and shared in one place for discussion in the debrief and reflection at any time. This allows our teachers to get to thinking and the conversation faster," said Polubiec. It also enables us to capture, rather than lose instantaneous feedback and ideas, that are often lost during these types of activities. Following the walk, educators were given time to share their reflections using Google forms. This allows each reflection to instantly be populated and shared with the team. In essence, the time in the meeting isn't spent asking people what they thought. That is right there in front of them. Instead...they jump to discussing what they will do based on the reflections of those on the learning walk. This process allows participants to jetison past the capturing of ideas and move right to making meaning of the ideas. During the debrief and discussion of next steps, it's not one person who is contributing to the conversation. All members complete a Google form to share their feedback which is instantly shared and projected and instead of listening to each idea, and missing several, members can see every idea and start discussing. Teachers and school leaders who were absent from the conversation, can go back to take a look and contribute at any time. Talk about a transformative practice!

It's hard to believe that just last spring this school was just beginning in their visioning process. Since then they've brought much of this to reality where they've:
  • Developed a school where teachers and leaders converse in online learning communities
  • Publish successes and information in school, teacher, and student blogs
  • Use wikis to share important school documents and resources in ways never before possible
  • Conduct learning walks that enable participants to accomplish double the outcome in half the time and make and capture meaning never before possible
  • Using Google docs and wikis to collaborate on lesson writing, collection, and sharing
  • Published and innovation roadmap with goals and actionable steps to progress along the continuum of 21st century success

What's next?
Celebrating and sharing success of course! In alignment with other NYC DOE initiatives, PS 4 will conduct an "Innovation Celebration / Learning Walk." Like the NYC Department of Education iZone schools, PS 4 will identify an area of innovation which they will celebrate and in which other schools can learn. These learning walks will of course incorporate all these elements, and even a few more, as the innovations will be captured and published via photos, videos, and text. This will allow not only PS 4 to get smarter about this work, but it also invites other schools to learn how to engage in the process.

As the administrator of this grant, I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction my personal trainer shared with me as I witnessed the transformation that has occurred as a result of solid school leadership resulting in school-wide change and transformation as they progress full-speed ahead into the 21st century!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Innovative Educator’s Educon Picks

educon22EduCon 2.2 is both a conversation and a conference that takes place January 29 -31. It is not a technology conference. It is an education conference and 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.

Here are my picks for the conference.

Friday Night Panel: What is Smart?
When/Where: Come to the Franklin Institute, from 6pm-8pm
Conversation Description: See a group of societal visionaries speak about their vision of what is smart in a panel discussion.* Introductions by Dr. Dennis Wint, CEO of The Franklin Institute* Loren Brichter - CEO of atebits Software and developer of Tweetie Twitter software.* Prof. Martha Farah - Director, Center for Neuroscience & Society and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania* Happy Fernandez — President of the Moore College of Art* Prof. Eddie Glaude - William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies. Chair, Center for African American Studies, Princeton University.* David Shenk - Author of The Genius in All of Us, Data Smog and The End of Patience (and others)* Moderated by Dr. Frederic Bertley, Vice President of the Center for Innovation and Science Learning.

The Franklin Institute casual reception will be held directly after the panel from 8:00-9:00pm.

Stager Certified Educators Executive Program
Who: Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
When: Session One
Where: Room 204
Play your cards right and you can leave this intensive, immersive, engaging and transformative session a Stager Certified Educator, complete with I.D. card, certificate of awesomeness (suitable for framing) and web badge for use on your blog or web site. Some educators don't achieve this much over a lifetime, but you may in less than 90 minutes! You will also gain a greater sense of the issues, ideas and expertise a 21st Century educator needs in order to create more productive contexts for learning. Resources for post-certification learning will be shared.

Learning 2.0 -- Overhauling Classroom Best Practices
Who: David Warlick
When: Session Two
Where: Room 208
There are numerous metrics for measuring our students learning experiences for learner appropriateness and relevance to standards and life in a time of rapid change. In this conversation, participants will work to reshape suggested current learning experiences into Classroom 2.0 best practices.

SLA Student Experience
Who: Larissa Pahomov and SLA Students
When: Session Two
Where: Room 300
Talk and learn about Science Leadership Academy with the people who matter most: the students! The members of panel will describe their own educational experiences at SLA -- as well as what lead them to the school, and where they think the experience will take them.

What if school wasn't just like real life, what if it just was real life?
When: Session Two:
Where: Room 301
Who: Diana Laufenberg
Affiliation: Science Leadership Academy
Why we attend school, what we accomplish while we are here, how we spend our time; these are the issues I would like to investigate as we consider how to make 'school' more about meaningful and enriching life experiences, and less like hoop jumping and necessary evils.Conversational Practice:We will be looking to shared examples of success, brainstorming how to overcome obstacles and creating ways in which to extend learning into real world spaces.Website:

The "Decoupling" of Education and School: Where do We Begin?
Who: Will Richardson
When: Session Three
Where: Room 204
The next ten years promise to be hugely disruptive for the traditional idea of school as more and more alternative learning platforms are created and expanded. This conversation will focus not on technology but on the larger shifts that will have to occur for schools to evolve into a different role in our society. Driving the discussion will be quotes from Allan Collins and Richard Halverson's recent book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology.

Using Technology to Foster Exploration and Reflection in Science
Who: Lucy Gray and Debbie Leslie
When: Session Three
Where: Room 308
Share and discover ways of leveraging technology in your classroom to support hands-on, inquiry-based science instruction. Come learn and discuss ways to promote observation, exploration, and reflection using engaging curriculum materials and a variety of technology tools. Bring examples of student work to share!

Educational Technology and the Law: Stump the Lawyers!
Who: Jonathan D. Becker
When: Session Three
Where: Room 309
In this "stump the lawyers" session, attendees will have an opportunity to discuss issues at the intersection of educational technology and the law with four uniquely qualified "expert" panelists. Limited only by being specific to educational technology, the topics of discussion will be generated by questions from the audience.

The Art of the Remix: Collaborative Writing in the Social Media Classroom
Who: Dr. Leif Gustavson, Vanessa Scanfeld
When: Session Four
Where: Room 311
Remixing is as old as art itself. As digital technologies expedite the transition from passive consumers of text to an engaged, read/write culture, we explore the pedagogical benefits of the remix in relation to literacy and tackle the thorny issues of plagiarism and illegal appropriation.

The Caring Classroom
Who: Zac Chase, Bud Hunt and John Pederson
When: Session Four
Where: Room 307
This conversation will focus on what can be done across subjects, grades and schools to build a climate of care.

Taking Play Seriously
When: Session Five: Sunday 12:30pm–2:00pm
Where: Room 204
Who: Brian C. Smith
Affiliation: Monroe #1 BOCES
Conversational Focus/Audience: Elementary School
Conversation Description: Diane Ackerman's quote, "play is the brain's favorite way of learning" is oft used to describe the learning that takes place in elementary schools. Despite that belief, a simple visit to any school in the country will reveal a picture that flies in the face of Ackerman's statement. We know why play is being squeezed out of schools, but bringing it back will take creative thinking, ideas and sharing. Together we will discuss and construct ideas for bringing the aspects of play into more learning experiences.

Beyond Standards; The Road Ahead
Who: Joseph J. Bires
When: Session Five
Where: Room 207
The current focus on standards is misguided and will result in students prepared for yesterday's world, rather than ready to create tomorrow. In this presentation, we will explore alternative concepts for organizing teaching and learning that will allow students to solve problems which they face now and in the future.

On the Development of Learning Spaces
When: Session Five: Sunday 12:30pm–2:00pm
Where: Room 208
Who: David Jakes
Affiliation: Glenbrook South High School, Glenview, IL
Conversation Description: There are five axioms that form the foundation of the Educon experience. The axioms focus on the characteristics of school, of the role of technology and what learning can become. They provide a framework for informing what we can andshould do as educators.When we discuss pedagogy, when we discuss the skills that we wish to see develop in students, when we discuss the role of technology, and when we discuss learning in general, it is of critical importance that we also discuss the role that learning space has in supporting what we do. Excellent practice, high-quality learning, and successful institutions all require a place for the interactions of teaching and learning . Yet, the concept learning space is rarely discussed among educators as a "one-size- fits- all" classroom is the accepted expectation and reality in today's schools. As we critically examine educational practice this weekend, it is imperative that we also carefully reconsider the importance of where learning occurs.This conversation seeks to do just that.
Conversational Practice: In this session, our conversation will be based on developing the perspectives that move participants from a classroom-based model of teaching and learning to one that is rooted in the concept of a learning space. Our conversations will help participants clarify their expectations for a learning space, and how such a space can support an expanded and relevant educational experience for students.

Leveraging the Wisdom of the Crowd: Collaborative Action Plans
When: Session Six: Sunday 2:30pm–4:00pm
Where: Room 204
Who: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
Affiliation: 21st Century Collaborative
Conversational Focus/Audience: All School Levels
Conversation Description: If using Web 2.0 tools is so easy, why is implementation so difficult? Preparing students for the 21st Century calls for collective action of all stakeholders and this session looks at the steps needed to build momentum and garner buy-in from the entire school community. Participants will discuss ways to plan collectively and strategically for the future, develop a collective professional development plan for 21st Century skill building, and make sure all students have equitable access to a 21st century education.
Conversational Practice: This will be a fast paced, facilitated session that will result in a collaborative action plan that truly leverages the wisdom of those in attendance. The goal of the session is two-fold: 1) to develop and capture a synthesis of thinking around- barriers to the shift, proactive solutions for overcoming the barriers, and development of specific, measurable action statements that can be implemented in your local context. 2) to model a protocol that can be used to garner buy-in at your school or district for managing change.

A Student's Vision of Personalized Learning & Real-time Collaboration
Who: Evan Morikawa, Andrew Pethan
When: Session Six
Where: Room 301
How do we easily cater to the individual learning styles of students through technology; and facilitate collaborative, project-based work? Join a conversation hosted by a group of students from the project-based Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Your thoughts will likely be implemented in a wide-release online software package called Alight Learning, which is actively being developed by us.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Free Math, Language Arts, and Geography Games

During a recent visit to PS 4 in Manhattan, I learned Principal White was outed for playing video games at work with one of her staff members! "You caught me," she confessed to Assistant Principal Polubiec. "These games are just really fun," she shared, as she flipped around to her computer and typed in Ms. White selected a geography game where the three of us tested our knowledge of state capitals. What impressed me about the site was not only that the games were fun and free, but also that students in a class could actually play against each other at or away from cool! Additionally, the site prides itself on safety and it is impossible for any contact to occur between players. Additionally, there is no log in or sign up to play. This means if a school or teacher determines a common naming convention for the game i.e. first name, last initial, class number, students in a school can play against each other at any time.
The games are research-based and standards-aligned and designed to engage, motivate, and help teach students. Geared toward elementary students, below are the areas in which the games are focused.
It seems teachers love the games. Here are some teacher testimonials.
"Many of the students play video games all the time at home. This was a way to let them enjoy their playing time, but to practice a skill at the same time."
- Mrs. Smeltz's success story in Lititz, PA.
"Aligning the joy of gaming with practicing math facts clearly helps transform the experience and invites students to learn in an environment they are not only comfortable with but would seek out given the choice."
- Mr. Sprankle's success story in Wells, ME.
"The math activities on your site have improved the students performance grades in classroom timed tests and have boosted the students confidence in their math abilities."
- Mr. White's success story in New Baltimore, MI.
"The students love this. They get so excited. Several of my students would rather stay inside at recess to play the games instead of going outside."
- Mrs. Kido's success story in Topeka, KS.
Innovative educators and their students will enjoy this free site and if they do, I encourage them to share their experience and publish their success story here like this teacher did.
Reactions from my Facebook friends.

Jacob Gutnicki
Jacob Gutnicki
The Arcademics is a pretty cool site. You should also take a look at My son (who has autism) has been playing Timez Attack for about 2 weeks. As a result, he knows most of the 1-4 times table. More importantly, this game has helped him develop a love for math.

A few strong cases for ditching the paper and letting books grow digital wings

More and more innovative educators see the value of conducting reading and writing digitally. Here are a few cases for those educators who have bought into going on a paper diet so they can Ditch Paper and Get to the Thinking Faster.

Joe's Non Netbook
Watch this video about a student who is frustrated as he encounters the extreme limitations of the outdated paper technology. This video was an impromptu exchange between Joe the student and @MrChase who teaches at Chris Lehmann's Science Leadership Academy. Think about if it is paper or digital that is more suited to meeting various learning styles and needs of students.

What Happens When You Combine A Phone and A Book?

It’s a really simple idea (essentially a cardboard box with an iPhone sized hole!) that combines print and technology beautifully.

What Happens When you Give a 3, 4, 8-Year-Old an iTouch?
I recently happened to come across all these pieces separately. Each of them addresses in a different way how a digital iTouch has become an engaging and preferred tool for student reading and writing. I don't think any of the creators knew about one another when crafting their pieces. They all make strong cases about the power of providing tech to students. The message that comes to mind strongly is the tactile experience that digital technology provides. When I hear folks reminisce about the "feel of the book" I think about how much richer the experience could be digitally. This first video does an amazing job of conveying this.

Why an iPhone could actually be good for your 3-year-old

Should a 4-year-old have an iPhone?

Marc Prensky shares how his four-year-old uses his iTouch for reading, writing, drawing and more.

What happens when you give a class of 8 year old children an iPod touch each?

In this video you see students using iTouches devices like it's second nature just like they do outside the classroom. They use the devices for reading, writing research and more using applications that are either free or much less expensive than the traditional textbook.

Devices to Take Textbooks Beyond Text

I am not a supporter of textbooks, but if educators can't break away from the outdated habit, digital is an improvement that is considered in this NY Times article. From the article: NEWSPAPERS and novels are moving briskly from paper to pixels, but textbooks have yet to find the perfect electronic home. Now there is a new approach that may adapt well to textbook pages: two-screen e-book readers with a traditional e-paper display on one screen and a liquid-crystal display on the other to render graphics like science animations in color.

Where do we go from here
Innovative educators are starting to take the charge to save our students from drowning in paper. They are doing this not by going out and purchasing new gadgets, but rather by embracing the technology which many our students already have access to in their homes whether it's a smartphone, iTouch, iPhone, etc. While we can provide some of this technology in school, the transformation really begins once we begin harnessing the power of the fourth screen to engage in their reading, writing, and thinking 21st century style

Saturday, January 23, 2010

txting = good 4 kds?

-by Dana Lawit

Lisa Nielsen (creator of this blog) is a champion of utilizing cell phones for education. Whether using cell phones in school as a class response system or for at home for homework help, the cell phones already in use by kids can be used for school as well.

As a teacher, I've both chuckled and rolled by eyes when a student answers a test question with "idk" or turns in homework that include texting shorthand. Skeptics of the merits of using cell phones could point to these uses as evidence that students' lives are over saturated with cell phones and smart phones -- to the point that students use texting, email, and IM jargon instead of standard English.

In a new study reported by the BBC, it turns out texting may help student spelling. Turns out, it takes quote a bit of phonological awareness to turn later to l8r or homework to hmwrk. There is clearly a need for further research, but the results of this study further Lisa's point; rather than try to ban cell phones and other technologies embraced by our students, we should seek to understand how they are used by young people and how we in turn can use them in education.

(image via Flickr)

Monday, January 18, 2010

When "Free at Last" Means Escaping the Boring Prison of School

I recently spoke on the phone with Aaron Iba who, despite being labeled since 2nd grade as a “Multiple Problem Child” has achieved success at age 26 as cofounder of a product called Etherpad which was recently purchased by Google. I was intrigued when I first learned of Aaron through Ben Grey’s Tweet The Best About Me Page You’ll Ever See. Iba’s “About Me” page is a psychological report warning that his “playful attitude toward all school learning will make academic progress very difficult. He was referred for psychological testing because his overly active and impulsive behavior presented a serious “management problem in school.” 

Contributing to the problem, the report explains is that, “Regarding school, his complaint is that he feels ‘bored.’” However, he was “quite dramatic in describing his excitement when playing his Nintendo computer games. Throughout the testing he made constant reference to them as if nothing else in his life mattered or could hold his attention.” The report goes on to recommend that he be placed in psychotherapy to address his "development delays."

His story hit home with me as Iba and I share a similar school experience. A psychological report as an "About Me" page sends an important message to all those who knew, know, or are like Iba, who might take solace in the fact that not having what it takes to succeed in school does not equate with not having what it takes to succeed in life. His story inspired me to write this post Fix Boring Schools, Not Kids Who Are Bored.

While many students with similar reports are treated with medications to help those labeled as "multiple problem children," fortunately neither of our parents wanted to risk using meds as a treatment (studying the long-term neurological damage resulting from this is an area Iba is interested in exploring). Instead Iba continued through school, as he shared, "bored most of the time." As a result he readily found opportunities for mischief and was overlooked by his teachers. Iba shares he had one exception during his entire k - 12 experience. A 4th grade teacher who allowed him to sit in his own space in the classroom doing logo programming. Iba laments that he just isn't the type of person who could sit back passively listening to a teacher trying to impart knowledge. He liked interactivity and engagement which was why he drawn to technology. Immediate stimuli / response / gratification.

As Iba progressed onto middle school, despite an IQ in the superior range, he never cared much for, or performed well in school. True to his report, Iba was "oblivious to the reality demands made in a school setting." With perhaps only the exception of the grade 4 teacher who allowed Iba to disengage from the rest of the class, there were no teachers who took particular note of Iba in any positive way nor worked with him to ask about or even notice his talents or passions. They had a curriculum to teach. Learning about who their students were, how they learned best, and what they cared about just wasn't a part of it.

Right around 9th grade Iba's father shared a book that forever changed him. It was a book called Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. In the book Steven Levy describes the people, the machines, and the events that defined the Hacker Culture and the Hacker Ethic, from the early mainframe hackers at MIT, to the self-made hardware hackers and game hackers. Contrary to negative media sterotypes, Levy describes the hacker ethic as the idea that individuals are performing a duty for the common good, an analogy to a modern day 'Robin Hood'. The hacker communities as a result are prided on the fact that they are the rebellion against authority figures that restrict this level of computer freedom. Levy wanted to present a more accurate view of hackers than the one most people had. He found them to be adventurers, visionaries, risk-takers, and artists rather than nerdy social outcasts or unprofessional programmers who wrote dirty, nonstandard computer code (Wikipedia).

Iba for the first time was reading about an entire of culture of people that excited him. From then on he was on a singular mission to become a student at MIT...despite his boredom in school. He "played" school, doing what he needed to, to get good grades, still remaining unnoticed by any teacher in particular. Despite the fact that no one and no body in his high school experience took interest in him, he had a determination that could not be stopped...inspired by a book that exposed him to a future he wanted.

This "multiple problem child" suddenly ceased to be a problem when exposed to a passion which gave him a new found purpose and motivation to achieve it. Sadly, this all happened in spite of, not because of, his schooling. Once Iba reached his personal mecca there was no stopping him, but it was by chance outside of school, rather than by design inside a system that instead wanted to send this "multiple talented child" to psychotherapy to fix him so they could eliminate "his playful attitude toward school" and ensure he "was no longer oblivious to the reality demands made in a school setting." Iba could not sit still in class. His mind was made for more than sitting still. Schools felt it was necessary to fix this defect which they deemed would result in him facing significant psychological problems because of his inability to see and accept such boundaries.

It's time to remove such boundaries from our students. When set free Iba excelled at MIT, went on to a successful career at Google, co-founded his own start up company which was recently acquired for a reported 10 million dollars. Finally set free, this multi-millionaire, 26-year-old has been re-employed by Google enjoying a life without boundaries where he can truly soar and spread his wings.

Editor's note: This post is my Martin Luther King Day tribute. You can read the story in Aaron Iba's own words at Low Tolerance for Boredom.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Low Tolerance for Boredom

Editor's note: This piece was written by Aaron Iba following a conversation we had where I asked he share his story with others who may themselves identify with his experience or know of a student like Aaron. It is cross posted on Aaron Iba's blog. The conversation was also inspiration for the this Martin Luther King Day tribute When "Free at Last" Means Escaping the Boring Prison of School.

Lisa Nielsen stumbled across my psychological testing results from when I was 7 years old and wrote about it. She is giving a talk about innovation in education and asked me to share my story, so here it is.

I'm 26 years old. When I was 23 I founded a software company that was recently acquired by Google, and before that I went to MIT where I got a degree in mathematics and nearly perfect grades. So if you'll excuse the immodestly, I think based on my recent history most people would consider me pretty successful academically and professionally.

None of my early teachers, however, would have predicted any sort of success for me. At Estabrook Elementary School, I lit fires and sprayed graffiti in the bathrooms. At Diamond Middle School, Sopheak Un and I stole all the mouse balls from the computer lab, prompting an all-hands meeting of the students and teachers in the cafeteria. (I believe Joey Carroll ratted me out). I was permanently banned from riding the school bus for doing something I am too ashamed of to publish on the web. In 7th grade, I sold a 3" Israeli army knife to Matt Fallon, who pulled it out during English class. These are just some of the things I remember getting caught doing. Detention, suspension, and attempted expulsion were regular occurrences in my early life.

Everything changed during the summer before high school. My dad suggested I read the book Hackers, by Steven Levy. I was already interested in computers because they provided a great source of stimulation at a pace I could control. But after reading Hackers, I had a new purpose in life. I wanted to go to MIT and be a hacker myself. In order to get into MIT, I realized, I needed good grades and a clean academic record, so I made that happen. I was fanatically motivated to go to MIT, and this created a goal toward which I could leverage my energy and learn to control my impulses.

I'm not saying it was OK that I acted like a hoodlum in middle school. I feel bad for my teachers and my parents for all the grief I caused them. But I also suffered. I had a tremendous amount of energy and a craving for challenge and stimulation, yet I was forced to try to sit still in a classroom and passively take in information at a slow pace. School was a boring prison for me, and I did what I could to bring excitement into my life in an environment that seemed designed to prevent it.

At 26, I still have a low tolerance for boredom and consider this a virtue. It's what led me to entrepreneurship and gives me a healthy appetite for risk.

I don't have all the answers for how to fix the situation for other kids like me, and I don't know how common my situation is. My message to educators is simply to keep an open mind when it comes to rambunctious little problem students. Maybe they just have a low tolerance for boredom.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What's Your Sentence?

"Whole New Mind" and, now, "Drive" author Daniel Pink shares two questions that can change the life of you and students in this video.

Two questions that can change your life from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

Innovative educators, will recognize what a fantastic video this is to show students. Those who use blogs, discussion forums, or other online learning communities with their students could post this video and have students respond. 

 How fantastic would that be...students starting to think about, discuss, refine, revise, and perfect "their sentence." What a great insight into students for educators interested in differentiating instruction by engaging students with whatever it is that drives them. 

The second question, "Am I better today than yesterday?" is a fantastic student assessment tool. Now this is the type of data that should drive instruction! 

I went through elementary school, middle school, high school, undergrad, and grad school without anyone bothering to ask me what my sentence was, or bother to care about my interests, talents, and passions. 

I know there are some educators out there who will change that for today's students...and for themselves! Helping students find their sentence is a great start.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finding Authenticity: Publishing with Wikipedia

-by Dana Lawit

Lisa recently wrote that innovative educators don't say hand it in, they say publish it. This simple phrase conveys with great efficiency and elegance the notion that the work students produce should live beyond the classroom they sit in, and the grade they earn. This is easier said than done.

While developing assessments, I often struggle to find authentic applications of all of the knowledge and skills laid out for our students in the learning standards. Also, the world isn't built for the contributions of teens.


The world wasn't built for the contributions of teens. Today, many of the most viewed videos on YouTube are created by individuals our students' ages. The web provides not only a means for publishing, but a reason.

This past December, a co-teacher and myself worked with 20 students to conduct research to learn about the history of our school building. A new school on a much larger campus, there is little known to our students about the 90 year history of the building or the people that attended.

Over the course of a week, students read through clippings about the high school found in the Brooklyn Collection at the Brooklyn Public library, looked at primary sources such as maps and photographs, consulted with librarians and archivists, and interviewed alumni.

The students' task was to update the Wikipedia entry about the school. (You can read the older version here)

Wikipedia is an incredible teaching tool for the importance of citation, peer review, and evaluating sources. Without proper citations, the entry will change to reflect only sourced information.

Creating a Wikipedia entry was a great, authentic reason for students to publish their findings. Students were initially greatly frustrated that they had to go to so many different sources to learn about the school. I told them the reason for this is that no one had ever taken the time to put all of the history in one place. Part of their work would make it easier for other students to learn about the school.

Through research and interviews, the students worked in groups to piece together a timeline of some of the school's history. Some interesting discoveries: 1) the mural in the auditorium was commissioned by the WPA during the Great Depression; 2) students during WWII raised so much money in War Bonds, they were at one point leading the nation; 3) teachers and students were cited as socialists before the HUAC during the Red Scare; and much more. Click to read the updated entry about our school building.

Interestingly, one student asked where her name would appear in the entry.
"It won't," I told her. She seemed confused.
"But I did so much work," she said.
I explained to her that both she and I knew that she researched and worked hard, and that part of publishing on Wikipedia is contributing to a world of knowledge and information without the name recognition.
"Its about being part of a community," I told her. "Wikipedia is a collection of knowledge, we all have to take care of it."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Social Books Unlock Reader’s Voice and Provide Opportunity for Conversation

When Oprah launched her season 24 kick off party this year with the Black-Eyed Peas, like Oprah, I was going absolutely nuts!!! I couldn’t believe that twenty thousand people came together through the magic of the social networking to do one thing. Dance in unison to bring joy and happiness to a worldwide audience and themselves. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about click here.) What was so amazing about the event was that it transformed the way a concert was experienced. The audience, not the performers, became the entertainment and as a result the experience was better not only for the entire live audience but for the entire viewing audience as well.

Well now this concept has come to books…the last bastion of the old business model—the only major medium that still hasn't embraced the digital age. Every other form of media that's gone digital has been transformed by its audience. Whenever a newspaper story or TV clip or blog post or white paper goes online, readers and viewers begin commenting about it on blogs, snipping their favorite sections, passing them along. The only reason the same thing doesn't happen to books is that they're locked into ink on paper. (Wired magazine, 5/22/09)

Like the Oprah, Black Eyed Peas performance, reading is now being released to the readers with Book Glutton, a transformational tool that combines eReading with the social media experience. Readers can comment, chat, and discuss away. When I registered for the site I was thrilled to see some of my favorite educators (Susan Ettenheim, Paul Allison) were already onboard. They had formed a private group with 43 of their students and colleagues and were reading books collaboratively. Of course, I requested membership to their group. As I looked around I saw many other educators had also formed groups and were reading books this way with their students. And, guess what??? Many of these books are available free!

Here’s what Susan and Paul’s students are saying about BookGlutton.
"Reading on a website is much more convenient then having to flip the pages of a book or worrying that you'll lose your page. BookGlutton is a great way to encourage students to read, chat, and share their opinions!"—Ammym
“I'm a student and I like the fact that I can come to this website and read books that may not be available to me at school or a library. I think that this is a great site for students who, like me, like to read, this is a great way to encourage students to read. —Allesia

Why eBooks?
I love to tell the story of when I worked as a literacy coach and then as an instructional technology staff developer working with literacy coaches, I often turned to the literacy expert Lucy Calkins for guidance and feedback. When we discussed a one-to-one laptop program I was launching, she said, “Why on earth would you spend all that money to give every child a laptop??? I would rather give each student a lot of books.” I explained how every laptop was equipped with the Microsoft eReader which provides a portal, personal library of books (no special eReading device required) and that sites like
Digital Book Index (then, and Google now) provide links to more than 148,000 full-text digital books from more than 1800 commercial and non-commercial publishers, universities, and various private sites. More than 120,000 of these books, texts, and documents are available free, while many others are available at very modest cost. Additionally the eReader provides a much richer experience than paper allowing you to highlight, flag, write and comment directly on the book, adjust the font size, have unknown words spoken or defined, auto “Go to” any page, easy search for word or phrase and more. Now it started to make sense to her why one-to-one was so valuable. She purchased devices for her whole staff getting them started in using laptops too. Fast forward more than a half-decade, and devices have dropped to less the half the price, and now, there’s a way to make some offerings collaborative.

Ideas for the classroom
Once Books Have the Opportunity to Shed the Paper and Grow their Digital Wings the implications for education in general and literacy in particular are enormous. When I was in college, I would spend considerable time I the used-book section of the college book store looking for titles containing highlights, mark ups, and notes from people who seemed smart. I loved the connection I had with the never-to-be-met person whose name was scribbled behind the cover of the book. BookGlutton takes this to a whole new level. For those reading this thinking the comments and discussions might be too distracting at times, they’ve thought of that. You can disable or enable the feature to suit your heady desires.

Here are some ideas for how teachers can begin using this in the classroom today.

1) Engage your students inside and outside of class.
Students come to class already engaged in the subject matter by the time they arrive because they have the opportunity to have conversations about books all night or weekend long. This enables in-class conversations to be deeper and richer than they would have been otherwise.

2) Connecting students to others with the same interests.
While it’s great to be able to find students in a class with similar interests and reading levels, there are often times when you have some students who just don’t fit in with the random sampling in your class. This tool lets educators connect students across classes, across grades, and even across schools.

3) Take the ePals concept to a whole new level.
While many teachers have connected with partner classes across the globe about topics of interest, this tool enables students to specifically collaborate on books and make a whole new type of connection.

4) Free Books!!!!
Start with something free. Several of the titles are available at no cost. While the site is in beta and still growing, how many free books do you have for every student in your class today? Find a few good titles and instantly have an entire class set.

5) Encourage students to start their own book clubs
The club can be as open or private as you and the student agree to. Here’s a sample from one GluttonBooks Club: I love to read and I'd love it even more if others wanted to read with me. I like mostly Fantasy/SciFi/Paranormal stuff. Mostly Young Adult. I also really like Christian books... So this will be the type of books we will read in the club! I have like 200 books to choose we shouldn't ever get bored!!

6) Have students publish their own books!
Book Glutton allows members to upload and their own books enabling students to become authors with published pieces with which others can read and interact.

7) Connect with Authors
Have a favorite author? Ask them to join a group formed about their book. Think it’s far-fetched? Think again. I’ve talked with many book authors who lament the fact that books don’t provide the opportunity to engage with their readers the way other mediums do. My guess is that if there book is published in this format, they may consider it. I’m going to approach a book author and request we publish a chapter of his book privately for teachers I work with to have a conversation about it in this format. Book members will have also purchased a hardcopy of the book since it was not created for this format.

How it Works

Supporting students without access to a computer

The number of homes that have internet access is increasing rapidly, though, of course not every student has home access to a computer. This doesn’t mean you should make a decision for an entire school not to use technology. When I was teaching the number of students without computers was much higher than it is today. Here are some things I did:

  • Funded the school library which had computers to stay open late a few nights each week.
  • Connected students to local libraries. They all have computers. Talk to the librarians. Bring your students in and introduce them to the librarians…especially students who may be going there.
  • Help students buddy up.
  • Reach out to the community and see if there are any partnerships that can be made. We started a mentor program. The mentors can serve as a great resource for the students.
  • Connect with a local university to see if some of your students can get ID and access to the facilities. Great experience/exposure for students and many universities are happy to open their doors.

Even if you do none of these things, you’d be surprised. With intrinsic motivation students often find a friend or neighbor with internet access on their own.

Discovering Book Glutton

I never would have known about this site if not for my fantastic personal learning network in general and in particular from this Facebook status update:

Lisa Velmer Nielsen 21st century book dream: I subscribe to a book online that I can read w/others (think Google-docs or Diigo-ish, but better!). We can all comment on parts of the book. Discuss...even chat & have book talks. Wondering what others think.

I received 16 comments included this one:

Jerry Crisci
Jerry Crisci
How about using Bookglutton?
It seems to have some of the functionality that you are looking to use.

Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Lisa Velmer Nielsen
Jerry, thank you for sharing. Have you used this site???

Join Me on Book Glutton

Now that I’ve discovered BookGlutton and shared it with you, I hope you’ll join me on the site. Just look for the username, InnovativeEd

My Favorite Quote for 2010

I recently wrote My Top 20 Education Quotes from 2009, but my favorite quote (perhaps even Mantra) for 2010 is from Will Richardson in 2008. A great thing about quotes is they can last forever...especially when you publish them. Here is the quote along with the post from where it came. A great read too btw...

"What I want from my kids’ school is to help me identify what they love, what their strengths are, and then help them create their own paths to mastery of their passions. Stop spending so much time focusing on subjects or courses that 'they need for college' but don’t interest them in the least. Help them become learners who will be able to find and make good use of the knowledge that they need when they need it, whether that means finding an answer online or taking a college course to deepen their understanding. And finally, prepare them to create their own credentials that will powerfully display their capabilities, passions and potentials."On My Mind & The Shifts 29 Dec 2008 11:00 am“Oh, and You Have a Degree, Too?”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don't be illTwitterate or aTextual

This sign will be helpful for educators working with colleagues or students who are illTwitterate or aTextual. Below are some ideas for using these texting tools with students.

Free Classroom Response System

Most educators are familiar with classroom response systems (CRS) a.k.a. clickers. Common brands are eInstruction, Sentio, TurningPoint, Activote. Those who use the systems know they run about $2,500 - $4,000 (depending on various options selected) for a class set and allow educators to track student learning, engage an entire class as they collect real-time responses from students, and enables them to quickly assess understanding and achievement. While these are valuable instructional outcomes clickers are costly and the distribution, collection, and maintenance of devices is rather cumbersome. In many cases using them requires training to figure out how to upload the software, input questions, maneuver from one question to the next and share answers. Additionally, the devices have an old-style, phone-like keypad without a letter on each button that makes submitting a response quite tedious. The clickers just don’t look like the technology students use in real life. Even some teachers in schools where these devices have been purchased aren't using them because of the these reasons.

Fortunately for teachers who incorporate cell phones into instruction there is Poll Everywhere, which serves not only as a student response system, but also provides educators with a terrific alternative to the direct to phone text. Poll Everywhere provides students with a simple method to share their ideas right from their phones. Teacher can set up various free text polls to gather information from students and keep the responses private or make them public. Educators can view individual student answers in their web browser or download them as a spreadsheet. They can then import answers into course management systems like Blackboard/WebCT or Moodle. Student identity is established with a simple device registration process. On mobile phones, students simply enter their student ID and the link to all future answers is established.

Ideas for Using a Classroom Response System with Students

There are endless ways this tool can be used to enhance learning.
1) Set up a homework help poll for a particular assignment or unit of study. Students can simply text in the questions when they have them. This could set the stage beautifully for the next day's lesson enabling the teacher to differentiate instruction based on student need.
2) Have students respond to a discussion topic. The teacher shares the topic and students text in their answers to be viewed publicly or privately by the teacher.
3) Of course, what Poll Everywhere does better than the rest, is polls. Need to do a quick check for understanding? Poll your students. Want them to vote on a favorite character in a book? Poll your students. Collecting data on a science experiment? Poll your students. Poll Everywhere provides educators with the ability to know what all their students are thinking at anytime and works great as a pre and post assessment quizzing tool.

Here's how to get started

  • Students will have no problem figuring out how to use Poll Everywhere. They use this technology all the time when watching and voting on their favorite television shows. Here's how.
  • Have students put the number 99503 into their phone.
  • Project the poll.
  • Students text Poll Everywhere at 99503 and enter the code that corresponds to their answer.
  • The answers instantly appear on the poll being projected.
Twitter Captures Students Thoughts and Ideas
Twitter provides a terrific way for teachers to get an unlimited stream of feedback from students over a period of time on any subject. Students and teachers are using Twitter in a variety of ways.

Ideas for using Twitter with students
1) At Marta Valle High School they held an innovation fair celebrating the successes of the innovative work teachers are doing with their students. Some students were selected as fair reporters. These students interviewed attendees with the question, "Please tell me in 140 characters or less what has impressed you most about what you've seen at our innovation fair." Students tweeted the responses using their school tag. The Twitter feed could be seen on monitors throughout the school using, and on their school website using an rss feed. This provided a unique way to capture their school celebration publicly and provided recognition of the work students were doing in an exciting way which they could share with their parents.
2) Text to capture reflections during field trips. If you're in a school where cells are banned, you may be able to have students bring them on field trips. If that is not allowed, the chaperon's devices can be used. Rather than have students walk around taking notes. Have them Tweet their reflections. You can set up a tag for your tweets if the place you are visiting doesn't already have one. Give parents the feed and they'll instantly know what their child did at school today and can have robust conversations about it. When students are back at home and/or school a review of the tweets could lead to powerful conversation or could serve as a launch for further study i.e. pick the most interesting tweet or set of tweets and create something to share with others about the topic you are tweeting about. This could be a podcast, video, blog post, etc. These digital creations can all be posted in one place as a reflection collection and even shared on the website of the school and place visited.
3) Have students do a daily or weekly tweet about something that day. In his post “What Did You Create Today?” ( 08/22/09), Will Richardson shares some great possibilities that could be used in a daily tweet: What did you teach others? What unanswered questions are you struggling with? How did you change the world in some small (or big) way? What’s something your teachers learned today? What did you share with the world? Not only is this a great way for teachers to have a sense of what is going on with their students, it also provides students with a way to connect with each other and their parents.
4) Use Twitter as a tool to capture student voice by having them respond to class lectures using Twitter. Texas educator Dr. Rankin had a tremendous amount of success with this noting how much more engaged students were during lessons, how they were able to make meaning in new ways, and her students note how this has really helped more students develop and share ideas. Hear from the teachers and students directly at

Here's how to get started

  • First each student needs to register for a Twitter account with an email and password.
  • Remind students that this is their academic account and everything on there should be appropriate. Discuss consequences for inappropriate use.
  • Encourage students to follow a standard protocol for their account names that reveals identity to only those partaking. One way to do this is having students use the first three letters of their last name, first three letters of their first name, and middle initial. For instance my name, Lisa Michelle Nielsen would be Niemlis. This should be set up as a whole class activity so all students can be walked through the account set up together to provide clarity on account set up.
  • Next the teacher should explain to students how they will be using tags. Tags allow the teacher and students to follow tweets. Look at the "Trending Topics" in the right hand navigation for popular tags. Let students click on them and share what they notice about tagging.
  • Then the teacher can share with students the tags they will be using. There may be a school tag (i.e. Susan B. Anthony High School would be SBAHS), a class tag, and tags for particular activities or areas of study.
  • Next the students need to set their twitter accounts up to receive text updates. They do this by entering their phone number at
  • They will then enter Twitter into their phone with this number: 40404.
  • After this one time set up is complete, you and your students can start engaging in some engaging microblogging assignments.

Safety note: Teachers should note that some schools may have policies against following your students on Twitter. That's okay. With tags, you don't need to follow your students and searches will only turn up tweets related to the topic you are exploring with your students.

Put an Expert in Every Student's Pocket with ChaCha

Imagine having an expert to turn to at any time for information, advice, guidance…for free! That’s ChaCha, an amazing service that will become invaluable to students. As the site says, “ChaCha is like having a smart friend you can call or text for answers on your cell phone anytime for free!” ChaCha works on any cell phone with every provider and enables students to ask any question and receive an accurate answer as a text message in just a few minutes.

Ideas for Using ChaCha with Students

1) Have all your students ask ChaCha questions about an area of study. Have them share their answers in whatever way you’d like i.e. on a discussion board about the topic, on post its in the class, as Tweets, etc. Have students try to guess what the question was. This is a fun and engaging way to review a unit. If students are in schools where cells are banned, this can be done outside of school. Just have students bring their answers with them to school on paper or submit them digitally.
2) ChaCha is a great homework help aide. Let’s face it, regardless of academic ability, race, class, or type of household, there are often times when students don’t have someone around to help them with their homework. Chacha solves this problem by connecting students to a free network of about 25,000 ChaCha guides. If a student gets stuck…just ask ChaCha. Of course, you’ll want to discuss with students the importance of confirming their information is accurate, just as they’d do if they asked a friend or family member.
3) While many households still do not have internet access, most have at least one cell phone. Chacha is an alternative resource for students who do not have a computer at home. What can you ask ChaCha? Anything! Here are some examples from the ChaCha site:
During the summer I had to read a book which was pretty confusing and if I had a question about a word or phrase, ChaCha explained to me what it meant. Thank you so much ChaCha! ~ Kay
I won a bet on the size of the Moon compared to the Earth, thanks to ChaCha’s quick answer. Can I take my ChaCha guide to my free dinner? ~ Tenny
My mom told me Angora fur was from a goat…I told her it was from a rabbit. Thank you ChaCha for winning me a good home cooked meal!!! I love ChaCha ~ Leah
My family and I were arguing about how far north in the state of Florida where we could find a coconut palm tree. ChaCha came to the rescue and ended it! Thanks again!! ~ Jed

Here’s How to Get Started

  • Enter 242242 (spells ‘ChaCha’) into your phone or call 1-800-2ChaCha (800-224-2242) from your mobile phone.
  • Text your question to ChaCha or call and ask any question
  • You will receive an answer in minutes that also cites the source and informs you who your guide is answering the question.
  • You may want to ask your question more than once as different guides often use different sources and you’ll receive different answers.
Google SMS as a Powerful Learning Tool
While having ubiquitous access to computers at home or school is far from a reality in many districts, having ubiquitous access to cells is already a least in student homes where devices are allowed. Even if students are banned from using the devices at school, teaching them to use Google sms will be powerfully important for students even if it is something they can only use as a homework tool. Additionally, the features of Google sms can be taught using a virtual phone that Google has set up online at that can be demonstrated to students if a teacher has access to a laptop and projector.

Google sms is powerful! Even for students with a text-only plan, Google sms provides students with much of the vast amount of knowledge and information formerly available to only those with the internet. Have students enter "G-O-O-G-L-E" in their phones with the number 466453. This is the code that unlocks the key to a world of knowledge for students who will now be able to use their phones to translate languages, convert currency, calculate, define words, find out what's going on in other parts of the world and much, much more.

Ideas for Using Google SMS with Students

1) Have students create a guide to their local area. You may want to model this first by creating a guide to the school block, then let students use this model to create a guide to another neighborhood such as their own block or that of a family member. Possible tools: “Web Snippets,” “Currency,” “Local,” “Translation,” “Weather”
2) Recommend that ELL and foreign language students use the translate tool when they come upon a word they don’t know. Possible tool: “Translate"
3) Recommend students use the define tool to look up a word or concept they don't know when reading. Possible tools: "Define," "Web Snippets"

Here's How to Get Started

  • Text message your search query to 466453 ('GOOGLE' on most devices).
  • Google will text message back results.
  • To use the online interactive demo visit
  • The demo enables you to view the results of a query on the phone image which shows how it would look on your own mobile device.