Wednesday, March 31, 2010

10 Ideas for Innovative Math Instruction

Innovative educators know that math doesn't have to be boring or abstract. There are several innovative ideas for spicing up your math class. My favorite idea for educating innovatively in math is mathcasting which is fabulous, free, and easy. The first three articles below touch on the concept. The fourth article introduces two really interesting math resources that innovative math educators may find of interest. One is a site that has great ideas for relating math to real life and another is a bank of videos that students stuck on a concept can refer to when necessary. The fifth, sixth, and seventh article highlight some software programs that math educators might find of interest for remediation, though they're more geared toward elementary. The eighth article has some inspirational lectures to inspire math students, and the ninth article looks at an innovative math program piloted in New York City. The last is a link to which is fabulously cool and free. From algebra to vectors - and everything in between - the site enables you to explore ways to get the message across and bring math to life.

  1. Kids Teach Kids with Mathcasting
  2. There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch: 8 Free and Easy Ways to Begin Educating Innovatively
  3. 21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!
  4. Innovative Ideas That Make Sense for Those Hungry for Math Instruction
  5. Free Math, Language Arts, and Geography Games
  6. Timez Attack Helps Kids Have Fun Tackling Math Times Tables
  7. Game-Based Learning Site for Innovative Math Educators
  8. 100 Incredible Open Lectures for Math Geeks
  9. 5 Innovative Ways to Differentiate Instruction as Witnessed During My Visit to the School of One
  10. Teacher's TV - Math
If you find any of these ideas useful, please share your thoughts in a comment or even a guest post on The Innovative Educator.

Here's another great resource:
"Science of NFL Football" is a 10-part video series funded by the National Science Foundation and produced in partnership with the National Football League. Lessonopoly has created student activities and lesson plans to support the video series which will help students learn concepts like nutrition, kinematics, and projectile motion. Each video is complemented with lesson plans which include fun classroom activities.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Happens When you Give a 3, 4, 8-Year-Old an iTouch?

When asked what an appropriate age is to integrate cell phones into the classroom, I recommend doing so at the time they exist for most outside of the classroom. According to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project today that means around 12-years-old for cell phones. However, it is at a much earlier age that children become intrigued with iTouches, often commandeering one of a parent, family member or friend when possible. Conversely adults have found that putting one of these devices into the hands of a young child can keep them entertained for quite some time. The beauty of these devices for educational use is that they are functional without cell phone service operating wherever there is an internet connection.

For educators interested in integrating technology into the lower grade classrooms, iTouches might be a tool to explore. Below are a few ways that 3, 4, and 8 year olds have been using iTouches. Each of them addresses different ways in which iTouches have become an engaging tool for students. They all make strong cases about the power of providing tech to students. You'll notice with each of them the appeal of 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 a great 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.

iPod Touches in our Pre-K Classroom

This video features a Pre-K student who explains how she is using an iPod touch to help her learn to spell better.

Finding apps to use with your students

These are just a few ideas for using iTouches with early elementary students. The best way for educators to determine what's right for their students is to start with learning goals and then partner with students and parents/guardians to determine ways various technologies can help meet them.

A terrific resource for teachers and students engaging in this work is, a site where users can find and share the mobile apps they love listed by categories like "kids" and "education." Not only is this a great resource, but encouraging students and their parents to share and review apps for the world is also a powerful learning experience.

The iPhone Mom
Another terrific resource for finding iTouch Apps is This site is maintained by the mother of four iPhone/iTouch using kids. This is a great way to bring families into the conversation. Have your student explore apps with their families. Remember, not all students need to use the same apps to accomplish a learning goal. Share with your student's parents/guardians what you're trying to help their children learn and ask them to visit this resource for ideas. Encourage your student's parents to begin establishing their digital footprint by commenting on the blog with feedback they have from using the apps with their children and teachers can do the same with class reviews of apps they find useful.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Engage Learners with A "Do Something" Curriculum

By Michael Staton
Cross posted at

The Innovative Educator's popular post "Fix Boring Schools, Not Kids Who Are Bored" struck a cord with many readers. Add me to the list of bored, restless, and misbehaved children that fit in the educational system like a square peg in a round hole. In second grade, my school tried to hold me back for not being “developed” enough after consistent misbehavior. As a result my mom took me to get some tests done and I tested into fourth grade. Weary of putting a scrawny ADHD dork into rooms full of boys three years larger my mom opted not to go this route. By High School, I set a school record, but not the kind that makes a mother proud. By that time I wasn’t buying the whole scene. I got into punk rock and my record was for the most detentions served. I was never engaged in school. My success as an adult, occurred despite, rather than because of my education. If not for reckless ambition following the onset of testosterone and political activism involved in the positive side of the punk rock subculture, I might have never reapplied myself.

The most irritating aspect about school for me was the focus on remembering fleeting knowledge. The curriculum was content driven, and though there were some skills that came along the way - writing, mathematical, and analytical, - the daily practice of schools was in the “do homework/take the test,” kind of vein. I wanted dramatically to learn TO DO SOMETHING.

Even then, when the internet was still in its infancy, it was clear to me that content knowledge was almost always something you could look up and master quickly when needed, but that to learn to "do something" – to learn to produce good work, from scratch and of economic and social value – was what would be relevant in the world.

Today, I run an education focused start-up called Inigral in San Francisco. Being an entrepreneur means having to immediately learn (and hire and support others in learning) a range of skills and procedures. I need people on board that can do things and/or throw themselves into something and learn full competency quickly. Contract law, finance, design, product development, engineering, etc. The world of work makes it painfully obvious that the school curriculum is not aligned to the world outside school.

Some people are fortunate to find programs where they can pick up these kind of skills in college, and there’s some validity that the core curriculum in part sets the basic platform for later economic contribution. But, mainly, I see that people figure this out how to "do something" DESPITE the schooling system rather than because of it. For example, in my own company our Chief Technology Officer taught himself software engineering in high school, and an intern I hired taught himself video production.

School can effectively prepare students if they don’t focus on “procedural knowledge” – the act of mastering and employing a skill to attain value. School must start teaching that life is a series of new processes and skills you will have to master, therefore the operation of acquiring new skills is perhaps the most important skill of all.

Just as important is the ability to anticipate what kind of skills will be relevant, to adapt, and to proactively learn from them. After all, the necessary skill set in the workforce transforms rapidly.

This is not a new idea. We have seen trade-based courses and non-core electives that focus on skills. We have also seen the rise of Project-Based Learning and other models of instruction. However, I have yet to see a "do something" curriculum or school design. Somehow the American conversation on education actually devalues approaches without a singular focus on core content. It's that strange obsession that, I feel, has us barking up the wrong tree altogether.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Teenage Pressure Cooker

By Jacob Gutnicki

Janice did not like school. That damned Mr. Lotta made her miserable. Always taunting her for drifting off into space. Didn’t he understand that he was boring her? Of course she understood that this was no game. After all, you don’t pass math and your stuck in this hellhole.

Her parents did not make matters easier. Dad would always say, “No daughter of mine is going to fail math. Young lady if you ever plan of having a future you better crack open those books!” Mom was a bit more sympathetic. She would try to give me encouragement. However, she found ways to make me crazy as well. Years ago, the school labeled me “hyperactive” and suggested that my parents get me medicated. At the time, I did not understand what all of this meant. However, in time the repercussions became very clear. My friends would jokingly call me a druggy.

Well… enough was enough. I wasn’t going to let anyone control my life. I stopped taking those pills over 2 years ago. For once, it is nice to know that I am control of my life. Naturally, my parents have no idea that I am off the meds and have been flushing the pills. As far as they are concerned the medicine seems to really be working. After all, I always seem happy.

Unbeknownst to them I found the ultimate aphrodisiac in the form of a technology internship program. Two days a week I work in a different school as a High School Intern fixing and upgrading computers. The principal at the Clara Barton School is really nice. She is always so appreciative for my technical assistance. The tech coordinator is pretty cool too. She has shown me a number of trouble shooting techniques and has taught me about the finer intricacies of job etiquette.

I suppose things are not so bad. The district representative was telling me about an early college program that sounds really interesting. Anyhow… the math tutor is coming over so I need to stop yapping.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Eureka! We've Finally Perfected Educating Students for the Past Ken Robinson goes prime time on the Bonnie Hunt Show to lament the fact that in the 21st century we've finally perfected the art of preparing students to meet the needs of manufacturing. If we're entering what Daniel Pink describes as the conceptual age, we're way off the mark. Unfortunately, students are anything but standard and we're judging them as though they are all the same. Innovative educators know that they're not! They are different. Despite that, schools have become a manufacturing system that is all about conformity (video 1:44). This is driven by the multi-billion dollar industry of standardized testing which judges intelligence in the same way even though kids are very different people with different intelligences and talents.

Robinson goes on to explain that when you test different kids with different talents in the same way, many of those kids fail. Hunt adds some insight surmising that when so many kids fail it's no surprise that 30 - 50% of student are not graduating when we're only testing to the strength of a particular type of student. Robinson shares that this is not the fault of students or teachers. When you have this many kids not making it, it is clear our system needs to be fixed!

Robinson offers a solution. When you help a student find their talent their whole life changes. That’s the first step. If education is not about helping people finding a life of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment, then what is it? He asks Williams to reflect upon the tremendous impact following her passion had on her.

Robinson suggests that we need to rethink talent and build a different type of system around it. For parents and teachers he further suggests we listen to kids messages, help them discover and build upon their passions and encourage their individualized talents.

To learn more watch this video and visit his site

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get Going with Google Apps for Education with a New Domain

Innovative Educators often ask me how to begin using Google Apps for Education. The first step is to set up a domain. Evan O'Donnell from Teaching Matters, Inc. shared this handy step-by-step guide on how to get started using Network Solutions.

4 Simple Steps to Setting Up a Domain with Google Apps for Ed

  1. Purchase a domain:

  2. Register this domain for Google Apps:
    • Completing this form will immediately launch a standard edition of google apps while google review your education application. You can continue setting up the domain in the meantime.
    • Google will email you requesting more information regarding your application. Reply to the message with the required information. If in 48 hours google has not been upgraded, complete this form:

  3. Enable services for your domain and closely follow the instructions on-screen.

  4. To setup email, you have to switch back to network solutions, manage your DNS records and add MX records:
    • Login and click on "Manage Domain Names" under the "nsWebaddress" link on the left. Select the domain you want to edit and click the "edit DNS" button:

    • Select "Manage Advanced DNS Records" from the next screen. DO NOT SELECT "Move DNS"

    • Scroll down to the Mail Servers (MX Records) section and add the MX records that Google requires.

For all the other services you should change the URL of the services so your users can easily access their tools. Click on the service, and choose the "change URL" radio button. Follow Google's instructions for modifying cname records. You change the cname records on the same page as you add the MX records (see above image) - only in the cname section.

Once your services are set, the next step is to setup users and groups. Click on the Explore the different tabs in the control panel:

You can setup users one at a time here, or bulk upload users from an excel sheet using Google's template. If your school is migrating their email from another system, click on the advanced tools tab.

From the Users and Groups tab, you can also setup groups. These are like listserves (allstall) for the domain.

Created by Evan O'Donnell, Teaching Matters

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Incorporating Innovation into Strategic Planning that Will Enrich Learning

It takes more than ensuring educators and students have access to technology when schools begin the work of developing a 21st century strategic school plan. As innovative educators, students, leaders, and families, are well aware, technology is just a tool. In and of itself technology does not equate to either innovation or greater effectiveness. In fact poorly used technology generally results in substandard instruction. In some cases this further results in dropping technology-(rather than learner) driven programs and support. This is important to remember when developing a strategic school learning plan. What's most important is learning always come first.

I've heard one too many educational leader, teacher or parent proudly state that they are part of an innovative school as evidenced by the fact that they have laptops or Smartboards in every classroom. That is not impressive. What is impressive is when the conversation begins with how student learning is enriched in new ways and learners are engaged with innovative tools and ideas. I was recently asked by a school leader for feedback on how to ensure their school's strategic planning could help ensure educators were preparing 21st century learners for success. Here is what I shared.

The goals, dreams, and vision for learners, not technology, need to drive the plan. Technology can help meet these desired outcomes but tech in and of itself is should not be the defining factor. For example a school goal could be formatted like this:

  • School goal for learners:
  • Specific technology used:
  • How will this accomplish the goal in ways not previously possible:
  • How will this enrich student learning:
Here are some ideas on how your school can get started on the road to developing a strategic plan for learning.

  • Develop a school strategic innovation team
    Ideally this team is comprised of teachers, school leaders, students, and family.
  • Take a simple assessmentHave team members come together to take a simple assessment to see where the school lies on the continuum of 21st century success.
    This measures a schools success in five dimensions.
    • Infrastructure: Hardware, Software, Networks and Tech Support
    • Human Capital − Teacher Effectiveness
    • Curriculum Coherence, Learner Centered Instruction and Digital Content
    • Leadership
    • Student Achievement Outcomes
    • Here is a sample simple assessment
  • Start the conversationDoing this enables team members to start a dialogue, develop, common language., and begin thinking about areas in which they want to grow.
  • Select a dimension of 21st century success on which to focusAfter taking the simple assessment, discuss and select a the dimension(s) on which it makes sense for the school to focus
  • Determine where you are and want to go
    the dimensions are selected the team should determine the specific areas of focus using the Rubric for School Innovation to determine where the school currently stands and strategically make a plan for moving to the next level in the continuum.
  • Fine-tune your focusOnce the dimensions of focus and plan are discussed the team can work to create an innovation roadmap. You can see samples here by clicking on any model school and looking at their roadmap. This will be the school's guide for moving along the continuum of 21st century success. There should be a lead writer assigned to drafting the roadmap, but all innovation team members should be invited to the document (Google docs works well) as it may make sense to have certain team members take the lead on various parts of the roadmap.
  • Ensure innovation road map has an educator and student-driven hardware purchase planYour school has a hardware budget. That doesn't mean that those not in specific classrooms should determine hardware purchases. Educators and students don't like to feel imposed upon. Instead, excite teachers and learners by inviting vendors to share various possibilities with classrooms and encouraging teachers to write hardware proposals with input from students. Let teachers and students partner to use the technologies. The educator as the pedagogical expert and the students could server as a partner in using the technology effectively. In my district we did this by selecting ten commonly use technology tools and invited vendors to join us. Each teacher wrote a proposal for $1500 worth of equipment (this is dependent on school budget). This results in teacher and student buy in and a partnership with leaders, educators, and students to make decisions on instruction aligned to school goals. Upon receipt of the hardware and implementation of teaching and learning, classes publish their work sharing lessons, videos, photos, and student testimonials. We have begun this work in a newly launched (and soon to be populated) site School interested in using this tool can contact me.
  • Review and finalize innovation road map with innovation team
    When the innovation roadmap seems complete the innovation team should review the document together and revise/update. When the document seems in good shape it should be shared with the school staff for their final input.
  • Share road map with staff, students, and familyShare the innovation road map with the school community and incorporate feedback.
  • Celebrate success with innovation field trips
    Celebrate and learn from/about the work your school is doing with an innovation field trip. Read the School Innovation Field Trip Quick Guide to learn how.
Developing an effective strategic plan means schools focus on student success and keeping their eye on the prize. Technology is the tool to achieve the prize, not the prize itself. As the saying goes, "It's all about the kids," and with them as the starting point schools can begin effective planning.

To Blog or to Not Blog

By Jacob Gutnicki

“Last year Creed asked me how to set up a blog. Wanting to protect the world from being exposed to Creed's brain, I opened up a Word document on his computer and put an address at the top. I've read some of it. Even for the intranet, it's... pretty shocking.” (The Office, Season 3, Episode 23)

Many administrators fret about students and teachers creating blogs for this very reason. After all, in this age of accountability it only takes one incident to end a principal’s career. So what does the principal do? No one wants student work containing poor grammar to get posted. Likewise, no one wants to create a controversy through a student blog. Subsequently, many schools do not encourage the use of blogs and in some cases even discourage/ban its use.

This is a shame as the power of publishing is a motivator that should not be underestimated. Since the dawn of the Internet cutting edge schools have been creating web sites centered on a variety of themes and have found time after time that it helped drastically improve student-writing skills and proved to be a powerful motivator. The students were excited to see their work displayed on a web site as it gave them a voice that can be seen by millions of people. However, in those days web publishing required that the user code in HTML or use a GUI Web Editor and a FTP application such as DreamWeaver and/or Fetch.

Thanks to the advent of Web 2.0 tools, web based publishing is as easy as using Microsoft Word. No longer does one need a FTP account or knowledge of how to use a web editor, code in HTML, or use a FTP client. This in turn has lead to a publishing revolution and explosion of information as never seen before.

Yet there are still many holdouts that fear the worst. Are these fears rational? Will students and teachers post something terrible? To be truthful these are tough questions. How many times have we seen an inappropriate ranting posted on the Internet? Additionally, posted work with poor grammar may lead to a false impression about the academic rigor of a given school.

However, one must ask the following question; “If not now, when?” Simply put, shouldn’t schools teach children how to write? If not, who is preparing students to interact and compete in a world powered by web based tools? If we choose to avoid using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, we are leaving students to their own devices in which they are far more likely to blog without any regard to netiquette and proper use of grammar. Therefore, I implore administrators to adopt the use of technology tools, which promote writing. Naturally, schools should create a review process and protocols that help students write more thoughtfully and effectively. In fact, the blog can be a great learning opportunity in which we teach students about netiquette and writing mechanics. Who knows? With a little innovation and caution we might just produce the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

Related posts

Why I started a blog and why maybe you should too,
Is Blogging Worth The Risk? For Most Teachers, No
Is Blogging Worth The Risk? - Yes!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Birthday to The Innovative Educator

Happy Birthday to The Innovative Educator! You are two years old today.

It was exactly two years ago that The Innovative Educator took its first step in an effort to publicly become a part of the conversation on educating innovatively. As I shared in my post Why I started a blog and why maybe you should too, this blog was born in great part due to the prodding of blogevangelist Will Richardson who I have since named my Blogfather. It was Will who I would run into at events and conferences who would ask, “Have you started sharing your ideas yet on a blog?” and who would write, “if you want your ideas to resonate with me and to be taken seriously, don’t just talk. Engage. Publish. Converse.”

I took his advice and like any proud parent, I can say I’ve learned so much from the experience of giving birth to this new creation that has developed a purposeful and professional digital footprint consisting of 268 entries. Now, when I'm Googled, it is me, not one of 1000s of others, who comes up on the front page. And, there are all sorts of other important footprints that The Innovative Educator has made. Its print is left on the front page of Google searches like: Educating Innovatively, cell phones in education, technology education quotes, teaching in the 21st century ideas, personal learning network, Renzulli learning to differentiate instruction, and more.

I’ve watched my baby blog grow from no readers to an average of 125 a day last year and 336 a day this year. There have even been a few times when The Innovative Educator has received significant international attention. Last year, during the Inauguration she received more than 6,000 hits a day from people interested in teaching the inauguration in innovative ways. This year thousands of visitors flocked to the blog to read a number of popular posts. Among the most popular were
I also want to thank The Innovative Educator for the opportunities it has brought me. Because of you I now contribute to the popular educational magazines Leading and Learning and Tech & Learning. I also have a book in the works about "Teaching Generation Text" and your success has enabled me to present keynote presentations on ways to educate innovatively and serve on panels at conferences like Tech Forum and the 140 Character Conference.

You also now have Authority! Growing from being just one of millions of blogs to gaining a credible 544 authority rating on Technorati. But, even before anybody was reading The Innovative Educator, you enriched my life with opportunities to practice my writing skills and articulate and develop my thoughts.

The Innovative Educator has helped me understand the power of influence and given me an outlet to share with my readers about what I love most – “Educating Innovatively!” So, happy second birthday… and many more!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Promote Student Passions with Pencasting!

Today Marc Prensky and I worked with students and teachers to partner to innovate instruction. The pedagogy is based on Prensky's new book, "Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning." The premise in part is that 21st century teachers don't have to be experts in using technology, we have the kids for that, but they do need to partner with their digital native students to allow them to use technology to learn in innovative ways. In order to do this we we invited students to partner with teachers in thinking about how to make instruction engaging. We had a variety of technologies for teachers and students to explore and teachers and students wrote proposals and videos explaining what they were doing.

One of the technologies showcased was smart pens. A smart pen allows you to connect voice, music, and sound to anything you write on smart paper. With smart pens the power of having students in the professional development really came to life. While many teachers first thought, "Wow, this is great because students can record notes when I lecture!," the students had other ideas for the device.

Georgiano, the student in the below video, sees using the smart pen as a tool to capture student passions. His idea is for students to sketch their passion making a pencast about what inspires them. He explains that if all students sketched their passions these could be collected into a collage of pencasts that can be enjoyed by all. Here's how it would work. The student would sketch their passion and then record music, sound, and voice to go along with the sketch. Live viewers could tap on each students sketch to learn about the passions of each student. Virtual viewers could click a link that enables them to see and hear each students pencast, so that as this student shares, "The whole world that pen allows you to draw, then record as a part of the drawing music, sound, and voice which you can hear by tapping on the paper. The pencasts can be shared via a link and published so that as this student shares (time 1.43), "It is amazing. We can present to everyone in the world and show our passions!"

Promote Student Passions with Pencasting! from Ted 21C on Vimeo.

You can see what other classes are doing at the Livescribe smart pen website. The smart pens sell for $139 each.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Death by Math

By Jacob Gutnicki

The comic cartel was in full force. Briefcases in hand, the swap took place. Outside the classroom a group of students were flicking cards against the wall. Elsewhere, another group of students played with their PSP’s. In one back corner of the classroom, the daily arm wrestle competition was on. Students in the middle rows were texting while other students were tweeting.

As always the lookout force was on the job. “Dudes, math teacher approaching; hide all electronics.” The students quickly hid their electronic and gaming paraphernalia and scuttled to their assigned seats. Michael Lotta the math teacher was approaching the door. Armed with his thermos of mocha latte the math king was ready to pronounce his order of the day. “Janice, write these questions on the blackboard. Class you have 10 minutes to answer these questions. Justin, your lucky I didn’t see you daydreaming. Jennifer I am confiscating your cell phone and Dennis hand over that Ring Ding.”

After the students posted their work on the blackboard, Mr. Lotta started his lesson on truth tables. Mr. Lotta started by saying; “We will now define the logical operators which we mentioned in our last class, using truth tables. Let us proceed with caution; most of the operators have names, which we may be accustomed to using in ways that are fuzzy or even contradictory to their proper definitions. In all cases, use the truth table for an operator as its exact and only definition; try not to bring to logic the baggage of your colloquial use of the English language.”

Justin was fast asleep. Jennifer was cracking her knuckles to stay awake. The comic cartel was reading their comic books under the table. Some of the more brazen members strategically placed their comic books in the math book. The arm wrestling group resorted to finger wrestling while the gamers, texters, and tweeters struggled to stay awake.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lotta continued to lecture and said, “The first logical operator which we will discuss is the "AND", or conjunction operator. For the computer scientist, it is perhaps the most useful logical operator we will discuss. It is a "binary" operator; a binary operator is defined as an operator that takes two operands.”

Thump!!! Out of sheer boredom, Dennis fell out of his seat. A cackling laugh ensued the classroom. The loud noise startled Justin, woke him from his slumber, and caused him to bump his head against the table. A chorus of laughter broke out. Mr. Lotta banged his thermos of Mocha Latte and angrily exclaimed, “ Justin and Dennis; a 55 for today’s work. Dennis said, “For what?” Mr. Lotta said, “For making noise.” “I didn’t make noise”, proclaimed Dennis. “Now you are”, laughed Mr. Lotta. Mr. Lotta proceeded to continue his lecture and stated, “p AND q is traditionally represented using the and symbol. We will represent it using the ampersand since that is the symbol most commonly used on computers to represent a logical AND.”

Brinnngggg!!! Saved by the bell. No one really understood what Mr. Lotta was talking about. We were just glad the agony was over; for now.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Removing Versus from Our Ed. Reform Dialogue

by John Clemente

TED talks are often an incubator for iconoclastic thinking - the talks in general carry the message think out of the box. And so it comes as no surprise that the TEDxNYED conference speakers last weekend delivered a message that runs counter to the current big trends in education- There is a national movement towards developing common standards. There are incentives for states to lift caps on charter schools. States are building complex electronic assessment systems to track and analyze standardized student test data.

The speakers at TEDxNYED emphasized their ideas are at odds with these trends. They spoke of how the classroom environment needs to be redesigned to foster collaboration and self-directed student learning; how we need to shift from standardized assessments to portfolio assessments that focus on the creation process. They spoke of how we need to co-opt gaming/fantasy culture, social media and incorporate real world problems to engage students in learning; how broadening the curriculum (not narrowing it) is critical to preparing our children for tomorrow's world.

Many of the talks were inspiring and that kind of thinking needs to be more prominent in the national education reform conversation.


All of the talks stayed inside the box with regard to how we dialogue about education publicly. It is a well-worn war paradigm... whole language vs. phonics... core knowledge vs. critical thinking skills... Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader... good guys vs. bad guys metaphor of your choice...

This paradigm doesn't work in the best interests of a child's education. When I was a teacher, my 6th grade students in the Bronx endured changing reading programs 3 times in 5 years. Switching philosophy in a reading curriculum is good politically- those in charge get a clean slate and time to implement their new initiative. But it is disruptive to the child’s learning experience. When we switch from whole language one year to a phonics focused program the next, students lose consistency; something all too familiar for the students I taught.

Michael Wesch said something that resonated on this chord for me. He described his experiences studying the people of Papua New Guinea. Instead of putting people on trial, they put the failed relationships between them on trial. We need to shift our national education dialogue this way. There should be less finger pointing, wagging and gesturing in our dialogue, and more hand holding, shaking and slapping with an emphasis on building relationships and making connections between ideas that people often rush to say are inherently at odds. We should view all of the current innovative ideas –including those that carry the banner of “market-based reforms” and those that are of the “school 2.0/21st Century” ilk- as a patchwork of thinking that it is our responsibility to weave together.

The thought leaders that spoke at this conference need to be assertive in the way they connect their ideas to the thinking of the people carrying forward reforms with a focus on accountability and standards. There will be common standards, there will be more charter schools, there will be a bigger emphasis on standardized assessments. All of this will happen whether they choose to engage with them or not. While there is reason to be leery, there is also tremendous potential for good in these trends. I suggest we all weave our solutions to that quilt.

There are nascent innovative projects like School of One, a project to rethink human capital in the school context and utilize technology to personalize student learning, that would benefit greatly from the thinking of the speakers at TEDxNYED. I implore these innovators to knock on the door and invite themselves to sit at the table to make connections between their ideas and the reforms rapidly taking root. This challenge is perhaps more difficult than setting the course for education independent of the accountability movement; but it is also a much more worthy cause. Otherwise, for these provocateurs, the echo of their voices will continue to fade into the background- lost to the next generation of leaders.

John Clemente is the Director of Educational Services at Teaching Matters

Thursday, March 11, 2010

They're here... The Common Core Standards - Available for Comment

They're here...

This was five-year-old Carol Anne's ominous announcement made at her parents' home while starring into a static television when referring to the presence of unknown beings in her home. Their antics, benign at first, such as moving and stacking the kitchen table chairs soon turn quite disturbing as Poltergeist fans can attest. Like the unknown beings in the movie, the newly released draft of the Common Core Standards have had a ghostly presence to the masses who have seen pictures of Governors linked in arms with smiles on their faces as they unite to support the release of standards for a nation. While I do agree the premise of having international or at least national standards, makes sense, I do have concerns that these at first benign, perhaps even good-intention-seeming standards must be treated with EXTREME caution.

I shared my primary fears around these standards last October in my post All Children Left Behind - Common Standards for Our Student's Past. My concerns presented themselves again yesterday as a DOE official shared with a gleam in his eye that The Common Core Standards draft had been released and this was going to mean a whole new era of even more rigorous assessments for our students.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Join the Department of Education's Innovation Portal

The Department of Education has developed an innovation portal for people to come together to identify the best ideas to improve our schools! This space will serve as an online forum where key stakeholders in education can share their innovative ideas and collaborate to turn those ideas into a new reality.

Arne Duncan, US Ed Secretary explains that the site will serve as a place to connect ideas from educators and supporters across the nation to develop a marketplace of ideas about how we can ensure that every child, “graduates ready to succeed in college and the workplace.”   …As an innovative educator, I would add “society” in the mix and I’m not convinced that college is necessary for all citizens either, but this is a step in the right direction for sure. 

Duncan shares that this site was developed out to the belief that, “the innovative ideas that will transform our education system will not come from Washington, D.C. They will come from communities across the country. The Department of Education will play a role as convener of these diverse ideas and facilitator of partnerships. The Innovation Web Portal is the first of a number of initiatives that the Department will launch over the coming months as we work to build these partnerships that will drive innovation in education.”

You can register for the site and join the conversation at

Monday, March 8, 2010

50 Best Blogs for Education Leaders

I'm thrilled to be listed among several esteemed innovative educational blogs in this recent post, "50 Best Blogs for Education Leaders. Here are the other blogs in the category in which I was listed.

Inspiration and Innovation

Get inspired and discover new ideas through the help of these bloggers and teachers.

  1. Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Use this blog to get a better idea of how to implement and use technology in the classroom.
  2. The Innovative Educator: This blog is a great place to look for fresh ideas on how to teach students course material.
  3. The Next Generation of Educational Leadership: Here you can read about and connect with other educational leaders.
  4. 2 Cents Worth: Check out this blog for some thoughts on the process of learning at large. It could influence how you teach.
  5. Education Innovation: This blog offers some ways to improve education through creativity and innovation.
  6. Ozge Karaoglu’s Blog: Full of tech tools that can help in the classroom and ruminations on educational issues, this blog can be a great read for teachers of all kinds.
  7. Teaching Ideas and Resources: Find some great tips and tools for improving your classroom performance on this blog.
  8. Teacher Reboot Camp: Visit this site to find ways you can continually challenge and push yourself to be a better teacher and leader.
  9. Free Resources for Education: See what kind of useful resources are out there for teaching and helping your students learn through this blog.
  10. Andrew B. Watt’s Blog: On this blog you’ll find a discussion of lots of technological resources that could work well in the classroom.
  11. Thumann Resources: Blogger Lisa Thumann shares her ideas on how to bring education into the 21st century in this blog.
  12. Darcy Moore’s Blog: Bookmark this site to get updates on using Web 2.0 in the classroom.
You can read all the blog recommendations here.

Does No Learning = No Teaching?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Capturing the Good Stuff

~Dana Lawit

Lisa's recent post announced her participation in 140 Character Conference in NYC. A champion for meeting kids where they are, Lisa will provide insight into helping students manage digital footprints and the essentials of teaching participation in social media.

I think its essential for schools to not only show kids how to safely consume internet content and social media, but show them that the web is a place for them to contribute quality content for both praise and feedback.

Last week, my principal and I presented a master class about using technology to promote the good work of students and teachers at the Expeditionary Learning National Conference. If you haven't heard of Expeditionary Learning, I'll echo a comment made during a keynote at the conference -- "Expeditionary Learning is one of the best things happening in education that you haven't heard of...yet"

Our class focused on helping schools more quickly and easily get student and teacher work available to the public by using a couple of easy, some free (twitter, vimeo, blogs) and some not so free tools. Sharing the good stuff of your schools has to be easy.

Our premise is, that if its hard, and if it takes a lot of time, you won't get it out there. Teachers are busy, and rarely have hours to spend editing video just to get a quick snapshot of something that happened in a classroom. Its taken a few years, but we've designed a school website that combines static elements (location and our mission statement, for example) with dynamic elements (RSS feeds from the Principal's Twitter account, school Vimeo channel, etc.) This allows us to infuse our school website with changing content that doesn't take a lot of time to update.

Below you'll find the Prezi we used to support facilitation of the class.

Next step will be to build a cohort of embedded student reports -- Students who can Tweet, quickly edit video, and share the good stuff that's happening in school.

It is essential that students see positive, constructive examples of their work, both in classrooms and on the web.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spend Saturday with the TEDxNYED Education, New Media and Technology Webinar

TEDxNYED, a conference examining the role of new media and technology in shaping the future of education, will take place this Saturday in Manhattan and will be webcast live at, allowing viewers around the world to join and engage in these “ideas worth spreading.”

TEDxNYED is operating under license from TED, organizers of the immensely popular TED Conference, an annual event where some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers are invited to share what they are most passionate about. In the spirit of "ideas worth spreading," TED has created TEDx, a program of local, organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

TEDxNYED is independently organized by New York educators. At TEDxNYED, TEDTalks video and live speakers will combine to spark deep discussion and connections. Individuals have been invited to share their insights and inspire conversations about the future of education. Attendees of the conference will participate via networking sessions where they will educate one another and, in the spirit of TED, help spread these ideas. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events, including ours, are self-organized.

TEDxNYED presenters include: Gina Bianchini, co-founder and CEO of Ning, one of the world’s most popular social networking websites; Amy Bruckman, leader of the Electronic Learning Communities research group at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist at NPR’s Social Media Desk; Dan Cohen, Director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University; Jeff Jarvis, author of the recent book What Would Google Do?, blogger at and Director of the Interactive Journalism program at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism; Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinema at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism; Neeru Khosla, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the CK-12 Foundation, which aims to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market; Lawrence Lessig, pioneering creative commons advocate, director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, and a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Dan Meyer, acclaimed high school math teacher and blogger in Santa Cruz, CA; Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism at NYU and press critic; George Siemens, Founder and President of Complexive Systems Inc. and author of the book Knowing Knowledge; Mike Wesch, dubbed “the explainer” by Wired Magazine, a cultural anthropologist exploring the effects of new media on society and culture; and David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. For more detailed bios please visit

The emcee for TEDxNYED will be my friend and colleague Juliette LaMontagne, a Leadership Coach for the Asia Society International Studies Schools Network and part of the NYCDoE iZone.


TEDxNYED will be webcast live at starting at 10am EST on Saturday, March 6, 2010. Join the conversation on Twitter using our hashtag #TEDxNYED or on our public Facebook fan page at

Follow TED on Twitter at, or on Facebook at

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why Social Media Curriculum is Critical in Schools - 140 Character Conference

badge5I am presenting at The 140 Characters Conference in New York City on April 20th. This event is the largest worldwide gathering of people interested in the effects of the real-time Internet on business, education, and “we” the people. Some of the other speakers include Ann Curry, NBC News (@AnnCurry), Chris Lehmann, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy, (@chrislehmann), Donny Deustch (@Donny_Deutsch), Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump), and MC Hammer (@MCHammer).

I will be a part of the Twitter and Education panel and joined by @mbteach, @kjarret, @shellterrell with @parentella moderating. Specifically I'll be discussing:

1) Teaching Kids how to manage their Digital Footprint
2) Why social media curriculum is critical in schools
3) Technology usage to enhance collaboration and development

In anticipation of the conference I'm writing about each topic. You can read what I wrote about Teaching Kids to Manage their Digital Footprint here. For this post I am addressing:

Why Social Media Curriculum is Critical in Schools

Students Using Social NetworksUnfortunately, too many of the places where students go online to interact with one another have policy-imposed walls between teacher and student. Not only have many schools enacted policies restricting teacher/student interaction, because most schools have banned most sites students use to communicate they do their best to prevent students from using these tools to communicate in an educational setting. It is unfortunate that in the 21st century many schools have deemed adolescent socialization among each other or with their teachers as inappropriate. This is the pervasive outlook despite the fact that educators are fully aware that 1) A healthy part of adolescent development includes socialization and 2) Research from those like the National School Board Association indicate that most students use social media to discuss educational topics and other studies (like this one from the CCSE) indicate students who are using social media to discuss schoolwork perform better. Across the nation, most schools have banned students from accessing authentic communication hardware or software, positioning school as a place where socialization is kept to a minimum, learning is teacher directed, and conversations are teacher, rather than student, driven and/or maintained. This of course does little to prepare students from effectively navigating the online environments they have access to and should be prepared to navigate outside of school. Looking the other way however is not addressing the purple elephant in the room. The social media curriculum is occurring with or without involvement of adults. The huge disconnect from the world outside of schools and requirement imposed on students to power down upon entry into school has left many students literally bored out of their minds, and we've conveniently labeled many such students who thrive on communication, stimulation, multi-tasking and action, as afflicted attention deficet hyperactivity disorder. Interestingly these same students have no problem focusing or giving attention when empowered to do so in their own worlds and environments.

Schools that have taken the "don't ask, don't tell" approach to the social media curriculum are neglectfully choosing to look the other way as students communicate, collaborate, and connect in worlds devoid of adults. The result can be that just as in the real world, without any adult supervision, students could be at risk and are existing without models for appropriate behavior. Additionally if educators refuse or are prevented from becoming a part of these online places they are not speaking the language or joining in the real-world environments of their 21st century students. That said, I don't believe there should be an actual "social media curriculum" but rather social media must be integrated into the curriculum. Additionally, we need another name for these environments. Yes they can be social, but they are often more than primarily social environments. They are connecting, networking, and learning environments where students have conversations and explore passions, talents, and ideas. I've helped numerous teachers begin their own online learning communities with students and the results are dramatic. Work is published to a broader community. Students can easily see one another's work, rate and comment on it. They feel like their teacher's are finally interested in speaking there language. Teachers are amazed at the resulting conversations, ideas, and voices shared that would never have emerged had it not been for the integration of social media. With personal bio pages, students learn more about their classmates or schoolmates, or districtmates, or globemates...depending on the type of network set up. The students become the masters of their learning and conversations, and are able to do so in an environment that is safe and with the gentle guidance and facilitation of educators. Additionally the educator can set up roles for students who can be empowered to lead and monitor various groups and/or conversations. The lessons learned from the safe, online school environment can easily be transferred to what the students are doing online in their own spaces.

The other important piece to this equation is educating parents, guardians, families. They can also be invited to these online learning spaces. Additionally, caregivers must be taught how to engage in the online learning environments in which their children participate. It is unacceptable for caregivers to allow students to participate in these environments without supervision. Just as care givers would not let their children into real-world environments without a responsible adult present, they should not let their children exist in online worlds withouth them. But the adults need some support in how to do this and really what is and what is not acceptable behavior online. The best people to teach this...their kids and adults can help students organize at-school professional development for parents. It's a win-win and learning experience for all parties involved. Together students, care givers and teachers can have meaningful conversations about what is appropriate, acceptable, questionable or embarrassing.

I very much look forward to discussing this on the Twitter and Education panel and I hope to see other innovative educators at the conference as well. If you are thinking about attending #140conf NYC, now would be a great time to secure your seat. With the “early bird” ticket costing only US$ 100 for the two day event or $60 for one day. You can register NOW to guarantee youself access to the event. “Early Bird” registration ends on March 6th. The format at the #140conf events is unique. Individual talks are 5 and 10 minutes, keynotes are 15 and 20 minutes and panel discussions are no more than 20 minutes. During the course of the two days more than 140 people will share the stage at the 92nd Street Y in about 70 sessions. To get a feel of the energy you may experience in April, click here to review the videos from the 2009 #140conf NYC. The take aways from this event will provide the attending delegates knowledge, perspectives and insights to the next wave of effects twitter and the real-time internet will have on business and education in 2010 and beyond.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Innovation Field Trip Quick Guide

School Innovation Field Trip Quick Guide

A decade into the 21st century and we are starting to see more and more schools that value innovative practices and are interested in getting better at this work and learning more.  An innovation field trip is both a great way for host schools to get better at incorporating innovative practices and for visitors to learn about innovative practices.  To follow is a guide explaining what an innovation field trip is and how to conduct one in your school.

Planning for your innovation field trip                                                                                                                     

What is an innovation field trip?

Review with staff what an innovation field trip is. Use the Innovation Field Trip slideshow as a guide. 

What's your innovation?

Determine the innovation your school would like to focus on using The Innovation Scales.pdf.  This document outlines a number of different innovative practices in which schools engage.  Using this as a lens schools across a network, district, or nation can come to define innovation using a common language. 

Determine your school's problem of practice.

Your school will determine a problem of practice with a focus around how your school can get better at implementing this innovation.  A problem of practice includes the following elements:
  • Focuses on instructional core: the interactions of the teacher, student and content
  • Is Directly Observable
  • Is Actionable (and can be improved in real time)
  • Connects to a broader strategy of improvement and the school's action plan (within school or school system)
  • Is high-leverage (would make a significant difference for student learning)

Here are some sample problems of practice.  You will focus on the same problem of practice for each classroom. 

Determine three classrooms to participate in your initial innovation field trip.

It is recommended that the classrooms that are a part of the innovation field trip are selected among those teachers who volunteer to participate.  There might be an application that teachers complete to apply and the principal may consider giving these teachers some benefits to acknowledge appreciation of being the first to engage in the process.  Some principals I spoke to provide some of the following depending on school and district policy:  additional prep periods, purchase of hardware or books to support innovation, a leave a period early pass.

Prepare selected classrooms for the innovation field trip.

Share with each participating teacher the classroom visitation overview.  This document outlines what the teacher will be doing during the class period and provides the teachers with what the visitors will be looking at. 

Questions to which the teachers provide answers:

Problem of Practice:
Teacher Name:
Room Number:
Name of Lesson:
Previous Learning:
Teaching Point / Objective:
Brief Description:  
What you might want to look at (i.e. student journals):
Notes / Comments:

What visitors observe:

  • What is the teacher(s) doing and saying?
  • What are the students doing and saying?
  • What is the task?
  • Student Responses. The visitors may talk to students asking questions such as
    • “What is the purpose of the lesson?”
    • Why are you doing this assignment?”
    • “How is this lesson useful to you?”
    • “Can you explain what it is you are working on?”
    • “Can you tell me how you know if you are correct?”

The principal should discuss with each teacher what support might best help them prepare for the day.  This may include direct support from administration, support from onsite or offsite coaches, support from lead or mentor teachers, helpful professional development. 

Preparing the school for the innovation field trip

Set up innovation field trip page on school wiki, blog, or website.

Documents to prepare

  • Classroom visitation overview
    • This is given to teachers to indicate what is happening in the visited rooms.
    • This is given to visitors so they know what is occurring in each room and they have a space to take notes.

Websites to establish

  • Flickr
    • You will designate a student (or staff member) to take pictures in each visited class and of the prebrief and debrief
    • These photos will be uploaded to a Flickr album to share on your innovation field trip page of your website, blog, or wiki
  • Vimeo
    • You will designate a student (or staff member) to take videos in each visited class and of the prebrief and debrief
    • These videos will be uploaded to the Vimeo album to share on your innovation field trip page of your website, blog, or wiki
    • Note, these should be simple videos to just give an idea of what it is like to be in each classroom with footage as applicable of the teacher, students, and the room
  • Wallwisher or Twitter
    • Use Wallwisher or Twitter to capture classroom and host thank yous. 
    • Schools already using Twitter may want to use Twitter for this purpose.
    • Schools not using Twitter would set up a wall on Walwisher

Innovation Field Trip Schedule

DurationActivityReference Document Notes
15 minsWelcomeInnovation Field Trip Schedule (
Welcome and introduction of participants.
30 minsPre - BriefInnovation Field Trip PowerPoint ( is an innovation field trip slideshow.

15 mins / 5 min transitionClassroom VisitClassroom Visit Overview ( take notes on classroom visitation sheet and text in a reflection to Poll Everywhere (99503) to each of the questions below.
15 mins / 5 min transitionClassroom VisitClassroom Visit Overview ( take notes on classroom visitation sheet and text in a reflection to Poll Everywhere (99503) to each of the questions below.
15 mins / 5 min transitionClassroom VisitClassroom Visit Overview ( take notes on classroom visitation sheet and text in a reflection to Poll Everywhere (99503) to each of the questions below.
15 minsReflection Review
Review Poll Everywhere responses and think about any patterns or implications that might be emerging.
30 minsDebriefObservation Debrief Form ( conversation about "Here's What." "So What:" "Now What?"
30 minsNext StepsNext Level of Work Form ( Next Level of Work form with suggestions for classroom, self, and administration and discuss results.

Post Innovation Field Trip

Publish your innovation field trip to an online space:

This will enable you to:
  • Celebrate accomplishments of school
  • Share learning with learning community
  • Share with student's and their families

Your innovation field trip page should include:

(Sample page)

  • About our school
  • Pictures
    • Take pictures and post to school Flickr account.
    • You can link to the album or embed the album as a slideshow OR can link to/embed individual pictures
  • Video
    • Take video and upload to school Vimeo account
    • You can link to or embed videos
  • Next Level of Work
    • Create a Next Level of Work spreadsheet with the three columns below and embed:
      • The plans of each teacher for next level of work
      • The plans from administration for next level of work
      • The plans from participants to help innovate their own practice.
  • Show appreciation and give feedback to hosting teachers and students

Reflective Practice

  • Schedule an internal follow up meeting with school staff and selected students
    • Review problem of practice and discuss progress toward addressing the problem of practice
    • Have teachers share changed practice
      • Challenges
      • Successes