Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

Creative Commons photo by Andreas Ebling on Flickr

Think about how you learn best.  What motivates you?  Excites you?  Encourages you to know more about a subject?  If you could learn using any instructional strategy you wanted, what would you choose?

Next, think about how you teach.  What is comfortable for you?  What strategies do you enjoy using most and are your “Go-to” instructional methods?  If you’re having a tough day and didn’t get the time you wanted to plan a stellar new lesson, what practices do you rely on? What methods do you struggle with, enjoy using the least, or possibly avoid?

Now, think about how your students learn.  What motivates them?  Excites them?  Encourages them to know more about a subject?  If they could direct how you teach, what would have you do?

For some students, how they learn and how I learn fit very well.  When I plan lessons and think about learning, I feel I can do pretty well by them.

For other students who learn differently than I do, it can be a struggle.  I have to consciously make an effort to include instructional strategies that I don’t like, because I don’t learn that way.

I am more of a visual and auditory learner.  It’s pretty easy for me to come up with teaching techniques that utilize these types of learning.  I am not a very good hands-on learner.  I have to work pretty hard to come up with something that engages my students who learn this way.  I have been lucky enough to work with some fantastic colleagues who are hands-on learners.  They have helped me to develop a better understanding of this learning style and how to better integrate it into my own teaching.

When I discuss with students what works for them and what they’d like to see more of in my classes, competition is almost always one of the responses.  I struggle with competition.  I am not a competitive person and I don’t understand this mindset very well.  It’s actually something that can set me on edge.  When I think about the students I have difficulty motivating or don’t connect with as well as I’d like, many of them have a competitive nature.

So I’m asking for your help.  I am looking for resources and instructional strategies on how to better reach my competitive students.  What works in your classroom?  Are you someone who enjoys competition?  How do you leverage that for your own learning or teaching?  What instructional strategies do you find comfortable or challenging?  Do you find yourself teaching how you learn?

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“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving…”


I learned a lot during my first term as a Developmental Educator for college freshman.  To continue moving forward, I have decided on the following three goals for the upcoming winter term.  We are on the quarter system, where a term lasts 10 weeks.

  • FeedbackI will provide students with timely feedback.  As I’ve said before, I feel that quality feedback is an area that should be continuously worked on.  While in the past I’ve also focused more on informative and specific feedback, I’ve decided to work more on the timely aspect this quarter.  I feel I am giving informative and specific feedback.  However, I have noticed that my tendency towards perfectionism in those two areas has bogged down the grading process.   With only 10 weeks in a term, it is crucial that students know how they are doing right away.  My motto has become “Prompt, not perfect feedback.” (Thanks Molly Smith!)  This is one of the reasons why I am having students turn most assignments in using Google Docs.  I tend to do better with electronic feedback rather than toting around the stacks of paper.  Since I have a toddler running around, I do a lot of sporadic grading (a few papers here and there instead of all at once).  Doing it electronically helps me to keep track of where I am without my daughter trying to use a stack of papers as confetti.  :)  Typed comments also take much less time than handwritten ones, so I am more efficient.  Side note: I will be thinking about how I can use Standards Based Grading practices in my CORE 101 the next time around.  I am thinking of setting up a mastery learning system for study skills.
  • ConnectionsI will better emphasize the connections between class activities, course assignments, and how they are related to the life of students at EOU.  Thanks to inspiration from a colleague who is great with the big picture, I realized that my courses need to be a more coherent whole.  It can be easy to get caught up in specific study skills, reading strategies, and what not and lose site of the overall purpose.  I will strive to make clear connections for my students so they see how things are integrated.  This will hopefully help them easily transfer what they learn to the rest of their college education.  I will do this by stating specific connections more often, planning more from the big picture than just teaching isolated skills, and pushing students to make their own connections.
  • Instructional MethodsI will diversity the instructional methods I use in class.  I realized over the past term that as I was learning the ropes of my new job, I tended to fall back on the instructional strategies I found most comfortable.  I need to go back to the drawing board and review a multitude of strategies to find those that will best help my students learn.  I noticed that many of my students are more hands-on, so I need to do more in that area in particular.

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  I would appreciate any advice, resources or insights.  What are your goals?  I encourage you to post them here or elsewhere.

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Yuyuan Garden, "The Garden of Contentment" - Shanghai, 2009

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s largest cities is the Yuyuan Garden.  Here you can find a fairly quiet bench to sit and contemplate, while taking in the garden and watching the koi glide through the water.  When you are ready, you can go back out into the metropolis and continue on your way.  I feel like I’m at that point right now.  I am in the middle of ever-busy Shanghai again, only this time it’s the life of a teacher and a new parent.  Writing about my progress is a chance for me to sit on that bench again, take stock, and make my way back out into the city.

Using this photo is also my way of celebrating the acceptance of my elective world history course proposals for next year.  I am very excited that I will get to teach two of my favorite classes again: Asian Studies and African Studies.  I already have enough student interest to have at least one section of each class.  Being an educator is that much better when you get to share what you are passionate about with your students.

I have been making steady progress on some of my revamped goals for the 3rd Quarter.

Assessment – I will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn.

Progress: I feel I had some good improvement in this area.  I used the unit outline created by U.S. History PLC team for our Civil Rights Unit.  I felt that it not only helped to inform students, but helped to keep me focused and on track with my lessons.  It was also helpful to have the test written before planning the activities of the unit.  I enjoyed using the outline so much that I used the same format to create a unit outline for my Vietnam unit.  I will use this outline the same way we used the Civil Rights outline to write the assessment for Vietnam.  Going through this process has helped me to fine tune what I want students to learn and it has helped me to have a better focus.

Revamp: I will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn. I will be keeping this goal as is and focus on making it a habit in my planning process.  I hope to create unit outlines for each of my remaining areas of study in U.S. History.  I will give those outlines to students at the outset of a new unit and refer to them frequently in my planning and with students in my teaching.  In the future, these could be a good basis for creating my historical content standards in my move towards more Standards Based Grading practices.

Feedback – I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback.

Progress: Who would have thought that changing one word in your vocabulary and thought process could be so challenging?  Going from the concept of grading to feedback seems like it should be easy, but it hasn’t been.  I’ve come to realize how entrenched the concept of grading really is for me.  However, I have begun to focus more on formative assessment and reminding myself that feedback doesn’t have to mean a letter grade.  As for the timely aspect of things, I still need lots of work here.  The times I had set aside to grade didn’t really work out as I had hoped.  The baby had her own schedule in mind and it was different than the one I had so neatly planned out!  Ha!  I did use our grading program, Infinite Campus, more this semester.

Revamp: I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. I am going to continue to work on shifting my mindset from grading to feedback.  To help with this and to get at the more timely aspect of this goal, I am working on incorporating more formative assessment opportunities into my lessons.  Both my students and I need to have a better grasp of what they are learning and what needs to be retaught.  I will be going through my resources and working with an Instructional Facilitator to incorporate this more regularly into the teaching and learning that happens in my classroom.

Parental Communication – I will communicate more regularly with parents by calling all of my World History parents at least once this quarter.

Progress: I didn’t get to everyone.  My plan was to call about 2 parents each day after school.  Someone pointed out to me the idea that the urgent (what someone needs right now) can often take away from the important (what I value and am striving to achieve).  After school became more of a time to complete the urgent things, rather than the important things.  This meant that fewer calls were made than I would have liked.

Revamp:   I will communicate more regularly with parents by calling or communicating by email with a minimum of 20% this quarter.  I know I need to remain specific with this goal.  I decided to move from focusing on just one class to an overall number.  I also decided to include email because some parents prefer this type of communication and I have had some good conversations this way.

Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, feedback, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards.

Progress: While there is always room for improvement, I do feel like I am starting to find a rhythm with how I’m using my time.  The use of the class calendar in FirstClass to post make-up work has saved me a lot of time.  I need to be better about making sure students know how to use it well, since the user interface isn’t the most intuitive.  There were also a few times I didn’t get things put in right away, but I am working on making this a consistent habit (urgent vs. important).  My time with Instructional Facilitators has been helpful and I feel I am good at telling them exactly what I’m looking for.

Revamp: I will be tweaking the way I use the class calendar to try and make it easier for students to use.  I will continue to work on carving out time to provide detailed feedback and to use our Instructional Facilitators as a resource.

Overall – I feel that I am finally “getting my groove back” in the classroom.  I have begun to feel more comfortable, which helps me to better adapt to my students’ needs.  I am starting to pull the small things back into my teaching that I found effective in the past and I find my students are finally getting comfortable with my teaching style.  They have had a lot of inconsistency this past year with three different teachers and three sets of expectations.  And the biggest change for me is that I’ve started to enjoy teaching again.  I was very stressed (and sleep deprived!) the first few months, but things are becoming more consistent.  Having a job you love makes things so much easier.

My "Favorite Student" & Gratuitous Baby Picture: From bouncing to sleeping in 4.1 seconds!

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  What are your goals?

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Photo by kris krug (kk+ on Flickr).

In my first quarter back in the classroom after two years in another job and after just having my daughter, I felt like this kid kept smacking puck away from the net. (Or may the dearth of hockey in Wyoming is really getting to this Midwestern girl. Ha!)

But I did make some progress on the goals I set.  I have decided to keep the same four goals for the rest of the year, but I have tweaked them a little.  Here is the lowdown:

Assessment – I will be work to develop more effective assessments.

Progress: I did not make as much headway here as I had hoped.  I ended up revamping some of my old tests in the interest of saving time and my sanity after many sleep deprived nights.  In order to improve, I made a plan and began working with one of our Instructional Facilitators to do some backwards design and dig into creating a more effective assessment for my Medieval Era unit.  Then we created PLC teams a little over a week ago, and some common assessments were written by the teams for both my U.S. and World classes.  I was on the U.S. PLC and not really involved in the Medival Era test created for World History. While the World PLC wrote a good test, I was a little bummed I didn’t go through the whole process myself.  However, I don’t feel that my previous work on that unit was for nothing.  I was more interested in the process of writing the test and thinking more about #sbar than the test itself.  And I feel that I was able to do that at least a little.  This last quarter I was able to better define for myself exactly what I want my students to get out of that unit and my Cold War unit in U.S. History.  In both classes I feel that I did well on purpose of this goal, which was to work towards better defining for students what I want them to learn.

RevampI will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn. Since my department is stepping up the PLC work and tackling common unit assessments, I am tweaking this goal to focus on one of the reasons why I created my original assessment goal.  This will also allow me to continue to work towards Standards Based Grading as I continue to define for my students exactly what I want them to be learning.  I will work on providing students study guides outlining the learning expectations at the beginning of each unit (in the past, I’ve provided these guides shortly before the test).  I will then refer to them throughout the unit in an attempt to make more solid connections for students.  I will also explore other ways to clearly define learning outcomes for students.  Any suggestions or information on how you approach this would be appreciated.

Feedback – I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback.

Progress: I feel that when I gave feedback, I was more informative and specific.  However, I do not feel that I was very timely.  My largest obstacles to overcome in order to meet this goal are efficiency and time.  One type of feedback that I felt was helpful this past quarter was the use of individual grade conferences with my World History students.  I had some good conversations and learned some helpful things from my students.  I would like to continue to experiment with this idea.

RevampI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. I have decided to keep this goal pretty much in tact, but I will focus more on the timely aspect of things.  I am setting up regular times in my schedule to give feedback and I plan to do so more often.  I have found that if I specifically schedule this, it’s more likely to get done.  I have also decided to try to shift my mindset from that of “grading” to that of “feedback.” When I think of “grading” I think of a task to be done, like filling out needed paperwork for the office.  When I think of “feedback” I actually think of teaching and learning.  I also have a more positive attitude and willingness (even excitement) to get things done.  I will also be trying to give better feedback through our online grading system, Infinite Campus.  With no training on the gradebook portion of the program and no manual (I’ve asked), it’s been a bit challenging for me to use the system.  However, many students, parents, administrators and tutors depend on this form of feedback, so I need to better utilize this tool.

Parental Communication – I will communicate more regularly with parents.

Progress: While I had some good conversations, parent communication pretty much only happened when it needed to.

RevampI will communicate more regularly with parents by calling all of my World History parents at least once this quarter.  I realized that I need to be more specific with this goal.  There are so many things I want to improve, but I know I need to break it up into specific parts in order to be more successful.

Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards.

Progress: I made a lot of headway with this goal.  I have been using every second of my available planning time and lunch.  My after school time could be more efficient, but I’m finding that my energy is so spent by that point that I’m not as efficient with my time.

RevampI will become more efficient with my planning time, feedback, and other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. Mostly, I need to find a rhythm with how I use the time that I have.  One of the areas I will be focusing on is make-up work.  I have a new system I plan on implementing this semester in which students use their FirstClass accounts to access make-up work on their own.  I am hoping 10 minutes a day updating this will save much more time in the long run.  As mentioned earlier, I am building regular times into my schedule to provide students with feedback.  I am also scheduling regular times with our Instructional Facilitators to work on unit planning.  I am hoping that this will help me to stay on track and ahead of the game, as well as produce better quality lessons.

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  What are your goals for the semester?

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Flickr photo by Wesley Fryer.

Today I had the opportunity to attend NBC’s Education Nation Teacher Town Hall online.  While I have my concerns about bias, I am glad there is a lot of attention being paid to education right now.  But rather than rehash my experience and opinion of the Town Hall, I have chosen to be inspired by Paula White, L. Lee and other colleagues on Twitter.  I am choosing to write about possible solutions and what I see working in education with the hope that these ideas will help others to find their own solutions.

Instructional Coaches/Facilitators

An alternative to traditional professional development, coaches are typically veteran or master teachers who collaborate with other teachers in small groups or individually to improve instruction and to raise student achievement.  What better way to improve teacher practice than to individualize and differentiate for our teachers, just as we like to do for our students?  Please keep in mind that coaches are not intended to be “teacher fixers” or traditional evaluators, but rather work with any teacher who choses continual improvement.  After all, we can all strive to be a better educator.  (Full Bias Disclosure: I worked as an Instructional Facilitator for 2 years.) You can read more about Instructional Coaches/Facilitators at the following links:

Collaboration Time

During the 2009-2010 school year, I had the opportunity to study Professional Learning Communities (or PLCs) for possible implementation in our school.  During that time I talked with people doing PLCs and visited schools currently using the PLC model.  While the PLC model is generally positive (there are negative aspects as well), what I took away was the value of built-in collaboration time for teachers.  The schools where this really seems to work have created time for teachers to collaborate within the school schedule and outside of regular planning time (because teachers have enough to do already, right?).   And by outside, I don’t mean before or after school.  It is built into the school day either on a frequent basis (an extra planning type period every other day) or less frequent on a monthly type basis.  I’ve also seen principals willing to provide subs for teachers who want to occasionally work together in this way.  Teachers seem very positive about this time to work with their colleagues and even “non-believers” have come to value this time once they have experienced it.  I often hear people say that teaching is an isolated profession.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  We can find ways to value and protect collaborative time with our colleagues.


A best practice I have seen many teachers employ is that of student choice.  When it comes to professional development, teachers also deserve that choice.  Whether it is choosing which PD session is most relevant to them, whether or not to work with an Instructional Coach and more, choice will yield better results in teacher improvement.

What have you seen work to help improve teaching and learning in our schools?  Please feel free to comment here or write your own blog post with the tag #educationnation.  Also, feel free to comment on or ask questions about the three options I’ve written about here.  Let’s focus on solutions and move forward!

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Creative Commons photo by Andrew Becraft (Dunechaser on Flickr)

Today I had the chance to read Jamie’s goals for the year over at Dontworryteach.  This was a good reminder for me, as I feel it is important to state your goals.  This will be an interesting year for me with a lot of change and adjustment.  Not only will I be going back to the classroom after two years as an instructional facilitator, I will have a new daughter (any day now!).  Stating my goals now before the chaos hits will hopefully help me to stay focused and roll with the punches a bit better.  Feel free to check up on me and ask me about my progress.

I tend to develop my goals on a quarter by quarter basis.  Since I will not be in my classroom the first quarter of this year, here are my goals for the first semester.

  • AssessmentI will be work to develop more effective assessments. This involves not only the method of assessment, but what I am assessing.  This is part of my quest to move in the direction of Standards Based Grading.  By focusing on improving assessments, I will also be working on better defining for my students exactly what it is I want them to be learning.
  • FeedbackI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. This can involve spoken or written comments and discussion.  I will go beyond “Good job!” and other vagaries to tell students exactly what is or is not working well.  This also ties in with Standards Based Grading as well as with my goal on improving assessments.  After all, what’s the point of a good assessment if the student doesn’t understand the results?
  • Parental CommunicationI will communicate more regularly with parents. My plan at the moment involves more frequent phone calls and email contacts for a variety of purposes and a blog site (which I realize parents may or may not utilize).  I want to be sure parents feel welcome in my classroom and comfortable communicating with me.  They are the experts on their children and an excellent resource.
  • Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. With so much changing in my life right now, I want to make sure I am doing a good job of balancing school and home life.  This will possibly be my most difficult challenge.

Have you tackled any of these things before?  What was your experience like?  I would appreciate any advice, resources or insights.  What are your goals?  I encourage you to post them here or elsewhere.

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving…”


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At the close of the school year, I completed my time as an Instructional Facilitator.  This fall I will be moving back into the classroom, where I will trade my adult clientel for that of teenagers.  The last two years have been a huge learning experience for me and I wanted to write down some of the things that have had an impact on my educational philosophy.

Professional Development – In my role as embedded professional development, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about or work on crafting PD for teachers.  I feel as though I could write volumes on this topic, so I’ll just address what I feel is the biggest point.  Teachers don’t really learn much differently than our students.  They deserve to be treated as learners with individual learning styles.  Choice in learning can have a huge impact.  One-on-one feedback can be very useful.  Listening to what teachers have to say about what they need to learn and what they want to learn is important.  Orchestrate opportunities for teachers to learn from the experts in their building, each other.

Teaching Strategies – I have had the chance to study many different teaching strategies in depth.  I feel like I have gone from having a tool box to a tool chest on wheels.

Technology – Working in a 1:1 High Access school for the first time, I have been surrounded by technology.  I learned a great deal concerning the ins and outs of our MacBooks, their programs, Web 2.0, and our filtering system.  But more importantly, I have seen the variety of ways other people learn about technology.  Different learning styles can play out dramatically when teaching tech skills.  Fear and confidence play a big part in the willingness to try new things.  And my own teaching philosophy has shifted as a result of what I’ve learned.  To me, it’s not about incorporating technology to build skills.  It’s about shifting from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered approach.

The Big Picture – Being more involved with both building and district level issues, I have gained a better understanding of the big picture of education.  I feel I better get the role of administrators and I understand that as a teacher there are so many things that go on behind the scenes to make my job better.  Decisions can be pretty complicated and there are many factors and people to consider.

Teamwork – Being part of a team of 5-6 Instructional Facilitators over the past two years has taught me a lot about what it means to work as a collaborative group.  The best teams aren’t those that think alike, but those that can meld different perspectives, talents and skills to accomplish their goal.  Not everyone will (or should!) agree or approach things in the same way.  What is important is how you meld those different perspectives, talents, and skills to accomplish your goals.

Change – I have been told over and over that as an Instructional Facilitator that I am an “agent of change.”  Sometimes that has excited me, and at other times that thought has been rather scary.  Change is a tricky thing.  One of the mantras I often repeat to myself is something I learned from Jim Knight.  Change needs to be easy and powerful.  If you want people to change, you have to make it doable.  It needs to be something easily within their grasp, not some sudden monumental shift.  That’s not to say that you can’t have multiple smaller shifts that lead to large scale change.  It just means that it’s something people can look at and say “hey, I can do that.”  If you want people to change, they have to see the impact of that change.  If the results are not powerful, people will wonder why they even bothered.  Make the change worth their effort.

What Great Teachers Look Like – Over the past two years I have been in many different classrooms and had the chance to observe and work with many different teachers.  Would you like to know what the perfect teacher looks like?  Well, I can’t tell you.  Why?  Because there is no prescription or magic pill for great teaching.  What one teacher does in their classroom would be a disaster if a different teacher tried to do it in their’s.  The best description I have been able to come up with for a great teacher involves two things. 1) They care about kids and 2) They continually strive to be a better teacher.  If someone has these two elements, they have the potential to be a fantastic educator.

My new classroom where I will be learning & teaching.

This is just a small summary of what I have learned over the past two years.  I could greatly expand on any of these or other topics.  If you have any comments or questions, please let me know.

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The Maze

cc licensed flickr photo by Dark Sevier: http://flickr.com/photos/sevier/68914862/

I recently had the opportunity to attend a week long Quantum Learning training.  At the training we did a team building exercise know simply as “The Maze.”  While you can read more about one version of this exercise here, I will try to give you a short synopsis.  This exercise prompted a great deal of thought by everyone present at the training.

The Maze is a grid on which a team must discover the correct path from one end to the other.  Until the correct route is discovered, only one person may be in the Maze at a time.  If they step on an incorrect square while trying to discover the path, they get “beep” from the Maze Master (who has a sheet with the correct path).  They must then retrace their steps exactly to exit the Maze.  Team members can get penalties for touching the Maze out of turn, touching people in the Maze, using props, speaking and a few other things.  They cannot ask the Maze Master any questions and the Maze Master may only give feedback in the form of a “beep” (when team members step on the wrong square) and a “buzz” when the team invokes a penalty.  We had three teams attempting the Maze at once, the first one to finish wins (though all teams needed to finish the Maze).  It took us around 45 minutes to complete the exercise.

This was one of those experiences where the frustration was palpable in the room.  This was not an easy task.  My role in the exercise was that of a Maze Master.  My job was to be completely deadpan the entire time, only speaking to give “beeps” and “buzzes” (with a short description of the buzz offense).  The presenter told us before we began that that Maze Masters had the hardest job.  I would have to agree with her that it was fairly difficult.  I had all the answers, but I had to sit and allow the team members to make mistake after mistake after mistake with virtually no reaction from myself.  The team was clearly frustrated at points in the exercise and often their anger pointed towards me.  After all, I was the one who kept telling them they were wrong and they had to restart their path.  They had questions that I desperately wanted to answer.  However, I was not allowed to say anything other than the scripted beeps and buzzes.  The basic idea is that the team represents the students in a class while the Maze Master is a representation of the teacher.

I learned a lot from the Maze, I know I will be thinking about it for some time.  Here are three of the lessons that I have been thinking about the most since completing the exercise.




I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately but this activity put those thoughts into overdrive.  As the Maze Master I had to sit and watch as team members made lots of mistakes.  It was especially tough when they repeated some of the same mistakes.  As teachers, how willing are we to allow our students to make mistakes in order to succeed?

I have always tried to be supportive of my students when they make mistakes, helping them to learn where to go next.  But I realized that I might not be so good at knowingly watching them “step into the wrong square.”  There is a difference between problem solving when things don’t go right and purposely allowing students to make the wrong choices.  It is hard to stand and watch them make mistakes and not stop them before it happens.  We naturally want to keep them safe and save them the pain.  However, as my friend Katy put it, “true learning doesn’t come without frustration.” So now instead of just telling my students it’s ok to make mistakes because that’s how we learn, I need to be better at allowing those mistakes to be made.  I have a lot of processing to do on this issue.



As the Maze Master I had a lot of things that needed my attention.  In addition to making sure people were on the correct square, I had to pay attention to make sure everyone was standing in the right place, that they didn’t touch the people in the Maze or the Maze itself, that they weren’t talking, that they retraced their steps correctly when they got a beep, that everyone was taking their correct turn, etc.  It wasn’t easy to keep track of it all.

My take away on this aspect of the challenge was reinforcement that as teachers we can’t effectively focus on everything all the time.  We can give much better feedback when we focus on one or two things at a time instead of trying to do it all.  We should also allow our students a specified focus.  The best example I’ve seen with this involves writing.  When teaching writing skills, it is hard for us and the students when we tell them everything has to be perfect.  It is ok to focus on and grade just mechanics or just organization on a particular assignment.  It is not to say that we throw away all the other good things about writing, but that we intensely focus on those elements in order to help our students improve.


Course Correction

Course Correction

cc licensed flickr photo by alicepopkorn: http://flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/2736173495/


During the exercise, I made a mistake as the Maze Master.  I buzzed the group when I shouldn’t have and things got confused.  The group tried to ask questions and the facilitator came to remind me that I couldn’t deviate from the script.  I couldn’t tell them I made a mistake and fix it.  I had to keep buzzing them for being in the wrong place.  I panicked a bit because I knew they were frustrated and I wanted to fix my mistake.

What I wish I would have done is said “pause” (which we were allowed to do) so I could take the time to look at the Maze, figure out what had just happened and then respond appropriately.  While I do make a conscious effort to analyze my mistakes as a teacher, I would like to be better at it.  I would like to be able to say “pause,” evaluate the situation, and then respond appropriately.  Some of the best reflective conversations I’ve had about my teaching have been with my students.  I would like to “pause” with them more often to evaluate and decide if there is a better path for us to follow.

While there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from the Maze exercise, these are the three that have been on my mind the most.  I have particularly been thinking a great deal about failure in terms of how we assess and assign grades.  I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these issues.

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During our kick-off week of professional development for the 2009-2010 school year, I did a presentation for our staff on being safe and savvy on the internet.  As of this year, we are drastically reducing the number of websites that we filter (yes, this includes Facebook and MySpace).  I was tasked with presenting this new direction to the staff, how to keep our students safe on the net, and how to help them be effective consumers of digital media.

I have been asked by several people to post my presentation on SlideShare.  I am choosing not to do this and write about it here on the blog for two reasons.  1) Most of the information in the Keynote is tailored to my building and my district and 2) I don’t put a great deal of information on my slides.  I use them primarily as an aid for visual learning and to keep myself on track (I’m a big fan of Presentation Zen).  So I hope you don’t mind that I don’t post the Keynote.  I believe writing about the ideas in the presentation here would be more helpful and easier to understand.

The following is an overview of the main topics included in the presentation.

Essential Question: How do we teach students to be safe and savvy on the internet?

  1. Explanation of new district internet filters
  2. Internet Safety
  3. Effective consumers of digital media
  4. Classroom management strategies

District Internet Filters

This year, our district has decided to minimize internet filters. A district email explaining this decision outlines the 3 main points for our new direction:

“…the reason for opening access is multifaceted: One, school should be a place where kids can stay engaged and network, both of which help creativity. Two, broader Internet access gives students the opportunities to learn responsibility, acceptable Internet behavior and time management. A third reason for increasing access is for staff to be able to better communicate with kids on their channels…”

We discussed the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requirements on libraries and school computers.  A portion of this federal law states the requirements for libraries and schools with computers as follows:

An Internet safety policy must include technology protection measures to block or filter Internet access to pictures that are:
(a) obscene
(b) child pornography
(c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors)

I spoke about the complexity of this process and how our IT people can’t just “flip a switch,” as it were, and make all the good sites appear and all the bad sites disappear.  It will be something we will have to work on as we go.  Also, in an effort to preserve bandwidth, we will be limiting sites with streaming capabilities.  Sites such as Facebook and MySpace will be “squeezed,” meaning they are only allowed to use a certain percentage of the bandwidth.  Teachers were asked to be aware that laptops are not the only devices that students will be using on our wireless network.  Student’s personal cellphones and iPod Touches will also be present and should be monitored for appropriate use.

Safety Tips

It is our responsibility to support parents and to help our students use the internet safely.  With this in mind, we discussed the idea of a digital footprint, along with its implications for teachers and students.  I asked teachers to check their own digital footprint by Googling themselves, including an image search.

A question that I had gotten from teachers earlier in the week involved whether or not it was appropriate to “friend” students on social networking sites.  Our district does not have an official policy on this issue, so I presented my own opinion with a large disclaimer that our district does not have an official policy on the issue at this time.  I’ve sent a request for a “district approved” response up the chain of command and it is in process of being considered.  I feel strongly about this issue and I am choosing not to elaborate on my perspective here at this time so I can stick to the point and make this a shorter read.  I may post more on this issue in the future.

I believe the most effective way to help students use safe internet practices is to involve and encourage their parents.  They are more involved than we are and understand things about their child that we never will.  Making sure that parents are educated and involved can make a huge difference.

The following is a list of more specific tips that were presented and discussed with reference to teen internet use:

  • Avoid posting identifying information.
  • When posting pictures, use the “Grandmother Rule” (would you want your grandmother to see this picture?)
  • Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings of the site you are using and select the appropriate choices.
  • Keep your passwords secret! (with the exception of providing them to your parents)
  • Download with caution.
  • Meeting online friends in person: Probably not the best idea for minors, but teens need to be educated on two things to help them stay safe in the future.  If you are going to meet an online friend in person you need to 1) Meet in a public place and 2) Bring at least one friend.
  • Be able to spot the signs of internet scams.

We discussed the issue of cyberbullying and I presented the following reaction steps to teach our students if they are being bullied.

  1. Do not respond.
  2. Take 5: Walk away from the computer for 5 minutes so you have a chance to calm down a bit.
  3. Keep a record of the incident.
  4. Inform a trusted adult.

I was asked to address another concern that unfortunately seems to crop up anytime you have laptops and cellphones in a high school: pornography.  We discussed the issue from our school’s perspective and I outlined the appropriate teacher response if they spot this type of material on a student laptop.

We encourage teachers to use internet sites that enhance instruction.  However, in doing so, the teachers need to ensure that students are safe and their privacy is protected.  With that in mind, we went over the following tips for using class sites on the web:

  • Never use a student’s full name.
  • No “real” pictures – Students are welcome to alter their photos so they are not recognizable with fun paint and warping tools.
  • Avoid any identifying information of students.
  • Teachers may identify themselves and their school (this is helpful for allowing collaboration and sharing of examples between educational colleagues and PLNs).

Effective Consumers of Digital Media

What has search overload done to our students? They are exposed to so much content, it is difficult for them to analyze what is useful and what is not.  I used the above clip to introduce the concept of “Filter Failure.” While our students need us to teach them how to find resources, I believe it is more important for us to guide them on how to find and analyze useful resources.

“The difference between good and poor learners is not the sheer quantity of what the good learner learns, but rather the good learner’s ability to organize and use information”
-Frank Smith, B. Keith Lenz Et al. Edge Enterprises

As educators, it is our duty to teach our students the critical thinking skills needed to analyze the different types of media they encounter.  We also need to teach them the skills necessary to “organize and use” their information.  Otherwise, they can be either overwhelmed by the vast amounts of information or they could just use the information that is the easiest to access (which is not always accurate information).

As an activity, teachers worked in groups to complete a website analysis using the instructions and the form listed below.  They had the chance to familiarize and re-familiarize themselves with internet domain names such as .gov .com .edu .net.  This knowledge is helpful when analyzing the usefulness and accuracy of web sources.  (Note: This assignment was adapted from the assignment found at the bottom of the page here.)

Website Evaluation Instructions

Website Evaluation Form

There are many aspects of a web source students can analyze, much like a primary document in history or English.  Aspects to consider when analyzing for accuracy and bias include:

  • Source and/or Sponsor
  • Publication Date
  • Audience
  • Ads
  • Purpose

“There is a good use for Wikipedia.” I’m not sure I have ever uttered those words in public before, but I did say them!  I explained a little about Wikipedia and focused on the references section found at the end of every entry.  This is where the controversial “research” site can be a useful tool.  If a student is having a hard time finding resources on a subject, they can check the references on the Wikipedia article and use them as a spring board to locate more appropriate sources.  As long as they are aware that these sources can be biased just like any other, it can be a good starting place.


209 References on Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor's Wikipedia article on the day of access.

Classroom Management Tips

The following is a list of classroom management tips for students using laptops.  These tips were sprinkled throughout the presentation and were modeled for and with the audience.

  1. Do students have a specific reason directly related to instruction for having their laptops out and open?  If not, please put them away.
  2. Will students be doing an activity on their computers? Have them wait until you have finished with your directions and answered any questions regarding the assignment before opening their laptops.
  3. Be present.  Whenever students are on their computers, move around the room. This helps you better monitor their learning and on-task behavior.  Bonus: Students tend to ask more questions if you are in close proximity.
  4. Consider your learning environment.  Can you easily see every students’ computer screen? If not, consider rearranging.
  5. For students on the Mac Side (We have dual platform laptops) – Use the Expose and Spaces options to easily see the windows a student has open.  You can also see which programs are open by the small dot under the icon on the dock.  For Windows – Observe which program windows are open in the task bar.  Remember that there are ways of hiding the Mac dock and the Windows task bar, but it is good to know some of the things you can look for.
  6. Be Aware.  Familiarize yourself with the websites your students regularly use.  Note: Recognize that you can’t know everything about technology, so it is ok to focus on a smaller number of sites that you know your students regularly use.

I realize that many of these strategies may seem like “gotcha” strategies.  I informed teachers of these ideas so they are aware of some different options for classroom management and can choose what will work best for them and their students.  Please feel free to add other ideas in the comments section.

I concluded the presentation with a quote that comes to mind whenever I think of bringing down the internet filters:

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

-Stan Lee

As with everything, there are good and bad things about offering our students more access.  Overall, I feel that this is a great opportunity to teach and learn with our students.  We are now able to provide more guidance in order to better prepare them for the world beyond our school walls and the time when we can no longer protect them.  It is my hope that they remember the lessons we have taught them about critically analyzing sources.

This is an ongoing process in my district and far from a smooth road.  We are working our way through things for which there seems to be little precedent.  I would love to hear from people who have undergone a similar process in their district, along with the challenges and rewards of that process.  I may be posting here on the blog about our own experiences in the future.  Please feel free to leave comments, questions, suggestions, or anything else that you think would be helpful in furthering our collaborative understanding.

Works Consulted:

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Over the past few months, I’ve been learning and connecting with other educators from around the world using Twitter.  This has become a very valuable collaboration tool for me and I would like to share some more of the things I have learned along the way on how to effectively use Twitter.

According to a Nielsen report, 60% of people who sign up for Twitter fail to return to the website the following month.  There has been much discussion and speculation about the reason behind this.  Personally, I think a lot of it has to do with one simple thing: purpose.

While many of us found ourselves on Twitter out of curiosity, I believe those who stay and are able to find meaning in the chaos do so for a specific reason.  My own reason is the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other educators.  I finally decided it might be worth while to try out Twitter at an Instructional Coaching workshop.  The presenter, Jim Knight, explained the potential of Twitter in the world of collaborative education.  With this purpose in mind, I dove in.

I have many friends and family who have dabbled in Twitter.  Mostly, this was to satisfy curiosity and and to see what all of the hubbub was about.  They made an account and sat back to watch the “Twitter magic” happen…only it didn’t.  The vast majority of my non-professional contacts have tweeted 5 times or less, have never written a bio, and still have the brown and light blue o_O icon as their profile picture.  The other thing they don’t have?  Purpose.

“What are you doing?” I believe this input prompt is misleading.  Honestly, I really don’t care how many cups of coffee you’ve had today, how many times your dog threw up, what you had for lunch, or what you’re watching on TV (Sorry, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance fans!).  I see why the Twitter guys started out with this question.  But to get anything meaningful out of this service, I believe more meaningful queries would be “What are you wondering?” or “What have you found worth sharing?”  This is where the moniker, “follow ideas, not people” comes into play.  Being on Twitter isn’t about who you follow.  It’s about conversations involving your interests.  It doesn’t have to be professional.  I’ve seen some pretty interesting conversations about family cooking and dogs.  Find an idea that interests you and that you are passionate about.  If it’s worthwhile to you, I’m sure there are more people out there who feel the same and are willing to connect and share ideas.

So once you have a purpose and an idea you would like to follow, how do you go about finding people connected to that idea/purpose?  First, you start with yourself.  If you want to engage people in conversation, you need to let them know who you are and what you’d like to talk about.  Go to the Settings option in the Twitter menu, then look over the information you have entered for your account profile.  Now, I understand the trepidation many may have about putting too much information out on the net, especially on something you are just trying out.  So please stay in your safety comfort zone, but do the following:

  • Name: Please put at least a real first name
  • More Info URL: If you have a public website of any kind (esp. if it is related to your Twitter purpose) please include that here.
  • One Line Bio: This is important!  Please write 1-2 sentences or a list that tells something about you and what your purpose/interests are.  By telling others the ideas you are interested in following, you will be able to easily connect to more like-minded people.  Remember that you can always revise this later.  This also helps people realize that you are not a spam account.
  • Location: How specific you would like to be is up to you.  At the very minimum, I would include your country or state/province.  Twitter is a global community and it’s fun to know how far your conversations can reach.

o_ONow that you have let people know the types of ideas you are interested in, you need to add a picture.  Yes, I said you need to add a picture…   o_O By the way, the symbol on the default picture is an emoticon which  means “bored, annoyed or awkward; concerned; ‘what?’ face.”  Many people out there won’t follow someone who has this symbol because it is seen as a sign that the person isn’t serious about using Twitter to collaborate.  It also helps people determine more easily if you are a spam account.  Are you uncomfortable with putting a real picture out there?  That’s ok.  While some would disagree, I would argue that any picture is better than no picture.  So feel free to use a cartoon likeness, your dog, something that represents your interests, or play with a photo of yourself in Photoshop or iPhoto.  If you are using Twitter for professional purposes, I would highly recommend a real picture of yourself.

Now that you have a basic profile set-up, start writing a few tweets about your interests/purpose.  You can include your thoughts, write about the kind of information or collaboration you are looking for, ask questions, include a few websites that you have found informative and helpful, etc.  How much you tweet is up to you, but you want people to see that you are actively using the site when they take a look at your profile.  This gives them more incentive to interact with you.

Now you are ready to find people who also follow the same ideas.  Please remember that you do not need to follow everyone.  It’s ok to be selective and to stop following someone if they’re not sharing the kind of ideas you are looking for.  There are a few ways to do this.

  • If you know someone who actively uses Twitter for the same purpose, browse through their following list.  Find a few people you think sound interesting and follow them.  Then you can look through their following lists, and repeat the process.  I prefer to use following lists instead of followers because they are less likely to be people who don’t share the same interest/purpose.
  • Use Twitter Search and input keywords related to your interest/purpose.  Click on the profiles of people who have tweets that interest you and decide if they are engaged in the conversation you’re looking for.  If you like the ideas they are discussing, then follow them.  From there you can use the first step to branch out and find more people.
  • Search for related hashtags.  Hashtags are words that are preceded by the “#” symbol.  Their purpose is to make it easier to search posts related to that idea.  For example, I am currently able to follow the protests in Tehran by searching for the hashtag #iranelection.  There are also scheduled chats such as #educhat and a growing number of professional conferences such as #TED, #NECC, &  #GLS09.  Anyone who is talking about this subject can include a designated hashtag in their post so others can see it and be part of the conversation.  You can learn more about hashtags here.
  • Check out services such as WeFollow.  Look up topics that are related to your interest/purpose and find people to follow that interest you.

Once you have a few people you’re following, feel free to jump right in or watch and get a feel for how people use Twitter.  It is still a good idea for you to keep posting questions, resources, etc. to help people decide if they want to follow you.  Feel free to “retweet” good ideas that other people have written.  Just be sure to give them credit by starting the post with “RT” (short for “retweet”) and then writing their @name, followed by their post.  See an example here.  Or you can write “via” and their @name at the end of your post.  See an example hereYou want to be sure you credit the ideas of other people. RTs from others also give you a chance to find more people with the same interests/purpose.  Just click on their @name and it will take you directly to their profile.

Once you feel comfortable, start responding to other people’s posts.  Answer their questions, provide resources, and comment on their ideas.  To reply, you can hit the reply button on their tweet or type their Twitter name into your dialogue box with the “@” symbol in front.  Feel free to include hashtags if they are appropriate.

You can also respond privately by using the Direct Message feature on the right hand side.  Just click on the “Direct Message” link.  Then choose the person you want to communicate with from the drop down menu, type your message, and send.  Please note that you may only send Direct Messages to people you follow and follow you back.

If you have a website you would like to share, but the URL is way too long to include in a 140 character tweet, you can use a service such as TinyURL.com to shorten the URL.  Also, many Twitter clients provide a URL shortening service.  I am currently using Tweetie.  All I have to do it type my tweet, and then hit option+command+s to automatically short the URL.  It’s very handy.

A note on spam: If you gain followers who have a limited, non-existent, or general bio, only a few tweets, tweets that are all about advertising (such as how to gain 3,000 followers in a week), or they follow 5,000 people and only 100 follow them back, then they are more than likely a spam account.  It is best to block these by going to your follower page and hitting the “Block” button by their name.

I hope these tips will help you find the “Twitter magic” and put it to good use.  If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to let me know.  I’ve been trying to find the best way to describe this unique service and the best way to help people get started in leveraging its use.  I’d love to hear from you.  Thanks!


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