September 1: New Projects, Either/Or & Pronouns

7th grade started the Rescue Mission Sprint after setting up the websites for their design journals. Walking them thru the setup step by step was super helpful and made sure everyone had the same format and was ready to go. Now I just need to check the links to see if they really work.

The tough class started out with some serious talk and it seem like it helped. It was better today but we’ll see what happens next time. I definitely need to make sure that I keep things active and keep a select few fully engaged. I’m hoping that building relationships with them will help some as well.

8th grade was ok too. I feel like I probably talked too much, but I haven’t figured out how to get the design cycle introduced without talking thru it or showing videos which feel less engaging. Trying to incorporate turn and talks and opportunities to move around but also feel a need to just get them information. It’s definitely something I can work on.

While talking about my design of the day intro with Robyn, she suggested I do away with the good or bad design and just ask how it makes students feel or questions they have about it. She referred me back to the article from the tweet below that I had shared with her but hadn’t finished reading, oops. It mentions the idea that either/or thinking is an example of white supremacy culture. Makes sense and will help me to think on how to improve this exercise.

Also thoughts today about pronouns as I used a student as an example that I’m really not certain about their gender. Found myself trying to use a name instead of pronouns and realized not only would it possibly be more accepting it would also help me learn names better.

Finally and on the same train of thought, students asked me why I didn’t include the pronouns on the characters I created for a design challenge this week. My honest answer was because I just finished creating them about 15 minutes before class. But I’ll be adding those pronouns for next time…

30 Day Challenge

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

For the month of September, our middle school is participating in a 30 Day challenge. We watched this Ted Talk in our advisories and then took some time to come up with appropriate goals for the month. My students are working on everything from exercise plans to improving their American Sign Language skills. For me, I chose to reflect on my work/classes/learning for the next 30 days. So I’ll make an entry here every day for the entire month of September. I don’t have plans to make it fancy, but mostly just a space to reflect, think and maybe share a bit. Mostly it is for me, but I figured I might as well share as I have not written anything on here lately and it might help keep me motivated to be public about it.

So, while I know this is a blog, these next 30 entries are really just for me, but you are still welcome to follow along.

Search Tabs in Chrome

I found a little something in Google Chrome today that I think is relatively new, or at least I had not noticed before. If you happen to be one of those people that likes to keep a bazillion tabs open, you can now search all those bazillion tabs in a Chrome window by clicking on the little arrow at the end of your tabs. It even works if you have multiple windows open!

Just click on the arrow and type in what you’re looking for.

If you want a little more info, here is a quick video I made of it in action. 

Cranking back up

I’ve decided its time to dust this old site off and see if I can make it active again. I spent the last week or so going through my archives of old sites and blogs and trying to put them all together under one roof. It has been a pretty fun trip down memory lane. EdCamps, bookclubs, COETAIL, and that first trip to Ghana. There’s still a bit of work to do, broken links, missing images and other issues to sort out to get it where I want it, but it is functional for now. Kind of like that old van (oh how I dream of a good old van for fishing and surfing adventures) this practice of blogging has a lot of potential. I’ve tried to get this thing cranking a few times in the last several years as you might notice if you poke around a bit, so no promises. Let’s just see where this thing takes us.

Reboot, again

Hello? Is this thing on?

I’ve finally found this blog again after it got buried under a new country, new school and new classes. I’m officially dusting it off and planning to document the next phase of my career here at American Community School in Amman, Jordan. Hopefully, it won’t get buried again.

Next year, I’ll be making another shift in my teaching assignment. Having originally been hired as a middle school social studies teacher and tech coach, my assignment ended up being to create two new technology courses while also teaching one section of social studies. I had a great time developing coding and STEAM courses and eventually also picked up a Robotics course.

It was a great year of learning for me, and hopefully for the students. I had a free pass to develop courses that had not existed before and I took advantage of the opportunity to try out all kinds of different ideas. Which leads me to the task at hand, developing yet another new course for next year.

After evaluating our program, we realized that our current offerings (Coding, STEAM, Engineering, and Robotics) were too similar and were creating too much overlap. In addition, those of us who were teaching the courses did not have a common planning time which made it difficult to collaborate and ensure that we were offering diverse opportunities for our students.

The solution, I hope, is a year long Design Technology class for all seventh and eighth grade students. Currently, it is only one course, but there is a possibility of developing it into a level one and level two.

Since the decision was made to go ahead with the class, I’ve been reading as much as I can to develop my ideas into a legitimate course. I’ve drawn heavily on the following:

I also decided that I should follow my own teaching and work my way through the design cycle to develop the course. Therefore, I created the working document at the end of this post to develop my ideas and begin outlining a course.

Even though I developed two new courses this year, I have to admit to mostly building those ships as I sailed them as I got the assignment not long before the actual start of school and had no idea what materials and resources would be available. So this is my first real run at developing a course from scratch.

My goal is to create something different. I want to create a class that not only students would want to take, but that I would want to take as well. With this in mind, my goal is to create an asynchronous, project-oriented course that allows students options to follow their interests while building their own knowledge and understandings. A choose your own adventure course if you will.

I’m imagining each class starting with a mini-lesson for students who are interested in a topic, tool or resource. Initially, these would be led by me, but eventually, they would be student-led as students build their own skills and knowledge. Those who are interested participate, those who are not or have other work started, go ahead and start on their own. The next portion of the class would be made up of student check-ins as students will be required to conference with me every three to four classes to discuss progress.

While it may sound as if this plan is leaving students to fend for themselves a lot, I discovered this semester that they actually prefer this. One of my favorite, and many of the student’s favorite, lessons was when I handed out Makey Makeys and told them to figure out what they do. For the next hour kids tinkered, experimented, discussed, Googled and discovered various ways to use this new tool. As each group found success, their eyes lit up, they laughed and they looked for ways to extend their learning. It was fantastic. The feedback I received from students this semester continually brought up the fact that they appreciated being able to learn and explore on their own.

Some of this is driven from a desire for change and rejuvenating my own teaching practice, and some of it is driven from the reality of the resources we currently have available. Our middle school did not have a technology program before this year and therefore also did not have a lot of equipment. I’ve placed a giant wish list of an order for next year but I’m not certain what I’ll actually guess. I shot for the moon, hoping at least to get into space.

Speaking of space, I’ve got an awesome new teaching space for next year, but I think that’s going to have to be another post.

Stay tuned to see how this all turns out. Will it be an amazing success? Will it crash and burn and need to be redesigned at the end of the first semester? There’s only one way to find out.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ideas, and the developing plan below.

Reflecting on my years with #AfricaEd

Almost four years ago I had an idea. I’d participated in a couple of Twitter chats and found them to be great inspiration and full of resources. But none of them seemed to take place during the hours I wanted to engage. The chats that I had found were all based in the US which meant US time zones and US education issues. While a lot of the conversation transferred to my situation, I wanted to find ways to connect with other international educators and in turn help them connect with one another as well. I’d already made a few contacts across the continent who were interested in finding ways to connect. So, on November 4 of 2014 I launched #AfricaEd with a little help from some friends here in Africa as well as back in the States.

Since that first chat, I knew I’d found something something meaningful. I was in the middle of helping others connect. We were trading ideas, making connections and building our practice by connecting outside our own walls. Through the years it has had its ups and downs. There were chats when I was the only one answering the questions, as well as chats when I couldn’t keep up with the conversation there was so much going on. There were weeks when I felt like I had the perfect questions and I was ready on Monday for the Thursday chat. And there were times when I realized as I laid down in bed on Wednesday night that I hadn’t prepped the chat and had to crank out some questions. We had deep, philosophical chats and light, sometimes hilarious chats. To me both were equally important in making connections between educators.

Through it all, my own learning was exponential. Not just in the connections with amazing educators around the world, but also in organization and creating questions. It forced me to be creative, concise and clear in my questions. I got better and better at scheduling Tweets, understanding good times to promote the chat and discovered other hashtags to draw in more participants. I eventually even managed to incorporate a bit of my learning from Cognitive Coaching into my questions driving the conversations a bit deeper.

When I started with that first chat, I had no idea where it would take me. Yet my involvement with #AfricaEd led to and opportunity to present for and eventually work with our regional association, AISA. I became involved as a founding Ambassador in the #TeachSDGs movement and recently have become involved with The PLN that I’ve built has provided me with #EdCamp planning resources, example job descriptions as I wrote my own, connections between classrooms around the world, a plethora of great ideas and most importantly, friends that I’m in regular contact with and look forward to meeting in person one day.

It has been a fantastic journey and I appreciate all those who have been a part of it. As I prepare to leave Ghana at the end of this week and begin a new chapter in Jordan, I look forward to checking in to the chat next year as a guest and seeing the direction it takes. It makes me happy that even in the act of walking away from the chat I was able to help make one more connection. #AfricaEd will be taken over this fall by two educators, one in Angola and the other in Sudan who have never met, but now will work together to connect others. It leaves me feeling like I’ve accomplished my mission and I’m excited to see what comes next.

The Importance of Playing with Friends

At my school, there is a group of grown men and women who giggle and laugh every time they see each other on campus. Sometimes we just laugh and say to one another, “Wait til Monday.”

For the past five years, we’ve had an after school football match for staff. When I first arrived, it was a small group of teachers who had put together a team to play in a local league. They actually called it “training” and the games could be intense. Through the years, it has relaxed a bit, grown and dwindled and grown again. There were days when we played 3 v 3 and there were days we played 15 v 15. At one point we had a few parents join us and, for a while, we allowed high school kids to play. There was even a day when we played with a former player from the US Men’s National Team and a former captain of the Black Stars. But that’s another story.

The Crest

Overtime, I somehow became known as the commissioner of the “league”.  So naturally, I christened the game as LIFA (Lincoln International Football Association), created a crest and email signature, and had stickers printed. Those stickers can now be seen around campus on water bottles, computers and even on a few player’s cars. We have even managed to obtain our own training bibs so that we no longer have to remember random color combinations for our teams each week based on what everyone was wearing.  This upgrade eventually led to regular teams and friendly competition.

The Cup

And since it was dedicated in a small, lunchtime ceremony with representatives from each team, we now have a trophy, aka The Cup. The Cup, put together (literally) by a member of our group, proudly displays our crest and the LIFA slogan, “It’s a friendly game” and sits on the sideline of each Monday afternoon match as a regular crew of twenty plus staff members play, argue over fouls and laugh. We are teachers, coaches, gardners, cleaners, librarians, national service personnel, IT guys, and even an occasional accountant. Expats and local hires, we are all employees of the school, but a group that otherwise, probably would not regularly spend time together.


Even as I write this my phone is constantly buzzing with updates from the WhatsApp group that one member created for us. There are “rumors” that a team is sacking their “coach”. The update comes complete with a doctored image of one of our IT guys behind a fake headline.

Schools regularly talk about building their culture. We play ice breakers to start professional development, have the occasional luncheon, or whole staff event. But at those events, its up to the individuals to decide who they interact with, sit next to, engage in conversation. We tend to gravitate toward the people we know or with whom we think we might have more in common in those situations. In an international school this can create a divide between those who are local hires and expats. In some schools it is a deeper divide than others and it can be difficult to bridge.

But when the ball rolls out onto the field on Monday afternoon, it brings us together. We play hard. We celebrate. We talk trash. We laugh. We have fun. After the games we sit around and talk. Ok, sometimes even during the games we sit around and talk. If I miss a day, the next day several people will ask where I was. I get a text update on the score if I have to leave early, and Tuesdays are for reliving the game, laughing and talking next week’s strategy

There are other programs like this at our school. My wife leads a weekly yoga class, for donations. Those are in turn passed on to local organizations. There’s a group that does cross fit, a Ghanaian studies group, occasional drum circles, regular basketball, volleyball and ultimate frisbee games and even floor hockey this year. These are all organized by staff, for staff and I think their importance is sometimes overlooked. The importance of these relationships goes well beyond the football pitch, the drum circle or the basketball court. When we are happy at work, we are more productive. In a school setting, that means benefits for kids, our top priority. I look forward to Mondays because I love my job, but also because I love these guys and girls that I get to play with on Monday afternoon.

I’m leaving my current school at the end of this year and I’m excited about the opportunity that lies ahead for my family. There are new adventures and wonderful experiences ahead as we explore a new country. But I’m also filled with the mixed emotions of saying goodbyes. The hardest of these goodbyes will be to my LIFA teammates, but they’ve promised to keep me in the WhatsApp group, and we have pipe dreams of an international match one day.

I wonder if they need a commissioner at my next school…

LIFA Through The Years

Oh, and my team won the inaugural cup by the way. Just sayin…


Blogging Buddies

So I’ve added another point to my to do list and I’m excited about it. I’ve decided to join the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Blogging Buddies. I’m hoping this will add the incentive back to posting regular blogs. I got off to a great start this year, but definitely fizzled out second semester.

So here’s the deal if you’re interested yourself. Basically, I’ll post at least once a month and comment on the blogs of my “buddies” at least once a month. Its a great opportunity to continue to build my PLN, work on my writing and learn from other experts in the field all at once.

My group is in the table below so you can check out some new blogs too. I’m looking forward to a new challenge and a renewed presence on my blog.

Jennifer Santini United States Illinois
Jeff Newman United States Arizona
Joshua Howard United States Missouri
Natalie Davis United States Virginia

Making it count

This week I get the opportunity to lead our secondary staff for an afternoon PD session. I have to be honest, at this point of the year, I’m not really expecting everyone to skip into the room filled with excitement. I’m thinking I’ll most likely need some motivational words to keep my audience from slipping out the back.

As I was working on my plan with all this on my mind, I had a realisation. Why not ask my audience if the tasks I was creating were meaningful to them?

So I did.

I approached several teachers in my building and asked them for five minutes of their time. I showed them my plan and asked for their honest feedback. To my delight, each teacher gave me thoughtful suggestions. One recommended reordering some of the tasks while another suggested an outline of expectations for the session. I even got a bit of unsolicited feedback once I sent the resources for the week. I was guilty of not clearly defining an acronym (ISTE which ironically, as my colleague also pointed out, they don’t even define very well on their own website.)

Test markets and beta versions are an integral part of the business community. Why shouldn’t it be part of building educational programs too? It makes a lot more sense than just waiting for the end and collecting feedback after the fact.

I’m excited to have a new plan as I continue to develop in this roll. I think, if I’m smart in the process, I can improve what I’m offering to my colleagues as well as build stronger relationships along the way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment or find me on Twitter @rharwood17

A New Challenge

My two worlds have collided to bring me my most recent opportunity. The first is the world of connected educators. The second, my mom.

Being connected has provided me with a plethora of opportunities, resources and friends. My Twitter world has helped me start an EdCamp and two international chats, be invited to facilitate at a conference, present at an AppsEvent Summit, led me to learning with COETAIL and now given me the chance to become a COETAIL instructor.

But being connected isn’t quite enough. My mom told me years ago, that it never hurts to ask. So when an email came through from COETAIL saying they had this exciting new collaboration with the Google for Education Certified Trainers program and it ended with 

I figured they meant it.

So i asked:

Why not right? The worst that could happen is I don’t get any response.  But I did get a response, and it started a conversation I didn’t really expect with the directors of COETAIL. All of a sudden, I was offering suggestions and talking about becoming an instructor.

In the midst of this conversation, a Twitter friend became a part of the COETAIL team. Lissa and I had originally crossed digital paths as I was working through the COETAIL program about two years ago.  Thanks again to Twitter, we discovered we would both be in the North Carolina mountains last summer and got to meet face to face. (I owed her a drink for all the resources she shared with me as I started as a tech coach)

And so, here we are. Thanks to a random collection of connections, and one little question, a new challenge for the coming year.

#COETAIL is excited to welcome @rharwood17 as the Online 8 Cohort Instructor!


So, if you’re trying to decide if it is worth your time to create that Twitter profile or join a Facebook group, figure out what hashtags are, or if you’re super hip start Snappin, I’d say yes. It is. But, don’t forget to listen to your mom too. It isn’t enough just to show up, you have to ask some questions, share some thoughts and take some chances.

To think it all started with me talking trash with Jimmy Conrad.