Projects and Organization

This week absolutely flew by.  I’ve got enough projects in the works that it is definitely keeping me on my toes.  This week I submitted my Google Certified trainer application as I’m wrapping up the series of Certified Educator trainings for our staff.   I’m not sure what the results of the trainings will be.  I haven’t had as much participation in the series as I initially hoped.  There a lot of teachers who decided to work on their own.  That’s all good, if they are, but its certainly hard to tell.

Now attention is turning to school policies and philosophies.  We’re in the process of revising our school technology philosophy.  We have it written and are now just awaiting admin feedback.  Its pretty amazing how one task opens another.  Now we’re having to start to look at what it means to the rest of our technology plan.  Something we needed to do anyway, but it brings the task to the front.   We’ve outgrown the systems that we have in place both in size and philosophy.  Its exciting to be a part of the process of looking forward.

We’ve been BYOD for a few years now, but we’ve also had a set of laptops available for check out.  Its created quite an interesting culture among our students.  Its time to sort out if we really are BYOD or not and think about what messages we are sending about our technology program.  In my opinion we have a lot of tech and a lot of potential, but we need to tap that potential and move our school to the next level.

We’re too reactionary right now with our processes and programs.  We need to think forward and get our systems updated and have a vision of how they will grow.  I’m working on this myself actually.  Just switched over to a new organization system.  My new organization planI’m trying out Trello for awhile and I like it so far.  I’ve yet to find a digital to do list that I liked, but this system seems to be a little more suited to my needs.  I like to be able to move things across the board as I work on them.  We’ll see how it goes.

This week I also started organizing a cohort of people to work through the ISTE Coaching Academy with me.  I put the word out in some forums expecting a couple of responses and now we’re looking at close to 30 participants interested.  A little more than I expected and turned a little PD idea into a bit more of a project.  Its cool though.  Opens up another opportunity to learn and lead.

Friday is definitely catching up with me about now.  I think I’ll have some coffee.

Until next time…

#AEC2016 Reflecting on leading professional learning

img_2221I’ve just finished my first real conference presentations.  I was lucky enough to be invited to be a part of the AISA Educator’s conference in Johannesburg this year.  It was a fantastic, challenge that has my mind spinning and exhausted.  Three days of  two and a half hour each morning and afternoon sessions will wear a fella out.  I’m worked, but also already thinking about what I could do better.

How cool to get to spend three days in a room with educators from across the continent sharing and learning together.  Participants represented schools with great internet, to almost no internet and thirty plus students in a class to only thirty-five students in the entire school!  Talk about diverse needs in a session.  2016-10-19

I feel like things went pretty well.  My task was facilitating discussion and learning around technology integration.  We spent our time discussing the SAMR model and the ISTE standards for teachers and students and of course, experimenting and exploring digital resources. The initial feedback I’ve received was positive and participants seemed engaged throughout the sessions.  I look forward to seeing official feedback from the conference evaluations soon.

As I reflect on improvements, I think the time spent exploring tools needed a little more img_2222structure. In fact, one participant suggested this in the feedback.  I provided a spreadsheet with tools and room to add comments and reviews as well as other resources, but it was not well utilised.  At least not the comments and review parts.  In the future, I’ll structure the form differently and look to have participants commit to a particular group of resources or at least a specific number of reviews.  In the end this would make the document more useful for everyone.  I also feel like I need to work on the closing of each day.  This was an issue for me in the classroom as well.  I could do better with a short review and reflection exercise at the close of each day.  That’s a pretty easy fix.  I just need to do it.

Selfies are an integral part of PDBy far the most positive takeaway from the experience is the time spent with new people.  It is energising to be in a room full of educators eager to learn and improve their craft.  The open sharing and willingness to take chances, ask questions and help one another was invigorating.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to make those connections and share moments with each of them.  As we were leaving, one of my new friends stopped to give me  a hug and turned and hugged my children as well while she invited us to come visit her country someday.  I hope we can.

My wife and me

Which actually brings up another excellent part of this adventure.  My wife was also presenting at the conference, which is cool in itself, but that meant that our kids came along with us as well.  We had made arrangements for them to have people to hangout with while we worked, but they helped us set up our rooms for our sessions, Little helpersmade friends with other kids who were tagging along and got to see us teaching and learning with other adults.  They definitely picked up on it too.  One night before she fell asleep, my girl said to my wife, “Mommy, I love learning.”  You just
can’t ask for much more than that.

Now its back to work and the regular routine, but I’ll have this experience in my back pocket now to return to and reflect upon as I look forward to what might come next.

Good, fun people


Another year in the books. I’ve now got thirteen years of teaching under my belt and it feels good. It seems like so long ago that I sat in the office of Jackson Middle School on a snow day to interview for my first teaching job. Little did I know as my references were called with me still in the room and the job was offered on the spot to start in two weeks, that it was my first step in a career that would lead me across the ocean. I’m thankful for that kickstart into teaching. Surviving a mid-march start in a classroom that had already seen at least two teachers come and go helped prepare me for anything that came my way.

ChangeNow these thirteen years later, I’ve graded my last projects and entered my last set of comments, at least for awhile. When I return from an adventure filled summer, I’ll be a Technology Coach. I’m excited to make the transition to full time after two years of balancing the classroom and coaching responsibilities.

I’ve got lots of plans and even more to learn. I’m queuing up to take the ISTE Coaching Academy Series when I return from summer and I’m reading everything I can get my hands on.  Of course I’m open to suggestions and shared articles any time if you’ve got them.

So as I close up shop for the summer, I’m challenging myself to actually use this blog over the course of the next year to share and reflect on the adventures of a new tech coach in Ghana.

Until then, I’m planning on enjoying the summer, I hope you do too. Lets Go Surfing

Surfing Safari

As I submit my final project, I’m still working on the unit in the classroom. For various reasons, the timing just didn’t quite work out, but we are about 92.7% finished.  Throughout the unit, the ideas have swelled, broken, and reformed.  They continue to come in waves.  I have so many ideas of where this project could go and how it could grow in the future.  The fun part is, most of those who are involved do too.  Its been a great experience.

The definite changes that will be coming along in the future are creating more roles for the students in developing the structure of the project.  I think it would be great to have students involved in the scheduling of interviews, the creation of the website, cataloging interviews, promoting the project and creating some sort of celebration at the end to showcase what they’ve created.  There’s a lot of potential there for differentiation and even passion projects.  Students could be involved in design projects, logistics, all sorts of things.

Ironically, the biggest issue we faced un this project was the technology.  Thankfully, not on the instructional side.  The students’ involvement and use of technology was great.  The structure of the project, the timing, participation all of that was easy.  It was dealing with the files that were created in a way that allows for longevity that has given us the most headaches.  As of the time I’m typing this we still have an error message appearing when the files are accessed in Chrome (it seems to be ok in Safari).  Images work fine, but if you click on an audio file on the map below, you’ll probably get a warning from Chrome.  Its safe though.  I promise.

On the other hand, this has provided a learning experience as well.  I’ve been able to have discussions with students about the handling of files, naming protocols, all kinds of issues I didn’t expect. As you might notice, the map is still a work in progress as students update and format their pins.  This is a result of  files being created, needing to be renamed and relocated.  We’re working through it. At the suggestion of students, once the map is completely updated, it will be split into two maps one highlighting the student’s work around their communities and one for the interviews and where students call home.

I could ramble on and on about this project and what I’d like to see happen with it. I honestly think it could become an entire semester of work, but I won’t go there. My video and some resources are below.



Below I’ve attached:

my original unit planner

and our working document for tasks for this project.

I have to say I’m quite happy to get this project wrapped up.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my COETAIL experience and the challenges it presented.  However, I must admit to be happy closing this chapter of my own learning.  I’d forgotten how demanding it can be to take classes while teaching classes.  Throw in moving over to a new job and raising a couple of kids while still trying to find some time for playing with my friends and its exhausting.  But I’m truly thankful for the learning and connections I’ve made throughout the course.

Let’s go surfing now…

Surfing Time

Let’s Get It Started

Its time to really start thinking about this project and getting things rolling.  Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for while, I just need to start taking some action.

Here’s an outline of my plan. I’m hoping to drastically improve last year’s oral history project that I started with my 8th grade humanities class.  It was a mild success last year, but it I walked away from the project with lots of thoughts on how to make it better.

microphone-307365_1280This year we’ll be adding a few more elements to the project that will hopefully make it more meaningful to not only the students participating, but to the community of our school as well.  The basic plan is for our students to collect stories from the staff at Lincoln Community School about their teenage years and educational experience.  We’re hoping to build a collection of stories of youth around the world and throughout different eras of history.  Our staff, like our students, is quite diverse and should provide an intriguing array of stories.

The project is part of our service learning initiative at LCS as we ultimately share this collection of recordings on a website that I created last year for this purpose.  I’m also considering giving students the option to work on redesigning the website or looking for ways to enhance it as part of the project.

I plan on beginning the project by tapping into another project that I stumbled on via Twitter.  The #hearmyhome project closely relates to some of what we are hoping to do ourselves and will provide students with an opportunity to practice recording, finding stories to share and challenging their creativity.  The hope is once we get to the point of interviewing teachers, the students will be somewhat comfortable with the process.

Throughout the project I want students thinking about several things.  One of the top ideas being: How and why is history recorded?  One of our first activities will be a reflection on a house color event we had last week.  Students competed in an obstacle course, tug of war and jump roping to earn points for their house.  We’ll use the reflection to open a discussion on perspectives and details in a story.  In a moment of what was hopefully genius, I decided, while they were sharing their stories, to ask them to go home and record their stories so that we can begin the work of creating good recordings, and telling stories.  We’ll see how this turns out.


Tell Me What You See

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m in the midst of a transition from a classroom teacher to a full time Technology Integration Coach position.  I’m currently splitting my time between the two jobs.  I’m excited about the change, but it poses a challenge for my focus on the course 5 project.  I could go about my usual business and rework a unit I”m going to do with my students in the next semester, but it would potentially be a one shot deal.  I’d do a lot of reworking, only to use it one time.  Of course the benefit to the students is there, but I’m trying to look long term at my work as well.

My other option is to focus on what I’ll be presenting to teachers in the coming year.  I’ve embedded my almost complete UBD planner below and I would love your feedback.  Its a completely new project, so I’m not technically redesigning anything, but it seems to make sense to use this opportunity to get a head start.

Going this route with my project will present some challenges.  First, I want to make sure that I’m creating professional development that is beneficial for my colleagues.  I want to incorporate the same ideas I would use in my classroom to make sure that teachers are engaged, social and learning.  I can’t stand when we don’t practice what we preach in professional development.

Second, its not your typical unit of study.  I’m tasked with making sure all teachers in our school are effectively using our learning management system, ManageBac.  Some teachers have been using it for years and there will be others who have never heard of it.  So far, I’ve essentially been flipping the learning as I’ve produced mini tutorials as teachers ask questions and I plan to continue to utilize these in my plans.  The key will be how to roll it all out.

I’ve also got to remember that I’m dealing with teachers now.  I have to be aware of the vast differences in experience, comfort with technology, attention span… Wait a minute.  That’s pretty much the same as a classroom.  So maybe that’s not as big a deal.

A big part will be working to get my teachers to buy in to the work of building their collective skills within ManageBac.  I have to be able to sell it as an important part of teaching and learning with an end goal of improving student experience.  I’m contemplating the idea of using badges within the school for this and a few other projects in the works.

I’m excited about the challenge and I like the idea of looking at it through the backwards design process.  I have ideas about how to approach the training, but I’m not sure they all fit into the UBD planner.

Your comments and ideas are more than welcome.  Thanks!

Glory Days

It is interesting to take a few minutes out to reflect on my own use of “devices” in the classroom as I enter a transition period from a classroom teacher to a technology integration coach.  I’ve always been the informal “techie” guy in my schools.  At one point I actually made some fake billing documents to send my peers when I helped them with their VCRs and frozen computer screens.  Now I’m in what might be my last year in the classroom for awhile.  A good time to reflect.

Interestingly enough, I’m probably at the lowest level of device use that I’ve ever had.  Ironic, as I’m in a private international school with a bring your own device program instead of a public school in the States.  I currently rely primarily on student laptops and a projector as my devices.  I have access to a Mimio board, but even with strategically applied tape to the cord, it doesn’t quite want to work.

Device LoveIn the past I’ve had iPods, iPads, and an ActivBoard (I miss you buddy) with which my usage was approaching somewhat of a Jedi Master level. I had kids creating podcasts, movies, App Smashing, before I knew what that even was, and enjoying some very interactive classes thanks to the ActivResponse units (dubbed OrangeBerries by my students).

I was also in on the ground level of getting all of this technology in our school in varying ways.  From just making a good case for the technology to winning multiple grants and purchasing the iPads for my own classroom, I was definitely pushing for something new in our school and leading the way for those around me.

My current school has iPads, but they’re housed in the library on the other side of campus.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I think this might be the time to start thinking about how I can reintegrate them into my classes to rebuild some of my street cred as a tech coach.  We all know there’s nothing worse than the guy coming in to help you and telling you all about the things he used to do five to ten years ago.Thinking
I have one more semester in the classroom before I transition into my new role full time.  I’m going to use this semester to really think about how to use what is available at our school for the most benefit of my students.  In the past I may have been working to fit the lesson into the technology.  Over the years, I’ve learned this obviously isn’t the best way. I’m excited to challenge my self here and see how I have grown in my use of devices in the classroom.


flickr photo Device Love by lukew  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo Thinking: More Than None Will Be Required by Digital Sextant  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

All Along the Watchtower

I certainly hope that “education as we know it” will have changed in the next decade.  Although it has certainly struggled to do so over the past 100 years.  There is no doubt that technology has played and will continue to play a part in the development of education.  It would be difficult for it not to in some way.

The Talk

Screenshot by Me
Screenshot by Me

There are increasing conversations around what needs to change in our systems and it seems that technology is always a part of the conversation.  I stumbled on a prime example via Twitter just a few weeks ago as a group was using the hashtag #cuerockstar to discuss learning at a conference being hosted at Skywalker Ranch.  I’m pretty sure this guy knows a thing or two about the benefits of technology in the classroom.

Our world is increasingly reliant on technology and computers making it essential that not only technology be used in the classroom, but students are taught how to use various forms of technology and even how to make computers work.  Late night codingIf we think about how deeply technology is embedded into our society  (raise your hand if you get paid electronically) there is no reason to even argue about the concept of technology in the classroom.

Now if we are talking about how that technology is used, it is a different story.  Hopefully we are all aware that tech for the sake of having tech is ridiculous.  But as we start using technology to create connections around the world and share our teaching and learning experiences with others, it becomes a powerful tool.

The Future

I don’t think that the classroom of the future will exist without teachers as some seem to envision, but I do hope that it will be a much more collaborative space.  I hope that it will encourage a global mindset and challenge students to create and solve problems.

As I work to move from a classroom teacher to a tech coach, I’m certainly thinking not only about how to push teachers to see these concepts, but how I will use them in my own offerings of professional development.  These changes can’t come from a top down approach, they need to come from within the walls of our schools and the halls of our universities.

The Dream

496px-Full_Sunburst_over_EarthIf we are talking about the perfect classroom for creating real change in the world and developing true understanding of cultures and global issues,  I think this school has a pretty good idea.  How beautiful would it be for every kid to have a chance like that?



Image Source

Late Night Coding photo by jjackowski   Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license on Flikr

Full Sunburst over Earth” by NASA. Original uploader was Mrshaba at en.wikipedia – File:Robot Arm Over Earth with Sunburst – GPN-2000-001097.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –



Question the Answers

Readings for this week were interesting and I’ll offer some brief thoughts before I get to my learning protein.

I’m not a fan of the flipped classroom approach.  I think work at home of any sort is a challenge as there are innumerable variables that students face.  I prefer to keep as much work in class as possible and I’m skeptical of these numbers as they might apply to a larger scale.

Gamification has potential.  I’ve tried it in the past with minor success, but unfortunately it was not a sustainable model.  It was pretty much a ton of worksheets that earned points for a game.  Not much connection there. I was learning about the processes though.  I’m honestly not sure if the kids were learning much along the way.  Sorry guys.

Play. Yes. There should be more play associated with school.  Anything from game based learning to the practice of playing with ideas and tools in a somewhat structured environment is crucial to student engagement.

But here’s the one idea that got me going.

This week I’m pumped about finding my next read. As I read through an interview with the authors, I found so much that just made sense.  My favorite statement from the article was:

inquiry is not about asking a “right” question, but it is a process of asking increasingly better questions

flickr photo by Marco Bellucci shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This made me stop for a few minutes to reflect on my own practices. I’m constantly telling kids in class and parents in conferences that the most important part of a student’s learning development is to ask questions.  Now I have to really stop and ask myself, am I helping them do that?  It definitely isn’t enough to simply ask, “Any questions?” and listen to the crickets that follow.  I need to change my approach.

I may have actually stumbled into a decent implementation of this idea with tomorrow’s assessment.  Students are debating if a recent event was actually a political revolution.  The assignment requires them to be prepared to argue yes or no or to be the moderator asking questions.  This required them to know not only the facts behind the event, but determine an acceptable definition of political revolution and develop questions that would help each side prove their point. 17031588420_c1d52a70dd_z

Students struggled at first.  Ironically enough, I find that research is not a strength among students in this age where all of the information is literally at their fingertips.  Once we got that sorted and students began to practice each role, they were coming up with some good arguments and questions.  I’ve been somewhat hands off letting them figure it out and I’m excited to see what tomorrow and Tuesday will bring.

Lincoln is an MYP school which means inquiry is an important part of our curriculum.  I  now I have  a new way of looking at what that really means.  I’m looking forward to challenging myself and students with a new outlook on the importance and value of a good question.

Question Mark by Marco Bellucci Creative Commons Licensed on Flickr
10 Reasons Why You Should Use Google Hangouts For Your Business by Joe the Goat Farmer Creative Commons Licensed on Flikr

Chalk Dust Torture

I think of my humanities class as basically a project based course.

I rarely give paper and pencil tests.  Partly because I hated taking them when I was a student, partly because I hate grading them as a teacher and partly because I just believe there are better ways to demonstrate understanding.

flickr photo by topgold shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo by topgold shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Even the Google Educator Certification exam I recently took (and passed) was primarily project based.  Sure there were some fill in the blanks and such, but mostly the course teaches you to use the tools and therefore you must demonstrate your use of them to pass the exam. Makes a lot of sense.

I also stay as far away from lecture and straight text book reading as I can. Again, I suffered the torture of chalk dust and lectures for far too much of my own education. I prefer to have my students research, build their knowledge and then find ways to demonstrate that knowledge.  In recent years I’ve gotten better at this as well.  I reached my threshold on posters and slide shows and have begun challenging students to find different ways to present their learning.  I want them to feel challenged, to reach a level of satisfaction and then push them to reach a little further.

This year, we’ve started a class blog (it would be awesome if you would visit and leave a comment) and the current project in class is culminating with a Google Hangout on Air (November 16 & 17 if you’re interested) where the students will debate if their event was truly a revolution.

Slowly I’m figuring out ways to add more authenticity to student projects.  

I feel bad for and would like to formally apologize to the hundreds of students who have passed through my classes and turned in projects that were destined to live about the counters of my room and eventually be recycled or simply tossed out when the dust covering them became too much to bear.

I found inspiration in fellow COETAILers posts this week as I began to write.  I whole heartedly agree with Brad Evans point that project based learning means students taking risks and finding the courage to fail.  I applaud my students for not completely balking when I told them we would use GHO on this project.  They were excited and eager to see what they can do.

flickr photo by giulia.forsythe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license
flickr photo by giulia.forsythe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Then Joceyln Sutherland shared a fantastic example of a project making a difference in the local community which struck another chord with me as our school continues to push us to implement service learning into our classes.

So, as it should be, I’m still learning.

I love that these courses and the cohort around me continues to push my learning and my teaching with new and exciting challenges.  Some of them I’ve been dabbling in for years and still trying to figure out how to get them right, others are brand new.  All of them are keeping me on my toes and eager to head into the class and say to my kids,

“Alright, you guys want to try something new?”