Tag Archives: Dignity-driven

Empowering Students with Digital Media Creation

25 Aug

The new school year is getting underway.  We are filling drawers with math manipulatives, cabinets with supplies for science experiments, shelves with books… and lesson plans with inspired ideas for teaching reading, writing and arithmetic.

Yet, while we make plans to teach these tangible standards, let’s not forget to plan lessons that teach the intangibles, too — Dignity, compassion, identity.  Let’s commit to intentionally making plans that provide our students with opportunities to discover their greatest potential, to making plans to share that potential with the world.

One way to start is to give power to their unique voice though digital media creation.  Technology tools provide opportunities for students to create diverse and engaging media that can be showcased for live audiences around the world.

Throughout this year, I will be posting innovative technology tools, lesson applications and even opportunities for you to share about the amazing digital media created by your students.  Interactive Student-Created Digital Media PortalIn addition, this summer at ISTE 2012 was the official launch of the Engaging Education Interactive Student-Created Digital Media Portal.  This portal provides ideas and tutorials for integrating Movie-making and Animations, Digital Storytelling, Audio and Podcasting, 3D Media, and Web 2.0 Apps. Plus, the Resource section can direct you to free, copyright-friendly photos and screen/video capture apps.  This Interactive Portal is the perfect place to get that first idea to kick off the school year.

So, what are you waiting for?  Empower your students this school year through student-created digital media projects…  And be sure to share their amazing creations with a world who sincerely needs to hear their inspiring voices!

Re-envision Technology Integration in your Classrooms

25 Jan

With all of the advances in technology tools and 21st century learning strategies, it can be hard to both keep up… and to nail down just what ideas are the most important. My latest article in NAESP’s Principal magazine aims to help you do just that.

Technology Integration for the NEW 21st Century Learner

You can read it online here.


You can view the full color PDF of the article here.

I would love to hear your thoughts, feedback and implementation ideas as we work together to use technology to make a difference in our schools and in the lives of our students.

What Educators Can Learn From Tim Tebow’s First Playoff Win

9 Jan

Photo by Jeffrey Beall: Used under Creative Commons license

What you should understand from the beginning is that I am a huge football fan. I’m the commissioner for a fantasy football league… and play in another as well. In 2009, I was even the NFL/Pepsi Touchdown Dance Champion. And on Monday mornings when I walk through the halls to my classroom, my students and I engage in a running commentary on the weekend’s wins and losses.

Yet, more than that, you must understand and that I am a huge San Diego Chargers fan. How I became a San Diego Chargers fan is a long story for another time, but the fact is that the Bolts are close to my heart. With this dedication to the Chargers comes a deep seeded, bitter feeling toward our rival, the Denver Broncos. And unfortunately for Tim Tebow, who may otherwise have garnered some of my support, he is one of them.

I will admit that I was truly shocked that the Broncos made the play-offs, though winning a division while tied with an 8-8 record is nothing to write home about. So, when I saw that the Broncos were playing the Pittsburg Steelers, with the #1 defense in the league, I was fairly confident that the young quarterback was going down… hard.

So, like any good American, I slowed down my life on Sunday night for a good rubber necking at the impending crash.

But Tim Tebow and the rest of the Denver Broncos surprised us. Tebow threw 316 yards against the #1 pass defense in the league, the most by any quarterback this season. Despite all of the negative press and doubters, the Denver Broncos won their first playoff game in six years.

I will admit that I was a non-believer. Not just because I have a personal predisposition against the Broncos, but because I didn’t think Tebow could do it. I underestimated him.

Fortunately for Tim Tebow, it didn’t matter what I thought.

And fortunately for so many students that walk into classrooms everyday, their future is not dependent on the outlook of their teachers and parents either.

I think that, as a whole, teachers and parents significantly underestimate the potential of our children. Growing up, we learned to place boundaries around our abilities, to draw lines in the sand between things we can and cannot do. As adults, most of us play to our strengths to ensure success, making calculated risks and taking the occasional challenge for good measure.

Because we want our children to be successful as well, I fear that too often we place boundaries around what children can and cannot do. Sure, we want to set up our students to succeed, but if we never give them opportunities to “max out” their capabilities, how will they ever know where those boundaries truly are?

Over the last week, there was a lot of naysaying about Tim Tebow. Following three losses leading up to the playoffs, there was even talk about replacing him. Yet, without giving him the opportunity to throw that 80 yard pass in overtime, neither Tim Tebow, nor his coaches and teammates would have known that they already had a playoff winning quarterback leading their team.

So, what can we do for our students to give them a chance at the big pass?

Create learning opportunities that allow students to set their own goals, like participating in the National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program, where my students blew the minds of educators and parents with goals 10,000 words over my recommendations! This could also be personal goals for times tables, AR points, science/history fair or the number of books to read for the year.

Differentiate learning opportunities that allow students at every level to reach their edge of their potential… and fail in a safe environment. If your highest ability students never encounter assignments, projects, or problems that they truly cannot yet do, they are not being challenged enough. We must provide chances for students to surpass our expectations, and theirs, without fear of failure affecting their grades or esteem. Plus, this is one of the only ways to know if students are truly working at the appropriate level… and learning something new.

Admit that we have no idea what the boundaries of our students’ abilities are. If Tim Tebow can lead the Broncos to defeat the reigning AFC champions… and today’s kindergarteners can make original movies, Skype with grandparents, and give poised presentations in front of the class, how can we possibly predict what our students will be capable of achieving at the age of ten, fifteen, or twenty?

It is easy to make excuses for why, as educators, we shouldn’t let our students take on certain challenges or try to do certain tasks or projects. There will always be critics, naysayers and rubber neckers watching for a crash. But maybe, if we do these three things, we will be pleasantly surprised to find that we were wrong about the boundaries. Pleasantly surprised, in fact, to find that we had seriously underestimated the potential the very students we claim to believe in.

The next Tim Tebow of math, engineering, painting or poetry may emerge from the student we least expect. Will you be the one benching him in the playoffs or cheering him on from the sidelines?

This is Why I Teach: NaNoWriMo

16 Dec

Forty-six days ago, I took on a challenge that I did not believe that I could accomplish and that I did not even intend to fight to achieve. That challenge was writing my first novel alongside sixteen of my fourth and fifth grade students as part of National Novel Writing Month. When I first looked into the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, I saw it as a unique opportunity to encourage my students to write while participating in a global endeavor. Having a clear beginning and end point, along with the knowledge that other kids were simultaneously writing all over the world was very motivating for my students. That, plus the idea that they would receive a real printed copy of their novel launching them to “real author” status, set the group of us into motion.

When the students sign up for the Young Writers Program, they are given the option to choose a word count goal to work toward. NaNoWriMoYWP recommends various word count goals for each grade level, allowing teachers and students to take on the challenge at a level appropriate for their individual ability, time, and motivation. I shared these recommendations with my students, along with an all day write-a-thon opportunity that we would have at the beginning of the month. Though a couple of students did ask what the minimum they could choose was, most shot for goals beyond recommendations, even when I tried to talk them out of it… even when their parents tried to talk them out of it. And so, they prepared to begin with goals starting at 2,000 words and quickly rising to several at and above 9,000.

What I did not realize when I signed up for the program was that, even though my students were able to set their own word count goals, the automatic word count goal for an adult is 50,000 words. To be honest, I do love to write, but it’s what I love to write that is important at this point. I was a philosophy major. I typically write theory, non-fiction.

50,000 words sounded impossible.

To me.

Yet to my students, 50,000 words seemed like just the right kind of challenge that their teacher should take on if they were going to be writing between 2,000 and18,000 words themselves. Whether or not I thought I could do it, these sixteen students believed I could do it. So, I signed up and signed a contract with all of them committing to the goal.

As November started, we wrote. Before school, during school, after school, even meeting at a local restaurant on a Saturday to work on our stories. The kids were excited. Even a handful of students who traditionally dread writing tasks in class excelled in this project, surpassing their goal by hundreds or thousands of words.

In eight years of teaching, there is no project in which I have participated that compared to the way this one promoted:

Goal setting,

Task commitment and anti-procrastination measures,

Encouragement between peers,

Self-motivation outside of class, and

Two-way inspiration and shared energy between teacher and students.

Five days before the challenge was to end, I will admit that I had only written 23,000 words, not even 50% of where I needed to be. To be honest, I was ready to quit. Not quit writing, but quit trying to reach the goal. Sure, I would write more, but looking at the unbelievable workload still ahead of me, it was seemingly impossible to reach the 50,000 word goal.

But then something happened. As I was working on my computer, I checked the NaNoWriMo website. Throughout the month, the students and I had been posting updated word counts. Even though it was the last Saturday of Thanksgiving break, their numbers were going up. Going way up. Some were even starting to surpass their goals. Seeing this growth in my students, seeing them posting updated word counts even during Thanksgiving break, and seeing them rise to this incredible challenge changed me.

I was inspired. I was not just inspired to write; I was inspired to finish by November 30th. Over the next four days, I wrote day and night, even with a full teaching schedule… and completed 27,000 words. At 7:46pm on November 30th, I wrote my fifty thousandth word.

I never could have written this novel without watching them write theirs. Never would have finished this challenge if I hadn’t watched them fight for each and every word. They were a true inspiration.

So, on the second to last day, when I walked into the lunchroom and my fifth graders were asking for my “number”… and I shared 40,000, not nearly where I should have been at this point in the month, I was rather surprised when one of the students who had already completed nearly all of her 9,000 word goal looked up at me with the biggest smile on her face, saying “You are so inspiring!” Me? The one who had nearly given up with less than half of my novel done just four days before the deadline?

Yet, they continued to surprise me. Later that afternoon, a student who had finished a week early came by my classroom “just to check on me.” And on December 1st, when I showed up with donuts and supplies to show them that I was proud of them, it was those same students who came running into my classroom to tell me that they were proud of me.

My students are now more empathetic, more genuinely interested in each other. They are significantly better writers and significantly more confident in their abilities than any score on a standardized test could have possibly achieved. And where a five paragraph essay had once seemed daunting work, now sitting and writing a thousand words sounds like child’s play to these incredible students.

And the added bonus? Watching this group of kids write novels was infectious. What started out as a class project spread to two other whole classes… and, on the second to last day, to four other 4th graders who committed to reaching a 400 word goal in just one day. The school librarian is even thinking about ways to promote reading the works of these motivated students once we have copies in the library. Copies in the library? Wow.

So, NaNoWriMo, you have changed our lives for the better and taught us that we are capable of achieving much more that we could have possibly imagined. And you turned us into a family in the process. Thank you.

To find out more about the National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program, visit ywp.nanowrimo.org.