Tag Archives: Education

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.

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.


3D Doc Cam Work Featured at CoolTECH 2011

24 Jun

CoolTECH 2011 took place at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, FL on June 10th. It was a great event showcasing emerging technologies from throughout the bay area. I was there debuting the 3D Ladibug Document Camera and sharing the work we’ve been doing with our students using the prototype at McKeel Elementary Academy (MEA) in Lakeland, FL.

The best part? We made the news! Check out the story about MEA here:

Or you can view the full report below:


Interactive Whiteboards Get a Closer Look

27 Feb

ISTE’s Tech & Learning recently posted a blog by ed-tech expert, Gary Stager, which began with the sentence, “IWBs [Interactive Whiteboards] and their clicker spawn are a terrible investment that breathes new life into medieval educational practices.” As you can imagine, this led to quite a debate in the comments section.  Economic value, pedagogy, and even the history of chalkboards is currently in dispute.

In the postings, both sides share valid points about whether to “get” or ” use” IWBs.  Both share valid, even moving, anecdotal stories. Both strongly take a side on the value or lack thereof of. And interestingly enough, both Gary Stager and primary counterpoint commentator, Alan November, were the keynote speakers at the last two Best Practice Summer Conferences for our charter school.

Yet, at my school (like many in the Tech & Learning audience), we’re not considering getting IWBs.  We already have them.  I’ve had a SMARTBoard in my classroom for the last six years and have enjoyed having access to the tool.  In his post, Stager takes issue with common comments used to support IWBs  – like “The students are so engaged!” and “It all depends on how teachers use it.” Seems like those who agree with him recommend sticking to a laptop and projector, basically the IWB user’s current set-up sans IWB.

So, this begs the question: What are teachers/students doing with Interactive Whiteboards that they could NOT do with just a laptop and projector?

And for those of us who already have them, what Best Practices have we discovered that will ensure we both get the most value out of this technology tool AND truly engage students in worthwhile learning experiences?

Why Engaging Education?

16 Jan

Willard Wigan has dyslexia.  He can’t read.  Can’t write.  When he remembers being in school, he remembers feeling like nothing.  A nobody. Yet, he is definitely a somebody in the art world.  Nevertheless, Wigan’s life’s work exists on a scale that most of us cannot even comprehend, possibly even imagine.  How many times do think he was told it couldn’t be done?  How many times do you think he was told to stop building houses for ants and “make something of himself?”  Yet, Wigan didn’t listen.  He found his own voice, his own dream… And now, he believes he is Something, Somebody.

Everyday in classrooms around the world, there are students who feel like nothing.  Students who feel like they have no control over the direction of their formal education, who feel bored with rote memorization, who feel trapped by the restrictions of traditional assignments and rubrics.  Their education is meaningless to them.

Yet, when we put the power of learning, the power of creating, into the students’ hands and see the reaches they can achieve, something surprising happens.  They don’t see the limits that we as adults assume are there.  They don’t know what is too big or too small to achieve.  Anything is possible.  And in the face of creating these unseen possibilities, our students discover that they have more potential and worth that they had imagined.  They become Something.

Engaging Education is about sharing resources and ideas.  It’s about building a community of people who are committed to empowering students and each other to dream bigger (and exceedingly tinier) dreams than we’ve dreamt before.  It’s about sharing in the joy of creation… and sharing that joy with the next generation.  I invite you to be a part of it.