First I saw this:

And then I went to the post and watched the video there.

After watching the video I walked down my hallway.  You know what I saw?  Nothing.  If you were walking down my hallway you would never know that there were 200 kids behind the doors on the third floor.

Using computers is great.  But I have found that the more I use computers, there is less evidence of what we are doing for the people that we come into contact with each day.  If another teacher, parent, or kid from another class walks down our hall all they might see is a kid working on a laptop.  After that kid creates something maybe we show it once in the class, and then no one on the team or in the school or community ever sees it again.

We are approaching 1000 videos on our youtube channel that anyone in the world could see, but did not have 1 thing a person walking down the hall could see.

We were working on a unit that included the Trail of Tears and I decided we needed to change that.  I took Kevin’s idea and made it ten steps.  “If you could walk for ten footsteps on the Trail of Tears what would you be thinking with each footstep?”  In my head it sounded great, when it came out of my mouth in class it sounded ok, but the kids got pretty excited about it–or maybe because they were going to be able to use scisssors.

We had done a readers theater class with a primary source story from the Trail of Tears to peak their curiosity, and then they spent a couple days researching.  Front of the step had the thought, back of the step has the source.  First step was in Georgia, last was in Oklahoma.  They ended up turning in everything from poems, to very “essay” like steps, to single footprints with QR codes leading to Powtoons, to drawings with thoughts written in the person’s teardrops, to videos such as this one:

In the end we had foot steps all over the place.  Everywhere you looked coming up to our team you passed footsteps.  I have not seen a single kid stop and read every footstep, but one kid will stop and read a step walking up the stairs, another while waiting to come into class will read a step, and when waiting for the buses kids will read them. They read them every day, they see them every day, they are reminded of what they researched and wrote everyday. I have caught almost every adult visitor to our floor stopped in front of a wall reading what the kids wrote. In their essays on Andrew Jackson I saw a passion and ownership of the paragraphs on Indian Removal that I have not seen in the past.  Something else also happened this year, they also included more opinion in those paragraphs than in past year.  I kept commenting to include some evidence because I was reading mostly commentary without any facts.  I don’t know if it was happening because of the foot steps all over the walls…but they do look cool for just some cut-out construction paper and sentences written on them, and there was a vibe making them, sharing them, hanging them that you just don’t get when sharing most things on a computer.




It’s Complicated…

I have been reading a book by danah boyd (yes, lowercase letters for her name).  I am not even done with it but would like to recommend it to anyone who works with teens or has a teen.  The book is Its Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.  A link to buy the book is here.  You can also download it or read it as a PDF here.  If you don’t want to read the PDF on your PC, download the Kindle App to your tablet or phone.  Go to your Amazon account and click on your name, and then Manage Your Content and Devices.  Then in the column on the left click on Manage Your Devices.  If you have more than one device click on it and you will see it’s email.  Go to the PDF version of the book here, and right click save as an Adobe Acrobat Document.  Next email it to your device as an attachment with “convert” in the subject line.  It will now read just like any other book on your phone or smartphone.

Bammy Awards, popularity, sharing…

It is once again time for the Bammies.

The Bammy Awards is a cross-discipline honor that identifies and acknowledges the extraordinary work being done across  the entire education field every day– from teachers, principals and superintendents, to school nurses, support staff, advocates, researchers, school custodians, early childhood specialists, education journalists,  parents and students.  The Bammy Awards were created to help reverse the negative national narrative that dominates the education field.

As I watched them unfold last year I was undecided about whether I should be supportive of a teacher award show, or rail against it.  Many people wrote angry posts, a few in support–or maybe that is just what I saw.  

As nominations open up this year I have been stalking the lists. Many folks who wrote against the Bammy Awards called it simply a popularity contest.  I have not heard of almost all of the people who have been nominated, but most are involved in blogging or social media in some way. Maybe you have to be popular in social media to know who is popular?  The ones I do recognize aren’t popular because they tweet a lot, it is because they share a lot, and they are authentic when they do.

Last week there was a meeting at my daughter’s elementary school in which they brought in state officials to introduce common core standards.  They used language so nuanced that you could not say they were lying, but the ideas they were presenting had the backing of Billions of federal, corporate, and Bill Gates dollars and it was hard to present an alternative.  There were handouts made with Gates billions from the PTO, and misguided quotes about PISA scores and crazy statistics about how happy teachers in CT were.  An individual teacher simply does not have the clout…or the $$$ for lobbyists to fight back.  As I sat there listening to the “rigor” my daughters school will embrace, I was wishing that I had the $5+billion dollars that they have spent on common core to push a different agenda of play based early childhood education, project based learning in all schools, and maybe give some to those South Carolina teachers who really haven’t had a raise in like eight years.  I wish I had some major backers that could help me in my own district to introduce project based learning into our school, and inject inquiry into our social studies classes.

I have checked out many of the Bammy Nominees.  I wonder how many are like me.  How many feel as though they are an island.  As I checked out their blogs I could not help but be impressed and I did not get the feeling that their classes were filled with workbooks and work being done solely for a grade, work done solely to meet the standards.  It seems as all of them are not getting nominated for doing what they are supposed to be doing, but because each day they make a difference in someone’s life by doing an extraordinary job of doing all the little things right.  Sure some may be popular, but my guess is that they all change kids lives. Apparently popularity is just one side effect of sharing lots of great ideas and making people think. 

I would take a guess that not a single person nominated really cares about the award.  I would also guess that most would say that it is a bit embarrassing.  That ‘s too bad.  I wonder if it is because of the folks in social media who have knocked down awards like the Bammies as nothing more than popularity contests, the same people who ironically can do that because of their popularity, and the same people who can’t celebrate a teacher being honored, but will spend all night tweeting about the hit by a player being paid $15 million per year, or celebrate a 20 year old kid because they threw a ball through a hoop.

There are some nominated by the committee whose write up sounds like the first three bullet points on their resume, but look past those.  Look at all the rest.  If they can achieve some legitimacy through this event as it grows, I feel as though maybe I can acquire some of that mojo so that the next time in a meeting I suggest we utilize project based learning and inquiry maybe someone listens. The reality is that awards equal power.  Not power inside the classroom, but outside of it.  I am sure many of the nominees feel like I do–we make a huge difference in our own four walls, but when we suggest to others outside of our four walls that there is a different way of doing things we are snubbed.  I re-read a post from Josh Stumpenhorst  today in which he writes: “I used to think I could be a superhero and was responsible for saving the kids in my classroom. Now I realize I can’t do it alone and my responsibility reaches far beyond the walls of my classroom.” It has taken me decades to realize that.  And maybe, just maybe, a celebration of teachers who are doing some awesome things in their classrooms that have more to do than just meeting test scores is a first step to getting these folks some extra power to reach beyond their classroom’s walls. It certainly can’t hurt. 

In a comment on Pernille Ripp’s blog someone asked how can we “measure who is better?”  I would hope that it is never about who is better, it’s simply about someone who cares about kids, and shares how they do that.  Will that measured in some degree by who is popular? I suppose so, but so are teacher-of-the-year awards, Presidential elections, and pretty much every award given out that recognizes anyone for anything.  Let’s face it, any teacher who is not on twitter probably has never heard of the Bammy Awards, and right there that eliminates more than 99% of the teachers I know.   

Another comment on Pernille’s blog said “I’ll suggest that the daily successes of what you do in class with your kids is infinitely more important and of the highest value possible.”  I settled for that for 23 years. And as I valued the successes in my class, the world outside of my class turned into a test driven standardized world.  I was able to do battle each year to keep the corporate reform movement and all their standardized testing vices away from my kids until this year.  Now I am starting to feel like I have a responsibility beyond my walls, and I bet the other nominees do as well.  

After taking four or five days to complete this post, I think I will come down on the side of “for” the awards.  If just a single teacher being honored can have their voice amplified in their home district because of them I think it will be worth it.

By the way, I am a nominee this year.  My last eight posts have been tweeted out nine times and have one comment…must be because I am so popular 🙂


**edit 6/8/2014**

I would like to place in an edit here after what the Bammies have just done.  I have read that Bob Wise will be hosting them.  If I knew that ahead of time, I would not have written a post supporting them.


My kids have been doing something similar to Genius Hour and 20% time for several years.  We have used a variety of names, but have settled on P-Day.  The P stands for Passion.  Here is a video I show to introduce it:

And here is how I used the video this year—>

They spend each Friday of a five day week researching and creating a presentation for the class on their passion.  To make it school system legal, everyone connects it to 19th Century US history.  This year we are going to change how the kids share their love with their classmates. We are going to take two days in June to stop all classes and let the kids take over.  They will have the choice of 10, 15, 20, or 45 minute time slots.  Instead of presenting to their individual social studies class the students will be able to go to whatever sessions the choose.  They will know the schedule of when and where everyone is presenting, and will be able to control what they learn about on those two days.  The challenge I was having was to share with each kid on the team what their 100 choices would be–I was looking for something more than a short description on a session board or handout.  Using and app called Vimily they recorded a 30 second elevator pitch to share with the team.  A couple weeks before the presentations the kids will hop on a computer and watch as many as they would like to help them select which sessions to attend. At the bottom of another post I wrote you can see a different way we used Vimily.   Their 30 second “elevator pitches” for their sessions are below.  Many kids have already switched topics since recording theirs so not all are up and ready but you can get a taste for what the two days will be like by listening to some below.   Which one would you like to attend? Click on a kid to hear their pitch.

Please don’t just do what you are supposed to do…


I have taken 15 students up to the Northeast Regional Conference on the Social Studies for the last few years.  They attend as members as the staff and are equal participants in the sessions.

They take over an area near registration and offer 1:1 help with different tech tools. They show teachers how to use tools such as Instagram, Flickr, Google Docs, Twitter, have a table where they interview attendees, and green-screen attendees into a picture with their favorite person in history.

The kids help with directions, work with presenters to solve any problems from broken projectors to dead pointer batteries, tweet out what is happening during the session, and photograph every session.  They are thirteen to fourteen years old.  I bring kids who teachers say never talk in class, and kids who sing proudly up on stage during drama productions.  Kids who are behavior problems, and kids get student-of-the-month every year.  I always bring some kids who just need a chance to be in a situation where they have the opportunity to realize that they are capable of doing things they previously did not know they could do.

The participants are always impressed with their capabilities, and so am I.  The students create the plans and handouts for each tool, they decide how to “teach” attendees to use each and what classroom examples to use.  They make the signs…and when the signs don’t work they walk the halls pitching their tool and have folks follow them back to their tables.  I am always amazed at one thing.  I will fill in at any station whenever there is a need for help.  The teachers attending will always sit with the kids longer than they do with me.  The teachers who had the kids help them will always come back with more questions for the kid who helped them, than the teachers that I helped.  They do a great job.

They arrive in charge, instead of arriving to be controlled.  It is not school.  For some the adjustment takes a few hours, they are tentative, a bit shy, and slow to believe that they are “in charge.”  In the beginning I always sense a hesitancy,  I sense a feeling of “why would some strange teacher want to listen to me?”  But then the most amazing thing happens.  They have prepared well, they sit with a teacher, and then teacher hangs on there every word.  It is like a lightening bolt of empowerment.  I love the faces on the teachers.

The teachers will actually skip sessions to sit with the kids.  They walk away from the interview table amazed at the questions the kids asked, and always smiling having just been suckered into a conversation with a fourteen year old in which they lost control and ended up learning a little bit more about themselves, their teaching abilities, and reminded why they have the best job in the world.

I always wonder what it must be like to go back to school…back to being controlled, being told what to learn, when to learn it, how to learn it.  I know after my daughter facilitated a couple of Edcamp sessions she remarked about how it was impossible to go back to school and just sit following someone else’s orders.

Every year I come back rejuvenated that all great teaching is a call to action.  Everything we have done during the year has led up to this. Everything we have talked about that wasn’t in the curriculum, every activity we did that could have been a worksheet or multiple choice test, everything that they struggled through and solved on their own instead of me giving them the steps to follow, and the rubric to tell them what was right and wrong.  It wasn’t what we were “supposed to be doing” that leads to their success. When they return for a visit and recall what we did that is allowing them to be successful in high school it was not what we “were supposed to be doing.”

In school we have begun to receive our common core aligned units.  They focus on content.  They focus on skills.  They focus on the common core standards.  What they ask me to do is easy.  Cover a topic.  Learn a skill.  Nail a standard.  There are a 100 books that you can buy that will give you strategies for doing those things.  There are a thousand teachers who are doing those things. There are millions of kids doing those things.

Teaching can be a very easy profession when all you do is do what you are supposed to do.

I love to teach not because of what I am supposed to be doing.  I love to teach because of the things I do that are not in the curriculum.  I especially love to get kids to believe they are capable of doing more than they previously thought was possible.  This year has been the toughest year for me in a long, long time.  I have struggled so mightily to get them to once again believe in themselves, that they are powerful, that they are capable of doing more than they have previously been told.  This conference gave me a wake-up call, it rejuvenated me.

My highlight might have been watching kids who had prepared for weeks by creating questions to interview teachers have someone walk up to the table who was not a teacher and without flinching proceeded on with the interview.  If you happen to watch the interview, you’ll see one of the girls just close the laptop with the questions realizing they won’t be of much use.  The guy who walked up and sat down happen to be best selling author Ken Davis.  It’s not every day you get to sit across from someone like that.

I was pretty excited when a teacher came back in the afternoon and told me that she had eaten lunch at the same restaurant that Ken Davis did.  She over heard him say that it was the best interview he had ever done–that would be better than CNN, NBC, NPR 🙂

And it’s not every day that Ken Davis sits down next to you to learn how to use twitter.

I was only able to bring 15 kids, I wish I could have brought more.

This post isn’t really about my trip to the conference, it is a subtle reminder that our kids are capable of doing so much more.  They will do more when you infect them with vigor…not rigor.  They will do more when given a call to action, rather than given a worksheet.  They will do more when they see that you are willing to go beyond what you are supposed to do.  When you do that, so will they.  They will be who you are, not just who you want them to be.

Our kids are all getting something out of our classes bigger than the content we teach, bigger than the skills and standards.

Each kid takes a little piece of us with them when they leave.

Please don’t just do what you are supposed to do…

We need kids who are not just ready for the future, but who are willing to create it.




Help us “explore more…”

I have always wanted to be in a 1:1 classroom…a big dream of mine for years.
My kids and I have talked about it a lot this year.

We come to school each day wishing for more. 
We enter with a desire to make a difference, to learn, to explore. 
We don’t want to just read about countries, we want to visit more. 
We don’t want to just read about scientist’s discoveries, we want to meet more. 
We don’t want to just watch other people’s creations, we want to make our own products, share them with the world, and create more. 

Our world is bigger than a textbook. 
Our world is bigger than our classroom. 
Our world has towns, and villages, 
and hidden corners and things we have yet to discover. 
We are driven to find answers to our questions. 
We were born with a need to explore. 

We have dreams of a different world when we grow up. A world that has less pain and more smiles. A world that is interconnected. A world with a little more peace and a lot less war. 

We want to be a 1:1 class
So that we can learn anywhere and make the world our classroom. 
We were born dreamers, 
We were born to explore. 
We want to learn everywhere, 
and make it possible to learn from anyone, anytime. 

If we are to make a difference in this world, 
all we want the chance to do, 
is to have the opportunity to explore more. 

My students are impressive with the technology that I can bring into school, and with the tools that we can borrow. We now have the opportunity to make the presence of hands-on, interactive, collaborative tablets a permanent presence in our class so that we can explore and share outside of our four walls. We are one of ten finalists in the Acer Classroom Makeover Contest and have a chance to win 30 tablets.  The tablets will allow us to spontaneously bring relevant learning into our classroom and create a far richer authentic experience than we could with our textbooks. The tablets will be used to meet our desire to explore at all times. No more special projects based on when we could borrow someone else’s tools. 

My students want to make a difference in this world. 
My students need the opportunity to explore more. 
With the Acer classroom make over, 
every day, 
we will explore more.

We entered the video below into the contest.  Watch it.  If you like it and would like to help us out please go here and vote for us. We are James Moran Middle School–The Mustangs! Thank you.


Stupid and dangerous…

I once had a Great Pyrenees named Little Cub.  He was a giant white livestock guard dog.  When I brought him home as a puppy I simply put him onto my property and he lived outside for his entire life.  He automatically took ownership of every animal on the farm and protected them all.  While I had him we never experienced one loss to any predator–I cannot say that of any of my neighbors.  He knew how to stay cool in the summer, and how to stay warm in the winter.  Little babies could climb all over him, and adults were gently kept away from the livestock until he trusted them. On one published chart that I saw the Great Pyrenees was considered one of the dumbest dogs in America. Let’s just say that Little Cub thought that having to sit for a treat was a pretty stupid idea.

I just read this on a student’s blog:

Animals are considered smart when they choose to follow commands, but are considered stupid and dangerous when they decide to do their own thing. That’s the same with public schooling.

Last year we had a memorial service for a student that had been killed in Afghanistan.  By all accounts he was a great adult, a tremendous leader, and a important member of the United States Special Forces.  Regardless of what you think about the military, the special forces don’t take no dummies.  In middle school he did not follow the rules and did his own thing.  I was responsible for putting together a slide show of his life.  I shifted through almost 5,000 pictures.  I watched his life progress as he did his own thing.  He was anything but stupid and dangerous.   

The most dangerous and stupid thing we do as educators is to apply labels to those kids that do not fit neatly into our system of rows and rules.  As we move forward with ccss we will be labeling more kids when they do not learn on the schedule that we have for them.  We will label more kids when they do not put forth all their effort into an assignment to be graded by a teacher that was only ever destined for the garbage can, or worse, to be graded by a machine. You have to wonder who are really the most stupid and dangerous people in schools…the kids we label, or the educators that label them.


Teddy - Label Jars...not people photo JarsLowResrp72.jpg

What kind of experience are you providing for your kids?

What kind of experience are you providing for your kids?

I have a challenge for you….

Add your answer to the question on the presentation below.  

Tomorrow when your kids walk in have your slide up on a screen or computer.  

Then ask them if that is the experience they are having in your classroom.

If it is not, do something about it.

You can add your answer by going to this link –> click here

Smoke and mirrors…

In doing research on the groups that support the common core state standards, it has become obvious that so many are being kept afloat by money coming from just a few key sources.  There may be many parts to this ccss snake, but they all seem connected to the same head.  Recently I have noticed more pro-common core sites and twitter accounts.  One  in particular seemed to have no connection to the head.  The twitter account is a new Connecticut pro-ccss site that also uses an image from the official ccss site.  I did write to them to tell them the image was copyrighted, we’ll see if they take it down 🙂

Here is the twitter account: 

I also noticed a new pro-ccss Facebook page here

They both happened to be created on the same day.

Hmmm….same image on the top.  So I did a google search for the image, a little tough because I had to take the image and just crop out the middle without the stolen copyrighted image that appears on the side.  I found the image here:
That would be the site for the CT Council for Education Reform who already has a twitter account ( ) and a Facebook page ( ).

There is no evidence that they are connected other than using the same image and being connected on twitter as followers and CTforthecore started their account by retweeting a ctedreform tweet.  But it makes me wonder how many organizations will re-create themselves with additional websites and twitter accounts to make it appear as though support for ccss is building.

“So you see, Twitter is what you make of it.”

I have done Twitter 101 sessions at conferences and faculty PD more times than I can remember.  The one thing that is always blatantly obvious is that most people who attend do not stick with it.  There is so much anxiety about joining, so much anxiety about sharing…yes, for you extroverts out there, sharing something–ANYTHING–online for the first time is a heart wrenching experience.  When they walk out of the room after an hour most never go back on…because they don’t have to.  It gets written off as too time consuming, too much work to find something useful, too ridden with vulnerability, too much to navigate by themselves, alone, with no backup or support.  

I just started teaching a grad class at St, Joesph’s University a couple weeks ago and for the first class I introduced twitter.  One big difference between a conference or PD is that it was a four hour class–I did not have to rush through.  I was able to take the time (even though I am sure it felt rushed to the students) to go into detail and set them up on site other than so that when they walked out of class there was nothing else to do except tweet. Their hashtags to follow were loaded, they were following lots of people, and they had already been forced to tweet a few times. I was also able to do something else that I have never been able to do before, I was able to force them to tweet 🙂

Their “HW” this week was to simply write a post on their “new” blogs reflecting on their first week on twitter.  The first post that came back I will save and continue to share at future classes, conferences, and PD that I do.

Please check out that post here…leave a comment either welcoming  Karina Woltke to twitter, or welcoming her to blogging (everyone is a bit apprehensive about that too!)

“One of the key skills we have to develop is persistence…”

According to the chairman of the Connecticut Board of Education, kids will practice key life skills, like persistence, sitting for five hours taking a standardized test.  If they can develop key life skills taking a 5 hour test, just imagine the skills they could develop taking a ten hour test!

And by-the-way, he will confirm that you can opt your child out of the test.  Of course if you are from my town of Bethany, CT and attend Bethany Community School, the principal Robert Spino has informed parents that their elementary age kids will have to sit in silence in front of their computer during the entire test, no going to the library, no reading a book, no drawing…just sit there in silence.  That will teach them to persist…