Thursday, March 28, 2013

Five for Friday- Double Edition

Sorry about the delay for those of you that look to the Five for Friday for fresh ideas and links. Here is a double dose. Enjoy your weekend.

Online Math Resources

The land of the free apps...and the home of the confused? - Guest Post

5 Free Tools for Providing Remote Tech Help

How to Learn New Tech

Common Core App by Grade Level

Sustainability by Design- TED Talks

Why Kids Should be Blogging

Nice iPad Resources

Professional Development in 140 Characters or Less

Where Technology and Pedagogy Meet | EdSurge News

25 Twitter Tips For Students, Parents, And Teachers

In Short Supply- Volume 1

I'm finding chunks of my writing that don't fit into the flow of the current pieces that I'm writing, but I don't want them to be reabsorbed into my writing DNA, so they are being cut and pasted into a set of blog posts entitled In Short Supply.

Schools are also looking at some trends and emerging opportunities that seem ripe for providing their students a connection between college and career readiness and maximizing engagement. The first is the Makerspace. The second is Design Thinking, and the final one is thinning the classroom walls. Each of these ideas brings kids closer to their learning to a place of elemental understanding of why the learning is taking place. Deep context and an understanding of why the learning matters breed engagement.

Stop Talking about Education; Start Doing Something

Today’s world moves quickly, and it can be overwhelming to think about learning five years from now. Because of this, it is easy for schools to get caught in the trap of working one hour, one day or one week ahead instead of having a vision for the next five years. The schools in this community have made incredible strides over the past few years increasing the number of kids earning high school credit while still at the middle school, providing students opportunities to build presentation literacy skills with adult audiences, growing the passion of students to advocate for causes in their community and beyond, and supporting the work of teachers to build physically and emotionally healthy kids.

Over the next five years, I hope that the schools in this community continue to build a more personalized learning environment that provides opportunities for kids to dig deeply into areas of learning in which they are passionate. I also hope that they are better able to target specific areas of growth for individual students and support them as they grow more successful in these areas. In addition to these elements of personalization, opportunities should be developed for students to make and create in excellent learning spaces. More and more adults are taking their hobbies, ideas, and interests and creating small businesses; building this same entrepreneurial spirit in the children of our community is essential.

Schools, communities, and those interested in education are starting to see that the best practices in education are shifting to a more integrated, project-based, experiential learning model, but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t external pressure to mold schools into thinly veiled testing factories that are schools in name only. Our community has incredible trust in its schools to not bow to these external pressures and maintain best practices. The vision of the best schools in the country surrounds implementing high-level project-based learning that melds together subjects, providing a learning environment that mirrors excellent work places, and offering students an opportunity to be experts and contributors to society, and we should expect the same excellence for the next five years and beyond.

The TED talk below continues to frame some of these ideas.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Amplify Tablets- Is it time to change?

Putting the right devices in kids' hands is becoming a murky proposition. From BYOD to MacBooks to Chromebooks to these fancy Amplify tablet, there is a real concern about making the right decision. Often the decision to go BYOD isn't about the needs of kids but not having the courage to attach your train to a product. All of the devices can provide schools with 80% of the things that they need, and the other 20% are a true quandary  What do you want? What do you need? Will any of these devices disappear? The reality is that repair and technology support happens most efficiently when a school is in a single product line, but how does going to a single product impact the culture and legacy of the school or district. When fancy new products like this Amplify tablet comes to the market, it would be nice to erase and plant, but the reality of education isn't that easy. How are you dealing with these device dilemmas? Is there a courageous road forward? Should we take the cautious road forward?

The Art of Storytelling

Thanks to @LauraGilcrest4 for putting me onto this link: that outlines some great ideas surrounding building the narrative to your vision as a school leader. Looking forward to talking about these and some other ideas at the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals Spring Conference tomorrow. Principals as storytellers can become principals as visionary. Principals as visionary can become change agents. Change agents have the courage to truly impact kids' lives. Start the process by becoming the storyteller-in-chief in your building.

These rules were originally tweeted by @lawnrocket, Pixar’s Story Artist. They are a loose set of guidelines for the folks at Pixar, who are known for their excellence in storytelling.  

  • You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  • Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  • Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  • Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  • What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  • Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  • Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  • When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  • Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  • Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  • Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  • Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  • Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  • If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  • What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  • No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  • You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  • Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  • Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  • You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  • What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Generation of Solutionists

When touring 64 of the most innovative schools in the country, Grant Lichtman commented that if he could summarize his long road trip, it would be with one word, Dewey. He continued that in the face of an educational narrative focused primarily on standardization, the most innovative places remain resolved to provide students with a personalized learning environment, that while most rigorous, blends a deeper sense of success into the school and community culture. True success for these spaces of learning pushes beyond the cornerstone tenant of schools, scholarship, to the areas of leadership, citizenship, and stewardship. These three areas of growth for students allow for the democracy-building vision of Dewey to be a part of the schools again. Students that are involved in experiences and opportunities that support their growth as leaders, citizens, and stewards grow a deep connection to their community. They begin to see the invisible people and places of their community, and the ideas of social, economic, and environmental justice bubble to the surface. Dewey would embrace schools as incubators of change, and our society is clamoring for a fresh generation of thinkers and solutionists. Today’s high school, especially high schools with an appropriate sized student body, can truly embrace this democracy-building vision briefly described above. It comes with the right blend of project-based learning, technology integration, and excellent student work for an authentic audience added to a rigorous curriculum as the foundation. As school leaders, this vision should be our primary work.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

It All Matters..What Matters Most

Of the fifteen or twenty initiatives that are a part of your classroom, which ones matter the most? Does cooperative learning matter more than technology integration? Does classroom management matter more than relationships? In a era of educational exhaustion, where we would love to have clarity in our efforts without initiative fatigue, it seems like we should know which ones matter the most. It doesn't mean that we should only pursue the most effective things on the list as a number of other factors including budget, community support, and faculty capacity impact what can be done well, but it does make sense to look at initiatives research to know their impact on learning and understanding. There are many opinions about the research of John Hattie, but the videos below could easily serve as a starting point for a conversation around what matters the most.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Paper or Plastic

The answer to the question "paper or plastic?" has been established right? The impact of fossil fuel use in the production of plastic bags along with their inability to break down in a landfill or be recycled clearly makes plastic bags an inferior option, right? Watching this video, which claims that the answer is clearly not so simple, really pushed my mental model about this topic. It forced me to rethink a "truth" that had established itself over time and seemed set for hall of fame for truthdom. How many "truths" in education are we perpetuating each day through our instruction, procedures, systems, and structures? Are we blindly continuing to make choices for kids that aren't maximizing their opportunities? How are you questioning everything without being paralyzed into a state of inaction?

Who should we serve?

I think a lot about wealth, poverty, and its impact on our community. I believe that I've mentioned before that I'm worried that a second ship may have sailed in this country leaving another sliver of our society in a perpetual state of poverty. It worries me that we can't have this conversation without flame throwing from both sides. I do believe that many in education are doing our work to make changes to this reality. Educators around the country know that even with all of the chips weighing down the possibility of success for kids in poverty, learning experiences and opportunities are still a possible escape route.

When thinking about the next phase of my career, I wonder about how I can best serve our global community. My answer continues to come back to working with schools and school districts that serve our children with the great needs, but there are moments when I ask if there is there a road to fulfillment that comes from reshaping the thinking and building the empathy of our wealthiest students? How do others struggle with these topics? I'm in need of clarity and advice.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Developing a Culture of Digital Innovation

The genesis of my work as a digital principal started as a young journalism student in high school and college when I started to realize the power of this new connected world. It was becoming clear that the voice of one individual would hold the potential to influence, shape, and grow a vast network of learners, leaders, and thinkers in the future. Some two decades later, the power of being connected and growing together showcased itself at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School where I serve as the principal learner. We were fortunate to host Grant Lichtman, an educator and learner, who was travelling across the country visiting some of the most innovative schools in the nation. His goal was to unearth some of the gems about how to move schools into a new realm where learning and understanding is deep and authentic. He wrote about our school in his blog and details the visit through this video. The staff and students were excited to discuss our work and get an outside perspective about our mission to build kids into greater scholars, citizens, leaders, and stewards.

As a digital principal, opportunities like these have emerged at a greater rate than ever before and following how this visit became a reality goes to the deep possibility that comes from being connected. The road to Grant’s visit started two years ago in Birmingham AL at edcamp Birmingham when I had the opportunity to meet Philip Cummings, an incredible educator, from the Memphis area. Philip and I continued our conversations after returning home to our schools. We followed each other via our blogs and Twitter, and we realized that our collaboration wasn’t complete. He invited me to apply to participate in the Teaching for Tomorrow Conference at the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence, and I accepted both the invitation to present and stay with his family during the conference. While there, Philip introduced me to Bo Adams, a middle school principal from Atlanta. Bo and I connected surrounding the work of building student leaders, providing schools with a broader definition of success, and energizing schools. During these conversations, Bo directed me to the Grant Lichtman book, The Falconer. From there, a dialogue between Grant, Bo, and I commenced that led to the visit to MRH Middle School. It is amazing to look back on how this came to fruition, but I believe that the best digital principals are consistently building opportunities for the staff and students through a complex set of loose connections that form the essence of their professional learning network.

Another part of being a digital principal is seeing the connections and disconnections surrounding education. One of the glaring disconnections that has existed for some time surrounds the varied rating of schools by parents between the schools that their children attend (often rated A or B) and the overall rating of schools in the country (often rated as a D or F). The heart of this disconnection seems to be in the mental models of schools that many have developed from their own experiences in schools as well as the ones that they have formed based on the images planted by news, television, and motion pictures surrounding schools. This disconnection has put schools in a difficult position to move forward and find new forms of excellence as parents, community leaders, and other stakeholders struggle to envision the new possibilities of excellent connected schools. One of the primary roles of today’s digital principal should be to serve as the storyteller-in-chief for their story. This role allows a principal to answer the essential question, “Who is telling your story?” because if the principal isn’t laying out the story, vision and mission of the school, then others will, either through formal or informal avenues. So what does this role look like for a digital principal? It means using all of the social media tools as well as traditional forms of communication to explain the vision for excellence of your school. At Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School, we have embraced the real-time sharing of success and communication of mission that comes from the use of our Twitter feed and our Facebook page, but we also realize that our story must be told in many forms for the variety of audiences that we engage. Though principals have used e-mails and newsletters for many years to open lines of communication, the digital principal is using these forms in combination with social media to meet all stakeholders at their entry point to the mission. At MRHMS, our greatest leverage point in this work to shift mental models has come through the digital story told through our teacher blogs, our Flickr page, and our YouTube channel. Schools and leaders, not using these tools, are tying one hand behind the back when it comes to building a whole community of digital innovation.

Digital principals, as outlined in the DNA of both the NETS-A and Breaking Ranks, can no longer see their role as building excellence within only their own school as their primary role. The best digital principals now see their role in context of the larger educational community. They are sharing their thoughts and ideas, generating a school culture that allows their teachers and students to do the same, as well as spending an increased amount of time learning from the work of top learners and leaders throughout the country so that ideas, resources, and tools are flowing into their school from schools throughout the planet. I have embraced this role as a digital principal. It started with beginning to capture my thoughts, resources, and ideas on my blog, Principally Speaking. This blog has been the central hub to my writing, reflection, and sharing as a digital principal. More importantly, it has been a model for many of the teachers in my building who are now using their blog to enhance their classroom, talk with other teachers, and model for their students the power of on-line writing. As a connected principal that encourages collaboration as part of the culture of the school, I am able to continue to open learning opportunities for kids. Over the past year, this has included students as featured bloggers in our local online newspaper, students presenting at regional conferences, and students working with experts via Skype and Twitter. Many of these opportunities started with just a nugget of information or a simple idea harvested from the incredible power of Twitter. The educational learning available on Twitter by volume, access, and ease, is becoming our greatest source of professional development in our school and for the best digital schools in the country.  As a digital leader, I have nurtured my staff and students in the use of Twitter as a learning vehicle, and the results are emerging with greater intensity each day, each month, and each year.

Fulfilling the role of connected leader and supporter of excellent learning everywhere has provided me with a number of opportunities. Currently, I serve on the board of the Saint Louis Area Secondary School Principals Association where my role is to provide the social media content and communicate online learning for the organization. As co-founder of edcampSTL, Chris McGee and I have started another avenue for folks to learn and grow outside of the school day, both through a weekend conference as well as through Twitter hashtag #edcampSTL. It has also been an honor to serve the last two years as a board member for the Midwest Educational Technology Conference, one of the largest gatherings in the midwest to discuss high-level technology integration into the classroom. In this role, I have had the opportunity to help select speakers and shape the conference to meet the needs of the new generation of connected educators and principals. In addition to these three roles that have allowed for a deeper professional learning network in the Saint Louis area, Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School has embraced the idea of sharing and learning with others on our campus. In the last two years, we have worked with our partners the Cadwell Collaborative and The College School to host a conference of educators from throughout the United States and Canada to discuss how to grow innovative schools. At the heart of these conversations were learning surrounding high-level technology integration and education for sustainability. Another avenue of being connected for me has been sharing at greater depths and growing my professional learning network by publishing articles at websites such as: Connected Principals, Ecology of Education, Angela Maiers Blog, Edudemic and Project PLN.

Another goal of mine as a digital principal has been to maximize the technology literacy, passion, and availability to all of my students. Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School is a place of learning where 50% of students struggle with the weight of poverty each day. Our program is designed with excellent practices in mind, and with a heavy focus on building the capacity needed for all of our students to be successful beyond high school. We recognize the role that technology-integration and connected learning can play in making the dreams of our kids, their families, and others surrounding their families a reality. MRHMS exists in a 1:1 laptop environment. This allows a leveling of the playing field for our kids when it comes to computer access, but we don’t see this as enough. Our teachers work hard to build lessons that allow for learning in class and beyond class using our technology. We see great opportunities for kids to learn asynchronously as they have their computers 24-hours a day. Students often report that they are watching learning videos through flipped classrooms, playing learning simulations, and continuing the conversation with their teachers into the evening via e-mail. Making this a reality takes navigating a mountain of logistics and being dedicated to teaching digital citizenship, empathy, and responsibility, but excellent digital principals are finding ways to make these experiences a reality for their students. My vision expands past our incredible laptop program to bringing technology into the field. MRHMS is a school as expedition so about 20-25% of the learning takes place outside, outside in the community or outside of the community. This creates an even greater challenge for our dedication to digital learning, but over the past two years, students and teachers have embraced digital learning in the field. The use of a technology grant to fund iPod Touches for taking stills and video in the field has allowed our students to complete deep learning surrounding the Civil War and develop a greater sense of place using public transportation. In addition, our vision for technology in the field has a huge science and math component surrounding data collection. Students are gathering data using a handheld Vernier LabQuest along with probeware to monitor our sustainability projects surrounding aquaponics and raising bees. This information is then used to better our programs and partner with local universities. As all of this digital learning and proficiency expands, we are in a great place as a school to store, showcase and celebrate the learning as we have launched a K-12 electronic portfolio. This platform to showcase learning came from the committee that I chaired with the Director of Technology and it is showing increasing promise in year two. Students are finding their electronic portfolio to be a place of pride for their best learning and a place for quality reflection. Teachers are using it to gather essential data surrounding student growth as scholars, leaders, citizens, and stewards as well as using the e-portfolio as an entry point for communication with parents. Schools have to be able to expand their definition of success beyond the test scores, and excellent digital principals should be leading the way by finding ways to showcase excellent student work through e-portfolios, electronic student work showcases, and increased opportunities for public audiences.

There are a number of other smaller items that have added to my work as an effective digital principal over the last four or five years. One of those has been a greater emphasis in our building surrounding reducing our paper waste and moving more of our work between students and teachers and teachers and teachers to the cloud. This has required a commitment on my part to train students, parents, and teachers on how to best accomplish this as well as model the expectations in the building. Our work as a 1:1 school has also afforded me the opportunity to share the trapped wisdom of our building with schools and leaders new to the process, most recently beginning a partnership with Union and Monett School Districts in Missouri and collaborating with Cooperstown NY School District on Presentations of Learning. To deepen our work as a school as expedition, we are looking for ways to build meaningful virtual expeditions that allow students to learn in class and at home about incredible spaces like our National Parks. We have also recently added three elective courses that showcase our desire to have a culture of digital innovation. These include: technology as culture, creative writing (with an emphasis in on-line writing and authentic audience), and a leadership course that asks students to infuse technology deeply into the core of their learning and action planning. Finally, this journey as a connected principal has recently provided me the opportunity to be honored as an on-line thought leader at the first annual Bammy Awards, a national event, designed to honor educators for their dedication to kids and learning.

My work as a digital principal remains risky and filled with many pitfalls. We are all learning together about the best ways to collaborate, share, and communicate while balancing things like public criticism, privacy, and those worried about the disruptive nature of technology, but the true leaders of the digital principals’ movement realize that the time to act is now. It is important to support our digital principals who are willing to act now for the sake of kids and excellence in schools even though there will be moments in this leadership journey that are misunderstood by people because there are still many with a sense that the connected principals’ movement is a distraction instead of the disruptive innovation for excellence that it is destined to become.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Five for Friday- Innovation and Technology Edition

Can Student-Driven Learning Happen Under Common Core?

Great Reminder that our system is not failing, but our current path is taking us there.

I hadn't realized that the time we plan after Testing is closer to awesome schooling than most of the time during the year. Seems like John T. Spencer agrees.

The Kids Should See This is a great blog with novel videos. I should have shared this a long time ago.

Makerspaces continue to get traction around the country. We all need students creating.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Five for Friday- The Green Schools Edition

The Department of Education continues to support the work of Green Schools. This is a great webinar series with resources surrounding the education, energy, and air quality issues surrounding green schools. 

The Green Education Foundation has built an incredible lesson clearinghouse. Tap into this resource for excellent ideas around sustainability. 

The energy audit that our students are conducting is a student-driven project that will lead to them helping our schools be named an Eco School. 

Had a chance to spend some time with Stephen Ritz at the Green Schools Conference. The Bronx Green Machine is incredible. 

This is an interesting video about permaculture. Greening the Desert