Saturday, November 19, 2011

5 Things I hate about the Kindle Fire

I was ready to love it. I put my name on the list the day it was announced. I waited and waited. When it finally shipped, I tracked that shipment like a hawk. Then it arrived.

My school has recently decided to do an iPad pilot. We are deploying 30 iPads and budgeting for more next year. I thought the Kindle fire might just be a cheaper alternative. Well it's not and this is why.

1. Boy is it heavy! It is supposedly lighter than an iPad, but if you held one in each hand you wouldn't think so. It is shaped like a brick and feels like one too. I tried reading a book on it and my arms felt like falling off.

2. The App store is lame. I admit I am not used to an android device, but I looked for several apps that I use on my iPhone and my iPad and couldn't find them in the Kindle App store.

3. No fetch feature. There doesn't seem to be a way for the Fire to let you know when you have new mail or it is your turn to update your Words With Friends. You have to manually check for all updates. I also can't figure out how to add multiple e-mail accounts to the mail feature. Maybe that is just me being obtuse, but I have looked everywhere for a way to add an additional account.

4. Not so fast. I haven't noticed that the new "silk" browser is particularly fast. Supposedly it is super speedy. It isn't slow, but it doesn't seem much faster than my phone (and I have an iPhone 3GS).

5. It is neither here nor there. It is a smaller heavier feeling iPad and a bigger much heavier iPhone and an eReader with a lot of glare. If I want to type something, or check out some cool Apps, I'll use the iPad. If I want something small to check in on my email, my Twitter feed and my Words with Friends I will use my phone. If I want to read a book, I will use a traditional Kindle. I haven't figured out when or where I would use the Fire.

OK. I know I am privileged to have so many devices to choose from. I know it is a cheaper alternative to the iPad. I know the video streaming is cool. It just doesn't do it for me. And did I mention is is heavy like a brick?

I wanted to like it. I really did. It just doesn't live up. Do you have one? Do you agree? I'm interested in your opinion. Please let me know what you think.

P.S. My fall has been crazy at school so I haven't been blogging, but I have lots of things to share - some cool video projects and some iPad deployment advice, so stay tuned.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Marching Backward into the Future

“We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
- The Media is the Massage. An Inventory of Effects. McLuhan & Fiore. p74

Everything we look at is shaped by our experiences. We come from a 20th century perspective and it is incredibly difficult to imagine what the 21st century will bring. When I started teaching 20 years ago, could I have envisioned an iPod, a netbook, a Kindle? We had the beginnings of an Internet, but nothing like the global interactions of today. And yet it was my job to prepare those 6th graders for their future.

Those 6th graders are now about 32 years old. Do we feel the 32 year olds of today are not productive? Are they not capable of doing the jobs we need them to do? If I taught them to think and to write and to question and to explore, did I not prepare them for their future?

And what of my students of today? How are they prepared to meet their destiny? We live in this moment and our vision is shaped by what came before us. We can imagine what will be next, but all of of our imaginings are seen through the lens of our own histories. And each of us brings a different history to our predictions.

In the field of education there is much anxiety about the future. These anxieties are only compounded by the downturn in our economy. Is this because we didn’t prepare our students for what was to come? How can we make sure that our country will be led by a knowledgeable and capable workforce? Is technology the answer?

How do the innovators of today come up with these inventions? Where do they get the ideas that transform our world? Someone invented the iPod, the Kindle, the iPad. Where did they go to school? Who were their teachers? Did they march backward into the future or were they somehow turned around?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New York Times edtech article fails the test!

The front page of today's New York Times boasted an article about the "failure" of technology in the classroom. Titled, In Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores , the article describes a school in Arizona where, despite a huge investment in technology, there hasn't been an increase in test scores.

The article is based on one school in one town in Arizona, hardly a statistically significant sample. Larry Cuban, an outspoken critic of technology in schools since the early 1990s, is quoted multiple times. Not one of the many experts in the field of educational technology, whom we know and love, was interviewed (or at least quoted) in the article. The only reason given for the failure of technology is a lack of increase in test scores in a district that already had high test scores. Finally, there was no test comparing the technology skills of students in this school to any other school in the state.

Clearly, I'm not thrilled with the article.
What did you think?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Plus One Challenge!

This summer my entire faculty read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. The book lays out some clear ideas for how to make change in an organization. The authors use a metaphor of an elephant, suggesting there are three things you need to do to affect behavior:
  1. Direct the rider: Be very clear about what you want people to do, make it as simple and concrete as possible.
  2. Motivate the elephant: Appeal to the heartstrings and the emotions. Give vivid examples of why people need to change.
  3. Shape the path: Make it as easy as possible for people to complete the challenge. Figure out what is getting in the way and try to remove obstacles.

On Friday I presented the "Plus One Challenge: to my faculty:
  1. Direct the rider: Add one technology project to your repertoire this year.  If you do zero right now, do one, if you do two, do three etc. It could be anything. You could do the same thing twice. Just add one.
  2. Motivate the elephant:  We need to keep up with our peer schools. We can't be left behind. 
  3. Shape the path: I will make this as easy for you as possible. I will meet with every member of the faculty by the end of the first semester to see what you are doing and how I can help.
So there you have it. I'm excited to start a new year and see what happens. I hope it works!

The Elephant and the Rider

Image Soure:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another Education Unconference. Don't miss it!

On Monday, July 25th Lisa Thumann and I are facilitating our 4th Edubloggercon Unconference. It will be held at the Park Plaza Hotel, thanks to the generosity of Alan November, from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Come all day or just for part of it. (If you want to help organize the day, please come by at 8:00).

If you haven't been to an unconference, you should really check it out. We design our own learning based on our own interests. It is some of the best professional development you can get, and it is completely free!

Our attending list is looking a bit sparse this year. If you know you are coming please add yourself to the list. We know we will have a great day, no matter the size of the group, but it helps to have an idea about who is coming.

Last, but not least, Lisa and I have decided to do 5 minute "ignite" presentations. We are hoping that 3 more people will join us in this endeavor. Ignite presentations are 5 minutes long, using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds.  Check out some examples here. If you are interested in trying this out please contact Lisa (lisa dot thumann@gmail dot com) or me (lizbdavis @ gmail dot com) to reserve your spot and find out when your slides are due.

I look forward to seeing you on the 25th!

Edubloggercon East 2010

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Teens With Cancer

A student at my school was diagnosed with cancer last year. He has just started a blog and wrote to me a few weeks ago to ask if I could give him advice on how to get more readers. I suggested that one of the ways would be for me to share a link to his blog with my learning network. 
With his permission, I encourage you to check out Jacob's Teens With Cancer blog. Please share the link with others (especially any kids you might know with cancer) and leave him a comment. I know he would appreciate it.

Here is the advice I gave him about publicizing his blog.
1. First, if it is ok with you, I will share your blog on Twitter and on my blog. But please let me know. I want to make sure it is ok with you before I start sharing your blog URL.

2. Take the ads off your blog and don't push too many products. You want to make sure people take you seriously (especially when you are trying to build a following) and if you have too many ads or if you start promoting products people may get suspicious about your motives.

3. Find other bloggers who are writing about cancer, even if they aren't teenagers and start a blogroll on your blog with links back to their blogs. If you link to other bloggers and comment on their blogs or write about their posts that is the best way to get them to reciprocate and start adding you to their blogrolls which is a way to build a following from their readers. Alltop,Google Blog search, and Technorati are all good blog search engines.

4. Start a Twitter account and search Twitter for people writing about Cancer. Twitter is probably one of the best blog promotion tools you can use. There are a few ways to find similar people to follow on Twitter. Search Twitter for key words that relate to you and then follow the people that use that keyword.  Wefollow and Twellow are two good Twitter search engines. When you create your Twitter account make sure you don't protect your updates and you include information about your cancer in your bio.

5. Set up a Google Analytics or a Statcounter account to see who is reading your blog and who is linking to your blog.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Predicting the Future with Marshall McLuhan

I just finished reading The Medium is the Massage. An Inventory of Effects by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore. Published in 1967, it is a prescient work, predicting with amazing accuracy the effects of technology on our lives. Here are a few quotes from the book that particularly struck me:

What does it mean that we have been saying these things for 43 years?

"Our 'Age of Anxiety' is in great part the result of trying to do today's job with yesterday's tools - with yesterday's concepts"

"Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world's a sage."

"Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness. 'Time' has ceased, 'space' has vanished. We now live in a global village... a simultaneous happening."

"The circuited city of the future will not be the huge hunk of concentrated real estate created by the railway. It will take on a totally new meaning under conditions of very rapid movement. It will be an information megalopolis."

"In the name of 'progress,' our official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old."

"Education must shift from instruction, from imposing of stencils, to discovery - to probing and exploration and to the recognition of the language of forms."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Results of my BYO Laptop Survey

Thanks to everyone who participated in my survey. I greatly appreciate your input. Here is a link to the results (I have removed email addresses). You can also see the results embedded below. Scroll to the right and down to see more responses.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

EdCamp Boston Reflections

It was a great day. Over 100 educators came together to create and consume their own learning. I guess what is most amazing to me is that it wasn't amazing to me. I'm not surprised it was a great day. I wasn't nervous that it wouldn't go well and I had no reason to be. We had an amazing team of organizers, fabulous and generous sponsors and an enthusiastic crowd of participants.

The bottom line is the success of the conference is in the hands of the people that attend. And the people who attended Edcamp Boston did so because they wanted to give up a Saturday to learn. There were no PDPs, no one forced them or made them go. They went because they wanted to. With a crowd like that, it was sure to be a great day.

I attended my first unconference in 2007 at the first Edubloggercon at NECC in Atlanta. I had never experienced a group of educators making their own professional development. It was empowering and engaging. I was so inspired that I brought edubloggercon to Boston thanks to Alan November who hosted our first unconference in 2008. Lisa Thumann and I continue to organize Edubloggercon, but our event is much smaller compared to edcamp.

Edcamp Boston was my first experience organizing a much bigger event. But at it's core it was a great day of learning and that is what is so great about unconferences. There isn't a keynote speaker, no one gets paid to do what they do, we volunteer because we believe in the experience.

I want to thank Dan, Greg, Karen, Larry, Laura, & Steve for all that they did to make this a success. It was wonderful to work with all of you and I look forward to doing this again next year.

If you loved Edcamp Boston or if you missed it, you aren't too late. Check out these upcoming unconferences:

Plus I'm working on organizing an Independent School Unconference following NAIS in Seattle in February. Stay tuned for more information about that and let me know if you would like to be part of that organizing team.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


For the month of May I signed up to do 31 classes of yoga in 31 days at a studio very near my house. Thus far I have completed 10 classes in the last 10 days. This may explain all of these yoga related posts.

There is a pose in yoga where you lay on your back and grab on to your feet. Most teachers call this "happy baby." One of my teachers calls it "dead bug." Both can describe what it looks like to be in this pose, however, I would much rather be the former than the latter. Words matter!

I may soon have to change the name of this blog to The Power of Yoga...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Making Progress

Inchworm 3 by dreambird, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  dreambird 

I started doing yoga almost one year ago. This week I've been noticing the little bits of progress I have made in my practice.  They are very little bits, but I'm trying to take note of each one and not take them for granted. I can now touch my toes, only with my finger tips, but that is more than I could do before.  I still can't do a wheel (back bend) or a headstand. For me, touching my toes with my finger tips is real progress.

Progress is the key to assessment. Where you start is as important as where you finish. Hyperfocus on the end goal misses the distance of the journey in between. As the school year comes to a close, take a moment and look back to see how far you and your students have come.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

I blogged a while back about organizing a faculty poetry festival. Well, it happened in the middle of March and was a lot of fun. I recited the Poem, "What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If things don't work out, you can always go to law school" By Taylor Mali It was a great choice of poem. You can watch my recitation here:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dare some mighty things...

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. - Theodore Roosevelt
I downloaded a motivational quote app on my iPhone. It might be silly, but things like this do keep me going. It has been a rough winter and a slow wet spring. I'll take my motivation anywhere I can find it.

I have written about failure before. I do really believe that we have to get over our fears of failing. These fears stop us from asking questions, from trying things out, from testing new waters and ultimately from reaching success.

As I get back into my rowing and coaching I tread constantly on the verge of failure. My stroke is far from perfect and the boat I am driving and coaching sometimes heads precariously too close to shore.

In my professional life, I feel I have been sitting in the gray twilight of safety. As the sun shines (hopefully it will soon) I am planning to push myself a little closer to the edge, to dare some mighty things this spring. I don't yet know what they will be, but just writing this down will hopefully help me to try something new. I hope you will too.

Sun Flower by aresauburn, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  aresauburn 

(I used to cite this image)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Who are you? Who are you really?

Every year, twice a year, our students participate in a speech contest. Six boys are chosen to read an original 5 minute speech to the entire school. This morning one of the boys spoke about an interview at a local grocery store where the first question the manager asked him was "Who are you? Who are you really?" Zach was taken aback by the question and struggled at first to answer it. He eventually came up with a response worthy of being hired, but the question has been nagging at him ever since.

Who am I? Who am I really? How often do we ask ourselves these question? How often do we ask our student's this question? Should we have a ready answer? Should they?

I am an educator, a technology user, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mentor, a coach, an athlete, a dancer, a reader, a writer, a searcher, a thinker, a film maker, a leader, a sharer, an advocate, a talker, a listener and so much more.

In the end, Zach felt that who we are changes so constantly, that a better question is "Who do you want to be?"

Who are you? Who are you really? Who do you want to be?

Starting the week on a philosophical note...

P.S. You can see the conclusion of Zach's speech here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Taking off the kid gloves... What do you think?

I am about to finish my third year at Belmont Hill School. It has been a great and productive three years. I do see that the glass is more than half full, but right now I'm also looking at the part that is empty. Belmont Hill is an amazing place with a motivated and talented faculty. I've spent the last three years getting to know everyone and building trust. I've worked with the most technology enthusiastic and even had success with some of my more resistant colleagues. But there is still so much to do.

The thing is, I've done three years in one place before. I've come in and shaken things up. I've won over the naysayers. But I've never stayed for the fourth year. The next steps are new to me. Today I've been thinking that this is the time for the kid gloves have to come off. I have to start pushing us just that much harder to the bigger changes, the places where we have to give some things up to move ahead.

At the end of the year I always give a presentation to the faculty. In the past my presentations have been in praise of all that we have done over the last year. I'm starting to think that this year I might do this differently. We have accomplished a lot this year, but I might need to throw down a challenge and force people to face up to where we need to go.

What do you all think? Is this too harsh? Should I save this for the fall? Or would it be better to get people thinking as they start their summer? I would love some advice on this one. Let me know what you think.

Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stop Beating up on Teachers!

It doesn't help our children!

I'm so tired of being kicked around in the media, by politicians and just by random people who think they know something about education. Everyone thinks because they went to school, they know something about teaching. If you go to a concert, does that mean you know how to play an instrument? If you go to a play, does that mean you know how to act?  As a teacher, I also try to be a learner, but it isn't quite as easy to go the other way. A lot goes on behind the scenes.

I started my education career in 1993 as a sixth grade teacher in a suburban public school. I did that for 7 years. Since then I have worked with inner city girls for a non profit educational research center, traveled the country doing technology professional development for an educational software company, written and edited for a textbook developer, went back into public schools (K-12) as a technology integration specialist, and for the last three years I have worked in a private school as the Director of Academic Technology.  I've learned a lot about education.

Here are a few things I know about teachers.

1. We don't do it for the money - After almost 20 years in the field, with an Ivy league undergraduate degree, a Master's degree plus 60 additional graduate credits, I still make less money than a first year associate at a major law firm (in Boston).

2. We work really hard all year long - We stand on our feet for most of the day, get limited bathroom breaks, have rare access to a computer or phone, are exposed to a lot of daily noise and energy, have to be "on" for many hours in a row and take a lot of work home with us every night. Yes we get a lot of vacation time, but we need it desperately!

3. We work best when we collaborate - We need to give incentives to the great teachers to share their knowledge and expertise, so that all students benefit. Merit pay makes no sense if it pits teachers against each other. New teachers learn from experienced teachers.  If we make teachers competitive, children suffer.

4. Unions aren't the problem - It's the evaluation and professional development systems that matter. Administrations and parental involvement make a huge difference. There are plenty of districts without unions that suffer from low achievement and plenty of districts with strong unions that turn out fabulously educated kis.

5. Teachers need your respect - If you keep bashing teachers, no one is going to want to become one! Why should our students respect us, if no one else does?

I've been so frustrated lately. I just had to get that off my chest. Thanks for listening!

What do you know about teachers?

Monday, March 14, 2011

EdCamp Boston Tickets Going Fast

May 7th, 2011
Tickets are FREE
This event will SELL OUT! 

As I write this there are only 31 tickets left to what is sure to be an amazing event. 

I am one of the organizers of Boston's first Edcamp. The idea originated in Philly last year. Since then, there have been Edcamps all over the country. Dan Callahan, one of the original organizers has since moved to Boston and he along with Greg Kulowiec, Karen Janowski. Larry Fliegelman, Laura D'Elia, Steve Guditus and me are helping to put this together. If you haven't been to an unconference before, now is your chance. It is an event that comes together out of the interests of the attendees. The sessions will be created by the people who attend.  We have some wonderful sponsors who have stepped up to pay for food, door prizes, coffee and t-shirts, asking only for recognition in return.

Sign up soon! I look forward to seeing you there.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My TEDxNYED Revelation, Takeaways and a Suggestion

I just returned from New York City where I had the privilege to attend my first TEDxNYed conference.  I was fortunate to combine this event with a visit to see family and an old friend. Overall it was a great weekend. 
The View
First I would like to complement the organizers of this conference for doing an amazing job. I was greeted by friendly faces when I arrived, guided to the correct floor and provided with delicious snacks and lunch. The venue was beautiful, comfortable and had incredible views of Manhattan and of the ground zero construction. The speakers were well chosen, stayed on schedule and were introduced in thoughtful and funny ways.
Ground Zero
My Revelation:

TED is actually a TV show with a studio audience. 

I had the opportunity to be part of that audience. It was exciting to be there. I got to meet some people face-to-face for the first time and re-connect with some old friends. But the lack of interaction was difficult for me. Interaction is what keeps me going. Twitter helped with that, but it wasn't really enough for me. Plus, I discovered later on that I wasn't even suposed to have my laptop open (Oops - I didn't see the sign until the last session).

Content wise there were some good messages.  A lot of what people said wasn't new to me, but it suddenly came to me, I'm not really the audience! These videos will be viewed by many many people.  That is the brilliant aspect of TED. I am thrilled that the messages that so many of us have been talking, Tweeting and blogging about will get out through a different medium. Everything we do can make a difference for someone.


  • From Alan November: Who owns the learning?
  • From Homa Tavangar: We are more plugged in, but are we more connected? We have a universal understanding of what it takes to be a good friend. A global citizen is a good friend to the world.
  • From Lucy Gray: Connect Now! Practice professional generosity for the benefit our children.
  • From Gary Stager: Young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity. Less us, more them!
  • From Heidi Hayes Jacobs: We can do dumb things with SMART boards. We don't need re-form, we need new-form. We need new types of teachers. We need to be a new kind of teacher. 
  • From Luyen Chou: We can change education by changing the assessments.
  • From Morley: If you are feeling helpless, help someone.

In such a short period of time with one talk right after another it is hard to process what you are hearing. I am thankful I can go back and watch the videos to see what I missed.

A Suggestion:
What if we had half the number of speakers and 10 minutes of discussion in the room after each talk? That might be the best of both worlds!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Thank you for your interest in and application for the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) Class of 2011.  We received a record number of applications and were pleased and encouraged with the high quality of applicants. We can't begin to describe the difficulty we had selecting the new Class of 2011. 
Unfortunately, your application was not selected for this year's program.
After a full day of anticipation and waiting, at about 5pm last night I was finally informed that I will not be a part of the ADE class of 2011. Knowing that  Chris Betcher, blogger and podcaster extraordinaire, also was not accepted helped to greatly reduce the sting of this rejection, however it never feels good to get the no vote.

I often say that if you aren't failing, you aren't really trying. I still believe that is true. I'm sad I didn't make it, but I'm glad I tried. It was fun to make the video and I do believe I gave it my full effort.  The wise words my network had to offer also softened the blow.

 Chris Betcher 

@ From Cool Runnings, "A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without one, you'll never be enough *with* one.

 David Jakes 
To all of you who didnt make the  class, let that be motivation for learning more, being more, and never giving up.

I have also been thinking about why I applied. I have to admit to some ADA, GCT jealousy. Not having any letters to put after my name makes me feel a little left out of the club. So many people I respect in my field have these marks of approval appending their bios. Does this make me less legitimate because I don't? Does this make me worse at my job? Maybe not in reality, but I have to own up to the envy.

Dan Callahan tweeted this in the wake of hearing about our ADA results:

 Dan Callahan 

@ @ @ I roam the open fields of the world untethered by corporate certificates. I am a Certified Free Range Educator

As an educator, what role should corporations play in my professional life? As much as I love Apple and Google products, why should they be certifying me? Should it not be the other way around? Should Apple and Google be applying to us for our stamp of approval?

In case you are interested, here is the video I made for my ADA application:

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Message to Parents about Social Media

This week I sat on a panel for parents about Social Media hosted by Michael Thompson. With me on the panel were two alums from the class of '05 and '10 (The '05 graduate is also on the faculty) and a current senior. The two youngest alums were also in my Digital Journalism class. 

We each opened with a few remarks. When I am in this position with parents I try to spin Social Media in as positive a light as possible. So many of these panels feature police officers that use scare tactics that I try to give the glass half full perspective. Here is what I talked about.

Digital Legacy
  • What goes online stays online.... forever. Even if you think it is private it really isn't. Anyone can take a screenshot of anything you write or post and share it with anyone. There is no digital privacy and we should all behave with that assumption at the back of our mind. It should make us "better people."
  • Take control of it, don’t let it control you. You have the ability to take control of your digital persona. The more you put online yourself, the more you drown out anything you might not want to be seen. Buy your own domain name, start a blog, get on Twitter and use all of these tools to create your best public self possible. This post, 5 Reasons why your Online Presence will Replace your Resume in 10 Years is an excellent example of how and why to do this.
Networking has benefits and drawbacks
  • Behavior changes according to context. Kids need to learn proper online etiquette for a variety of situations. This is a message we should be teaching kids at home and at school. You need to know your audience. There are things you can say with friends that you would never say in school. Students need to always keep this in mind, while also realizing that nothing is private online (see above).
  • Networks built young have great potential. Kids are building connections now that can serve them well into their professional lives.
  • Fail young. I believe it general it is helpful to let kids to "fail" in middle school when the stakes are lower. When you first get involved with a social network it can be addicting and wreak havoc on your time management. Usually this addiction passes after some time. It is better to get through those early heady days when the negative impact on your academics is less important.
Behavior is behavior
  • Parenting is parenting. Don't be afraid to parent when it comes to technology. Take the phone away, turn off the internet, keep the computer in a public room, limit time online. Trust your instincts.
  • Addiction is addiction. If you are concerned about your child's over-use of technology, address it before it gets out of control, just as you would any other addictive behavior.
  • Behavior is behavior. Kids know how to behave. They need to understand that their online behavior should follow the same rules as their offline behavior. The impact of bad behavior Online can have much greater repercussions!
There was more said, but this is the general message I tried to communicate.

What would you add or take away?

Image Source: A glass half full by sarah and mike ...probably

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NAIS Unconference Next Year?

Wordle from EBCEast Unconference
As I was following the #NAISAC11 Tweets last night I had an idea...
What if we organize an unconference before the main NAIS conference next year? I organize Edubloggercon East before the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston every summer and Steve Hargadon organizes one before the ISTE conference every year. The NYAIS folks throw a great unconference at NEIT every year. I'm helping to organize Edcamp Boston this spring.  An NAIS unconference seems like a logical next step.

We could call it ISEDCamp, IndyCamp, UnNAIS, ISCamp...

What we need...
The biggest requirement is space. ISTE and BLC both donate space the day before their conference starts. Would NAIS do that? Ideally we would need wifi, projectors, a large meeting space and some breakout rooms. Does anyone know anyone or know someone who knows someone? Could we use a local school in Seattle near NAIS next year?

I am not at NAIS this year. If you are reading this and you are there talk it up a bit and see what people think. If we can do it, I'll definitely find my way to NAISac12 to help organize.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Setting Intentions

At the beginning of each yoga class the instructor often asks us to set our intention for our practice and for our day.

Here are some examples of intentions you might set:
  • be nurturing to yourself
  • push yourself to the edge of what you think you can do
  • focus on your breathing
  • smile
  • let go of suffering
  • be present
  • give your best effort
  • try everything a little bit
Simply asking yourself the question "What is my intention?" can affect your whole practice and your whole day. It isn't something you share. It is something you do quietly and personally.

It occurred to me (and maybe it already has occurred to you), what if we asked our students this at the beginning of each day or each class. What if we gave them some quiet space to close their eyes and set their intention before beginning their learning journey for that day or that moment?

Does anyone do this already? I'm going to give it a try.

What is your intention for today?

Image credit: Meditation by skiegazer3

Friday, February 18, 2011

The freedom to fail...

Every year at Belmont Hill we have a student poetry festival. The entire student body memorizes a poem and recites it in English class. One or two boys from each class are selected to move on to a semi-final round, and from there one or two boys from each form are chosen to recite their poem at a morning meeting for the entire school community.

I love reciting poetry. When I was in high school I was on the speech team and competed in the poetry category. This year I am organizing our first faculty poetry festival, where faculty will read or recite poems for colleagues and students. I think it will be a lot of fun. I have chosen Taylor Mali's What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If things don't work out, you can always go to law school. It is a great poem and I think it will be a lot of fun to do for the school.

While many faculty members share my excitement and have agreed to participate, I have been surprised by the number of teachers who do not want to recite a poem because as they put it "I'm bad at it," "I can't do that stuff," or "I can't memorize." We so often talk about giving students the freedom to take risks and to fail. How many of us are willing and feel comfortable doing the same. In front of our students? In front of our colleagues? In front of our administration?

I fell like Belmont Hill is a place that would embrace any faculty members attempt to recite a poem, no matter how wonderful or terrible. I know our students will be respectful, regardless of our performance. Sometimes the fear of failure resides inside our own heart. How do we encourage ourselves and each other to take these risks? I've been trying to encourage my friends and colleagues to step outside their comfort zones and give it a try. I want my excitement to rub off on everyone.

We all have our things and this is mine. I can't expect everyone to get on my poetry bus. But I think it would be a great example to everyone, if some of those nay sayers would just give it a go. I'll keep trying to convince them...

Image Credit: Collection of Poetry

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Two For Tuesday, February 14th, 2011

1. Google Body - Google Maps for your insides
Check out this new tool in Google labs. Zoom inside this body to peel away the layers. You can even turn on labels and see the names for all your bits and pieces.

2. What's Your Sign? - It may not be what you think it is.
Recently some astrologers have made some changes to the zodiac. They have even added a new sign. So if you believe in this stuff, you might have to start reading a different horoscope.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

7 Tips for a Great Ignite Talk

I attended my first Ignite event this week with Dan Callahan at the Microsoft NERD center in Cambridge, MA. I was excited to see what one of these events is like and it was held in the same building where we will be having our EdCampBoston Unconference on May 7th.
What is Ignite?
"...It's a high-energy evening of 5-minute talks by people who have an idea—and the guts to get onstage and share it with their hometown crowd." -From the Ignite Website
Presentations are all 20 slides which auto-advance every 15 seconds. This event did not have an education focus and the talks included a wide variety of topics:
  • Conception, Pregnancy, Labor, Delivery, and Infants (for Geeks), Jacob Buckley-Fortin, @jakebf
  • How Freestrapping Is Killing Our Start-Ups, Bobbie Carlton, @bobbiec
  • Code for America: Education and Technology in Boston, Max Ogden, @maxogden
  • How to Start a Summer Camp, Katie Gradowski and Will Macfarlane
  • The Real "MobileMe" How Smartphones Are Enabling a World of "Augmented Humanity," Joseph Flaherty, @josephflaherty
  • Social Media Science, Dan Zarrella, @danzarrella
  • The Future of Search Is Context, Mark Watkins, @viking2917
  • Trolling for Data, Courtney Stanton, @kirbybits
  • Social Enterprise: What Works, What Doesn't, Why It Matters, and Why You Should Hate Oprah, Meaghan Cassidy, @mcassidy8
  • Pure Imagination: How Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory Is Really An Anti-Drug Parable, TC Cheever, @cheever
  • Compost Your Dishes: Better than Washing, Heather Gilmore, @ecoMV
  • 5 Things You Didn't Know About Beer, Sarah Hastings, @beeriety
What I learned:
While there were a few things I took away from each of these, my biggest take away was the qualities of a good 5 minute talk. I think this is a skill that our students are going to have to have and it isn't easy to present a message in such a short period of time. I would like to try to give one of these presentations someday. Here are some of the things I will think about when I start to structure my talk:
  1. Keep it super simple - 5 minutes is really, really short. There is only time for one idea. If you try to cram too much in, your audience will not be able to digest your message before the next talk starts.
  2. State your message clearly - Actually write it out in words for your audience. Say what you want everyone to take away. It is way too quick to expect that people will be able to figure that out for themselves. You might feel like that is condescending, but it isn't in this context.
  3. Repeat yourself - Tell your audience more than once what you want them to know. Say it at the beginning, in the middle and definitely again at the end.
  4. Use more than one slide per idea - You don't need a new slide for each idea. You only have 15 seconds per slide, that isn't much time. If you try to include something new for each slide you are trying to do way too much. Also, there is no rule against repeating your slides. You can show the same image more than once. That gives you 30 seconds to get your point across.
  5. Think about your audience - When you choose a topic, think about what the audience probably knows already. If you are going to an actual Ignite event, the people there are pretty technically savvy, but also come from diverse professional places.
  6. Tell a Story - Think of these as a 5 minute story, try to include a beginning, middle and end.
  7. Have fun - This event was pretty low key. Everyone was supportive and receptive to all of the presentations. The Twitter stream was very respectful and positive. So don't worry too much about it.
I'm not sure yet what my topic will be, but I am definitely challenging myself to try this out. Have you ever done a talk like this? Have you been to an event? Do you have any advice to share or questions to ask? Let me know.

Photo Credits:

Friday, February 4, 2011

You've got to accentuate the positive...

Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

My recent experience at Educon has lead to a lot of soul searching and thinking for me. We talk so much about change in education, new skills, things students and teachers and administrators need to do differently. And yes there are many things that need to change, should change, have to change. But there are also many things that work really well in education, in the schools we went to, the schools we work in, the schools we visit, and the schools our children attend.

I just started reading The Power of Appreciate Inquiry. A Practical Guide to Positive Change. I am loving this approach which involves "uncover[ing] and bring[ing] forth existing strengths, hopes, and dreams-to identify and amplify the positive core of the organization." I think this approach has great potential to give us a new lens to identify where schools should be going.

So let's make the glass half full. What would you keep? What are you doing in your school that works? What are some of the essential elements of schooling that you feel should stay the same?

Here are a two of my keepers:
  • Face to face conversations between kids and adults when we are engaged and thinking and passionate about our ideas.
  • The energy that comes from searching, exploring and uncovering the answer to a burning question, in myself and in my students.
Appreciative Inquiry suggests that we get what we study. If we focus on what is wrong, we get more of what is wrong. "We do not describe the world we see, we see the world we describe."

What great things are happening at your school? How can we take those positive stories and build on them? Please share your keepers.