Friday, December 02, 2011




The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way

A couple of months ago, I sent out a blog post looking for classrooms that wanted to participate in our This I Believe Goes Global project.  We had more responses this year than any other matching up classes from Poland, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, South Korea and all over the United States.

As Karl and I were sorting through the responses. We notice one response from a teacher named Jeff Boyce.  About three years ago, we had a teacher named Jeff Boyce here at AHS.  Karl and I wondered if this was the same Jeff Boyce.  So, after an email exchange, we discovered it was a former colleague now teaching in South Korea.  Serendipity #1

My all boys' class was matched up with Jeff's class in South Korea at the Korea International School.  I knew that my all boys' class was going to be writing their "This I Believe" essays on something important to them, something they strongly valued.  Jeff let me know early on that his class was going to be writing their essays with a slight twist to the assignment: "I Believe in Evolution...".   To help you understand his requirements for their essays, Jeff is a science teacher, thus they were going to be writing about evolution.  Serendipity #2

Now, to make this collaboration even more interesting, my all boys' class is currently reading Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee's Inherit the Wind, a play based upon the Scopes Monkey trial of 1925 and the teaching of the theory of evolution in a fundamentalist Christian town. Serendipity #3

To prepare for our reading of Inherit the Wind, and help my all boys' class understand what John Scopes and Bertram Cates were facing with teaching the theory of evolution, I brought in one of our own biology teachers, Adam Wallace, to talk to the gentlemen about what it is like to be a modern day biology teacher and the theory of evolution.  Serendipity #4

A few weeks ago, after Jeff and I figured out the logistics of our timelines, I asked Jeff if it was possible for him and his class to Skype into our class here at AHS.  I didn't know upon asking him what the time difference was between Seoul and Littleton, CO.  Jeff talked to his kids. They were all willing to stay up till 1 am their time in order to Skype into our class.  We planned 1-1 connections with a kid from Seoul to a kid in my class.  Serendipity #5 (more forced Serendipity, but it goes with the theme of this post)

I talked with Karl about whether this would be possible with our EEE's and their built in web-cam. He assured me we could do it, we just needed to test out the Skype feature since Skype and the built in webcams  hadn't been used before. We practiced in class with one another everything seemingly looking splendid.  Then came the test call...

Jeff and I decided we should do a practice call before the big day.  Wednesday he had a group of kids call into my class first to me on the teacher computer and then to each of the kids they were assigned to.  The calls to me were flawless with our wireless system.  However, problems arose with the calls to the individual students in class.  We could hear and see the kids in South Korea perfectly, but they could only see us, there was no sound!  Oh no...

So, I asked some of my kids to go and get Karl to assist with our technical difficulties. Some of my boys have Karl as their math teacher and relayed to me that he had a family emergency and would be gone the rest of the week.  OH NO....

I sent off a couple of emails to our district personnel to seek out some help.  Later that day, after I had chewed my fingernails down to the nubbins and aged myself another 10 years, I got an email back from Rody Smith.  Rody brought over two other district tech folks to help me solve my problem with the sound.

At 7:30 am Thursday morning, after being told what I wanted to do wasn't possible, somehow the thoughts shifted to make the impossible possible.  Mark Lindstone, Randy Stall, and my favorite Rody Smith figured out a solution to the problem. Rody imaged a brand new set of EEE's for my gentlemen. Our library lent us enough USB headsets for each kid to have their own. Additionally, Rody delivered the brand new EEEs to AHS, helped me set up the classroom with a wired switch for all 24 netbooks (we decided to move from wireless one to one connections to wired connections), and managed to help me facilitate the day today.  Serendipity #6

I relayed all the events of Thursday morning to my all boys' class during our class time on Thursday managing to break into tears in front of them.  I stressed to them the importance of what we were about to do on Friday, the opportunity that this presented to them as men, as learners and as agents of change. The pressure was on! Since it is an all boys' class, I reminded them that this was like preparing for game day. We needed to prepare ourselves for the challenges but then also embrace the opportunities as well.

And how did it go? It was awesome- we even had cookies and juice thanks to one of our moms.  The kids connected both technologically and literally. They didn't stop talking until I told them that we needed to start wrapping up things. The discussed their essays, their lives, their schools, their interests, and their beliefs. They changed the world by getting to know one another, by shaping one another's understandings and learnings. I couldn't stop smiling and neither could the kids. The kids started talking one to one, and before I knew it, they were moving around the room talking to all the other South Korean students. What a fantastic day. What a fantastic learning opportunity. We couldn't have done this without the help of Jeff Boyce, the students in South Korea, Rody Smith ( my all boys class voted him as President for all his hard work), Mark Lindstone, Tracy Murphy, Karla Brachtenbach, Mr. Booth, Karl and of course my gentlemen.  Serendipity #7 (which just happens to be my favorite number).

Here are some more pictures of the day...

Test call on Wednesday
Jeff Boyce and I excited to listen to what was happening in class

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Smitty...

My kids decided they needed to create an award in recognition of the best banned book movie trailer for our Banned Book assignment.  So, they created the Smitty- combination of me and Wonder Woman. I send along pictures later.  What I really wanted to share were some of the best trailers. And the Smitty goes to two of the following....

 Best videos: Emma
Best video: Alex

Best videos: Alison
Best videos:  Grant
Best videos:  Liz
Best videos: Brooke
Best videos: Maddie D

Best videos: Cassie(all pictures were hand drawn)
Best videos:  Zoey H
Best videos:  Brian H
Best stance: Sean and Delaney

Best Why Banned: Bekah

Friday, October 21, 2011

Banned Book Movie Trailers and QR codes

About a month ago, Karl Fisch sent along a tweet from a librarian in Grand Junction, Becky Johnson.  Becky was creating QR codes to go along the spines of books in her library. The QR codes linked to YouTube videos students had created based upon the books.

After expressing my interest in building from Becky’s work, Karl contacted her to gain more information about the coding creating process and help us get started.  I thought I would pass along Karl’s questions as well as Becky’s responses:

  1. What site are you using to generate the QR codes? I know there are a bunch, but thought if you had one that worked well, we'd use that.
    1.  I use Kaywa QR-Code Generator<> - No registration or download needed, just paste the link to the site you want to generate the code for, choose the size and click generate.
  2. Any advice on printing? My concern is getting them small enough to fit on the spine of a book but still be a functional QR code.
    1. Printing is easy.  Copy (copy image) the code and paste into Word or a Google Doc.  Resize to fit the spine and print.  I've made them as small as a half inch square and never had a problem scanning them. Just make sure you re-size proportionally.  I use the ScanLife app on my Android phone, but I've seen kids use other apps and the Google Goggles App works too.  I just print them off on a laser printer and fix them on the spine with book tape.
  3. Did you do book trailers at YouTube, or did they create a site to host the videos, or what? Any links to samples you might share?
    1. I've got kids who've created videos in Animoto<>, FlixTime<>, Photopeach<> and Photostory.  It always works better if they can be exported or saved in a format that can be uploaded to YouTube, however I've included some examples that play in the native app, like Photopeach and FlixTime.  I sometimes create codes linked to student blog post book reviews, so I've included some examples of those.
  4. Anything else we should ask but I haven't thought of?
    1. 4. Problems encountered:

       *   As long as kids have devices with 3G or 4G access, Android or Apple, they can view YouTube videos and they always load quickly and play well.  My district's wi-fi blocks YouTube (grrrr), but the kids tend to loan devices to each other to enable scanning.  The QR codes are fairly new and I don't have a lot of them on books yet, so it is the geeky kids that are accessing them right now.
       *   Animoto is my favorite site for students to create book trailers, but I can't get codes linked directly to the Animoto site to play on some devices, so I always export or upload to YouTube. Using the Animoto Educator Plus Account<> allows students to make videos with no length restrictions and they can be exported directly to a YouTube account (if the student has one) or saved as an mp4 file, which I can upload to my YouTube account.
       *   I've tried uploading to SchoolTube.  The codes and links work fine, but the videos take forever to load and tend to look wonky on a device.
       *   The flash-based videos in PhotoPeach and FlixTime don't show on Apple devices.
    2. Samples:
During the month of October, along with our study of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, we read banned and challenged books. The kids print off a permission letter from our webpage getting their parent’s approval on a banned or challenged book they wish to read.  In year’s past, we have had the kids complete a banned book project where the students create a visual on their desk space presenting the book, the research on why the book was banned or challenged, and then, take a stance on whether or not they agree with the banning and challenging.
After hearing of Becky’s school’s work, I threw out the idea to Maura Moritz( my partner in all things 9th grade Honors)of our kids making movie trailers for their banned/challenged book. The kids were ecstatic about the thought of creating a movie.  We worked with the original rubric for the project, and adapted the rubric to fit our new idea. The kids wanted a lot of freedom in determining what parts of the project could be video and what parts could be still written. I thought this was important since some kids didn’t want to publish to the world their belief on whether or not a book should be banned or challenged.

To make this new project even more serendipitous, at parent teacher conferences, one of my student’s mom happens to be a creative director who has created a number of commercials and worked with movie trailers as well. Mrs. Friskey offered to come into class and help the kids think about movie trailers offering up her feedback to the kids. This was an amazing opportunity.  It helped the kids and myself refine the project even more.  Here is the new rubric based upon her suggestions and tips to the kids.  Also, here is some of her sage advice to our classes:
Mention/present your product and share its information/benefits in the best creative way to garner the desired response.
What Makes a Movie Trailer? (think of a movie trailer as a tease)
(Mention Product) The name of the movie (book)- this often appears at the end of the trailer. 
(Info/Benefits)  Plot points or cool prestige elements such as the director’s or actors’ names. Be careful not to give away whole story.
(Creative) Exciting editing, clever copy, memorable scenes or dialogue, compelling music. Most important to storyboard out idea.  Think about using catch phrases (powerful quotes), use imagery (taste, touch, see, hear, smell), LESS IS MORE
(Desired Response) TICKET SALES! Money? Get people to read your book?

She is also offering to stay in contact with the kids while they are working on their movie trailers. They can even post questions to her.

We watched some movie trailers in class today ( and to stimulate our thinking towards creating movie trailers.  Next week, we have one day in class where we will be solely working on the movie trailers. Other than that day, the kids are completing these projects outside of class.  The kids can use any video production software they desire. We have flip cameras available to them for check out as well.  Some kids are using my Animoto educator account to create their films; others are using MovieMaker, iMovie or Photostory. 

We plan on having a movie watching day with a special award for best trailer.  Karl and our library/media specialist, Mr. Tracy Murphy, will help the kids create the codes.  The kids are submitting all their projects through a Google Form to easily collect their masterpieces. I will post our results as well as feedback from the kids when the projects come in on October 31.

Moving forward with PLNs

My all boys’ class has been writing up a storm this semester with our work on PLNs.  We have moved from the first 6 weeks of each writing their own response on a selected post/ blog:
Tony Wagner’s “Rigor Redefined” portrays how the youth of the twenty first century is not prepared for the largely evolving work place. Throughout his article he asks CEOs about the youth they hire and how efficient they are. They all explained that the youth they hire are great at the bases of their job, however as they increased into the higher level requirements and more detailed work they just couldn’t process it. This makes me wonder, is the job marketplace evolving too fast for the schools and colleges to keep up. If you ask me, I believe that schools are not improving what they teach simply because the leaders of education are lazy. They don’t want to respond to change. However if a small group of teachers tried to push that change into action I believe that my generation would be much more prepared for the future. In the world the younger people that are trying to get jobs are having a hard time because employers are no longer looking for the blunt man or woman that can do the same thing all day long. They are looking for the person that thinks at a different level of thinking, a much higher one that can ask questions and be focused on a broad topic. It explains in his article that people are working as teams to finish goals but those people don’t even know each other or even work in the same country. People are being brought together through a global conferences and connections online. But those people aren’t the young ones that have just been employed it’s the veteran that knows what he or she is doing. I believe that between now and my generation graduating from college there will be enough time to improve on education as a whole and complete the goal of preparing us for the jobs they may not exist. However there is also time for the job marketplaces to grow even more and exceed a milestone that was never thought possible. But as time goes on its hard to depict what will happen in the future. Many of the CEOs said that the main problem with their young employees was that they couldn’t focus or bring their ideas to a conclusion. Which brings me to ask like Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” has the internet made our attention span much lower?  In the case with the employees not being able to focus that problem is only found in the younger employees rather than the older ones. The problem with them not being able to focus may be because of the younger generation’s deeper connection to the internet. As we move forward into a different type of work ethic; do you believe that changing the goals we learn in school will make us more prosperous in the work place? I believe it would make the next generations to come much more ready to succeed and be able understand what they are doing. So as we move forward into the future I just hope that schools and colleges can catch back up to where the workplaces advanced to.
Then we moved towards writing on others’ blogs:
Mr. Stager:
I was intrigued and entertained by your article and Silvia’s videos but I disagree with some of the points you made. I watched Silvia’s videos and was very impressed as I could not see my self, a ninth grader at Arapahoe High School doing something that educational or high quality for a school project let alone in my free time. I am usually worried about a hockey game the next weekend or the cheerleader in my science lab, not learning how to use an Arduino or a new computer program to do something productive. This sentence from your article really struck me “While you bathe in the warmth of your PLN with self-congratulatory tweets, Sylvia is sharing serious expertise with the world.” The fact that I am currently doing a PLN(Personal Learning Network) for my english class makes me think if you are calling out my teacher. PLNs are the first time I have been exposed to blogs and all of the blog posts we have had to summarize are sending the same general message of improving education with technology. 
 I respect Silvia’s devotion and love for what she is doing but she is one of few in our current education system. I, like many others in my class have just started to understand the art of blogging and personally I am pretty proud and then there are the kids like Sylvia who are clearly a level head and shoulders above kids like me when it comes to lust for knowledge. There has always been people like Sylvia who are fortunate enough to come form such supportive parents and has a love for learning and we call people like that over achievers or active learners. Its not meant to be an insult in fact the opposite but it helps show there is another side of the scale. Kids who come from divorced parents living off lower wages who cant afford home computers and struggle in school and life in general. We have to give both an equal opportunity for an education. Should we send them to different schools, or should take away Sylvia’s opportunities and give the challenged kids the same attention Sylvia needs or vis versa.   
And to the blogger responding:
Greetings from South Korea!
Thanks for reading my work and for taking the time to write. My article is indeed an indictment of many educators who fail to seize the remarkable capacity of children and help them go farther than they could have gone on their own. It’s not an attack on specific teachers, nor does it negate the value of blogging, although blogging is just a new place to write.
I don’t understand why you think that all kids could not profit from the experiences afforded Sylvia? Is it fair to blame kids for their parental involvement? Is that really determinative of a kid’s educational aptitude or achievement? As I said in the article (above), the reason we have school is to democratize such experiences and let more children benefit from them.
Few parents are chemists or conductors or sculptors or authors. School assembles people with a variety of expertise and makes them available to more kids.
Each Friday, 6 boys present on one selected PLN to the entire class. The presentations work on using good speaking skills:
  • Stand in the front of the class with your blog projected on the screen behind you
  • Present your blog entries
  • Talk about what you are reading, what matters from it, how does it connect to what we are doing in class, and how does it relate to the world around us?
  • Presentation must be organized- Use an organizational strategy to keep your presentation on track without reading from notes or the screen.
  • Make eye contact with audience
  • Must be creative and interesting: use attention getting opening and conclusion to tie ideas all together
  • You are not allowed to miss on your assigned presentation day!
  • Stand up straight
  • No fidgeting: keep arms and hands in good speaker positions
  • Referenced blog postings- connect similar blog postings under one thematic idea
  • Asked question of audience at end of presentation

During the presenter’s presentation, the classmates are giving feedback on the presenter’s individual blog.  Once the question has been asked at the end of the presentation, the gentlemen answer the presenter’s question while the presenter facilitates a group conversation.  We have conducted about 6 weeks of presentations.
This week began a new venture for the PLN presentations on Friday.  We Ustreamed out the presentations for the presenter to be able to self-assess and for others to watch what we are doing. 
The gentlemen had trepidations today knowing that others were going to watch what we were doing, but I think for our first go around, they did a good job.  We will see how the rest of the semester goes and carrying over this idea into second semester.  Here are some samples from today:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

This I Believe Goes Global 2011

For the past four years, I have had my classes write their versions of National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” segment. I was introduced to this idea by a colleague and have been always impressed by what my students hold as their personal values and beliefs. Writing these essays has allowed for them to do something they don’t get to do all that often at school - express their heartfelt beliefs.

After writing the essays the first year, we submitted them to NPR, but we also decided to podcast them ourselves – no need to wait to see if NPR might choose to broadcast them. The writing was good at expressing their values, but once their voice was added to their written expression, WOW, it simply transformed that personal essay. Instead of the words simply being words, the words conveyed deeply held emotions. Now, this is the standard.

Here are some previous class examples:
Period 2 06-07
Period 5 06-07
Period 3 06-07
Period 2 07-08
Period 5 07-08
Period 3 07-08
Wiki 09-10
Wiki 10-11

We are approaching that time of year, when I am going to start the kids on this writing adventure, but this year I wanted to invite you in the blog-o-sphere to join us again. I want “This I Believe” to go global. I want my students to benefit not only from knowing what their peers believe, or what the other AHS classes believe, but to hear and see what the world values. What do kids elsewhere in the U.S. believe in? What do kids elsewhere in the world believe in? What do some of the learned professionals that I know believe in? I want my students to walk away from this experience realizing the power they have as professional writers as well as connecting to other teenagers and adults from around the world. I want to see them exchange ideas, foster relationships, and appreciate the variety of perspectives. Maybe you can challenge your principal, your school board members, your local politicians, heck, maybe your entire school. Maybe we can even get our President to write his own “This I Believe.”

So, how do we accomplish this? Karl Fisch, of course, is willing to be my master facilitator. He has set up a wiki (still a work in progress) that will provide the guidelines for the classes to follow. I am making Maura Moritz’s classes join us again, so there will be five classes (ninth grade, 14 and 15 years old) from AHS writing and podcasting their essays: Moritz 2, Moritz 4, Smith 3 and Smith 5. We are hoping to attract at least four other classes from around the world, one each to pair up with each of our four classes. If we get more than ffour classes that are interested, then we will try to pair up any additional classes with another class somewhere in the world.

If your class(es) are interested, please complete this Google Form with some basic information (your name, your email address, school name, location, grade level(s)/ages, how many classes, number of students in each class, and time frame that you’d like to do this) so we can setup those partnerships. (Our thinking is that pairing one class with one class will keep this from becoming too overwhelming for the students, although of course anyone can read/listen/comment to any of the essays on any of the wiki pages).

We will create a wiki page for each set of paired classes and each student will upload their written essay as well as their podcast (the podcast can either be uploaded directly to the wiki, or you can use a variety of other services for that and then link to them). Each pair of classes will be in charge of their own wiki page and we’ll use the discussion tabs on each page to give feedback to the students.

If you are an adult interested in writing a piece yourself, simply add them to the “adults” page on the wiki. I am hoping to get some notable edubloggers as well as my superintendent, CIO, and others to participate. It would also be helpful to include a brief bio so the kids can know who they are reading about.Obviously you don’t have to do this with us or on our wiki, you can create your own. But we thought it might be interesting and helpful to have one wiki that aggregated all these essays/podcasts, one place that students (and others) could visit to learn about beliefs all over the world. Wondering where to start? NPR has a number of education friendly links to help you along the process:

For Educators
For Students
Essay writing tips
How to contribute an essay to NPR

Timeline: For our honors classes we are going to start writing our essays, October 27th with a final due date of November 7th for their essay.  The week following their due date, they will begin podcasting their essays. The paired classes don’t have to match this timeline exactly (although that would be great), but we’re hoping they can have theirs completed by Thanksgiving so that the students can start commenting on each other’s essays /podcasts.But for other pairings you can set whatever time frame works best for you – that’s the beauty of the wiki, it’s a living document with no “end” to the assignment (although that’s why we need you to include your time frame when you email us so that we can try to match folks up). We would really appreciate any feedback (now or as this progresses) to make this an experience that is truly relevant and meaningful for these kids.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Writing to our PLN

Another poignant post by Karl Fisch came to be quite useful in my all boys’ class. We are transitioning this week from simply writing our weekly PLNs to publishing our work so that others can comment and engage. Rather than submitting our work on our personal blogs, we are writing to the bloggers that are inspiring our PLN responses. Karl recently posted a piece by Seth Godin as well as Karl’s own remarks about writing. Both pieces couldn’t have occurred more serendipitously to my classes’ efforts:

Godin writes “Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly--you don't need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.”

Fisch responds, “So, are you having your students write every day? In public? I know I'm not (although I'm starting to have them write a bit).

I think we're often overly concerned about the quality of our students' writing, and whether it's "good enough" to share. Now, to be clear, I think our students should be concerned with the quality of their writing, and should strive to get better at communicating their thoughts. But if we let the worry about what others will think get in the way of having our students write more, and for a larger audience, then we're doing them a disservice out of fear.”

As a class, we read Fisch’s post discussing both Godin’s and Fisch’s points regarding writing. Should we only be publishing good pieces of writing? Why should we publish unfinished works of writing or writing in progress? What does it say about us if we publish writing that isn’t proofread and contains errors? Is what we are doing with PLNs purposeful and meaningful? Should we share our thoughts with others moving beyond the walls of our classroom? Will the blogosphere write back to us? Will they care what we think?

I challenged them to engage in their PLNs. I challenged them to write about the issues they are reading and ask questions, seek clarification, connect to what the author was saying. I challenge them to move beyond just writing for me, or just writing for them. Write so that others can see, hear, read and learn.

Here are some of the initial posts:

Austin- wrote to David Warlick

Mr. Warlick I couldn’t agree more with this idea of a game! About every kid has played or dealt with any sort of technology. I thought about the point you made, “The goal of this game IS NOT generating the best test scores. No! No!” This focuses on giving the student a fun and more efficient way of learning. My schools today focus solely on grades. I relate this post to Will Richardson’s “Getting Rid of Grades” where he exclaims, “We’re a society hell bent on competition and ranking and sorting, and much of that no doubt has contributed to the focus on grades as an easy way (supposedly) of giving a value to what has been” ,“learned.” I believe that schools should focus a lot on the students themselves other than what they have turned in. I myself, am on a computer for homework, projects, and socializing. I occasionally play games on a computer or any other handheld device. I would try this game no doubt. Because it would give me motivated to seek help, expand my knowledge, and enjoy myself all at the same time. My education would also matter because I check my grades for school daily, or even hourly. Just praying that they will never fall below an A. But with your concept, grades are NOT the most important aspect, the learning is. Finding better ways to progress and innovate the ideals of schools. Our world would not only benefit, but prosper. Think about a nation where success is worldwide. I know it is far fetched, but this game would bring this out-of-site idea into zoom. Kids in Africa, Mexico, and even all the way to India would be inspired to do better than they have before. If the world is more advantageous and astute we could work together and one. No more wars, no more poverty, and no more failures. But once again this “dream” will probably not be happen anytime soon or at all. What would you change in our school systems today? Why do you think kids choose to “fail”? Your idea is not a solution, but it is definitely an excellent place to begin our journey into the world of academic success.

Lou- wrote to Will Richardson

Mr. Richardson-

In “Getting Rid of Grades” you describe how grades affect students and their learning. This matters to me because I am a student and grades really do stress me out. I continuously check my grades and if my grades aren’t what I expect them to be I automatically begin to get stressed. Grades are a good way to show a student’s progress but a student’s growth depends on the student. Grades are the same for every student even though every student isn’t the same. All kids learn at a different pace and learn in different ways, by having grades teachers are forcing students to learn a certain way or they fail. This piece matters mostly to education. Schools and administrators need to have ways to grade students individually not the same way for every student. Schools need to form their grading styles to fit every student personally. If they can’t do this they are cheating their students by not letting them be creative learners. This matters to the world because our futures (kids) have to learn the way their teachers want them to learn not the way that they understand and grasp the most. If we want our future to flourish and be successful we need kids to configure a way to clench and understand information on their own. After reading this piece I have a few questions to ask you, if you don’t like how grades are formatted today then how would you change them? Also have you noticed a leap in students understanding and ability when they no longer have grades that they must worry about? Mr. Richardson you bring up a valid point, and after reading this I understand why you believe that grades are bad for students learning and growth.

Scott- wrote to Karl Fisch

Mr. Fisch,

This article has motivated me to become a better and more effective writer. I'm very shy when it comes to writing, because I feel very discouraged after I post or turn in an assignment; my thoughts in my head are that the teacher is snickering at my work, laughing at every mistake I make. Hopefully, the world can see this post, because honestly, it will encourage more kids to write, helping them to improve their skill. This method doesn't just have to work in writing, the more you work at anything the better chance you have to improve. Your article relates in a strange way to Mr. Carr's blog, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", because kids spend a lot of time relying on Google; this will make them less likely to be succesful in typing because they might just copy and paste documents. They won't ever experience real typing. I have already started to type much more this year and after reading your post, I'm inspired to dramatically increase my grammar and punctuation skills by the end of the year.

Will B- wrote to David Warlick

David Warlick- I really enjoyed reading about your idea for a new video game that tries to push the idea of creating an award winning school out of nothing. However you said the school would not be trying to earn the best test scores, but trying to raise students to be the next “masterminds” for the human race. I believe that that is a great idea. Schools are too focused on keeping up the status quos of trying to make their students earn A’s all year round. Which is not a bad thing, but it is creating this student that is almost made out of a mold resembling an honor student that is successful in school but not striving for anymore than that. Sure that student would go on to be successful in college and life but it wouldn’t create what the world actually needs, someone that can cure a disease thought to be incurable. Someone like Winton Marsellas or Kurt Vontegut both men that changed the world with their research alone. Hey- maybe this game could be published and designed and maybe even sold worldwide. But most importantly it could spread this idea that test scores shouldn’t be the big picture, it should be what these students turn out to be. What this idea might even do is even change that general picture of the perfect student into a student that strives for greatness and knowing that they have the power to change something. What I grew up believing and still am is that a good idea can catch on like wild fire and no matter how unimportant that idea is it’s not one to be thrown away and forgotten. This is one of those ideas and I believe it could be influential to schools all around the world. The idea of education needs to be rethought and I believe your game is a place to start.

Jake- wrote to Gary Stager

Mr. Stager

I was intrigued and entertained by your article and Silvia’s videos but I disagree with some of the points you made. I watched Silvia’s videos and was very impressed as I could not see my self, a ninth grader at Arapahoe High School doing something that educational or high quality for a school project let alone in my free time. I am usually worried about a hockey game the next weekend or the cheerleader in my science lab, not learning how to use an Arduino or a new computer program to do something productive. This sentence from your article really struck me “While you bathe in the warmth of your PLN with self-congratulatory tweets, Sylvia is sharing serious expertise with the world.” The fact that I am currently doing a PLN(Personal Learning Network) for my english class makes me think if you are calling out my teacher. PLNs are the first time I have been exposed to blogs and all of the blog posts we have had to summarize are sending the same general message of improving education with technology.

I respect Silvia’s devotion and love for what she is doing but she is one of few in our current education system. I, like many others in my class have just started to understand the art of blogging and personally I am pretty proud and then there are the kids like Sylvia who are clearly a level head and shoulders above kids like me when it comes to lust for knowledge. There has always been people like Sylvia who are fortunate enough to come form such supportive parents and has a love for learning and we call people like that over achievers or active learners. Its not meant to be an insult in fact the opposite but it helps show there is another side of the scale. Kids who come from divorced parents living off lower wages who cant afford home computers and struggle in school and life in general. We have to give both an equal opportunity for an education. Should we send them to different schools, or should take away Sylvia’s opportunities and give the challenged kids the same attention Sylvia needs or vis versa.

So, just to remind you, these are boys. Ninth grade boys. These are 9th grade boys who all have something to say. They will be writing to you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Goals 2011-12

Every year, I ask Karl for focused goals regarding areas I can improve in my teaching and learning. This year, as with all years, he didn't fail to challenge me. And this year, I didn't have to ask. They were there waiting for me on the first day!

1. Share the passion. I love teaching. I love my classes. I love showing the kids the possibilities that reside within each one of them. I couldn't ask for a better job (better pay, yes), but not a better job. I think what I need to focus on is not just showing my kids the passion for learning, but to show my colleagues as well. Often I feel there is a lot of resistance to what I do and how I do it, but this year, I sense a shift in the tide. New teacher=new attitudes. I am loving life!
2. What is truly essential for your students? Do the rest if you have to , but don't sweat it because it doesn't matter. What do I want my students to know and be able to do? I want them to be intellectual giants for the world. I want them to be articulate and persuasive speakers. Thoughtful and contemplative thinkers. Challenging question askers. In-depth connection makers. Devoted collaborators. Intense listeners. And all around nice kids. I want me kids to see there are endless possibilities in the world around them. I want them to firmly believe they can make a difference in the world and that I am there to help them do it. The rest...doesn't matter.
3. Failure is (almost) not an option. Encourage, cajole, berate, hassle, joke-let them know that they will succeed in your class; that you're not going to let them off the hook.This is right up my alley. The NO D policy I uphold in my all-boys class underwent a little revision this summer- I returned the policy back to its original state the first year I implemented it. We are doing well, but I am still not reaching them all. Some simply do not want to do homework. How to reach them all is the question? How to hold them responsible yet give them space to grow, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. How can I balance my expectations of work turned in on time, with all my other classes, and not allow myself to fall into a grading nightmare. How can I reach all the kids?
4. Be bold. Why not?

My addition to the goals:
5. Be a communicator. Communicate successes and failures. Communicate with my students in class and out of class. Get to know each kid's passion. Communicate with my students' parents. They want to know what is going on, let them in. Communicate with my colleagues. Be open to listening and sharing. Communicate with the blogosphere.

Friday, September 16, 2011

TED Talks AHS Style

Towards the end of second semester, our ninth grade Honors students were challenged to deliver their own TED talk based upon a subject they were passionate about. Maura Moritz and I heavily borrowed this idea from Christian Long who encouraged, supported, and motivated our efforts to build off what he had done with his students in Texas. All he asked was that we give credit back to his students and their work, and make it better. Hopefully, we made you proud, Christian.

Christian gave us access to his resources on his wiki that was instrumental in the success of our students’ projects. Having a basis from which to work, Maura and I constructed a similar website to guide our students and ourselves. We asked our students to answer the question, “What Matters?” in a 5 minute Pecha Kucha or Ignite style presentation.

I think this is one of the scariest parts on undertaking an idea you have never done before, nor have any idea where the project is going to go, or how it might turn out in the end. We were navigating in un-charted waters, with a minimalistic map of where we wanted to go. Luckily for us, we had students who were patient, reflective, and willing to try anything we challenged them with. I love those kids!

From the students’ perspective this was scary territory too. They were riding without seat belts on our learning adventure. Not only were they responsible for creating their own TED talk, but their talk was going to be shown live on Ustream for all to see. The students’ job was to “Change the World” by what they discussed. As TED requests, they were to “Spread an idea worth spreading” and “Inspire.” NO PRESSURE! Plus, Maura and I have never given out an assignment before that was so individual, so raw, so independent and so challenging to our students and to ourselves as teachers. Usually when we take on a speaking project, we ask that kids complete the project in groups. However, this time, with issues so controversial yet so personal, it only could be a solo project.

In the beginning we had our students watch numerous TED talks to get a feel for what makes a quality talk. As we were wrapping up our readings from Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and selections from Drive, we started viewing various TED talks: Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink, Clay Shirky, and Dave Eggers. Additionally, our students had to watch TED or TEDx videos on their own. Using their own blogs, our students reflected about each video. Here was the assignment:

Students will offer a written summary of all 8+ videos they are assigned. Each summary will be uploaded as an individual blog entry following these simple rules (to guarantee a ‘Gentleman’s C’, so to speak): 1) write respectfully and thoughtfully, 2) write about "What Matters" from the video c) write about the speaker's effectiveness and purpose and d) attempt to be “remarkable” — to borrow from TED speaker Seth Godin’s talk — so that visitors will want to “remark” about your post and also consider the video itself. Beyond that, write in a way that is meaningful and compelling. Period.

If you need a more detailed list of what to reflect upon consider:

1-What are your take-aways from this video?

2-What are the speaker’s effective speaking techniques?

3- What is his/her presentation style?

4-What matters from this video? How does it connect to you personally? To education? To the world?

Asking the students to be reflective not only about the content, but about the speaker’s style forced the students to examine their own speaking styles they would employ for their presentation. What works? What definitely doesn’t work? How were they going to stand apart from the rest? Here is a sample of one student’s reflective blog post:

Megan M:

Dave Eggers is bent on improving education. By providing students with one-on-one attention and by incorporating relaxed fun into learning, he has already initiated a movement to change the face of learning. Eggers describes in his TED video the multiple, new-era tutoring facilities that have popped up around the country in response to his original site. These educational building are unique; the front rooms of them contain stores in which fun and comedic items, such as pirate or super hero supplies, are sold. In the back room, several volunteers tutor individual students that arrive after school. Not only do students receive help at these sites, they also have the opportunity to compose their own novels alongside interns and journalists. In my opinion, these new learning facilities should be included in every community nation-wide because they help tackle two of education’s largest challenges today.

Many students struggle through their curriculum simply because they cannot remain engaged in their studies. After all, with all of the information teachers drill into students’ heads, it becomes hard to avoid a loss of interest. By the time high school, and even middle school, rolls around, kids’ views of school have switched from an engaging, learning experience, to a chore. One hundred years ago, society would have deemed children crazy for not valuing their educations and feeling grateful for every minute they spent in school. Back then, an education was a luxury that spelled out certain success for those lucky enough to receive one. Education has developed, however, to become commonplace; an education does not guarantee success, nor does a college degree. Instead of ensuring future prosperity, these accomplishments are merely the baseline requirements to even open the doors to success. Thus, students no longer are able to see the direct effect their learning will have on their futures. Kids today may understand that in the long run a better education equals greater prosperity; yet in the classroom, each day of note-taking and memorizing equations seems hardly relevant. For example, I eventually hope to enter into medical school, and thus my main concerns lie in science and mathematics. However, in order to graduate from my high school, I must obtain over twice as many credits in English as I must in math. To me, this means that I must waste my time studying a subject that I will not need extensive knowledge of. The tutoring/teaching style Eggers has set up is the first step towards solving this problem. Students in his original facility learn next to magazine writers and interns, who both help and inspire them. While in the facility, kids also have the opportunity to write and publish their own books with the help of editors. Instructors speak to the kids individually and concentrate directly on their needs, allowing students to concentrate their efforts on the subjects they are most concerned with and focus on the assignments that will benefit them personally. These methods display for kids exactly how their day-to-day work, especially in English, will apply to their futures. Since the kids also learn in a fun, friendly, environment, the drudgery associated with schoolwork disappears. Instead of trudging home to independently complete tedious homework, kids travel to a club filled with people willing to help them and wanting to discuss. Students are released, often with their homework completed, by 5:30 pm. This accomplishment solves the largest issue I personally have with education. At times, it completely consumes my life. One quarter may be peaceful and result in at most two hours of homework each night. The next quarter usually then explodes, and my minimum nightly homework requirement shifts to at least three hours, normally four or five (plus around ten hours on the weekends). With the amount of time my classes demand I dedicate to homework, I must sacrifice several things I enjoy in life to meet my teacher’s expectations. If I could accomplish everything I need for school and still have three to four hours remaining every night to pursue whatever passion I choose, undoubtedly I would enjoy and appreciate my education much more.

Egger’s talk about the buildings in which he holds his tutoring sessions in reminded of Daniel Pink’s words on the importance of design. Eggers’ facilities are a prime example of the benefits of good design. When Eggers first advertized for his tutoring studio, he placed a sandwich sign outside of his shop announcing free tutoring inside. Unsurprisingly, he had no business the first few weeks. His sign appeared unprofessional and sloppy, eliminating all chance of parents trusting him to teach their children. Also, the initial sight people saw upon entering his facility was a shop selling pirate paraphernalia. People who did not already know who Eggers was or what he was trying to accomplish would immediately dismiss him as a joker or a loon. If Eggers had placed his teaching workshop or magazine offices in front, or set out a professional advertisement, he would have attracted much more business. Eggers did succeed with design, however, in a few ways with his building. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, the pirate shop adds and air goofiness and play to the tutoring workshop, allowing kids to escape the mentality of being trapped in a schoolroom. The room in which students learn is further visible to parents and other people as they enter the store, creating a feel of openness, community, and faith in the honesty of what Egger is doing.

Eggers finally made a point that students produce their best work when they know it will be published for the world to see. When Eggers made this point, he was referring to the novels several classes had composed together in his shop. This idea of publishing could be made accessible to all classrooms, however, without a publishing facility. Technology has opened the door for all of us to let our voices be heard, independent of assistance from others. If teachers want to encourage students to always produce their best quality work, all they need to do is have students create blogs and websites and post their assignments on them. Once information is on the web, anyone in the world can read it. Essentially, it is published. The more well-known the website, the more pressure students will feel to post quality work. While publishing work online is a terrific idea for ensuring effort is put into important assignments, having students publish everything they write often overwhelms them. When students are asked to publish too much, they give up after realizing they cannot possibly make every piece of work their best quality. Thus, using the internet as a medium for publication is an effective trigger of instrinsic motivation when used in moderation.

Education truly should learn from the expeditions of Dave Egger, and bring more fun, individualized attention, good design, and publishing into its curriculum.

More about the author: or

More about the tutoring shops:

As the students progressed through the last few weeks, they were required to meet with Maura and I individually. We discussed each topic, gave suggestions, encouraged, and reminded them of what a great opportunity this was. The world was ready to hear their ideas! They needed to practice, practice, practice. They needed to look again and again at the visuals they chose for their backgrounds. They needed to think about their dress and speaking voice too.

In class, each day there was a focus regarding their presentation: work on slides, find images that capture idea, rehearse first minute, work on posture and voice, add more slides, practice at front of classroom using clicker, rehearse second minute, rehearse third minute, stand up straight, change slide order, rehearse final minute, smile, appearance, etc…

Finally, the presentations began. All I could hear from the students was how nervous they were but how meaningful this assignment was to them. This could make a difference. This could change the way people thought about bullies, cancer, eating, smiling, and physical attributes. This project would change the world! And boy did they blow me away. As each student presented, his classmates would leave feedback regarding the presentation on the individual’s blog post on our class blog. What a powerful reinforcement for their work and ideas. Here are some samples:

KendallC2014 said...Lauren-Your presentation was very powerful. The stories show just how bullying affects kids. Your message will go straight to people's heart, and make them feel ashamed to judge people. Many people dismiss bullying as trivial, but you have showed them it is a serious issues. Your facts really emphasize your point. Good job!

ians2014 said...Lauren, your topic was very deep and confrontational. It is interesting because because you had tons of stories including a personal story. And not everyone sees bullying from the bullied perspective. I think that your tone was very helpful get your point across. It was very emotionally evoking. Great job honing in on us personally.

VivianD2014 said...Her voice was very passionate and really caught my attention. Her stories were very moving. I was very moved and it really made me think about bullying. I loved how her points flowed. I like how she connected bullying to her own life. The talk was very moving and she knew her topic. I was speechless after Lauren's talk. I now want to be nicer and watch what I say.

As I write this, thinking back to last semester, tears are in my eyes. I can’t express how proud I was of each student. From some students overcoming fears of standing in front of their peers, to other students making us laugh and cry, each student ended their presentation with a challenge to us as the audience. Each challenge came from the heart. Each challenge required more of us as human beings in these crazy times. Each challenge made me want to be more and do more for my students. I was overwhelmed by the energy they created in their presentations. Paraphrasing Dr. Seuss, these kids will move mountains. My students have an amazing digital portfolio of their work from the freshman year. They have left the world a better place because they have challenged the world to be better and do better by them.

I don’t know what this year will bring with a new set of students and their TED talks, but they will have big shoes to fill. Watch, comment and learn. These kids have something to teach us all. and

Here are a suggested few: (there are more on our Ustream channel )

Lauren B

Lauren C

Megan M

Maddie F

Steven A