Wiki Work

Recently someone asked for wikis to share in a wiki presentation, and thinking about how to explain mine, I decided it would be easier just to blog about them.

The first one I’d show is Potatoes, Pumpkins and Plenty More which is a wiki fourth graders put together to make their learning transparent to the classroom teachers while reading a couple of Megan McDonald’s books. The setting of both books is the early 1900’s and both books begin with grandpa telling the grandson and granddaughter a story of when he was young.  The story ends with a set-up for the next book and the kids clamoring for the story, but grandpa says something like “Not now.  That’s another story for another day.”

When I asked the kids if they wanted to make a wiki based on these books, they immediately wanted to write the third story in the series, which Ms. McDonald  never published. So some began composing while others immediately went to the wiki and began making new pages.  Two students began creating a dictionary page for  The Potato Man and when two others saw that, they asked if they could then do one for The Great Pumpkin Switch. Of course I said yes.  Without prompting, kids created an author page, a character page, and then an opinions page showed up!

But the most incredible thing to me were the stories the 4th graders wrote. The stories were filling up this wiki, though, and so we decided to move them to a separate wiki and connect that one to this one. One student’s Lucky Penny story amazingly captured Megan McDonald’s style and even set up yet a fourth story at the end of her writing!  Thus another wiki, the Brown Box Stories was born. Another student went down a different path and suggested yet another connected wiki, the one called Plenty More.  A great piece of this work for all of the students was the amount of self direction and creativity they showed.

Wiki #2 is one I created as part of a collaborative lesson these same fourth grade teachers and I planned together. The name of this one is “When is an estimate close enough?” In this one, I wrote up the lesson we planned to do together and set up additional pages  for them to use later when back in their classrooms.  On the resources page is an estimation calculator that is fabulous!  There are also videos about how to estimate in specific situations. It’s worth showing a teacher-created wiki.

And, wiki #3 would be either Nicolas’s wiki, specifically his iPad Review pages or the Crozet LED Kids wiki, specifically the report pages from each group. Nicolas is a self-directed learner who “gets” social media and how important the connecting piece of that is. One could spend hours studying the work he has done on his wiki in the two years he’s had it, and the quality is pretty sophisticated for a young man who wrote it as an 11 and 12 year old. This is an independently designed and created wiki.

The Crozet LED kids shared the process they followed while participating in a contest that was aimed at middle and high school kids where they were the only elementary kids designing an LED project. The honesty and the forthrightness is refreshing and they clearly understood how to show what they know. It’s about making learning transparent and sharing.

Kids truly never cease to amaze me. Their willingness to work hard on stuff that matters, to share their thinking and to support each other to create quality work is simply astonishing to watch and support.

Solid on the How, Struggling with the What

Yesterday I participated in the Reform Symposium as a keynote speaker. I’m not quite sure what distinguished keynoters from presenters, but it was pretty cool presenting virtually and having an audience of over 100 people that participated with questions and comments. Their intereaction in the chat made my ability to share much more powerful and I appreciate every one of you who were there. You have certainly made me think more deeply as I read your comments and questions. Not only did I reflect with you then, but I am continuing to reflect on  the what and why of my work with students’ wikiwork.

I shared the work my kids have done on wikis and blogs and talked about the reflecting I was doing on that, the questions that guide me into a new school year, and the concerns I carry as well. I celebrated what my kids have done, as they far surpassed anything I could have imagined as we began. Some of their wikis are creative, some are creative acts of curation and all model communication in some way. All of them are connected.  All of them are personal. All of them contain passion and work worth doing.

Yet I’m NOT satisfied with what we’ve done and I am struggling with how to set it up this year to help students rigorously pursue inquiry. I am constantly thinking about how to help them work and worry and struggle with complex content that stretches them and causes more questions and more inquiry.

Having worked with wikis for three years now, in both structured and unstructured ways, I have seen students show passion around the projects they design.  I have seen intricate projects and ones with little depth. I have seen collections of pictures, or videos, or games, or game codes, but little curation going into those collections.  I have seen some collaboration, but much more parallel play online–the collaboration often happens in my classroom as they collect and post. I have certainly worked with them on the technology and understand the pedagogy of using technology, but something, in my opinion, is still missing in how they work with their wikis. It’s NOT just the issue of parallel play versus collaboration as I spoke to over a year ago.

I know they haven’t collaborated outside of our school much with other kids. When I have set them up to participate in online projects, though, it has only been parallel play, and not true collaboration. I decided to back up– back into my school to work on collaboration there first. I was thinking of Ryan Bretag’s comment in the parallel play post about pedagogy, about kids needing to be taught collaboration skills. So, I watched, prodded and led this year to help kids learn a TON about online courtesy and communication. They learned how to allow others to work in their space and be diligent about the need to monitor it. They learned to ask questions others would be interested in answering on their polls as they became more aware of their audience. There was a tremendous sense of serious play, feelings of power over their content, and a sincere belief that people would read what they wrote as they found their voice and developed niches for themselves–or struggled to do so. I aiding in building their readership by tweeting out links to their wikis, by inviting my colleagues into their conversations, and by blogging about their insights and incredible creativity and commitment to the work.

Are these pre-collaboration skills? Because I work with elementary students, is part of my quandary because my kids need experiences with collaborative activities and they need ways of understanding global connections and audiences??

As I begin to plan for this next school year, I am struggling with my learning objectives for getting kids to work with wikis.  Our county has a goal that we will “prepare all students to succeed as members of a global community and in a global economy.” I am attempting to do that by enlarging their view of the world. I am attempting to do that by helping them learn about publishing in a global community.  I am attempting to do that by helping them become aware of digital citizenship and their digital footprint. So, is letting them have pretty free rein over the content on their wikis okay, or enough, or should I be tying it more to the designated content for their grade level?  Your thoughts?

IWBs in 140 Characters

Recently I’ve seen some some discussion about IWBs (interactive whiteboards) on Twitter.  Having been coming and going sporadically in Twitter for quite a while now, I don’t really know the issues being talked about–I have just picked up that there is a yeah, “we’re for them” group, and a “no, we’re not” group. The latest comment I saw was @Tom Whitby’s tweet, “Plz read & comment: My Latest Post: IWB’s Help or Hurt? #edchat #education #edtech”  to which I responded,”@tomwhitby An IWB is inanimate… it’s what the teacher does with it that makes a diff–and helps or hurts what? #edchat #education #edtech

So,in reading the tweets referencing IWBs, I can’t help but think about one of my early experiences on Twitter–where @Betchaboy (Chris Betcher, from Australia), asked for IWB stories for a book he and a friend were writing.  🙂   I contacted him and offered to share a story-and it was indeed printed in the book, The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution.

With the intent of getting involved in the conversation, I’m reposting it here as I sent it to Chris in October, 2008.  As I recall, it was somewhat edited in the book, but don’t have the book here with me to check.

Students may like the “interactivity” of IWBs, but the communal engagement of using them is most powerful. Typically, students fill in the blank or answer closed questions on IWB notebook activities teachers find or create, with the IWB simply being a big touchscreen where kids compete to show they know the correct answer. As I plan, I search for ways that the technology changes the task or increases the depth of how the task is understood or completed. I also consider the potential for thoughtful conversations.

Influential activities I use involve co-editing or co-creating a product to meet specific goals. Many teachers I work with use “Editor in Chief” where students read, edit and (sometimes) recopy in their best handwriting the edited text. When “Editor in Chief” is done on the IWB, students observe peers modeling their thinking about the mistakes made and how to correct them. I often see an increase in intellectual risk-taking as students become willing to share in order to have a turn to use the IWB.  They actually clamor to edit!
Discussing student strategies and options for revision are also much easier than when students simply read their text aloud, describing what they did. The IWB allows for
and promotes engagement through a variety of learning modes.

Another powerful activity involves teaching students summarizing and notetaking, a high yield strategy identified by Robert Marzano. My students examine a text (often wikipedia entries, so we can explore authenticity and accuracy) about a historical event, such as “. . . the importance of the American victory at Yorktown.” (VA SOL Virginia Studies 5.c)

We display the Seige of Yorktown wikipedia text on the IWB, with 2 students having airliners.  The rest have their textbooks/laptops and history journals. I like the airliners (a wireless slate connected to the display computer through Bluetooth technology) because, with the slate, students control the IWB from wherever they are in the room.  Working from their seat puts the emphasis on the text on the IWB, not the person in front activating the board.

As everyone silently reads the text, they note vocabulary that may be an issue for or interesting to them. Students without airliners attempt to condense the text into one sentence or main idea. Concurrently, one “airliner pilot” is using colored pens to mark up the text on the IWB as the second pilot watches. The goal is to make learning and thinking transparent, and the use of the IWB facilitates this by allowing students to see what other students are doing, AS THEY ARE DOING IT. As students finish their independent work, they, too, watch the first pilot who is using the airliner and IWB to make their thinking transparent.

We probe why pilot #1 did what s/he did, and others naturally chime in to describe their process. When we have finished probing, we all contribute as pilot # 2 attempts the same two tasks (with more information and having had instruction), now synthesizing and evaluating everything that has been said and done to this point. Doing this twice supports another of Marzano’s strategies, reinforcing effort and providing recognition. Working, thinking, talking and learning together, we encourage each other to provide recognition for work well done, as we comment upon, agree or disagree and improve our understanding of essential content and effective summarizing. The way we use the IWB is integral to this process of thinking and collaboration.

We then reflect upon condensing the entry into one sentence, discussing the efficiency, effectiveness and support for understanding that provides. Marzano’s research shows that students should substitute, delete and keep some things as they use the basic structure of the information presented. Using the IWB allows us, as a group, to work on the structure of the text, comparing and contrasting our first activity of a “one sentence summary” to collaboratively creating a more effective summary.

When students share their processes and strategies, other students hear what they are looking at, paying attention to and the connections they make as they read and work.  Sharing this “thinking about their thinking” provides models for less experienced students to note that successful summarizers pay attention to things such as text features, the connections a reader makes (whether it be self to text, text to text, or text to world, etc.) and the vocabulary in the text so that they can use it or find synonyms as they restate the material in their own words.

Students learn to question what is unclear, seek clarification and analyze a text/topic to uncover what is central, restating it in their on words. Using the IWB to scaffold students observing, talking about and reflecting upon their own process supports deeper understanding. As we finish this lesson by collaboratively creating a clearly stated summary of our text, students noticeably show their increased understanding of summarizing, and we all acknowledge that having the IWB as a tool helped tremendously!

There are some other great examples in the book, so if you can get your hands on it, it is worth reading.

Now, having said all that and describing some ways to use an IWB well (I think), let me say I don’t use one in my classroom. It’s simply too hard to go get it, set it up and plan out how to use it in powerful ways. I prefer to use the SmartBoard notebook software with my airliners and an LCD projector hooked to my computer–no need for the big board, or the time it takes to get it and set it up..  🙂 I also think it promotes the sage on the tage rather than collaboration and I prefer hands on work in small groups. I also think we can do a lot of what I’d think of doing with other tools online that are just as good, more easily accessible and not space hogs. So, I guess I’d have to join the group I referenced above that says “no, we’re not for them.”

Now, catch me up and challenge my stance.  Please.

Digital Media Learning Grant

When eleven educators in four school divisions across America build 1:1 Learning Labs containing Livescribe Pens, a FabLab station, and iPod Touches, and have a business partner’s innovative technology to create “apps” for any mobile platform, we are able to scaffold our students’ understanding as they use, design, build and improve upon robust tools for meaningful learning and collaboration.

So begins a MacArthur grant I am involved in with some of my PLN folks. The most powerful part about our proposal, for me,  is the collaborative and sharing aspects we have built in as we support STEM thinking in elementary and middle school classrooms across four different divisions with the tools for creativity and exploration we have chosen.

The whole grant proposal is an interesting process, though, because you can only submit 300 words to describe your project, and part of the process is to solicit comments on those 300 words. You submit, comments are opened for about a week, then you revise and resubmit, and then the proposal is once again open for comments, this time for only a few days.

Judges then have several weeks to read everything and invite the top entries to submit the full application. After that is done, the public gets to vote on the best entries. Thus, the whole process is quite impacted by people outside of the specific grant process itself. Grant proposers are encouraged to blog and tweet about it to solicit responses.

We are currently in the process of soliciting grant responses–questions, comments,and/or suggestions for additions or changes, as we still get to rewrite it if we are chosen to submit the full proposal.

Some people have expressed that it’s a pain to have to register for the DML website in order to comment, and others have wished for a streamlined way to comment. Please probe us (either here or on the DML site) to get more information if you’d like– we can certainly go beyond our 300 words to flesh out our descriptions for you, and your questions and comments will help us think through our proposal.

Here you go, friends–please read our proposal and then put your comments here if you choose not to register for the DML site.   I’ll add a link there to the comments we get here.


(people involved: Becky Fisher, Chad Sansing, Michael Wacker, Cathy Brophy and Laura Diesley)

And, we’d like to say a HUGE thank you to those who have already responded and or given us help!!!

What Would You Like To Read? Part 2

Boy, when I asked what people would like to read about, I got lots of suggestions. So I began my book chapter.

I began my book chapter.

And I began my book chapter.

(Yeah, I was having a hard time focusing on one idea.)

So, I wrote 6 pages,, called it “Transformation,” and sent them to Darah.

(I did title my email subject line as “I know this is long, but. . . ” and give him permission to cut as needed.)

But I still felt bad I didn’t/couldn’t focus, and I also knew that everyone else’s had been 2-3 pages, so I felt like I was being Miss Piggy, taking up so much reading real estate.  So, continuing to ponder all the ideas my Twitterfolk had shared,  I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

And I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

And I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

Until I came up with another idea and wrote 3 pages this time, called “The Creation Generation.”  It begins like this:

Many words have been written about Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and now Web 3.0, delineating the use in each era as consumers, producers and now collaborators. What our current students have gotten out of their use of technology, though, is that it is easy for them to create—a wiki, blog, a photo mosaic on Flickr, an online presence through sites such as Club Penguin and Webkinz for younger students and Twitter and Facebook for older ones. Heck, we even have students as young as 10 building applications for technologies such as the iPods. Students not only see the web as interactive, and their world as connected (through their phones, texting, chatting, Skypeing and even their DS and PS2 game devices), but they also see it as directed by them—they control how they use it to a great degree.

In this chapter-to-be, I cite  Ira Socol, David Cushman, and Larry Cuban, but I won’t steal any thunder from Darah’s book by posting that writing here. I will tell you, though, that both Ira and David have blogs worth reading, and the influence of me reading their thinking WILL show up in my blog thinking.

But, for those of you who made suggestions–many of which I attempted to incorporate into ONE writing–THAT, I will post here. . . but in bits and pieces, so you don’t have almost THREE THOUSAND words to read in one go.  AND, I offer my sincerest thanks for the ideas.

To begin, this paragraph is for @maryjanewaite who said, “I’d like to read how kids view schoolwork, teachers, technology and use that valuable kid info to change how I do my job” and sort of for @jasondeluca who “would want to read… where are we now? and… where should we be going with use of technology?” (More to come later, Jason!)

A 2001 contest for children to describe “The School We’d Like” clearly showed that “teachers and pupils all over the country (UK) realise that the system is outdated, that it does not allow decent expression of the values of creativity and independent thought that are needed in the new post-industrial world,” said John Clifford. Furthermore, “It proves yet again that young people are not a problem that needs to be corralled and curfewed, but an incredible rich resource of wisdom and creative thinking that we should learn to listen to.” See below for a children’s manifesto of what the schoolchildren of Britain would like to see in their school. The most poignant quote for me was a HS student’s: “Education should not close children’s eyes to the wonder of learning as it presently does, but should give children the opportunity to feed their mind and never get tired of life before theirs has even begun.”

We, the schoolchildren of Britain, have been given a voice. This is what we say:

The school we’d like is:

A beautiful school with glass dome roofs to let in the light, uncluttered classrooms and brightly coloured walls.

A comfortable school with sofas and beanbags, cushions on the floors, tables that don’t scrape our knees, blinds that keep out the sun, and quiet rooms where we can chill out.

A safe school with swipe cards for the school gate, anti-bully alarms, first aid classes, and someone to talk to about our problems.

A listening school with children on the governing body, class representatives and the chance to vote for the teachers.

A flexible school without rigid timetables or exams, without compulsory homework, without a one-size-fits-all curriculum, so we can follow our own interests and spend more time on what we enjoy.

A relevant school where we learn through experience, experiments and exploration, with trips to historic sites and teachers who have practical experience of what they teach.

A respectful school where we are not treated as empty vessels to be filled with information, where teachers treat us as individuals, where children and adults can talk freely to each other, and our opinion matters.

A school without walls so we can go outside to learn, with animals to look after and wild gardens to explore.

A school for everybody with boys and girls from all backgrounds and abilities, with no grading, so we don’t compete against each other, but just do our best.

At the school we’d like, we’d have:

Enough pencils and books for each child.

Laptops so we could continue our work outside and at home.

Drinking water in every classroom, and fountains of soft drinks in the playground.

School uniforms of trainers, baseball caps and fleece tracksuits for boys and girls.

Clean toilets that lock, with paper and soap, and flushes not chains.

Fast-food school dinners and no dinner ladies.

Large lockers to store our things.

A swimming pool.

This is what we’d like. It is not an impossible dream.

‘I know money doesn’t grow on trees and if every school had all these things it would cost thousands of thousands of pounds. But even if one of my ideas was just thought about being made a reality I’d be happy.’ Nicole Rennick, 11.

‘But most important of all was not the fact that the headmaster had ordered the equipment, but that he had listened.’ Holly Mackenzie, 11.

Remember this was written in 2001. I think today, students would STILL ask for a beautiful, comfortable, safe, respectful, flexible, relevant school for everybody, where everybody listened and everybody’s voice was heard.

What Would You Like To Read?

Today I tweeted this out:

I need to write 2-pg paper about schools/technology… ideas? Audience could be anyone-probably mostly educators. What would you want to read? about 9 hours ago from TweetDeck

Here’s the backstory:

So, Let’s Start Writing…..

Collaborative book writing project set to begin.

I volunteered to be one of these writers and am just getting to it.  (Darah graciously is still accepting submissions, so if you’d like to join in, feel free to email him at the email listed in his blog entry.)

And got these responses (newest first):


mwacker @paulawhite 2 ideas, 1) how can tech reduce gender/SES gaps in education 2) protocol/checklst around designing differntiated lessons w/ tech


tperran @paulawhite I would like to read stories from teachers who have effectively integrated a variety of technologies into their instruction


hotei @Linda704: @paulawhite How about how you use Twitter, etc to expand your learning? Agreed!  about 6 hours ago


psbenson @jackiegerstein: @paulawhite projected educational techonology trends for 2010.  about 6 hours ago


johnsonmaryj @paulawhite Hints for keeping up with educational applications of technology? Or what educators on twitter are talking about?  about 8 hours ago


pammoran @paulawhite I’m interested in how tech reduces distance bet learner & learning from 1:25 teach/stu to 1:1 w choice theory focus  about 8 hours ago


teacherspirit @paulawhite What about a paper about digital citizenship?  about 8 hours ago


mmiller7571 @paulawhite re: you paper… I think my teachers would like to hear a success story of integration from 0 to success, practical ideas  about 8 hours ago


dlaufenberg @paulawhite re: you paper… I often like the idea of embracing failure as a topic…


jasondeluca @paulawhite would want to read… where are we now? and… where should we be going with use of technology?  about 8 hours ago


jackiegerstein @paulawhite projected educational techonology trends for 2010.  about 8 hours ago


flourishingkids @paulawhite would want to read about how to use tech in my classroom when limited by resources available or how to get grants for new tech  about 8 hours ago


maryjanewaite @paulawhite I’d like to read how kids view schoolwork, teachers, technology and use that valuable kid info to change how I do my job  about 8 hours ago


pimathman @paulawhite Maybe articulating difference between technology for technology’s sake vs usefulness in learning  about 8 hours ago


irasocol @paulawhite choosing technologies which transform  about 9 hours ago


cmt1 @paulawhite Schools/tech – mentioning all the 21st c literacies that should be pa of the learning landscape  about 9 hours ago


gardenglen @paulawhite I’d like 2 read how & why tchrs have stdnts use technology (as pedagogy tool)  about 9 hours ago


Vonluck @paulawhite Twitter and/or cell phone use in the classroom might be interesting for MS HS teachers, paper on PLCs/PLNs would also be great.  about 9 hours ago


sraslim @paulawhite how about Cushing Academy and their 70 e-readers?  about 9 hours ago


Linda704 @paulawhite How about how you use Twitter, etc to expand your learning?  about 9 hours ago

Obviously I am not an expert on most of these, but a lot of them DO ask for personal experience or opinions.  So, given these (or another topic of YOUR choice), what would YOU like to read?

Shifting Frustrations

WOW!  I had a busy week last week attending two conferences (VASCD and VSTE) and working with a student who presented at a UVA mini-summit on children’s engineering. Learned lots, have a ton to think about, but wanted to share my story about my substitute in the context of trying to teach differently and help my students learn differently.

So I left my gifted students lesson plans on their wiki. I often do this in class and so they are used to it, and very self-directed with it.  I left sub plans that said each day they would have the same routine–two kids go get 4 laptops for 12 kids, they split into groups of three and work through the math tutorials on the designated pages listed here:  Crozet 5th Math 0910.

I had also carefully designed a growing dependence on doing it online, that you can see in the plans. I felt pretty good about leaving my kids doing this–they were studying content they needed some review on, but could also handle independently in groups.  I had set up the routine so they were doing activities familiar to them, and the sub had little to do. In fact I said in my plans, “You will simply have to monitor that they stay on task.” I left her NO teaching, NO homework, NO grading, just behavior monitoring of  HIGHLY motivated, well-behaved kids.

The sub experience was a disaster.  In trying to be helpful and do school as she knows it, she changed  my lesson plans substantially to the point my kids began wiki-mailing me the second day from their iPods, complaining. They were not allowed to work collaboratively, the online activities were changed to worksheets, and they had no time to do the higher level thinking pieces I had left in my plans–so they spent three days doing worksheets on skills where they needed only some review.

My principal and I have had conversations about whether to get a sub when I need to be out, knowing that subs cannot run my classroom as I do. However, I also realize that as a resource teacher when my kids are unexpectedly back in the classroom, it does cause some issues for the classroom teacher, so we have hesitantly decided to get me a sub.

I am going in Monday asking for NOT getting me a sub.  My kids would have been better off in their own classrooms, using the classroom computers to follow the directions on the wiki quietly in the back or corner of the room. They would have been self-directed, gotten the work done, thought about the skills at a high level in evaluating themselves and their own learning, and been monitored by teachers who KNOW them!

PLUS, if they are allowed to work like this in their own classrooms, perhaps I can, as David Truss suggests in his post, Shifting Education,  “Nurture your colleagues like you nurture your students in your class.” I can nurture through examples–because I KNOW the teachers will look at the wiki.  I KNOW they will monitor what the kids are doing and perhaps get some ideas for their own classrooms! And, I also know they will see their kids being more self-directed than they see in their classrooms, because they are not allowed to direct their own learning there.

For an example of how I am trying to help students better understand learning processes, see an independent study group’s work for this week at The Four Question Strategy wiki.

Perhaps, if I set kids up in their classrooms to do “real” work, as described by Chris Lehmann in his recent post, “Shifting Ground” teachers will have new pictures painted for them of the possibilities in school.  Perhaps teachers will begin to understand that “It is time to stop thinking of school as preparation for real life and instead show students that the time they spend in school can be a vital and enriching part of their very real and very important lives.” (Chris in Shifting Ground).

Perhaps, then, my style of teaching and honoring kids’ desires to direct their own learning will spread beyond my classroom and teachers will shift to “take advantage of tools to help them and their students find their way.” ( a slight rewording from David Truss)

Learning Well

Last spring I saw a tweet about a collaborative venture called “Teaching Well” that was part of the work Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa) was doing with facilitating PLP work. Basically the idea was that one person started a metaphor/contrast about teaching and the other person finished it. There were some amazing contrasts and pairs of slides that not only showed the creativity of the teachers involved but also the philosophies and thoughts they have about teaching. I wasn’t officially part of the PLP, but Darren let me submit a slide anyway. (See the idea with many links explained here by Tania Sheko.)

Here’s mine.


It clearly shows I believe teachers have to be learners, and in rereading it, I think that it pretty much encompasses all that I believe about teaching.

Teachers can teach shallowly, to simply pass the tests or we can teach for deep understanding that allows students to ask new questions and thirst for more; we can do it alone or we can collaborate and share with our colleagues; we can do it because we want to make a difference, we want to help kids, we relish the AH-HA moments in our students, we enjoy deep conversations, we like the challenge of crafting questions that scaffold students to new understandings  or we can do it in a way that simply meets the requirements of the job to bring home the paycheck; as we teach, we see knowledge as simply a gurgling up, a beginning that leads to more questions, perhaps different questions and deeper learning as we make connections, synthesize, analyze and use that knowledge to create.

So many of us lament, day after day, that we have no time to talk to our colleagues, that we have no time for reflection, no time to build the lessons we have in our minds and hearts that go well beyond the state standards to the passions we have in our field.  Milton Ramirez (@tonnet) recently responded to another of my blog posts, saying, “Twitter really changed our way of connecting to educators and other professionals. I can not foresee other applications that can bring together so many interesting people at once.” While I’m glad to hear another person say Twitter is as powerful for them as it is for me, I think we have to go beyond 140 characters and commit to having deep conversations, critical questioning and more co-creations that tap into the incredible brainpower of the educators  sharing in the Twitter stream.

We not only have to share our strategies, our finds, our projects, and our methods of using the web with our students as we talk about teaching well, but we also have to have the conversations about how our students LEARN WELL. Let’s challenge ourselves to change the conversation from centering on our teaching to our students’ LEARNING WELL.

I’m wondering what my slide would look like if I borrowed Darren’s idea and changed the phrase to “Learning Well.”  Interested in thinking about what YOUR slide would look like? Want to play?

Learning Well

Please be sure to cite your source on the last slide.


I stole that title from this post: Jon wrote this post a year ago, and it is one we need to keep in front of all of us educators at all times.  It’s not about the tool, it’s about the learning!

So, in that vein, let me say that I have really, really been wanting to engage in conversations about important learning episodes where technology is used/needed, but is also simply a tool to support the engagement, learning and skill improvement that is occurring. Too many times we find a cool tool and then force the learning into the use of the tool.

As @bengrey says (,

bengrey We absolutely must stop focusing on teaching technology and move instead to learning through it.10:09 PM Oct 2nd from TweetDeck

So, does it help to have sites like “iPod Ideas” or “Ways to use Wikis”?  Or should  we instead be talking about and sharing specific ways to teach fractions and decimals or quotation marks or the seven continents? Okay, maybe that’s too skill-driven–too centered on minute discrete skills…

So,  would it help for us each to post a favorite/best carried out/most-learning-happened lesson for others to see and learn from? Okay, maybe that’s too activity driven…

Do we want to share websites that help us craft amazing essential questions, or enduring understandings or desired outcomes?  Or is working on those too cerebral for many of us? (Do we use those in our lessons?)

We do a lot of “just found this” on twitter, and people have bookmarked and favorited THOUSANDS of websites on social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Diigo–but how often do we go back to those? (I’ll be honest here–organization of things like this is NOT my forte–I learned a LONG time ago I could just ask my colleagues things like, “What was that site that allowed you to put text in and then it would turn the words into a visual representation of the words used in that text?” and 5 people would respond “” within 24 hours or shorter. . . so why spend my time maintaining a website of links, when there are people who enjoy doing that?) Instead, I remember the names of people who do that well already–@jacatlett, @kellyhines, @keisawilliams, OR I utilize the brain of all brains, IMHO, @mtechman, who, if she can’t immediately name it and the URL or doesn’t know exactly where to put her finger on the resource you’re asking about, will hunt until she finds it, because she enjoys the SEARCH and the joy of being successful at finding it!!

For Melissa, It’s not about power–or getting recognition for being the one who found it for you–it’s about successfully providing a service she sees as necessary and that a teacher/librarian does for people. It’s about using the technology to do her job and do it well, and be helpful at the same time. She’s intrinsically driven to help people find what they need. Melissa does what Ben talks about–she learns through the use of technology ALL the time, and then shares that knowledge with us all on Twitter.

So if I really, really want to engage in conversations about important learning episodes where technology is used/needed, but is also simply a tool to support the engagement, learning and skill improvement that is occurring, I guess I’ll start by sharing some of MY stories and seeing if anyone reacts to them. Anyone want to share theirs, too? If so, tag it with #sharing on Twitter.  🙂

World Peace Game-And An Example Of Big Picture Thinking

Week before last I listened to an interview with a teaching friend, John Hunter, about the premier of a documentary being made around him and a game he invented called World Peace. (See the You Tube Video here: John Hunter explaining his World Peace game. ) John is  a gifted resource teacher in my division and he described his job as one where he “sets up a situation so students have to stumble through the unknown and discover for themselves how to do it.”

His game is one that has evolved over the 30+ years he’s been teaching and he clearly is a teacher who doesn’t mind the students being in control of their learning. Heck, he even talks in this interview about supporting that, and that once the game begins, it is out of his hands. John is an amazing teacher, thinker and colleague and it’s a great pleasure to work in a system where I have relatively regular contact with him, even though he’s in a another school. If you are in Charlottesville, VA on February 21, 2010, please attend the premier of this documentary at the Paramount Theatre. I guarantee it will amaze and astound you and give you food for thought.

In this interview, John also speaks to the ease/relief/ability to be this creative because he works with kids who have already learned the minimum state standards, so they can explore these bigger questions of life. I think all gifted teachers have some of this feeling in us. Because of the students’ abilities with whom we work, we DO have more latitude in what we teach in many situations. That’s both a good and a bad thing.

It’s good because we can meet these very, very bright kids at the level at which they think without them being slowed down by thinkers who may not make the intuitive leaps they do, who may not have the background of information they do, and who may not have the confidence to challenge them as they think aloud. This experience isn’t about elitism, but about allowing students the opportunities to think with others who think at their speed, at the depth they do, and who question the world as they often do.

It’s bad because all teachers do not feel they have the latitude to teach this way with all students–to explore big questions of life and tie their lessons into essential questions that support students making those connections between topics, between concepts and between understandings that are universal and that deepen their understanding of the world.

I have a teacher in my  school, though, who is attempting to teach to that level with ALL of her students in math. This teacher has developed a structure that is based on the ideas behind the “Daily Five” in literacy. She has created a pie, divided into three pieces, which, after brainstorming with several folks, she decided on the categories Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73) suggested, which were strategy, fluency and numeracy.

Of course these overlap, but by looking at each of these each day, and helping kids thinking metacognitively about these skills, they become more aware of their mathematical thinking and in turn, become better at it. She devises a set of three problems that revolve around big ideas in math and then the children self-select which of the three problem solving tasks they will work on for the week. By Friday they create a poster describing their thinking and explaining the way the solved the problem. That’s the numeracy piece of her pie.

The fluency piece is the arithmetical part of math–direct teaching and practice of basic skills, based on the Virginia Standards of Learning for 4th grade.

The strategy piece of her pie is worked on in several ways–through the posters the students create to show their thinking, the work they do as the week goes along and the classroom conversations that occur around their work. Students love the structure, they are free to develop their own strategies to solve the problems, they talk about the connections between the various problems and they self-select into the groups that sometimes stretch them, sometimes allow them practice and sometimes allow them to lead the problem solving process.

Big picture thinking and teaching and learning–why doesn’t it happen in more classrooms? How can we restructure our schools so that it can be pervasive and the norm rather than the outlier?