Tips for Presenting

All of us have sat through great presentations by the keynote speakers (I hope) and some of us (I hope it’s only some) have sat through not-so-great ones.  Recently I found out  several friends are keynoting for various conferences in the next several months, so I thought I’d ask my PLN for suggestions I could share. These folks are not inexperienced presenters, nor am I, but I recently sent in a proposal for the K12online conference  and am currently writing one for ISTE2010 with Michael Wacker (@mwacker), so have been thinking a LOT about presenting in this day and age.

So, I tweeted: If you could counsel a keynoter in what to do/not do, what would you say?

and got these responses VERY quickly!

* You have 30 seconds to engage your audience and set the tone. 1st 30 seconds crucial-audience has short attention span. via @chollingsworth

* Don’t talk too long w/out visuals/multimedia. Tell stories. Use humour. B engaging. Don’t pretend 2 b an expert unless u r one. via @erringreg

* speak slowly and clearly; many folks speed up the word count if they are nervous (and perhaps a shot of tequila immediately before? ;-P) via @unklar

*  Don’t read a powerpoint to audience. Be funny. Have GREAT examples. via @aldtucker

*  eschew the “uhs”; nothing wrong with small periods of silence Via @Unklar

*  I’d say, change your preso from time to time. We’ve probably seen you do this one before. via @teachakidd

* ditto the one above: Big ideas might say the same but new examples and anecdotes/research keeps it fresh and current. Via @shareski

* found it critical to build into keynote time for audience to turn and talk.process what has been presented.have done with 3000 via @stevebarkley

* What not to do: be late, read us the ppoint, tell us teachers over 25 r ignorant digital immigrants & libraries are wasted space via @turrean

* Funniest speaker ever chided audience for using old-fashioned face-to-face networking…at a conference of over 1000 teachers… who had all paid money to hear him speak in person. via @turrean

* Check your ums, have a plan, have vision, change it up, humor, believe in what you are talking about. Via @mjkrugerross

* don’t read the slides; presentation should be ‘text light’; look @ ur audience; have fun! Via @Nsharoff

* Don’t lecture! Don’t have ppt slides full of stats that no one can read! via @JoHart

* Look to the Presentation Zen work of Garr Reynolds 🙂  Via @Digitalmaverick

I also got a very thoughtful email response from a local principal, Bill Sterret, (@billsterrett) who shared some specifics from one of his planned keynotes that included involve the audience and end five minutes early!

In thinking about successful Keynotes and/or presentations I have seen, the ones that resonated with me included some of the following elements:

*   a backchannel that was projected so the audience could see what others found interesting in the talk as it was happening

*   a website where resources relating to the presentation are posted

*   the presentation posted on that website

*   funny or touching personal stories that helped me connect with the presenter and/or the materials being presented

*   real life examples of the points the presenter was making

*   opportunities to extend my understanding of the presenter materials though quick checks (think/pair/share, turn to your neighbor and. . ., respond to this poll, etc.)

As always, I appreciate my PLN’s support and help and the suggestions were great!  Do you have any to add?

“I Live Teaching As My Doing.” (Chapter 2)

I live teaching as my doing.

Been thinking about that a lot this morning, as there is a team of teachers at my school that I am working with to understand just what my job is as a gifted resource teacher, and that I am struggling to find a happy medium with as we try to meet the needs of the gifted kids in their group.

These teachers are all very good, if not great, teachers.  They work hard, care about the kids, constantly seek out new learnings for themselves, and thoughtfully implement plans they believe will meet their students’ learning needs. These are NOT worksheet driven classes; they are active classrooms where kids learn and teachers know what their kids know and what they don’t. The kids are happy, the parents are happy, and they have great track records with state tests as well. Lots to celebrate with this team and their work.

However, there are some highly gifted math thinkers in this group that I worry about, and my worry seems to offend the teachers. What they don’t seem to get is that it is my job to worry about those kids and to advocate for their thinking to be highly challenged regularly. When I ask questions, it’s not to be critical, but to make sure the gifted kids’ needs are being met, AND to help me know more about how the teachers are differentiating for them.  It’s not because I think I can do it and they can’t. It’s not because I think they’re not meeting the learning needs. It’s because I want to learn from them and think about how we can all get better at this differentiation thing. My job is to help them differentiate better—not to do the academically challenging work with the kids for them.

For me, teaching IS learning.  I don’t know how many times I have been questioning kids, discussing a situation or problem or describing mathematical thinking and strategies and when finished, I realize that I learned just as much, if not more, than my students. Yes, I can say, as Jackie Gerstein does, that “I live teaching as my doing.”

I also live learning as my doing.

Public or Private?

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’ve had some great opportunities to learn recently. (See What I Did On My Summer Vacation).  I’ve also read some great books and am busy trying to assimilate all of that, along with the many conversations I have had with many, many educators! So as I’m thinking (and thinking and thinking and thinking. . . ), I’m trying to figure how all of this is going to fit into my classroom, my school, my behaviors with peers, etc. for this new school year. My main struggle right now is with microblogging, or setting up a community online.

Let me explain. . .

I use Twitter daily for professional networking and have learned a tremendous amount through it as well as met many people I now consider colleagues and friends.  For me, Twitter does indeed allow me to participate in the groundswell, and it feeds my need to “connect, create, stay in touch and help each other.” (Groundswell, p. 49.)  I have, as stated in my blog, Twitter Makes Me, become more world-wise through my connections with people all over the world.

Our local school system has embraced Twitter in many ways, and we have had a very quick influx of our educators join.  Some have found it incredibly useful, others have found it confusing. It is clear that our Superintendent and School Board expect us to teach using today’s technologies,and they have supported us doing so by opening social networking sites (such as wikis and Twitter.) That’s not to say anything is mandated or forced–just encouraged through modeling and usage.  So, a fair number of us use Twitter for building/maintaining parts of our PLN.

Yesterday an instructional coach started a Yammer group for our district. I can’t figure out whether that’s necessary or not–not whether it’s good or bad, but whether it’s necessary.  See, we already have SchoolNet established in our district. SchoolNet provides us a place to set up groups, have threaded conversations, follow people and be followed (they’re called colleagues) and  do much of what I think my limited exposure to Yammer  shows it can do. We’re literally one day before teachers return–and invitations are being sent out to folks to join Yammer–rather than encouraging folks to get involved more deeply in the many resources we already have on SchoolNet.

Here is a {SOMEWHAT EDITED} part of an email I sent to a buddy today talking this one through with some of my questions:

A question asked over Twitter the other day (from an Alan November talk Kevin Jarrett was sitting in, I think) was “What does a Lifelong Learner in the 21st century look like?”

Do our teachers know?

I think you do, because you see the power of Twitter—which is simply ONE tool for engaging us in conversations with educators and others ALL OVER THE WORLD.  You have spent time building a PLN that encompasses ppl outside of your tiny world of our school system.

And, what bothers me the absolute MOST about responses to my questions about Yammer? It wasn’t the defensiveness (or perceived defensiveness).  It was the response that this was SAFE—it was all about being in a situation with people you already know—one said-”I like this better because I know you guys.”  another:—”It’s NOT a closed system—anyone in K-12 can join and invite others”  (Unsaid—BUT ONLY FROM our school system. How is that NOT closed?)

Someone else then goes on to ask-”who knew you could use schoolnet this way?”  DID ANYONE START A CONVERSATION ASKING SOMETHING LIKE: Hey, guys, if we were to get teachers on a smaller scale using something like twitter, what tools are out there? How can we get out teachers involved in social networking on a smaller scale for those whom Twitter will overwhelm?

Once again, leaders have thrown something out there that could overwhelm. . . Yeah, I understand experimentation—but as coaches—as leaders in our division, who looked at the BIG picture here? And who is thinking about how to transfer ppl over to Schoolnet, now that you (collective “you”, NOT you personally) KNOW Schoolnet does this?

PLUS, Schoolnet allows me, as a teacher, to join (or lurk on) a conversation about the “Daily 5” with my local peers and when I hear something, I can go to Twitter to ask @Linda704 or @AngelaStockman, both of whom I know know a LOT about literacy, to join our conversation—or say to another Twitter buddy, “hey, we’re talking about those kind of resources here—can you join us?”  Then I can slowly introduce others to our teachers and SHOW them the power of a world wide PLN.

Yammer does not allow that-it IS closed . . .

I go back to my question—because I have taken it from Alan and made it mine—What does a lifelong learner look like in the 21st century?  I say she’s NOT looking for closed communities. I say she’s not looking for safety in her local peers.  I say she’s not looking ONLY to learn from local people.  I say he IS looking to connect and contribute, looking for learning and wanting to know how to do that safely on the WWW, and needing to feel honored and respected by more than a local community.  I believe our learners are looking to “connect, create, stay in touch and help each other.” (Groundswell, p. 49.)

What have you said about Twitter? It validates your thinking, it has helped you grow, etc.

Does Yammer do that?  Yes, on a small scale—but does it allow us as teacher leaders to paint pictures of global connectedness through modeling and bringing those others in?  No—but Schoolnet does.

Did anyone explore Edmodo?  It’s another microblogging tool that also could be used with kids—so we could be modeling as well as sharing a tool teachers could then use with kids.  Can Yammer be used for microblogging or grouping conversations with kids?  Can Schoolnet?

I don’t know the answer to either, but my guess is Yammer, NO–SchoolNet, possibly.

These are the kinds of things we, as teacher leaders, need to think through before we jump into something. . .

Am I advocating jumping ship on Yammer?  Absolutely not—it looks like it’s growing quickly, and that’s a good thing– but slowing down and having some conversations—honest conversations–about what we want and looking at purpose FIRST, not letting it emerge, may be necessary. Then guiding invitations on Yammer may (or may not) be helpful.


For me, it’s not an either/or. . . or good/bad–it’s a matter of making life manageable and trying to minimize all the different ways it pulls us. . .and if we already have an avenue for teachers talking to one another, why are we encouraging the use of yet a different tool rather than involve them more deeply in the one we have and share the potential?  As the teacher above said, “Who knew SchoolNet could do that?”

And, the proponents of Yammer say that involving teachers FIRST in a private network may be the stepping stone some need to then try a larger network such as Twitter. That sounds logical, but is there any research to support that, or even anyone’s experience?

I can’t find any. Do any of you have any research OR personal stories that say that’s true?

The power of MY PLN is the diversity–the various viewpoints coming from all grades, all countries, all kinds of schools–it’s often the differences that make me think the most. .  not the like-minded folks using the same curriculum and same materials who are in situations similar to mine. . .


YOU, my readers, see my confusion, my questions, my wonderings. . .

When we introduce/encourage the use of social networking to adults, in an organized, big way, what questions should we ask ourselves? Is “public or private” one of them?

Response to “Badge of Honor”

Lee Kolbert (@TeachaKidd on Twitter) makes me think. She makes statements or shares links or asks questions that get me going.  Thanks, Lee, for pushing my thinking on this issue!

First off, let me say that I think David Jakes is a very smart person and I respect him and what he usually has to say a LOT.  I enjoy following him on Twitter and deliberately attend his presentations when I can to learn from him. However, in this case, he and I may need to agree to disagree.

David recently wrote a blog ( that said get rid of the badges you have been given.  His statement about why is that “they send a bad message” and to back that up, he says what bothers him is the “have-have not mentality that they promote….and perhaps the false sense of accomplishment that goes along with their display.”

I disagree.

I believe teachers who get recognition, whether they apply for it or not, should show the honors they receive—for it IS an honor to be selected as an Apple Distinguished Educator, or a Google Certified Teacher, or a STAR Discovery Educator or a Golden Apple recipient, or a presenter at k12online conference, or NECCunplugged, or Edubloggercon, or any of the other badges teachers display. I believe, beyond the have/have not mentality, that it shows teachers who go beyond the classroom, who look for connections to other educators and who share and probably revel in being a lifelong learner.  What David doesn’t explain is that being part of these communities is just that—being part of a larger community of learners, of thinkers, of doers and movers and shakers—and the coolest thing to me is the INCLUSIVE behaviors of these educators through these programs.

I KNOW Apple Distinguished Educators mentored others through the application process in 2009 and spoke for them to Apple.

I KNOW Google Certified Teachers did the same.

I KNOW DEN STARS are always telling others—“You should become a DEN STAR!”

I’ve heard these things, seen them and experienced them.

DEN STARS are always offering tips and tricks about Discovery Education, streaming video, digital storytelling, and sharing the incredible resources available on the DE site.

At the July 09 Apple Institute, ADEs were streaming it and sharing the videos being created as soon as they were made.

At the August 09 Google Teacher Academy, the agenda was sent out publicly and tweets shared the learning throughout the day. I virtually attended the previous two through the notes docs being shared and the agenda and the incredible resources there.

At the conferences mentioned, the presentations are streamed (and often archived) so others can attend and learn virtually.

I, and many others, I am sure, have learned about these opportunities through those badges—seeing one and saying, ”What is that?” It’s NOT about having or not having a badge—it’s about sharing the opportunities to learn, sharing the knowledge one learns through those opportunities and encouraging others to apply the next round. It’s about making the world—and various types of learning—more accessible to a larger group than a company can accommodate. For me, those badges aren’t about exclusivity, but about sharing and learning and growing, and when I see one I see that person as someone I can ask about that opportunity.

What do YOU think?

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Last summer I was just beginning to use social networking tools.  I hadn’t begun my blog, hadn’t joined a bunch of wikis, and had more free time, so I was exploring and getting to know Tweeters to follow and talk with. I spent a great deal of my summer sitting in front of my computer learning from the great minds I found sharing online. I lived through a number of conferences vicariously through others’ tweets.  I learned about online conferencing and streaming-and was totally impressed with the amount of work people do to share with other educators. I built a personal/professional learning network online, making friends all over the world, and became more aware of world issues. I had an amazing time and went back to school raving about the new connections I was making, and had made. It was an eye-opening summer where I mostly “took” and learned from the connections I found.

Summer09  was extremely different. I was busy all the time, so didn’t have those lazy summer days to sit in front of my computer and learn from the HUGE number of great minds online. However, I attended a ton of conferences in real life and got to meet many of my twitterfolks.

In June, I began a six day workshop in my county about assessing critical thinking. Several of the teachers involved were twitterfolk and the tweeting we had done throughout the year changed the way we interacted, I believe—there was a level of familiarity, comfort and trust that may not have been there a year ago. One of the reasons I love twitter and the ability it gives me to interact with others is that I have been able to connect to like-minded people and learn from others’ differing perspectives as well. Twitter so reduces isolation for many of us! I’ve watched @mtechman blossom into a GREAT online leader and thinker on Twitter, and consider her a good friend now—I barely knew her before Twitter, despite the fact we had attended meetings and emailed each other.

At the end of June, early July, I attended NECC in D.C and got to meet MANY of my Twitter people. I loved seeing how they were so true to their online personas—see @BenGrey’s post about meeting Tweeps at NECC—that one particularly resonated with me.  I presented at NECCUnplugged (and was streamed!) and participated in a panel discussion organized by @K_Shelton (Ken) with 6 folks I had only met online before. All of those experiences made me even more aware of the power of an online network. (And, I’ll share something few people know—I decided to try an experiment.  Since my county didn’t pay for me to attend,  I decided I would see JUST how far the networking would suffice to make the conference worthwhile.  I went  to NO sessions. I used my time there for that networking, meeting people, conversing, learning, eavesdropping on other conversations (blatantly, so no offense was taken) and reading the tweets from NECC09.) My time was WELL spent, and I didn’t have to sit through uninteresting sessions or walk out of ones, as some of my Tweeps did.

I also met Sheila Teri, from VA Beach face to face at  NECC.  She and I skyped with several classes last year and have expanded those experiences into a Skype Across VA wiki this year, and we also have buddy classes in first grade skyping each month.  I also have begun another wiki, USA Fun Facts with Paula Naugle (who is from Lousiana) and we have 12 other states participating with us. Both of these connections were made over Twitter.

The second week of July, I participated in a local conference, EDUSTAT, which turned into a national and even international one through the online participation that happened because of Twitter. I got to know and spend some time with @chadratliff and @jonbecker, who attended from their areas.  MANY of our local folks joined Twitter that week and are now quite active!  (@classroots, @trevorprzyuski, @billsterrett, to name a few.) The connections made that week just keep growing:

  • see @classroots blog and the accompanying wiki he and I began to join a conversation about authentic engagement
  • @chadratliff is joining Albemarle County as a Central Office leader—can’t wait to work with him in his new job in Innovation!
  • @trevorprzyuski’s blog, 7 Things I learned this summer triggered this blog. . I had had it floating ‘round for a while, just couldn’t get going. His unblocked me!

The last week of July I went to the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston with a team from my school system. The work as a team there had begun in early summer, and continues now. I am part of a great LOCAL team of thinkers whose charge is (as our Sup’t @pammoran said,) to think about how we enroll our colleagues in innovation!

BLC09 was another amazing experience of meeting Tweeps, and I attended my first EdubloggerCon, a full day of learning that was organized by @lizbdavis (Liz Davis) and @lthumann (Lisa Thumann). I had met Angela Maiers face to face at NECC, and, while at BLC, @AngelaMaiers, @BeckyFisher73 and I began planning a two day workshop we hope to share with Virginia’s ASCD affiliate, VASCD. I spent time with @TeachaKidd (Lee Kolbert) and ALL of those ladies are just as lovely—and SMART–in real life as they are online.

The beginning of August, ASCD informed @fisher1000 and me our proposal to present had been accepted. Mike works in Buffalo, NY—we’ve only met online, but will be co-presenting at ASCD in San Antonio in March! The idea to put in a proposal began when we were building/sharing/conversing about the Visual Bloom’s schemata and the accompanying web sites, Blooms Rubrics, Ideas for the Visual and Professional Practice.

Then August 5, I attended the Google Teacher Academy at Google Headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, to become a Google Certified Teacher. Again, I met tweeps and got to talk to people in real life I had developed relationships with online. I learn so much from the smart people I have found online, and am continually amazed at the new folks I find and who find me. (Thanks, Ken, (@K_Shelton) for urging me to apply!)

The Google experience is amazing—my one regret from the day was that I didn’t get to talk to more people. (Thanks, @ScottElias for recommending Fat Tire and @Wfryer for starting the beer drinking that late afternoon!)  Michael Wacker was my real treat for the day, though, as his Colorado hospitality knows no bounds. Now, @Mwacker and I are collaborating on a proposal to the ISTE 2010 conference. Want to add your 2 cents worth? Join our brainstorming at

And, in the past week, I have worked with and met our new teachers at our New Teacher Academy, where the sharing was just unprecedented, and participated in a 2 hour debriefing about BLC09 with our local team, where the conversations continue over our email.

Last fall I attended the k12online conference–this year I am applying to present AND I am on the PR committee with my usafunfacts friend, Paula (@plnaugle) and Lisa Parisi and Pat Woessner, all online buddies.)

BUT, the most memorable thing about this summer for me will be the fact that I tweeted during the opportunities I had, so others could sit in the comfort of THEIR homes and attend them vicariously through Twitter.

I hope I gave this summer as much as I took last summer. . .

I know I’ve learned so much in both, and am a different person due to that sharing, taking, learning, teaching, growing and twittering!

Engagement and Quality Work

Chad Sansing, (@classroots on Twitter) is a brilliant educator in my school division.  I have known of Chad for many years (he’s been middle school, I am elementary, so we’ve had little opportunity to interact personally, but we’ve met.) During the recent PD opportunity, Edustat, we joined each other’s online PLN and I am thrilled to have him as part of mine.  I highly recommend him to others–he’s an educator who interacts and is a great thinker!  Recently, he posted a definition of authentic engagement on his website,

Chad had run an earlier version of this by several people on our county email list and received some feedback and additional resources (posted on our wiki), and then he synthesized what he was thinking.  Part of his post and my response is below. There are many of us exploring engagement in many ways.  Some of us are using the hashtag #AE on Twitter to thread the conversation.  We have begun a wiki, Authentic Engagement. We invite you to join our conversation and involve others… that’s why I am cross-posting my response to Chad on MY blog–to hopefully get my readers to go see and participate in Chad’s site and join our wiki.  🙂

Disagree with me, add to my knowledge, share your resources on engagement, think WITH us!

The more we think together and share our questions and thoughts, looking at context and quality of student work and how to be better teachers, the more we’ll all learn.  🙂

Chad’s blog excerpt:

Authentic engagement is a powerful means to the end of learning.  Authentic engagement connects students to content through real-world work that allows for social learning, inquiry, and products that contribute to students’ communities.

Characteristics of Authentic Engagement

  1. Students master content through project-based, inquiry-driven learning with access to multiple types of media and outside experts.
  2. Students work and learn from one another collaboratively and socially.
  3. Students evaluate for and select the best tools for their work and are free to use them.
  4. Students’ work is published for an authentic audience outside the classroom.
  5. Students receive feedback on their work from experts before and after publication.
  6. Students revise work until it shows mastery of content and follows experts’ guidelines.
  7. Students’ work benefits their community.

My response:

I appreciate the references above gathered in one place, especially because I am not familiar with the Bob Peterson one, so I now have something new to read.  🙂

The different terms, quality work, engagement, authentic engagement, etc. are all variations on a theme, but I don’t think are synonyms. The definitions of quality work have to do with the product. The definitions of engagement have to do with the student’s attitudes, habits of mind while involved and intensity/persistence/passion about the task.

So, for me, it’s not about engaging with experts inside or outside of my classroom for kids to be authentically engaged in learning. That’s about authentic WORK. It’s not about benefiting the community–that, too is about the work. So, I wouldn’t agree that your 4, 5, 6, and 7 describe authentic engagement so much as they do authentic work/products.

For me, engagement is all tied up in the level of effort the student is willing to invest in the task. So I agree with Schlechty’s statements:

• The student sees the activity as personally meaningful.
• The student’s level of interest is sufficiently high that he persists in the face of difficulty.
• The student finds the task sufficiently challenging that she believes she will accomplish something of worth by doing it.
• The student’s emphasis is on optimum performance and on “getting it right.”
(MY addition–this does not mean getting it right on the test, but getting it right for oneself–truly understanding the content, the material, the process, the work so that it becomes a part of your skill and knowledge repertoire.)

It’s not about compliance, as Marzano seems to say when he says engagement is the kid doing what the teacher asks.  It’s not about doing work for outside experts or even the teacher. That stuff is about worthwhile work, quality work, important tasks or whatever you want to call them, but those are all about the product, not the student’s engagement. (Now does worthwhile work (such as that described in 4, 5, 6, 7 above) engage the student?  Absolutely.. .but it’s not necessary in the definition of engagement.)

For me, engagement is about personalized, meaningful learning for (mostly) intrinsic reasons–persisting and persevering through challenge and difficulty to develop deep understanding and increased process skills.

Your thoughts?

Playing School. . .

I continue to struggle with meaningful learning in schools. I continue to think about what Ira Socol said–“Educators often think that school is the point, when it needs to be the path.” I continue to ponder his other statement, “So, it is not a question of whether these technologies add value somehow to education, but the reverse, can education add value to the communications and information technologies of our present day world, and its future?”

Then he states: “It is the job of education to alter itself to prove itself of value to the world which now exists.”

It is the job of education to alter itself. . . .Think about that. . . . Do we ever?

I have been teaching 35 years, and I still see classrooms that look very similar to those in which I student taught.  Teachers are still confusing the verbs of schooling and learning, as Eric T MacKnight responded to my last blog: “Schooling’s main purpose is to produce compliant, homogenous workers and citizens. Learning, on the other hand, has to do with our individual needs and desires for understanding, enlightenment, and personal growth.” (Thanks, Eric, for the contrast of schooling and learning.)

Donna Bills also noted that “If you only learn “school” and learn it well, your expectation is to always be led by the hand “step by step” into all new knowledge and skills.” I believe that too many times we teach students how to “play school” (also known as the hidden curriculum of sit down, shut up and listen) at the expense of modeling learning, at the expense of setting up situations where kids can develop lifelong learning skills or habits of mind or the propensity to WANT to figure things out.

I have a friend who up to a couple of years ago when teachers began to retire in a certain school in our district swore she could have gone back to that school and had the exact same schedule in the same rooms withthe same teachers she had as a 9th grader (and she is over 40 now.)  She also said, that as a district administrator, she had been in some of those classrooms and it appeared they were using the same lessons she sat though in the 80s. So, if it’s the job of education to alter itself, why hasn’t it happened?

What if. . .

* we all decided to incite passion in our students. .  .  To find out what they care about and give them a chance to interact about it. (My fifth graders RAVED about using wikispaces, but it wasn’t wikispaces or our activities that they mentioned–the comments they made were all about connecting and interacting and wiki-mailing each other and sharing and learning from one another.)

What if. .  .

*we all decided to use pre-assessments and actually used that data to compact the factoids we have to teach and THEN used the time we save to set up connected learning situations for our students?

What if. .  .

* we all decided to give each other (as teachers) feedback on what we’re doing so that it becomes more meaningful and richer for the students. (I want to engage my students in some true collaborative projects this year, NOT just parallel play ones. I want my leadership, at all levels, to reduce the silos and the parallel play in which they engage, as well!)

What if. .  .

*we did as Chris O’Neal suggests and build in “some simple sit-down times with individual teachers where we ask some of those “tell me about the students in your room” and “what does the typical flow look like” or “who do you sense isn’t as engaged as you’d like.” Then, as a team, what can we do about it…?” I’m working with my 3rd grade team tomorrow on their math curriculum maps, as simply yet another member of the team.  Will what I say and do make a difference in how we all look at teaching math this year, and more importantly will it make a difference in how our students LEARN math??

Will we think twice now about putting such an emphasis on teaching, or such an emphasis on schooling?

Will we look more to learning, both our own and that of our students?

Will we pull those backchannels out of silently happening in their brains and make them open?

Passionate educators are everywhere.  Will we pour that passion into helping our students show their passion to us, so we can support their learning better and help them connect to others who will help them think deeply about those passions?

Can we

Will we

live up to the job of education to alter itself to prove itself of value to the world which now exists?

If we can, we’ll engage those kids who have checked out, who have disengaged, who have no use for the stupid game of “playing school.”

Parallel Play or Collaboration?

I am struggling with something I think many of my PLN folks are thinking about. . .and that’s HOW to improve our work, HOW to change what happens in our schools, and HOW to meet the needs of contemporary learners. Ben Grey introduces himself on his blog this way: My name is Ben Grey, and I am but one of the many. The many who are looking for change. The many who are engaging in dynamic discussions. The many who think there could be more to the way we engage education. I am also on that quest.

Dean Shareski wrote a post “My Big Fat Brain Dump” and he talked about how education conferences need to change to meet the needs of those of us struggling with these kinds of thoughts. Ira Socol Jen Wagner, Scott McLeod, Will Richardson, Becky Fisher, David Truss, Liz B. Davis, Michael Wacker, Miguel Guhlin, Paul R Wood, Scott Merrick, Jon Becker, Mike Fisher, Michele Bourgeois, Tom Woodward, John Mikulski and a multitude of others have written or talked about this topic of change in many ways.

Today , I received a tweet with a link to a YOUTUBE video by a 17 year old about  The iSchool Initiative. Kids can paint these pictures. Why aren’t we educators better at doing so for each other?

Here’s MY backstory: I have been using wikis with kids for two years now–really bright kids, really motivated kids, really thoughtful kids who WANT to learn and do well.They love having the opportunity to work on wikis and clearly “get” the potential! (See wikiworld.)

But my wikis–THEIR wikis– are pockets and pools and islands of isolation. . . They’re examples of parallel play at best, NOT collaboration. As the teacher, I own that outcome. I didn’t do enough ahead of time, I didn’t set up the structures, I didn’t paint the pictures for kids so that the work NEEDED collaborative efforts and so I didn’t get it.

I participated in several online, “collaborative” wikis this year as well. One was where we shared our writing based around a common text. Another I created, (And To Think) where kids also shared products around a common text/author, Dr. Seuss. Again, these I see as parallel play.

I skyped with several classes this year–about the Dr. Seuss wiki, about our state of VA– and found it fascinating to watch kids’ reactions to talking to other kids from “far” away. However, the interaction was bizarre. . very traditional, in that kids raised their hands to talk or ask questions, teachers (on both sides, including me) were CLEARLY in charge, and most interactions/questions were designed ahead of time. Again, parallel play in my mind, NOT collaborative.  I OWN these behaviors and outcomes, as, again, I didn’t do enough ahead of time, I didn’t set up the structures, I didn’t ask enough questions of my skyping teacher friends to make these experiences more than that.

So, I’d like to see models-and asked last night on Twitter “I’m wondering what is the most interactive /interdependent KID authored/written/produced wiki you know? Examples?”

I got no responses.


I got several DMs or replies from folks asking me to share the results of my request, so here it is.

NO one named a truly collaborative kid wiki.

So where are they?


@ellsbeth sent a couple of links this AM: “look up gaming wikis like & Kids contribute.”

What do you think?

backchannels–silently in their heads

I have a colleague, Nancy, who is part of the county team going to BLC09.  I think she’s a personality type called an owl–she listens carefully in group conversations, speaks rarely, but when she does, what she says is incredibly insightful, thought-provoking and often downright brilliant.

At our recent team conversation (see previous post) we were talking about the conference themes and which ones we’d like to center on, how to go about it, and looking at a few logistics.  Some of us in the group are avid tweeters, others have joined but not gotten into it, and others don’t even know it. Some of us have experienced conferences with backchannels going, some of us haven’t.  I spoke to the power of backchannels (even had to define and describe what a back channel was) and was raving about how cool it was going to be to experience the backchannels at this particular conference.  I talked a bit about how some of my twitterverse has shared about using backchannels in the classroom, and people were asking great questions and thinking about it. We talked about how this is a contemporary skill/practice and how we need to think through how this can be done in the classroom.  As almost always happens when a group of innovators are thinking about how to move others along the continuum of technology use, someone said something about how teachers would say, “We don’t want them having backchannels in the classrooms.”

Then Nancy zinged: Instead, we want to them to have it silently happening in their brain.


Does that not run counter to anything we know about learning?  Does it not run counter to Vygotsky, to Bloom, to any name you can name in education writing? Does that not take the social out of learning? I don’t know about you, but when I can talk about something I am learning, it makes more sense to me.  I make meaning out of it more quickly and more deeply. Shouldn’t we be providing our students that opportunity as well?

No wonder our kids are bored stiff and give schooling no quality points in their world. What gets the points?  The social parts of school. . ..LUNCH. . RECESS. . .IN BETWEEN CLASSES. . .the classes where teachers set up collaborative projects, conversations, activities. . .

Maybe if we made school more social and made it NOT about “happening silently  in their brains” we would get more buy in.  Maybe if we listened more and talked less. . .maybe if we gave them the tools and supported what THEY want to do with it, then maybe, just maybe the majority of our kids would say they loved learning, rather than they hate school.

What about those backchannels?

We need them to keep it from