School’s Out for the Summer

(This is a draft of my first blog as a guest blogger at )

I remember, as a kid, singing that song-hearing it on the radio, singing along and looking forward to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer-swimming, reading and playing outside. Kids today may not know the song, but school being out is still exciting, and when those last days of school happen, the excitement is palpable. Students talk about the activities they’ll be involved in-swim teams, various and sundry camps and church weeks as well. Many know their summer will be almost as busy as the school months as their parents attempt to keep them involved. Even so, most kids are anxious for the summer to begin.

Parents joke to teachers about being off for two months. As a teacher, summer still means relaxation and rejuvenation, but it also means learning. I have never been off for two months.

In Virginia, as in most states, teachers are required to renew their license every five years. To do so, we need to show that we have fulfilled state requirements and earned our necessary number of recertification points. We do that by taking classes, attending inservices and conferences, among other ways.

This summer I am attending three major conferences face to face, and I will be participating in a variety of online opportunities.  From June 27-July 3 I attended the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Washington, D.C. From July 19-23, I will be attending Edustat in Charlottesville, VA, and from July 27-30, I will be attending Building Learning Communities (BLC09) in Boston, MA. I presented twice at NECC, will present once at the BLC09 conference, and will be officially blogging and tweeting from Edustat. That’s in addition to the local opportunities I am doing with my school system as a teacher leader.

Today over Twitter, @mwacker (Michael Wacker, an educator from Colorado) tweeted a link to an online database of Educator’s Professional Development opportunities @ . I was amazed at just how many offerings there are, all over the world!

While many parents, community members and taxpayers perceive that teachers are “off” for the summer, this time is actually an opportunity for us to reflect and learn new skills and about new learning opportunities for our students. During the summer, we change our focus from causing the learning in our students to causing the learning in ourselves.

What does that mean for parents and students? That I will return in August with fresh ideas, new resources for my students AND teachers and that I will have much to share! Here are a couple of examples of other teacher’s learning from NECC09:

AND a link to the presentations and workshops, many of which are recorded online-so you, too, can “attend” virtually:

School’s out for the summer. . . . but NOT for teachers!

Crazy or powerless. . . what do we do to our kids?

Wow, I learned something about myself today.  I learned that if I cannot direct my learning at pretty much all times, I feel crazy. . .

Sat in a workshop today where internet access was unavailable.  A friend believes it was unintentional. I believe it was intentional. I spent some time being angry and frustrated that the presenter would deliberately set up a workshop without internet access.  BUT, realizing that was futile, I began to examine that anger and frustration.

I realized the thing that was driving me crazy was not being able to direct my learning.  I was missing tweets from other workshops or learning opps, I was missing being able to do any work on the web and get some things done I needed to do, and I had no access to my email or even my phone. (Cell phones were blocked in this particular workshop location.)

I realized in many ways, I felt powerless—I had to engage with the speaker’s lecture or be bored doing nothing.  I could have taken notes—so I began writing.  Thus, you get to read the angry blog that precedes this one and the reflection in this one.

I felt powerless to direct my own learning in the ways I wanted to, in the ways that I was comfortable with and in the ways that fits my style. I don’t want to be in that place.

So why do we do it to our kids daily?

NO Internet, REALLY?

Am sitting in a workshop called “Constructivist Celebration.”  It was billed as “a place to play, recharge, innovate, create, and most importantly, give voice to children, computers and constructivism.”

I’d like to give voice to children, computers and constructivism. I’d like to do it in the way I want to use it with my kids. And, I’d like to do it using not only the tools I will receive today (which is one reason I came) but also with the tools my students have access to daily in their lives.

Constructivism. . . .

In a place where cell phone usage is BLOCKED (so air cards don’t work), and the internet access is inaccessible to many in the room, since it is limited (and overly saturated), and the room has at least 120-150 people in here.

So how can I use these tools for creativity in ways my kids will be able to if I have no internet access? Why am I sitting in a workshop where the facilitators have set up a situation that is NOT similar to what good educational settings are like in today’s world? Why am I sitting here with a talking head talking at me? How can this be billed as a constructivist when we are listening to someone who cannot make eye contact with the audience, who is not talking in a logical sequence that is easily followed and who is showing examples he has obviously used a lot with the excusing statement of “Some of you have seen it before, some of you have not, but that’s okay—people say they really like it.”

I am sitting in a room with @TeachaKidd, @lnitsche, @zeitz, @smartinez, @bcdtech, @wfryer, @McLeod, @elemenous, @beckyfisher73, @patsylancos, @chrischampion, and many, many other brilliant educators whom I respect and constantly learn from on Twitter AND in real life.  However, I cannot quickly ask a question of these educators online. . .because the physical site was DELIBERATELY set up to NOT allow connectedness across the internet. I will have to stop what I am doing, get up and walk across the room to talk to one person—who may or may not know the answer to the particular question I have.  Then I may have to go to another person, and another, and another until I find one who can help me. In a connected world, I could shoot this question out to my PLN and get a response from someone who knows within minutes. That happens EVERY day for me, and in this paid workshop, I have been deliberately denied access to that network of learning.

Gary Stager says, “The power of the computer comes with the accessibility to the software we have available to us.”  So why are we not using ALL of that, including online tools that are ONLY available when connected to the Internet?

I guess that’s what you get when you pay to go to a workshop that is put on by the people providing the software. . . you get to work with their software only.

Oh, yeah, and it was so constructivist that there was NO direction beyond “pick up your software and be creative.”

Critical Thinking Assessment Workshop

How do we teach kids to be comfortable with risk-taking, with there being a variety of answers (and not one is THE right answer) and with there being many ways to express the response to a question. Thinking about their thinking is important. Ultimate goal of education is making connections.

Many kids would rather take a multiple choice test than answer a why question. Once you get kids moving into the direction of discussions, they want to go. . but getting them there is a multi-step process.

What are some of the parameters we need to put into place for an assessment  that is an ill-defined problem?  It’s not about powerpoint. . we want it to be tool agnostic.  What’s the break down between the tool and thinking?  Our goal is to create an assessment that uses technology–so is not based on tool, but deep thinking.

Start thinking about problem: we are going to each work to make sense of creating a problem that’s ill-defined. What does that mean? You can work with people, go blog or journal, explore the wiki, look at the books you were just given (Little Big Minds, 5 Minds for the Future, The Global Achievement Gap, Starting From Scratch)  or whatever you need to process the talk so far.

Go to questions page on the wiki for a synopisis of our current conversation.

Plant Those Ideas

I’m relatively new to blogging. . . been doing it since August, 2008 and that’s actually when I began reading other blogs regularly, too. I don’t really “get” categories, (just like I have a hard time organizing bookmarks, tags, etc.), I don’t get the difference between posts and pages, and there are things I just don’t care about as I manage this blog.  I just figured out how to list other people’s blogs on my page (Thanks, Ira, for the push), and I recently messed around with the design and a custom heading.  I like playing with web design and used to create my own pages using html. I’m not stupid, just choosing what to figure out and what to leave out as I prioritize my life.

One of my goals this summer, though, is to improve my blog.

I discovered in the last week or so that when a blog thought hits, I should write it down. .. I have had so many ideas for blogging in that time period, (thanks to my Twitter buddies) and I have forgotten most of them. . . so I just wanted to remind myself–and others (if you care about reminders) to write your ideas down, so we can benefit by them. As @tim_hurson tweeted: The best way to improve an idea is to plant it [in] someone else’s mind.

So, feel free to share your tips and tricks about blogging with me. . . teach me something about how you think about as you blog, and help me get better at this.  My mind is ripe for planting right now, so sow those seeds! I’ll tweet the ideas and hopefully transplant your ideas elsewhere as well!

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


iPod Pilot Lesson-Station 3

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, ** Chris O’Neal ** brought a colleague from Fluvanna to observe my 3rd grade math students work with their iPods. The day before, I had discussed with my kids what they thought we should show and how the class should be organized.  I WISH I had videotaped that conversation, as it was simply amazing. However, I didn’t, so this is take 3, the description of Station 3.  (See previous posts for description of stations 1 and 2.)

Station 3 was to record the number of rolls it took to get 6 of a kind in ** Motion-X Dice**.  We had done this before, just collecting data and then looking at that data. Today’s twist was to predict how many rolls it would take and then calculate the variance between their prediction and the actual count.

To introduce this task, I put a three column chart on the board labeled P, A and V.  (I use T-charts all the time as organizers in my classroom, so adding a column is nothing the kids haven’t seen before.) As I introduced the chart, I told them that today we were not only going to record the actual rolls of the dice, as we have done before but we were going to calculate something called “variance.”  I then pointed to the chart and asked what they thought the V meant.  Of course they said variance, and I said I would tell them in a minute what variance meant in this case.

Then I asked about the P, thinking they would immediately say prediction, even though I hadn’t pre-loaded that word into the conversation.  I can’t remember everything they guessed, but the third or fourth guess stuck in my head, and that’s when I told them it was prediction.  One kid raised his hand and said, “PRAY?”  I laughed and said, “Explain that, please,” and he responded, “We pray to roll the same six numbers really quickly?”  At that point I named “P” for prediction and A for “actual,” then gave a few examples, to make sure they not only knew how to fill in the table, but understood that the variance could be positive or negative.

I have never taught negative numbers to these kids, although their classroom teacher has done a quick one day lesson, and many of their parents have told me they have worked with negative numbers because their child asked. However, math just makes sense to these kids, so I don’t worry about them not having prior information–I give them enough to figure the patterns out and they usually do.

As I watched this station, my observations were focused in two ways:

1. I wanted to see if they were indeed calculating the variance correctly and if they “got” negative numbers.

2. I was looking to see if predictions were even close to the actual number of rolls.

What I saw surprised me in some ways.  First, there were a couple of kids whose predictions matched the actual count perfectly at least once. Generally the variance was fairly low, which told me the kids had figured out some patterns in the rolling, and gave me fodder for the next class’ conversation. I was surprised the variance was as low as it was in many cases and was anxious to ask what they were basing their predictions on and what patterns they were looking for in their work.

The kids whose variance numbers were larger were doing things like holding the iPod differently as they shook it, or talking to the iPod as they rolled it, or attaching some ritual to the act of rolling the dice (much like some people blow on the dice before they roll for good luck.) That told me some people were believing, at some level, luck (or chance) could be manipulated, and again, gave me info to use in the next conversation.

While I didn’t initially think this station was as powerful as the others, when I went to observe (and then to reflect here) I realized there was lots to be gained by asking kids to do a similar activity again, with just a small twist. Only one child needed support to understand negative numbers, they all were predicting, couting and recording accurately, and talking to one another about their results as they worked.  PLUS, I found out that despite our work on probability this year, there were a few kids who were still believing they could manipulate chance to improve their results.

The other thing that struck me (AGAIN!) was the motivation they had to predict, shake, record and reflect on their results on the iPod.  The tool is virtual, there is no noise (unless they turn the volume up), but they worked the entire time at this station, doing something they KNEW how to do from prior experiences.

Once again, the iPod Touch motivated them to stay engaged and involved in the learning task. The tool here provides an avenue for learning that allows them to gather data quickly, and easily see results. The tool here engages the student.  AND, the tool here entices the kids to stay engaged.

iPod Touches should be in EVERY classroom!

iPod Pilot Lesson-Station 1

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, ** Chris O’Neal ** brought a colleague from Fluvanna to observe my 3rd grade math students work with their iPods. The day before, I had discussed with my kids what they thought we should show and how the class should be organized.  I WISH I had videotaped that conversation, as it was simply amazing. However, I didn’t, so I’ll describe MY take on the observed lesson:

I had 6 students that day who were split into three groups of two, to move through three stations with about 10 minutes at each station. The kids had defined the stations the day before, but without clearly defined educational objectives. To begin the class, we did that together.

Station 1 was to play ** MetaSquares ** and “Think Like A Computer.”  One person would make a move on their iPod to make a square and the partner would mimic that move. The goals were to see if the computer worked the games the same way to block or win the game, and to try to figure out the computer’s strategy to determine how to beat it.

Station 2 was to connect the two iPods at that station through the** Whiteboard ** app and give each other problems–basically a drill station.  They wanted to show it, though, because it’s “cool” to connect their devices and draw on one and have it show up on the other.

Station 3 was to record the number of rolls it took to get 6 of a kind in ** Motion-X Dice**.  We had done this before, just collecting data and then looking at that data. Today’s twist was to predict how many rolls it would take and then calculate the variance between their prediction and the actual count.

When I was observing Station 1, “Think Like A Computer” the iPod did NOT make the same counter move on the student’s first move, so the kids had to decide what to do.  They decided to keep the “mimic the other person’s move” going.

Imagine their surprise when the iPod got the same score on both iPods on the same move, even though the iPod’s moves didn’t match.  Imagine their shock when it happened a second time.  The third time, one iPod made a combined square and thus got 9 points more. While both students won at the same time, with the same score, one iPod had the 9 more points.

In the follow up discussion, they decided that on level 1, (their current playing level), the iPod’s goal was simply to make squares, and not block the player, so that’s why they could a.) win and b.) the iPod’s scores were similar.  They hypothesized that on Level 2 (where the iPod begins blocking) that the device’s moves might be more similar since it would be blocking the exact same moves.  However, they didn’t have time to test out that theory.

I love that the kids’ perception is that they come to math class and “play on their iPods.” I love that they are dissecting and analyzing not only their strategies in their games, but also the algorithms of the device.  I enjoy hearing their hypotheses and questioning them, often causing cognitive dissonance (sometimes for me, too!) I love the AH-HAs they have as they work within the structure of the questions both they and I pose. I watched the surprise on Chris’  and his colleague’s faces when the students verbalized the explicit differences between levels 1 and 2 in the game. My kids were so much more specific in their understanding than a typical response of “the game gets harder as you go up in levels.” They clearly knew that in Level 1 the iPod was simply trying to make squares.  In Level 2, it begins to show awareness of the player’s moves and block them making a square.

I cannot wait to ask them how in the world a “computer” can forecast their moves AND have an intention to block that “only thought of in their own head” move. How can the computer know what they are thinking? How can it tell what they are planning to do? And, more importantly, how can they counteract that knowledge?

How can we teach students to think with logic and analysis intuitively?

I believe devices like iPod Touches and strategy games not only do so effectively, but are crucial to helping students learn to survive and THRIVE in the world in which they live!

Your thoughts?

Why 7? We all have more, so how do we choose?

All over the edubloggerverse, folks are writing their 7 things people don’t know about them. One of my twitter buddies said he had 20 and was having a hard time choosing which seven to use. Of course we all have many more than 7, so how does one choose? Why did you choose the seven you chose to share? How did you choose? What did you leave out? Would we want to know those as well? These questions cross my mind as I think of which seven I am going to share. . .

1. In my late 20s I ran Rescue Squad in a small town in VA.  The squad was just starting up, and is still running today, almost 30 years later. It was an amazing experience.

2. My parents both died by the time I was 30, and I remember thinking “I am an orphan.” No matter how old you are, that sense of loss is profound. I simply can’t imagine feeling that as a child.

3. One of my most vivid memories is being a 4 year old and driving away from the cemetery where we had just buried my infant brother, who had been born stillborn. I was looking out of the car window and thought, “I will never see my brother in this life.” What astounds me at this memory as an adult is that even at 4 I believed in a life after death.

4. Another vivid memory is being 6 years old and deciding my younger brother, who was 4 and I should walk to town.  We took our toy tractor and began pushing it to town.  We got  almost a mile from home before a neighbor, who was coming home saw us, stopped and made us get in her car so she could take us back home.My mother always said I was too independent for my own good!  As an adult, I agree with her!

5. I have always loved stories. I used to tell them to my sister each night, and my brother, Rod and I used to climb in a huge clothes closet we had and he would tell me science fiction ones in the dark. My Dad wrote me letters in College that had tall tales in them.  I took my kids to the National Storytelling Festival in Joneborough, Tennessee for years, and I later took my grandson as well. I started a storytelling club at one of my schools, the Yancey Yarnspinners. I also supported the National Gallery of Art’s Teacher Institutes with digital storytelling for 7 summers, first working with Joe Lambert and Emily Paulos from the Center For Digital Storytelling, and then teaching podcasting to the participants. A story of mine, describing our county’s support of technology in the 90’s is in the ComputerWorld archives . I was a 2001 Smithsonian ComputerWorld Laureate.

6. As a teenager, I once opened a pressure cooker too early and it exploded in our kitchen.  Potatoes went all over, mostly on the ceiling. You’d think that would make me never use a pressure cooker again. That was the only time I have ever opened it early, but to this day, I still use a pressure cooker whenever I can.

7. I participated in Tweet-a-Book over winter break 2008. My Rescue Squad experiences were part of that writing. That circles back to number 1.

Now, I tag









I’ll enjoy reading your 7 Things.

Do Teachers Read Minds? Sammie is SURE I do!

In 3rd grade Math, we were working on problem solving strategies, and looking at the problem 720 ÷ 360. This was embedded in a word problem where a bus could drive 360 miles in one day and needed to go 720 miles to get from DC to Alabama. The question we were trying to answer was how many days it would take. One student suggested solving a simpler problem as our strategy. I asked what a simpler problem would be, and N said to take off the zero on both numbers, leaving 72÷36. Darren immediately said the answer would be 2 and when I asked how he knew, he responded that 36 + 36 = 72. The other students agreed, and I suggested we move back to the more difficult problem.

Being the TZST Teacher, and also being a gifted resource teacher whose job it is to help students think at high levels, I often do so by deliberately trying to confuse them with extraneous information, faulty or illogical reasoning, or outright mistakes. This was one of those days.

So I then said, “Oh, I get it, we took the zeroes off of the hard problem and worked a simpler problem and got the answer 2. Now, when we go back to the hard problem, all we need to do to get the answer is put the zero on our 2 to get 20 and we have the right answer!” Students were nodding all over the room as I wrote 20 as the answer of the problem 720÷360. Some looked confused, so I asked if everybody got that. C said I went too fast, so I offered to explain it again.

“See,” I said, “when we looked at the hard problem, we took off the zeroes on the end of the numbers. 720 became 72 and 360 became 36. That’s like dividing these numbers by 10. Then we worked the simpler problem 72 ÷ 36 and got 2. Since we divided by 10 to get the simpler numbers, we need to multiply by 10 to go back to the harder problem and get the answer. Make sense now?” (I was also drawing arrows from the zeroes on the first problem to the 2 as the answer in the second problem.) All the kids were now nodding their heads to say they understood my explanation.

My next question–“So, if you agree that 20 is the answer, stand up.” Some stood, some didn’t. I didn’t ask for alternative answers–I instead looked at one still sitting and said, “You don’t understand this? Do you see where we took the zeroes off and then added them back on?” and went through the illogical explanation again. At that point he agreed, and said, “Oh, I get it now” and stood up. So did the others.They sat down as I asked my next question.

I then repeated my request with a slight twist–If you understand why we took off and then added back the zero, please stand up.” Everyone stood. Then: “If you agree the answer to our hard problem is 20, stay up. if you think it’s something else, sit down.” Darren sat down.

Now, Darren is a kid with GREAT number sense, who can do problems quickly and intuitively, using the deep mathematical knowledge he has. He sees patterns and relationships in numbers, and clearly knew 20 was not a reasonable answer. However, who wants to be the ONLY child in a classroom who is sticking their neck out for a different answer than the crowd?  I decided to push Darren today and help him see his strengths!

I looked at him and said, “Oh, come on, Darren–don’t you understand what we did with the zeroes?” and went through the faulty reasoning yet again! I pushed him–“Now, do you agree? do you understand?” (deliberately asking two questions to make him focus on the second.) ” If you do, stand up, if you don’t sit down.” Again, I was leaving it vague so he was having a hard time showing his thoughts. He was sort of in between sitting and standing, WANTING to sit down, but not sure that was where he needed to be to disagree with our answer.

Watching EVERY OTHER child in that room agree with what I thought was a really ridiculous answer to our original problem, I decided it was time to let Darren share his thinking and cause cognitive dissonance for the others. I could plainly see in his face he knew something was, as the saying goes, “rotten in the state of Denmark.”

So, I asked everyone to sit down. Then I looked at Darren and said, “I can tell you still don’t buy that it would take 20 days to go from DC to Alabama, do you?” He hemmed and hawed, and several other children were now offering to give him the same faulty logic I had shared, and so he said, “Yes, I do.” However, having deliberately phrased the question that way, I could see several other students begin to question that answer as well. I KNEW Darren didn’t believe that was reasonable–he has too much number sense–and so I said, “No, you don’t. You have a different answer in your head, don’t you?”

Now, this child knows me–he was suspecting at this point he was being played, but not quite sure where to trust himself and where to stay in the pack. My 3rd graders aren’t quite sure enough of their own talents and knowledge to stand up alone at times–but they will be much stronger at it by the time they leave my class!

So, I kept asking things like, “are you sure you don’t have another answer? I can see you’re thinking something. I can see on your face you don’t agree. Trust yourself and share your thinking so we can understand YOUR idea.” He was still wavering, and finally Sammie said, “Oh, come on, Darren–just tell her. You KNOW she can read minds! She sees what you’re thinking, so just get it over with and tell her!”

After laughing out loud, I asked the class to stand up again if they believed 20 was our answer. N (another child with extraordinarily good number sense) stayed down this time, everyone else stood (Darren somewhat reluctantly). I then asked yet another child, S, who had been across country for vacation last summer, how long it took him to get clear to the other side of the United States, asking if it took 20 days. When he said no, I then said, “But you believe it takes 20 days to go from DC to Birmingham, Alabama?” He said no, and promptly sat down. Another child, T, sat down at this point, saying. “It didn’t even take me 20 days to get to Mexico when we went !”

Then, Darren began looking very much more confident and less puzzled and he confidently sat down. I went through the work once more–“Look, guys, we had a hard problem and decided to use the strategy of working a simpler problem, 72÷ 36. We know 36 + 36 is 72. If that’s true, then is 720 ÷ 360 equal to 20? Think about a reasonable answer and write it down on your paper.” I gave them a few minutes, then asked Darren to share what he was thinking, and what he thought the answer was. He clearly explained that if 36 + 36 is 72, then 360 + 360 = 720, so the answer would stay 2.

We then discussed their answers (all of which were correct, by the way, despite me!) and talked about trusting their instincts, their number sense, their knowledge. We talked about looking for a reasonable answer and not getting caught up in following an algorithm or listening to faulty reasoning to the detriment of meaning making.

Do I read minds? Well, teachers who pay attention to their students CAN see a lot of the thinking in their faces. . .and Sammie has faith that I DO know what she’s thinking. She says I’m her favorite teacher cause I ask her questions to help her figure out the answer without telling her, and that makes her feel smart. What a great description of scaffolding!

Maybe I don’t read minds. . but I do try to grow ’em smarter!