December 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Posted in Collaboration, Professional Development, Resources | Leave a comment

This happens to me so frequently that I want to write briefly about it. In our age of information overload and the ability to have a global network of friends and colleagues (many of whom I’ve never met) I find the glut of information and flattening world manageable due to my connections to friends and other individuals I follow.

For example, I recently read a friend’s listing of Nick Bilton’s book, I Live in the Future: & Here’s How It Works in GoodReads. Goodreads sends me an email when someone I’m connected to posts a new book listing. I downloaded the book to my iPad via Kindle and started reading (because I’m on vacation and have more time to read.) Mr. Bilton writes about managing information overload via his online network of friends who recommend books, articles, blog posts, etc via online networking and email. This hits home because the next day…

In Facebook, I checked in and found (again) several great blog posts recommended by my friend Silvia.  More and more, Facebook is becoming a resource for more than personal status updates from friends as I follow schools, organizations and individuals who recommend informational media. For example I “follow” my school’s IT Department (at IT Dept. @ International School of Prague) and Seth Godin.

Last, through daily checkins with Twitter I find on just the first page of posts many great links, blog posts, articles, videos, etc. Twitter can lead to information overload if you are following the right people. I also use an aggregator that feeds me current posts on my favorite blogs.

All I’m saying is that I frequently see a thread flowing through my personal information feed and this time it flowed from Chris’s recommendation (which he didn’t have to personally send to me) to the text in Bilton’s book reflecting my experience, and the following morning reading via Silvia that I found inspiring and thought-provoking. Left alone with random searches and actual print resources, I would miss out on so much more than what is delivered to me daily.

PS: One challenge I do face is reciprocating, and here is a good podcast from Dean Shareski, “Sharing: The Moral Imperative” on that topic.

Fully Initiated and Back in Business

December 18, 2010 at 10:35 am | Posted in Blogging, Collaboration, Conference, Global Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Planning, Professional Development, Scratch, Tech Integration, Voicethread | 2 Comments

I’ve only blogged once in the last 6 months due to location and occupation changes. I spent 6 weeks on vacation doing virtually nothing online and then began my new position and life in Prague as a grade 3 teacher at the International School of Prague. I’m still pretty much still in the honeymoon Cultural Shock phase due to my fantastic students, wonderful apartment and new friends and, I am in Prague.

But I am tired. After 3 years as a tech integration specialist, it feels great to be a classroom teacher again with my tribe of willing learners. However, classroom teaching can be exhausting even if you’ve been in the same school for years and I haven’t had the time or mental capacity to write or read blogs, completely missed the K12 Online Conference and the Global Education Conference as well as many Classroom2.0 sessions (thankfully all 3 are archived). I haven’t been tweeting or following tweets. I haven’t seen much of Prague either since the weather became too cold for long walks. But that’s about to change as I’ve been through the first trimester, report cards, parent conferences, portfolio collection and assembly, I think I have a grasp of the curriculum and have 3 weeks of vacation stretching before me.

In addition to the regular curriculum, my students have posted two written pieces and a word cloud on their individual pages on our class website and they regularly extend learning and skill practice (in school and at home) using various webgames and subscription sites. They individually recorded in Garageband, an oral reading of an originally written piece for a Voicethread related to an author visit. Most exciting is our participation in “A Week in the Life”, a pilot elementary-level Flat Classroom Project.

A Week in the Life team adding information to the project wiki

So, after catching my breath I am looking forward to reading, writing and listening to online conference presentations! In the five months of school remaining I am looking forward to integrating into my classroom:

They will all seamlessly integrate with and enrich our units of inquiry on Sound and our Host County/City as well as maths, reading and writing. I’m also looking forward to again reading (even after vacation) professional texts and favorite blogs. Why do I care about sharing with and learning from others? Dean Shareski sums it up for me in his K12Online Keynote. It’s so nice to have reached a point where I again feel a sense of familiarity combined with excitement about the possibilities ahead!

Passion and Wants vs. Needs

May 23, 2010 at 11:12 am | Posted in Collaboration, Learning is Messy, Links, Planning, Professional Development, Shift | 5 Comments

Here’s a scenario you may be able to relate to: you read an article or book or just observe a daily event and then you get a great idea that addresses something in your life or work you want to change or resolve. Well I sit with the idea for a little bit and then I want to share it! Sometimes I share and the person gets it right away and wants to join me to develop the idea further. More often, the reaction is not negative but there are questions, What do you mean about this aspect? How does it look in action? and so on. Here is where the generator of the passionate idea can do one of two things. She can be discouraged because she feels the recipient didn’t understand or they don’t like the idea, if they had they would be equally excited. Or, she can take those questions and continue to work on the idea so it can become more fully developed and realistic and also better communicated.

As an elementary teacher, I have “taught” Wants vs. Needs as part of the social studies curriculum (although there are informal lessons on that every day.) As a technology integration specialist the last 3 years, I have needed to develop my adult communication and presentation skills because I currently work with teachers more than students. My apologies in advance, but children are more fun, flexible-minded and enthusiastic than adults. As a result of this experience, I’m going to be a stronger teacher next year, but I will also be a better colleague.

Teachers tend to do their own thing and each teacher becomes known according to her/his own passions and strengths, but this is unfair to the student population because it creates an environment of inequality. Ideally, teachers share their talents, strengths and special views to strengthen the whole school so all children benefit. I’m not faulting teachers, there is usually no time for sharing and there are other built-in school practices that discourage collaboration.

Strafford School Foreign Language committee (most of us)

Many of my proudest contributions as a teacher in realizing initiatives that benefited all students and that are still in effect at the school, have resulted from working with a group of like-minded teachers, administrators and parents. But that group is not often easily or naturally created. If you don’t have a group form naturally around an idea, you are left to drop the idea or keep it to yourself within the four walls of your classroom. But there’s a third alternative, it’s not easy and involves risk and possibly putting yourself out on a ledge.

Last week I read a post by Peggy George on her blog My Web2.0 Adventures.  It was a tipping point for me. Peggy lays out steps to develop an idea before pushing it out. (If it’a been a snake, it’a bit me.) How many times could I have been more effective if only I had sat with my ideas a bit longer, worked longer with the pros and cons to further develop and then communicate an idea better? Marco Torres says that we need to “stay with the questions” and that also means stay with the solutions to get it right.

Also, while I haven’t read it yet, I have listened to Seth Godin share ideas from his new book, Linchpin. From listening to Godin, I began to explore the idea of going above and beyond the initial ideas (what I want to do) to ask what is needed- and to push into those initial ideas to develop them into ideas and practices that can be clearly communicated.

What we want is unconditional acceptance and excitement about our ideas and initiatives but what we need is to question, incubate and develop those ideas further. When met with resistance, stay with the idea (if it still looks like a good one) and develop it so you can communicate why it’s a good path to follow and build a group that will allow the ideas to become a reality.

Other links that inspired this post:
Shelly Terrell’s blog Teacher Reboot Camp post How do we nurture passion?
Another video of Seth Godin speaking about Linchpin
Video: Seth Godin speaking about Education
Daniel Pink’s 2 questions that can change your life
Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (And if you try sometime you find you get what you need)


April 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Collaboration, Games-based learning, Links, Planning, Professional Development, Resources, Shift | 1 Comment

It’s been my feeling and thought for a long time that we need to change the way we do schooling. Back in the early 90s while visiting friends in West Hollywood and driving with these friends and my daughter in a convertible through the hills, I was day-dreaming about moving there and establishing my own school for the children of wealthy Hollywood artists (they have money and are progressive thinkers, right?) Regardless, Hollywood is a ripe place for encouraging daydreams. My school would have many elements of a Montessori school and also contain the most current technology, which was relatively limited compared to what I use and imagine these days. Yesterday I was reminded of that daydream  after two of the best days in recent years at work. I thought about and discussed with colleagues why the past two days were so inspiring and fulfilling and we concluded that it was because we had time to discuss and imagine how our already good school could grow and improve.

The problem is that it was an isolated event, and not just at this school, but rare in every school I have taught and worked in. It was successful because:

  • The “workshops” were led by our consultant from Rubicon Atlas, Stephane Keller. Stephane didn’t run through a planned presentation lock-step. He had a plan but was responsive to going off in directions that the group needed and did it with grace and style. Like a good teacher, he helped us see what we are doing well and where we want to go next, where our challenges are and how begin to meet those challenges.
  • The 2 days were set up to allow teams of teachers to come in during regular school days for hour blocks. It would have been better to have more time, but I also think that sometimes those days in school without students present are great for idea generation, but those ideas often stayed locked away in that day. Having these sessions occurring during our school day promoted keeping the students and reality of our school days present in mind.
  • The core curriculum team met each morning before the hour sessions began and at the end of the day. Being part of this team allowed me to have discussions with colleagues that I often don’t get time to talk with. It seems we need to plan the time and topics to allow these discussions to begin. As a tech facilitation specialist many people get caught on the word “technology” and can’t see my position as that of a learning specialist who can facilitate use of technology tools for student and professional learning and creativity.

The key to continue generating sparks and get a fire glowing will be preventing the ideas and conversations to stay locked in the past and to continue to facilitate those conversations, keep them alive.

Here are my favorite visions of the direction we need to go to recreate schools from:
Bob Sprankle and his BLC09 Presentation

Kim Cofino and ISB’s 21st Century Learning Wiki

Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis Flat Classroom Conference

Scotland’s exploration of games-based learning and Ollie Bray and Ewan McIntosh

Stephen Heppell

Apple’s Challenge Based Learning

Heidi Hayes Jacob’s Curriculum21

Silvia Tolisano’s blog Langwitches

In conclusion, one key element of my dream school is to build in time and place for the educators in a school to meet and share ideas and, most importantly, develop and realize those ideas.

John Couch / final thoughts

April 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Apple, Conference, Presentations, Professional Development, Shift, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Stay in the question(s): Reflections from the Apple Leadership Conference2010 (Part 6/6) 

Apple’s VP of Education, John Couch closed the conference by discussing the challenges that we face in creating change and growth in education:

  • Our current mode in education is like a steam engine pulling horse carriages
  • Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. (Steve Jobs)
  • Technology as a tool v. technology as environment
  • Substitution v. transformation

Whenever I feel homesick and miss my family and lifelong friends, I remind myself of the opportunities that I have had since becoming an overseas educator. This conference was one of those opportunities. The participation of students, infusion of learning through the music/arts, brilliant presenters and the location in a beautiful, enchanting city and a school that has a vision for the future made it one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had.

My questions to keep in mind:

  • How can I assist and challenge each student to learn and grow?
  • How can I assist in transforming schools?
  • How can I inspire and help other educators to learn and grow?

Itay Talgam- Conductors as Leaders

April 10, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Apple, Conference, Presentations, Professional Development | Leave a comment

Stay in the question(s): Reflections from the Apple Leadership Conference2010 (Part 5/6)

I have thought of teachers as conductors before, but have to admit I hadn’t given much thought to conductors and their styles of leadership.  Posted below is  Itay Talgam’s  TED Talk that demonstrates a portion of what he shared.

My notes:

  • People want to be tested to the extreme, engaged
  • You go on roller coasters, but only if they are sound and you feel you can trust that you can push and be tested but you will be safe
  • When you cross the line, you need to trust that someone will be there.
  • Above self-actualization is self-transcendence
  • Control of the environment, climate should be there but there should also exist flexibility, pliancy. It’s not a matter of pulling and releasing a rope.

After Itay spoke, a string quartet preformed and spoke with and interacted with Itay about performing as a group. Then ISP teacher/musicians performed improv jazz and also performed with the string quartet. Itay facilitated discussion and demonstration of performance leadership and improvisation. I was left with the question, What type of leader am I? In the classroom? With colleagues?

Apple Talks

April 10, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Posted in Apple, Conference, Games-based learning, Internet Safety, Presentations, Professional Development, Resources | Leave a comment

Stay in the question(s): Reflections from the Apple Leadership Conference2010 (Part 4/6)

The first half of Saturday consisted of  7 Apple Talks, along the lines of TED Talks. Two of those were from ISPrague staff members and listening to them left me more excited to be joining a school where I would have colleagues of this caliber.

Links and quotes:

  • ACOT Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow Today – moving from instruction to construction
  • SAMR, Ruben Puentedura, Technology use continuum, Transformation not substitution
  • Need to teach collaborative writing to prepare students for working in the future
  • Visit the Alamo in Second Life
  • Quest to Learn School in NYC – games based learning aligned to standards. Merging traditional and new illiteracies
  • Students learning empathy and financial skills through KIVA fundraising accounts management- giving students the opportunity to learn economics as well as experience empathy and make human connections
  • Student films- don’t always have to produce skilled filmmaking, but the story needs to be from the heart
  • Cyber Security- keep the conversation with students open and on-going, circulate relevant books to staff, parents, students to promote conversation
  • Full Sail University Online

Inspiration from Clay Shirky and ISP students

April 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Blogging, Conference, Global Collaboration, Presentations, Professional Development, Project-based Learning, Shift | Leave a comment

Stay in the question(s): Reflections from the Apple Leadership Conference2010 (Part 2/6)

I re-read Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody, when I saw he would be appearing at the conference. During his presentation he shared that when trying to create change and growth, try many small things and if they fail, they are small failures. Then go with  the ones that succeed, build on those and don’t sweat small failures. Don’t try to enact a big plan that may fail big. He cited Ewan McIntosh’s efforts in East Lothian, Scotland as shown on the community site, To me, Ewan McIntosh has always been right up there with Marco Torres.

Clay also met with the students who presented on Friday evening and discussed with them their learning and thoughts on school, the classroom and learning. He then sat on stage with them our last day and held a panel discussion that we could listen to and participate in. Clay was able to elicit valuable, sometimes funny, responses from the students (grades 5-12).

Student thoughts:

  • Doing small projects on one big topic stick in your mind better
  • Teachers can show us rather than tell us everything, Let us do things to learn.
  • Prefer when work is connected to real life, teachers facilitate, freedom to choose tool to express ourselves and show our learning
  • We like ISPrague because of the tools available to us, not just tech but the teachers as tools also.  One student said, “I feel taken seriously here.”
  • In a group project we usually have to use more than one app, everyone has their specialty and we help each other.
  • Math- it would be better if there were many ways to learn, some absorb it and others need to learn differently. Split us up by how we learn and choose to learn. Connect the learning to real life more.
  • Allow situations where students can learn from one another, share what they know and what they learned from the subject, rather than the teacher always teaching- sometimes it’s easier to learn from another student.
  • Sometimes your teacher tells you to try one way, and you don’t want to try it because it sounds too easy or obvious, then you try it and it works and you get annoyed because they were right.

Inspiration from Marco Torres

April 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Posted in 21st Century, Conference, Presentations, Professional Development, Shift | 1 Comment

Stay in the question(s): Reflections from the Apple Leadership Conference2010 (Part 2/6)

Marco Torres, was another highlight of the conference. This was not a surprise as I attended 2 of his workshops at BLC09 last summer and soaked up his ideas and attitude. Marco is an educator with an open mind; when faced with roadblocks or reluctant students he stays in the question of what can be done to improve this situation, how can we allow this student to learn and grow?  Further, at BLC09 Marco brought along some of his students, who co-presented with him.

I can’t hide how brilliant I find Marco Torres. But it’s more than his ideas. He is still working with students, he’s not an “expert presenter” even though his presentations are 100% useful and inspiring and he shares anecdotes where solutions are found for students who are at a dead end and now flourishing due to simple, obvious solutions.

Here are a few of his statements that keep rolling around in my mind:

  • Stay in the question.
  • International used to be a sexy thing, now it’s mandatory.
  • Do you love what you do? You have to.
  • Question for teachers, Could I have looked up everything you told me in Google?
  • Nouns v. Verbs- schools need to be more about verbs
  • Never ask questions you can look up. (Einstein)
  • Traits of Innovators: see, associate, inquire, collaborate, take risks
  • What kind of learner are you? More important is what type of producer are you?
  • Include Who we love into our learning.
  • An educated person is someone who is resourceful and connected

Keep your Learners present and in mind

April 10, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Posted in Apple, Conference, Professional Development | Leave a comment

Stay in the question(s): Reflections from the Apple Leadership Conference2010    (Part 1/6) 

Next year I will be joining the staff at the International School of Prague and so I was invited to attend the recent Apple Leadership Conference hosted there.  I have read and heard that Apple Conferences are well organized and well worth attending so I was excited to be there and also meet many of my new colleagues.  The biggest thought that stuck to me was Marco Torres stating, “Stay in the question.”  I would like to share about the Apple Leadership Conference along that theme; the ideas and questions that arose from the presentations and events.

The first highlight of the Conference was listening to students from the International School of Prague present their classroom projects and learning on the first night of the conference and later sharing in a panel discussion with Clay Shirky at the end of the conference. This reminded me of my recent virtual attendance in the Flat Classroom mini-conference in which I worked with students and how much I gained from that experience. Another example, while a teacher in at Horne Street School in Dover, NH in 2006, I co-presented with a group of my grade 3 students in a district workshop where my students prepared and presented a guide they made on how to research using the IIM Research process . The audience was the entire K-12 district staff and the feedback after was that the student presentation was the highlight of the half-day auditorium workshop. I now think that educators should never hold a conference or workshop without students present.

So my first question is, Why do we so rarely consult the students and regard their responses as to how to best educate and facilitate learning in our classrooms and schools?

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