This is what it’s all about

Date May 1, 2012

Tech & Innovation in Education: A discussion with Jaime Casap

Date April 13, 2012

Jaime Casap, Google Education Senior Evangelist, on Wednesday’s dinner keynote shared lots of information new to some of us but to others he preached to the choir. For example, “By 2020, 123 M Americans jobs will be in high tech/high paying occupations, from computer programming to bioengineering but only 50M Americans will be qualified to fill them. We need to prepare our students for a world we cannot see. ” This is so true but how do we prepare them? I suppose we come to conferences like this one. My own daughter just turned 7 and I bought her an iPad2 for Christmas; her mother wanted to buy her a bluetooth keyboard. My response? Her generation won’t need to/know how to keyboard. This is true. So as parents and as educators, what matters most?

    -The impact of great teachers- Good teachers respect children and demand respect in return. If you don’t get this, they won’t get you.
    -Manage crisis of low expectations- still not truly sure how to do this. I am frustrated by this daily.
    -Success is related to effort- We must build rapport with our students so THEY WANT TO DO WELL FOR US! So they don’t want to disappoint us.

Jaime asked What is the X factor? What motivates our kids? And for me, I’d reiterate what I said above. Build rapport. It almost sounds cultish but make the kids love us and refuse ti disappoint us. If you don’t respect students and show them that you truly care, they won’t be motivated for your class. Oh yes, and 5th graders (I taught 5th grade literacy on break) will do anything for candy!

25% of young people in the US fail to graduate on time w/ a regular diploma (the # jumps to 40% for Latinos & blacks). Dropouts are more likely unemployed, earn lower waves, have higher raates of public assistance, cost society in lost earning taxes, productivity, be single parents, etc…. Education is starting to take advantage of new learning models. We manage our relationships through technology and through the internet. We educators must go to where the kids are to engage them. The internet is not going anywhere, so we must go where it is. For our students today, technology is not new if they’re born into it. Our administrators need to understand this and help teachers change the way we teach. We can’t adapt into technology and try to pigeon-hole our square-pegged curriculum into technologies circular holes; this won’t work. Technology is just a tool, like a desk. Desks are a detriment to learning. Perfectly designed for students to fall asleep on them. How we [teachers] learned is not how our students learn.

Front line teachers today need to develop new ways to teach the skills that all kids need:

    -Critical Thinking
    -Analyzing Information
    -Problem Solving

The way we communicate has drastically changed. Collaboration is how we do things today and it’s not cheating. Collective intelligence is key to learning from each other. Teachers need to stop demanding that students memorize things. We must teach them to think, how to analyze and make sense of information. Our students gather, process, and synthesize information differently. Our assessment tools must change, too, but I don’t know anyone who knows how to do this yet. Jaime asked a poignant questions over which I will lose sleep: “If students all learn in different ways, why don’t they all test differently?”

In terms of districts and administrators, “WE NEED TO TEACH HOW TO USE, NOT BAN [tech].” Kids are taught how to cross the street, so why aren’t we teaching them how to cross the digital street? Remember that: “Education is the most powerful weapon that can change the world.” This isn’t to say that some things shouldn’t be blocked still but educators (and parents) need to help make our students literate in the 21st Century. Part of this is on us [teachers] but another part is on school administrators who need to learn what education is out there. The kids have this tech in their pockets already and will use it. We are teachers. We chose to be teachers. So why aren’t we teaching?

Math phobe

Date December 2, 2011

Sitting here helping Claire do her homework reminds me of evenings at my parent’s huge dining room table doing math homework. OH – MY – GOD, I HATED IT. Still do (sorry, math friends). I would do everything except the math. I would make noises, pick at my skin. kick my feet, try to make myself burp so I could laugh at the noises, etc… I would also look up the answers in the back of the book and mess around. The only math praise I ever remember was about third grade when my math teacher told me I was good because I could make my “nines” look like a real nine rather than a stick with a circle head. Looks like I knew how to draw and write. Go figure.

CC flickr image by Leo Reynolds

Like Father, Like Daughter

Date November 13, 2011

When I was younger I shared a room (and bed) with my brother Jaime, I always had a flashlight and book nearby. I’d read until I was done and then go down to the bathroom before falling asleep. If my parents were still up, I’d get yelled at for being up. I remember being dragged to the store and sitting in the book aisle reading while Mum shopped. (They use to sell books at a store called HILLS which is like Target today).

Earlier today Claire and I went through all of her books and got a large box for Bookman’s. Bookman’s is cool because they accept lots of books for a pretty good price We took two full boxes and my buddy Audrea was working. We dropped them off up front and headed to find the “Chapter books” (they’r e novels for under 6th graders). Claire has about 30 Magic Treehouse books so I wanted to fill in the gaps from when I bought them on Ebay. We also wanted to see what else they had.

She got eight Magic Treehouse books, a few fairy books, and the first Judy Moody book. She’d seen Judy Moody and the Not So Bummer in June with her Auntie M, my sister (Meghan) and her only aunt. After she picked the ones she wanted, it was my turn to look around. Claire climbed into the cart with Judy and started reading. I had to pull it from her hand to pay and then she read it all the way to REI. In REI she was reading and walking into things.I sat her down near where I planned to shoot; I told her to scream bloody order if anyone touched her. She sat in the corner on the floor while I shopped nearby and it reminded me of when I would do the same at Hills.

Later that evening after she had dinner and watched some tv, I tossed her and her book into bed about 7pm. I told her to make sure she didn’t come out since I was planning to watch American Horror Story and that was the last thing I wanted her to walk into. Around 9:45pm I heard her bedroom door click, and she came out as I hit pause. She sleepily climbed into my lap and told me that she just finished her book. I carried her back into her room where she showed me Judy Moody book #1. She talked to me about it for a few minutes and showed me her 105 page chapter book. I put it on her shelf, sat another new book near her bed, and turned off the light. Like father, like daughter.

Originally published at

Good night, iPad: A children’s book

Date November 7, 2011

Claire came over to my couch to say good night today as I was clicking on a link I saw from some Twitter feed. Suddenly the We Give Books website pops up with the book Goodnight, iPad, which is a tech parody of Goodnight, Moon. This original book is a staple in our house (Claire and I BOTH have it memorized); I own Goodnight, Bush and Claire has Goodnight, Goon (the scary version), so when Goodnight, iPad showed up, we both just stopped. The full color ebook was in my browser and she started reading it out loud to her mother and me. I “turned” the pages & we three enjoyed the entire book. I then clicked the button to send a book to a child in Asia. I logged in (for free) and made an account so Claire and I can enjoy more books online in the future, plus we’re going to rest it on her iTouch tomorrow so she can watch herself anytime.

Willis Junior High School: Blended Learning comes to the Chandler Unified School District

Date November 6, 2011

My current teaching contract commenced in 2004 and soon afterward social media, for me, sky rocketed. A short time later, most of my communicative life moved into what very few people at the time knew as “the cloud”. Facebook was still locked to the universities and Yahoo! was still a huge stock option for many people. I left a district that provided me a laptop with administrative rights and didn’t filter online sites. I came to a district whose Electronic Users Policy included not putting a flash drive anywhere near their computers.

Honestly, in the last five years the resistance I’ve seen from my district, at different times, has been really difficult on many levels. But it’s changing. While my current administrator has publicly said he’s a relative luddite, he’s open to our visions. In the meantime, some of my colleagues are starting to come around asking “how’s this work?” in terms of technology. Some of them were open to tech earlier but things were (a lot more) clunkier than they are now.

Early this October, my admin told me a local junior high school was doing “interesting stuff with computers”… and he wanted me to visit the school with him. We were off for two weeks and the next time I saw him he told me he was setting up a tour and also a few other things were in the works. I was intrigued. He added that he wanted to send a group of us to a Virtual Schools Symposium in Indianapolis.

Friday morning my administrator, assistant principal, a math teacher, and I headed over to Willis Junior High School in Chandler, AZ where we met with Jeff Delp, the school’s administrator. Jeff started a district pilot program on blended (some call it hybrid) learning in the junior high school by randomly selecting 105 honors students and four teachers (one each from Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies) at a traditional junior high school. The school decided to start with blended rather than a full virtual program, in part, due to the younger age of the students. A blended program offers stronger communicative connections between students and instructors and more guidance in general. Next year an application process will be put in place due to the wildly positive response to the pilot. Jeff has students who “want into the program but has none who’ve attempted to opt out”, and home Internet access isn’t a prerequisite. On the accessibility concern his philosophy and mine mesh; if students need more time online they can visit libraries, come to campus earlier, stay after, etc… In the Chandler District, for example, most high schools are linked to a city library that is an extension of the campus that includes a full computer lab and other workstations within the building. Not to mention several computer labs exist (depending on the site) and student stations in some teacher classrooms.

Jeff stressed that touring other school’s successful programs was essential when developing this pilot. For us, this may include a future trip to Vail School District in Tucson, AZ that seems to be ahead of the game with technology, including wifi-enabled school buses. Professional Development is the key to Willis’ program, which includes understanding that administration and faculty who successfully navigate these programs need to understand an entirely different skill set that comprises of highly collaboration, student generated creations, and evaluation programs. When building his program, Jeff toured schools in both Chicago and New York City.

Teachers must have more freedoms. This includes opening Twitter and blogging in the schools. Blogging and twittering for the Willis team is now unblocked and YouTube is unblocked for all adult logins district wide (not for students yet). Jeff who, tweets as @azjd, uses the #edchat hashtag to continue building dialogue and learning from administrators nationally who are further along in this journey. An aside: Two years ago my own blog was filtered after my using it as a my classroom webspace for four years. In a post I used the euphemism that “so and so must be on crack to believe “… whatever it was I was discussing. It was obviously a euphemism for “crazy” but now it was blocked for “drug promotion”. Shortly after the district’s rule of thumb was that anything that was a blog was automatically blocked.

Jeff encourages his teachers to stretch their ideas and learn about technologies that may confuse them, but he also reminds them that we don’t do technology in the classroom for technologies sake. Sometimes the best lesson doesn’t include any technology (and recently our district computers were off line for an entire school day – no one died & learning continued).

This year Willis uses Edmodo coupled with Google Apps for its pilot; while the district limits Google Apps to only Calendar and Docs, we both hope that other apps will be added as the program develops into next school year. The district is also moving to a new domain name on July 1st and it would be ideal to build Google Apps around that domain name. We’ll see. The district recently approved BrainHoney as their LMS and Pearson’s on board so there may be some shifts away from a purely open source model for the 2012-2013 school year. Jeff also discussed his partnership with Gangplank owner Derek Neighbors who has been in my own social business circles through Gangplank in one way or another for years. The partnerships we Chandler educators are building with local collaborative Chandler technology consortiums are arguably essential as some models of 21st century learning move out of the classrooms and into the apprenticeship and internship areas.

While the Chandler District is behind the curve in terms of technology implementation with our 21st century students, Dr Camille Casteel’s, our district’s superintendent, main concern is student safety. Dr Casteel wants what is best for students and in our case we need to be able to show how we want to use whatever technology, why we cannot do whatever it is without it, and then how we’re going to keep the students safe. The potential for eventually broadening Willis program into the high schools is exciting, as part of the student safety concern is the age of the students. Today’s pilot is with junior high students and tomorrow’s application may be with high schoolers. (Their age seems to be the predominant reason the Google mail App is not currently being used.)

CC image posted on Flickr by Devon Christopher Adams

Part of Jeff’s philosophy that he emphasizes with his teachers is the Flipped Classroom model. I realize I’ve used this model for years by promoting content consumption outside the classroom while focusing class time on the creation and synthesis of key curricular concepts. This concept is not new. It’s called homework, but now traditional approaches to homework and how students are consuming it has shifted and become a lot more interesting. For example, if Susie has grasped a certain math concept, she can move onto the next one while Billy may still be working on the former concept. Willis teachers use screencasts and take Cornell notes on their needs before applying that learning in class.

One nice example Jeff Delp mentioned is trying to increase access to YouTube (perhaps through a school YouTube channel) so, in class, students and the teacher can better individualize learning where one group may review a certain video while another group views a different video. It is not feasible to have the teacher show 10+ different videos throughout the class for different small groups but if the students had access to do so, they’d arguably learn more effectively.

Our high schools have always struggled with textbook management and most of the schools in this district do not have a bookstore (we have a bookstore manager but we are responsible for disseminating, collecting and recording our own books). This is a hassle. I can’t wait until virtual textbooks at our level works smoothly; we’ll save so much money and time (our textbooks now do have an online component, but we still purchase paper copies). Part of what Jeff said when we discussed Google Docs and online text(e)books was that he can use funds that once purchased thousands of reams of paper on more netbooks for the classrooms.

Jeff took us on a tour of a Language Arts class in a computer lab. The students were reviewing their content through the online textbook and working on reading responses in Google Docs. While I’ve used Google Docs for collaboration for probably close to six years now, one thing that I liked that his LA teacher did was to give the prompt/response directions/questions to the student via a viewable Google doc. Then they made a copy and wrote into it before sharing it back to the teacher. No more paper. While I’ve done that before, it was never for work completed IN CLASS due to the fact that I could not be sure every student had access to the document. While Jeff did mention the use of mobile devices on campus (and his campus is wireless) and high schoolers tend to have even more wireless mobile access, not everyone does.

Netbook Shelf
CC image “Netbook Shelf” posted on Flickr by Enokson.

We also visited with the Social Studies class who had groups of 2-4 students around the room collaborating around HP Mini netbooks. He chose netbooks because battery life lasted the entire school day and they’re relatively cheap. This year Edmodo is the LMS of choice, in part, because of the approachability and Facebook like interface which is familiar to so many. Other technologies Jeff and his team use with the students include Twitter, Glogster, and Poll Everywhere, and while none of them are new novelties to me and my (tech) colleagues, it is a relief to see Web 2.0 being better embraced and unlocked by our district’s powers that be.

I’m relieved in many ways that this program has emerged and while I don’t know the background or what it took to get this far, people like Jeff Delp and his visions at Willis Junior High School are what we need to bring our district forward… for the sake of the kids.

The passing of a great educator: Barbara Schomer

Date November 3, 2011

I enrolled in graduate school at Duquesne University in spring 1998 to begin work on my Master’s degree in English Education. I was excited to get into the classroom and work with students. My internship was at Baldwin High School where I was a student myself. It was surreal giving my sister a hall pass and teaching a friend of our family, who we would see socially on the weekends. While the internship was awesome, student teaching was the real deal.

I won’t forget the day I walked into the graduate offices and was given my student teaching placement. In script handwriting it said “Barbara Schomer, Mt Lebanon High School”. While I didn’t know the woman, I knew the school. Mt Lebanon is one of the top public high schools on the east coast, and I was excited to get into such a prestigious school. My grades were near perfect, my professors lauded me each week, and now I was going to Lebo.

In late Spring I went to meet Barb Schomer. She was a short, older woman who demanded respect and was a solidly important part of the English faculty. I remember the box of novels she handed me to read over the summer and her showing me “my desk” in the corner near hers. We talked for quite a bit and I was under the impression that she was one of the more rigorous cooperating teachers in our program, but I was use to working with these sorts of educators. Student teaching began day one with students and I stayed until late December. Barb started our relationship as the pedagogist and me as the clerical mind. I helped keep things organized, took attendance, kept us both sane. She said she loved that about me. She told me that at home Barb’s husband, Bru, took on that role and it was nice to have me around. Her former student teacher was a performer with a background in theatre. Barb would hand her the lesson plan and the woman would do it. That was just enough. Then I came along with a background in literature and a strong pedagogical presence. By the semester’s end, our relationship shifted. I continued my clerical organization but segued them smoothly into my relationship teaching the students and building a family in the classroom. I finished that semester winning Duquesne’s Student Teacher of the Year Award and that had everything to do with Barb.

I learned so much from this woman. I learned to always have things planned out “in case you get hit by a truck” as she would say. Have plans more than a week out. Always praise students before critiquing them, always help them genuinely get better in whatever you’re teaching, balance the line between teacher and friend.

I left Duquesne, Mt Lebanon and Pittsburgh in the summer of 1999 and for the first few years I reconnected with Barb and Bru over holidays. I remember when we took Claire to dinner and they were able to enjoy this new little girl throwing her cheerios across the table at them. They laughed and her and enjoyed her as their own grandchild. By now Barb retired and Bru still taught science nearby. Barb, always an outdoors women, spent more and more time volunteering around the world and living in their West Virginian cabin. She even made it out to AZ to visit friends where I was able to spend an evening with her.

In 2010, Barb was diagnosed with Cancer. Her and Bru quickly moved to Centreville, VA so Barb could be treated at Georgetown University Hospital’s cancer center. We continued our relationship via email She was able to visit her cabin and take short walks in nature. By spring she was able to make a trip to Las Vegas to visit family and I was happy to hear her traveling and getting by. By fall she’d been to Florida and was doing well. When she could not get out as much I printed and framed a photo she liked of mine that I shot in the Coconino National Forest this past March. In early fall Barb traveled to PA for a family reunion, and I wish I were there so I too could talk to her once more.

I was not there. I was teaching in Arizona where my own students tell me what I mean to them. They share their dreams, hopes, fears, and loves with me. They listen to my words of wisdom passed down from Barb. I had the honor of passing on Barb’s wisdom to both Joe Abbruscato and Lindsey Costley, my own two student teachers, and I live my teaching life in the shadowing grace of a giant of a woman who will always be missed by me and never forgotten, as today Barbara succumbed to her Cancer with Bru and her daughter’s at her side. She is peacefully walking the trails of nature, caving to the depths of infinity and watching over all of us. Thank you, Barb, I love you.


I originally posted this tribute here:

Apple Mob

Date October 23, 2011

I’ve worked with ImprovAZ in the past & had an opportunity to photography a “secret prank” today as 30+ individuals wore a blue t-shirt with what looks like an apple logo and heart mashed together. Originally we wondered if the flash mob would out number the employees/customers in the store but today it was packed! My position was to be relatively clandestine, shoot small, and try to be quiet about it. There were two of us “officially” in charge of media recording for the event. I am use to my Canon 40D but shoved it into my backpack (where my cool blue “apple” shirt was hiding) and used a small point and shot power shot.

20111022- ImprovAZ AppleMob-35

The mob became to trickle in around 1:00pm. The shirt colors matched the employees but the logo was a parody and, since it included the heart, was a way to promote our fandom & tribute to Steve. Participants played with products, took pictures of themselves with Photobooth apps across the store and just enjoyed themselves. People occasionally asked questions about what they were doing and they just played dumb. One woman was asked if she realized many others had the same shirt as she did. She responded, “how will I find my girlfriend in this mess!” Another mobber was asked about the iPhone 4s from a little old lady. He helped her for 10 minutes before a “real” employee came over. I don’t think the employees really knew what to do. I heard security was called but I didn’t see any. A few participants helped customers who asked for help or showed them how to get help from an employee. Eventually we tried to call the participants (who all were using the DUCK ringtone on their iPhones) but it was too loud. They did do a small demonstration and then walked out in a line. We stopped outside, the participants all turned and waved! We then shot this photo. Great times.

1110 ImprovAZ AppleMob-19

RIP: Steve Jobs

Date October 6, 2011


Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Cropping & placing Illustrator images

Date August 28, 2011

I’ve just learned Illustrator to work on a graphic and later a site map for a webtext publication I’ve finishing for Computers and Composition Online. I could not for the life of me figure out how to resize the document in AI so I could output/place it as just that size I needed. Finally I had an epiphany. Here’s how I did it!

1. When the AI file is ready to be published, go to FILE – SAVE FOR WEB&DEVICES. Make the appropriate settings adjustments (like leaving transparency intact).
2. Save where you want the file (in my case, it’s inside my DreamWeaver Image library).
3. Open the .gif file (if you save as .jpg, there’s no transparency) in PHOTOSHOP (yep, you could’ve thought of this, too!)
4. Use marquee (m) to choose your size, crop it.
5. Insert it into your publication. All done!