Mar 242012

I am very excited to be attending ASCD’ s annual conference here in Philadelphia. I will be blogging about sessions and conversations I attend. Here are some sessions for today that caught my eye:

  • A lunch with ASCD’s Outstanding Educators
  • Session 1270 — EdCamp-Style Professional Development Engages and Empowers Teachers, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.  (a little bias here since the presenters are my colleagues from Edcamp Philly and the Edcamp Foundation)
  • Session 1214 — Having Hard Conversations 1:00-2:30pm
  • Session 1272 — The Power of Reflective Inquiry as Professional Development 1:30-2:30pm
  • Session 1302 — Differentiation and the Brain: What Neuroscience Suggests about a Learner-Friendly Classroom 3:00-4:30pm
  • Session 1318 — If We Build It, They Will Come: Strategic Curriculum Planning for Student Achievement 3:00-4:30pm
  • Session 1331 — Changing the Culture of Grading 3:00-4:30
  • Edutopia/ASCD Tweetup at the Field House 7:00-9:00pm

I know I can’t attend them all, but they all look interesting!

I’m very impressed so far with the offerings, especially in the technology realm. Kudos to ASCD!



Aug 132011

I was honored to present at the third annual Reform Symposium a week ago. I spent my morning listening to John Spencer  narrate his journey toward more student-directed learning illustrated by his own original drawings. I then got to sit in on William Deyamport‘s personal branding session, which was full of important information on building and protecting your reputation and brand.  I was also sitting in on Ann Caryn-Cleveland‘s session on empowering women and girls through technology. Her story was an inspiring one, and I’m now hoping to start an all-girls robotics club this year. After that I caught part of Deven Black‘s story about his journey as a teacher, which is always powerful.

I was also happy to catch Kelly Tenkley‘s story of how she started Anastasia Academy. Despite the uphill climbs and stumbling blocks she faced, I was amazed at how easy she made it sound!  I give her kudos for having an idea, turning it into a dream and bringing it to a reality.

I missed the rest of the conference due to a wedding and other responsibilities, so I am looking forward to catching the presentations I missed.

You can check out the Elluminate recording of my session here:

Teaching With Video Games in Mind

As well as the SlideShare:

Check out all of the recordings from the conference here:

Reform Symposium 3 Recordings

The Reform Symposium 2011

 #rscon3, conference, Reform Symposium  Comments Off on The Reform Symposium 2011
Jul 232011

The countdown has begun for this year’s free, 3-day online conference, The Reform Symposium!  In its third year, this awesome event runs nearly 24 hours a day for 3 days, with keynotes from highly respected educators and presentations from all over the world. Whether you’re in Texas or Taiwan, there are presentations happening for your time zone.

Thanks to the organizers, Shelly Terrell, Christopher Rogers, Kelly Tenkely, Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Mark Barnes, Cecilia Lemos, Clive Elsmore, and Jerry Blumengarten! You can read more about them here. 

A big thanks goes to Steve Hargadon as well for setting us up with the Elluminate rooms!

You can tune into the sessions, which will be held using Elluminate, by checking out the schedule.  To see what’s happening in your time zone, use the tabs on the bottom of the spreadsheet. Links to each room will be posted on the first day of the conference.

You can also follow the hashtags #rscon3 or  #rscon11 (people seem to be using both).

To learn more about the presenters, you can check this out.

We are also in need of Elluminate moderators. You can sign up to help here:

I will be presenting on Friday, July 29th at 5:00pm EST. I will be discussing video games and what we can learn from them to better plan instruction and design learning experiences.

Come check it out! It’s always a good time!

The 1st Annual Philadelphia Education Conference

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Jun 022011

I just learned about a wonderful event here in Philly this weekend, the 1st Annual Philadelphia Education Conference. It is a day of conversations and panel discussions with the ultimate goal of hashing out some tangible steps toward positive reform of education here in Philadelphia.

While some of you may be aware that Education Nation, an NBC media event is also starting this weekend, I urge you to attend the Philadelphia Education Conference, which I’m sure will be a much more localized, grassroots and meaningful conversation.

Some of the listed attendees are:

Jim Stephens – Founder of Elite Rescue, Recovery, and Rebuilding 

Greg Trainor – Philadelphia Community Corps, United Philly

Alex McNeil and Project EDU Temple University-City Year

Howard Jean – Director of Education at Cheyney University, Founder of the national programs Call Me M.I.S.T.E.R and S.E.I.L. (Success through Education, Inspiration, and Leadership)

Gina Renzi – University of Pennsylvania Director of The Rotunda, After School Programs 

Bunmi Samuel – Freedom Schools, Director of Education of Friends Neighborhood Guild, Community Leader for Health and Nutrition at -EPIC, Board Member of Temple University’s Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities

James Elam – Professor, Mentor, Founder of Pride Academy After School Program – a three tiered program consisting of education, arts, and athletics

Chuck Treece – several after school programs and youth Skating initiatives, Pew Fellowsip for the Arts Recipient, NARAS Board

Isaiah Thomas – Associate Dean of Students, Athletic Director, and Head Boys Basketball Coach at Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School. Candidate for Philadelphia City Council at Large

Tony Payton – State Representative

Tony Alvarez – Mariani Bracetti Academy Charter School – Dir. of School and Community Development

Tiffany Bacon – Connect to Protect Health Collective; Public Health Management Corp, PRAISE 103.9, 100.3 THE BEAT, 107.9 WRNB
Tiffany Thompson – Youth Health Empowerment Program (Y-HEP)

Russell Hicks – 100 Black Men of Philadelphia, E3 Centers

Richard DeJesus – Richard and Friends of the Community

Jeff Murray – YouthStarz

John Price – University of Pennsylvania Policy and Procuedure Department – OST Programs

Jonathan Centeno – ASPIRA, EPIC Kensington

Monica Montgomery – Arete Magazine

Celandra Rice Prince – Elements of Inspiration Radio Show, 1460 AM

Mark Savage, Jr. – Spoken Word Artist, Bright Lights Foundation, 528 Crescendo Productions

Ann Guise – Bright Lights Foundation

Ryshon Jones – Spoken Word Artist

Jamilla Harris, Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM)

Darryl Clark – Help Educate Leaders for the Present (H.E.L.P.)

Alison Lin – Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – Connect to Protect Initiative

Thomas Butler – Project Grad ( Philly Chapter) 

When: Sunday, June 5th from 10am to 4pm. Doors open at 9am 

Where: Room 200 at Temple University’s Howard Gittis Student Center
1755 N. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122.

Tickets are only $10.

You can purchase tickets through TicketLeap here.

Feb 022011

This weekend was a blur of ideas and passion, and I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of being surrounded by such intelligent and energetic educators, many of whom I consider good friends and who push my thinking on a daily basis.  Rather than go into depth about each and every session I attended, I decided to do a run-down of my takeaways from the weekend, broken down by topic.  There are links to each session’s Educon page and some sessions have a link to a website or wiki shared by the presenters.

Blended Learning Opportunities
Tony Baldasaro

Tony’s blended learning charter school is doing amazing things by blending content with experiential learning. His students not only complete academic coursework, but complete experiential projects in a field of their choice.

  • Passion is when we lose ourselves in a task, when we never get tired of engaging with something, when we become emotionally invested in something.  
  • Angela Meiers suggested that part of being passionate is suffering. While I’m not totally convinced that you need to suffer to be passionate, I think that there is an emotional investment in our passions.
  • We can’t expect children to find their passion if we don’t expose them to as many experiences as possible and let them tinker with ideas and try out different roles?

    Standards Based Grading
    Mike Ritzius and Kristen Swanson–session site

    This is one of my recent obsessions (grading, assessment in general) and I was lucky enough to sit next to a technology teacher like myself who does a standards-based report card for her class. She shared a great site with me: SnapGrades. This site does have a fee, but it creates standards-based report cards and aligns perfectly with my current classroom practices.

    • What is the purpose of grading?
    • How do standards based grades affect college acceptance? (most agreed that they don’t)
    • There is a lot of education that needs to be done with the families when switching over. George Couros spoke about how he was clear with the parents about why they were switching to narrative report cards rather than grades.
    • Standards based grades are a better indicator of what your child really knows.
    • When we average out grades, we penalize students for growth.
    • When we give students zeros, it’s an easy way for them to ‘check out’ and not learn the content.

    I could talk about this topic for DAYS. I loved hearing what George Couros had to say about his school’s approach to getting rid of grades. He explained the move to the parents by telling them that it would be a true reflection of what their child knows.  There was also a lot of talk about the disconnect between K-12 and Post-Secondary education, especially when it came to college acceptance.   

      The Future of Research 
      Joyce Valenza, Shannon Miller, Gwyneth Jones–session site

      There was some great conversation here about what students ‘need’ to know and the kinds of skills they need to be successful researchers. In addition, there was some conversation about ‘old school’ vs ‘new school’ methods, tools and resources. 

      • You can’t teach research unless students are actually DOING research. They need to learn while they are doing.
      • Use citation tools to make citation easier (—BUT knowing citation is an important skill. It is like knowing the common code of communication for information.
      • Do term papers serve a purpose or are they an outdated form of assessment?
      • Do we love or hate Wikipedia?  It lets students know when articles are poorly references, provides additional resources at the bottom of articles and includes things that you won’t find in a traditional encyclopedia. However, for younger students it can be hard to read and digest while also evaluating the content.
      • Students need to know how to evaluate information, collect information, synthesize what they have collected and be fluent in using keywords.  They also need to know where to go for the information they are seeking.

        What is Literacy Today?
        David Jakes and Laura Deisley

        This was possibly the most engaging and fascinating conversation I had all weekend.  Neither David nor Laura provided concrete answers, but rather presented us with a continuum of probing questions. Me likey. I think we all need to bring it back to our schools.

        • Literacy—political act, human right, interpret/comprehend, participate, literacy vs fluency, power, civic participation
        • Is the notion of what it means to be literate different? Has literacy changed?
        • Has literacy been institutionalized?
        • Was there literacy before there was reading and writing?
        • Is there digital literacy or is it just literacy in a new context?
        • We are now reading in new places, so we often read more than we used to.
        • We now have reading breadth rather than depth
        • We have access to what we want to read, more choices.
        • This means we need to be our own filter–a skill we must teach children.
        • We control what we read, which can lead to group think. (David Warlick)
        • Since most people get distracted by links and may never finish what they started reading, you can control the reader by how many links you put into your post and where you place them.
        • You can also create a path for the reader with hyperlinks–a conscious act
        • Book Glutton–read books socially and synchronously with others.
        • What about schools that don’t have access—are these students the new illiterate?
        • Is it OK to stick to functional literacy that depends on context?—being literate in the ‘world’ in which you live

        Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?
        Myself and Ann Leaness–session site

        There was so much more to this conversation, but it was very face-to-face, so I did not take notes or tweet at all!  One of the most exciting parts of the session was listening to Zac Chase’s student talk about his own experiences with the Internet, distraction and his ‘old brain.’

        • I don’t miss my old network, but I miss my old brain.– Ben Wilkoff
        • Do we control the tool or do we adapt to the tool?
        • What does it mean to be a patient reader? 
        • Are we witnessing evolution and how big of a deal is neuroplasticity?

          The Classroom of Tomorrow
          Zoe Pipe and Rodd Lucier

          We used Livescribe pens to record our discussions. As certain topics were discussed, I made markings on the special Livescribe paper. This allowed us to easily find parts of the conversation by clicking on the marks I made. It was difficult, but very cool.

          • Learning spaces should allow for a variety of learning areas.
          • Schools should be open to the world through the use of windows and by designs that allow each learning space to access the outdoors.
          • There should be a space where students can lounge or relax.
          • Should we still use the word “classroom” when much of our learning might not be contained within walls or learning might occur across many physical spaces?

           Other takeaways:

          • a large presence of administrators—it is refreshing to see many school leaders create learning networks and join the discussions either as participants or session leaders
          • are we saying anything new?— I find that the group of educators that attends Educon tends to be of the same outlook, mindset and viewpoint. Many of the conversations we have had over the weekend are nothing new. How many times can we hash out an idea and say “We should do something about this” before something actually gets done?
          • what are the new conversations?—what do we really need to be discussing as we move forward into the new year?
          • I have some pretty awesome friends that I only get see at special gatherings like this–social media is powerful, but nothing beats meeting someone face to face and seeing that they are just the same as they are in 140 characters. What’s more, nothing beats face to face…period.

            Nov 152009

            Yesterday I attended BarCamp Philly, a gathering of people from all walks of life who converged on the University of the Arts building with the sole purpose of, well, seeing what happens!  I met up with Ann Leaness on 15th Street as she walked from the train.  We had never met in person, but have been talking on Twitter for months ever since we met in an Elluminate session. (Ann, you can correct me if my memory is fuzzy!)  After getting some breakfast, we went to register, finding Kevin Jarrett and Rob Rowe and Kristen Swanson by the registration tables.  A few minutes after finding a seat to discuss our plans, Dan Callahan showed up as well and we began talking about doing one of the sessions we had been contemplating in a Google Doc Rob created before the conference to allow us to connect before meeting each other in person.

            As we began talking, it was clear that we would be running 2 sessions, with Kevin manning his “Teaching as a Second Career” session at 10am and us running a “Social Media Survival Guide for Schools” at 2:30pm.  We found an empty classroom around 9am and started brainstorming.  What ensued was a dream come true for any true tech geek.  The 6 of us sat, laptops and netbooks open, with a Google Doc agenda in the works.   We alternated roles between adding links, tables and formatting text to create the final product.  We talked about using Google Wave, but with all of us working wirelessly and Dan using a netbook that might not have been able to handle it, we stayed with Docs, though it would have been a great use of Wave.

            Teaching as a Second Career

            After a short opening statement by the organizers we headed toward our first session with Kevin.  In the session were a group of people who were thinking of entering the teaching profession.  We answered their questions and gave them as much insight as we could about the career that we have made our lives.  Kevin was a great presenter, and, his story of changing careers is inspiring.  Hearing myself talking about what I do on a day to day basis really gave me a new found love of my career. In fact, I felt inclined to tweet about it:

            Things That Suck

            Next, Ann and I headed to the “Things That Suck” session to have a little fun and get out of ‘work’ mode for an hour.  It turned out to be pretty fun.  We were seated in a tiny theater called “The Black Box” with a facilitator who gave us the rules for the session.  He would be presenting us with a topic and we would have to decide whether we thought it ‘sucked,’ ‘didn’t suck,’ or if we were ‘ambivalent.’  The first topic was “Apple Web Design.”  We had to sit in the appropriate section of the small theater that was designated for each opinion, moving around as our opinion changed.

            The facilitator would ask people in each section why they had chosen that section and he would build debate by asking participants to rebut the other side’s argument. It was silly and fast-paced and some people actually made some good points.  There was a lot of playful dialogue and the facilitator did a good job of maintaining the energy of the activity.  At one point, during a discussion of whether email ‘sucked’ or ‘didn’t suck’ a woman argued that email was great for marketing, and the best way for her to send you coupons.  “You’re the devil!” yelled the eternally ambivalent green-haired gentlemen sitting behind me.  That was the vibe. It was great.

            I also got to meet another Twitter PLN member, Mike Ritzius, for the first time face to face at this session, though with the fast pace of the session we didn’t get to really say much more than ‘hi.’  He said he was doing a session right after ours.

            Lunch Time

            Ann and I headed to lunch with Dan and Rob, hoping to snag a table and free WiFi at Cosi, which we did.  Kevin and Kristen followed a little later.  We were supposed to be planning the session we had in mind, but like most conversations involving teachers, we ended up spending 45 minutes discussing education issues and comparing notes on how things are done in our respective districts and roles.  We discussed everything from the new ‘modified’ PSSA and web filtering vs. good classroom management, to the rampant problems with IEP compliance that we have seen over the years.

            Finally, we buckled down and got our Google Doc agenda finished.  As we were about to tweet out the agenda to the BarCamp attendees (using the #bcphilly hashtag) the WiFi went down in Cosi, so we headed to the room where we would be presenting.

            The Social Media Survival Guide for Schools

            Sitting in the room was Mike and 2 other educators who would be presenting in the same room right after us.  We settled ourselves and set up the projector as people slowly filed in.  We were happy to see that at least there were more attendees than presenters (there were 6 of us!)  We found that there were not many educators in the audience, though there were 2 librarians in attendance.  We covered digital identity, professionalism and taking care with what you put up online as well as challenges that we come across when trying to use social media tools in the classroom.  We had a chance to discuss the successes we’ve had, with Ann sharing her student Ning and me sharing my student work wiki and student blog.  What was amazing about the whole session was that the 6 of us had never met in person before.  Some of us had just met on Twitter over the past few days.  Yet, once we were all in one place, it was like we had always know each other.  That in itself is proof of the power of Social Media for learning and collaboration.

            Honestly, I have no idea how well received our session was, but most people stuck around, so I guess it couldn’t have been that bad.

            Asynchronous Learning

            Next up was Mike Ritzius and Nicolae Borota from Gloucester Township Technical High School in Camden County, New Jersey.  As they began to describe the innovative Project Based Learning that they were doing with their students I was dripping with amazement and, to be honest, a little bit of jealousy. 

            They are 2 of 5 teachers who co-teach a group of about 100 students in grades 9-12 in one large, converted shop room.  Each teacher has a different area of expertise (Mike is the Science teacher and Nicolae the Math teacher) and they integrate all of the content areas through Project Based Learning.  They each are in charge of about 16 students as their ‘advisory’ and they teach large group as well as in smaller ‘seminars’ which are held in an adjoining classroom or in rooms not in use in the building.  The students stay in the classroom all day, leaving only to attend specials like gym and, as it is a technical high school, to attend career classes like mechanics. 

            They use Project Foundry and Moodle to facilitate the projects and assignments.  Students sometimes attend 20 minute seminars that deliver content and then move to a workstation or a computer to complete a discussion or an assignment based on the seminar.  Since all of the work is completed online, Nicolae and Mike reported that many students who are home sick log in and complete their assignments and take part in the classroom discussions from home through Moodle.  The teachers have found that many students are not used to working so hard.  There are no separate 45 minute classes with transitions, so students are working all day long.  (in photo: Nicolae on the left, Mike on the right.)

            The teachers in this classroom work closely to plan lessons and call themselves a PLC (Professional Learning Community).  They have been using Google Wave to plan and coordinate lessons and they have built a community of learners who are independent and who are as engaged with the content as their teachers are.  You could see the glint of excitement in both Mike and Nicolae’s eyes while they were discussing their classroom.

            When asked about discipline issues, they told a funny story.  They have different rules in their classroom than the rest of the school.  This is part of the open and independent community that they have built over the last 2 months that they have been teaching together.  They do not have huge discipline issues in the classroom–though students have been written up for cutting classes that they were supposed to go to because they weren’t watching the clock and forgot to go.  However, once a teacher approached them saying they didn’t like the way the kids didn’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of the school.  One of their students had been in trouble in this teacher’s class for having his or her cell phone out.  Mike and Nicholae indicated to the teacher that, although they allow students to have cell phones out in class, there was not one student in the classroom with a cell phone out.  This, the two explained, is because their students are too engaged in what they are doing to find time or have a reason to pull out a cell phone.

            What is amazing about this, what could be called ‘experiment,’ is the amount of administrative support the teachers have received from their Superintendent and the local administration.  Mike is the president of his teacher’s union, so he was able to present this learning model to the Superintendent himself.

            For more information about this amazing classroom, you can contact Mike and Nicholae:

            Email: or you can follow him on Twitter:
            Email: or you can follow him on Twitter:

            Closing Thoughts 

            BarCamp Philly was an amazing time.  It was so refreshing to attend such an event so close to home.  What all of us teachers kept saying was how amazing a BarCamp would be for staff development.  It’s a great way for teachers to act as leaders and experts in their own school, as well as a great opportunity for collaboration across grade levels and disciplines.  It also allows teachers to choose the area that interests them or is relevant rather than all teachers receiving the same training whether it applies to them or not, which is the current practice in most schools and districts.

            BarCamp also got me really excited for Educon in January.  If I could just do these kinds of conferences all day everyday, I’d be happier than a pig in….well, you know.

            Thanks to Kevin Jarrett for the photos of lunch and our session!