Sep 112013

To start off the year, I decided to make sure that all of my 9th graders understand what the Internet really is and how it works before they get their Internet-ready laptops in a few weeks.

When they came in, they had the first five minutes of class to “draw the Internet.” I got a lot of quizzical looks. “What do you mean?” “You can’t draw the Internet!” I said, “If someone asked you what the Internet looked like, what would you draw?”

A few of the Internet drawings.

A few of the Internet drawings.

There were a variety of concepts including connected dots, a globe, drawings of homepages and Internet logos. A few students drew computers, one drew a phone. A few got their phones out and sketched a browser page on their phone.

I explained that while preparing for the lesson, I had been searching for a diagram of how the Internet works to show them and that all I found were pictures of computers connected to a grey cloud that said, “Internet.” I did find a fairly useful, short video that I showed them instead. Many people, I explained, that use the Internet, don’t really even understand what it is.

After watching the video, I asked them who their ISP was and they named Comcast, Verizon and Clear. We then reviewed the concept of IP addresses and the fact that all computers have them. We also discussed how IP addresses are changed into website names. It was, I admit, a lot to swallow and will require follow up lessons, but it was a crash course nonetheless.

After sharing their drawings with each other and comparing and contrasting them, I had the students count off into groups. They were then tasked with creating a chart that included at least one idea from everyone in the group. On the chart had to be two columns. One that said, “I use the Internet to…” and one that said, “I wish I used the Internet to….” They recorded their thoughts on the chart paper. After about 10 minutes of working, I then had each group walk from table to table to see what the other groups had written. We then debriefed and

Students brainstormed ways they use and ways they wish they used the Internet & then did a gallery walk.

Students brainstormed ways they use and ways they wish they used the Internet & then did a gallery walk.

talked about what we saw. I told them that they are in the position to make the things in their “wish” column a reality. I told them that most people use the internet for all of things the students said they did (social media, pictures, music..), but very few people actually make stuff for the Internet. I told them I want them to be makers and builders. I think they dug the idea.

Another fun part about the activity was walking around and listening to them talk to each other. “I wish I could talk to my computer.” “But you can, you can use Siri!” “Siri sucks. It’s not really talking to you.” I also overheard conversations about what they use the Internet to do and discovering common ground. Overall, I think it was a great start to the year and I look forward to digging deeper into conversations about Digital Citizenship and the rights and responsibilities that coming with going online.




Some ways they use and wish they used the Internet:

Internet Chart 2

Internet chart 1


Jun 262013
Art Bots at VentureLabs MakerSpace, San Antonio

Art Bots at VentureLabs MakerSpace, San Antonio

As I prepare for the last day of my 5th ISTE adventure (and nurse the sniffles that I blame on 40 degree indoor temperatures and 95 degree outdoor temperatures), I have been reflecting on the dozens of conversations that I have been lucky enough to have on this trip. For me, this ISTE has been about making connections and sharing experiences in a way that has not happened prior. Perhaps I’ve arrived at the “veteran ISTE attendee” status of not even noticing the huge crowds or feeling the need to be at a million parties. Or perhaps, over the years, I have developed more specific interests or deepened relationships to allow for deeper conversation. Whatever it is, I will leave with a renewed sense of practice and purpose a new energy for the challenges ahead.

With all of that said, I did find that there was also a missing element to this year’s conference. I was thrilled by the large number of “maker”-related sessions and conversations, but I was dismayed that ISTE did not highlight the MakerSpace right in downtown San Antonio. I visited the VentureLab MakerSpace right here in downtown San Antonio with some colleagues and was blown away by the vision that Mark Barnett has for bringing these kinds of experiences to kids.

The missing element this week was that link between creativity and technology that Steven Johnson spoke about this morning. “EdTech” should not be solely about building fun toys that “trick” students into learning the same things they were learning before.  To borrow a phrase from Will Richardson, EdTech should not focus only on using tech to teach and learn better than we did before, but rather, it should focus on using tech to teach and learn differently.

If we unleash kids to do real problem solving with real materials and technology and allow them to experiment, fail, and try again (this is the essence of makerspaces), they will <gasp> learn skills such as perseverance, communicating ideas, prototyping, measuring, reading directions, writing with an audience in mind, along with a number of other skills related to using specific tools. This, to me, is what we need more of in EdTech. The students engaging in these kinds of experiences are walking out of high school as mature, independent and employed young adults. I look at the robotics team I spoke to today whose mentors now work for Lockheed Martin or Toyota, but used to be on the team. The high school student I spoke to said he would be working for Toyota soon but can’t wait to return to help mentor the next group of students on the team. I watched 3 teams of high school students in a live cybersecurity competition, scanning computers for viruses and checking and re-checking firewalls. The student I spoke to told me that he would have a job right out of high school doing exactly what he loved to do. 

These students aren’t using technology to do math better or learn vocabulary better, but I am 100% sure that they are using technology to make their world a better place and discovering their passions while gaining applicable skills that will help them transition into a career that they love.

I am not saying that we should stop using technology to teach and learn better, but at this point, we need to consider how technology can help us teach and learn differently. Our students will thank us for it.


Nov 182012

A little over a month ago, fate brought me and Jonathan Leung from University of Pennsylvania together at a PhilaSoupevent. I was sitting next to Jonathan at the event and when I found out he was a Computer Science major, I began to share the details of an exciting project I’ve been working on. We discovered that we had a lot to talk about and we continued to talk about opportunities for student mentorship over email and a phone conversation. Fast forward to last week when Jonathan introduced me to the head of the Dining Philosophers the UPenn Computer Science club.

I have been working with two 7th graders on developing an educational math app for Kindergarten and 1st graders. They have been in desperate need of guidance with the programming side of the project, something I do not have the expertise to do. However, through my email communication with Jonathan, I learned that the Dining Philosophers would be holding a HackJam at a local venture capital firm, First Round Capital. During the 6 hour window, anyone could come in and get advice and feedback on any project they were working on.
Long story short, a few days later, my students and I were sitting at an oversized picnic bench as Jonathan guided our programmer, C, through the ins and outs of HTML and JavaScript. It was magic. C was beaming as he told me, “it’s getting easier!” and I marveled at Jonathan’s ability to challenge C while at the same time modeling the language syntax for him. Watching the two, who are close to a decade apart in age work at solving a problem and to listen to them speak to each other in what an outsider might consider a foreign language was a beautiful thing.

I feel blessed to have been able to give my students the opportunity to step into a hacker space, and to experience what a”work day” might feel like. Even more powerful, C now has a living, breathing mentor who is just a phone call away when he gets stuck or needs guidance. I could have never been able to provide such a deep learning experience on my own.

Mentoring like this matters. For one, everything C had learned about coding up until today was completely on his own. School doesn’t provide him the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that he is passionate about. Second, there are few teachers, through no fault of their own, that he comes in contact with that would even know where to start in helping him develop this talent.

It is time for schools to see that students are learning on their own and that this learning is often completely missing from their school life. It is time that schools, educators and the technology world (read: the business world) connect so that school, student passions and talents, and business leaders are all on the same page. I would argue that the skills that C is learning on his own outside of school will actually prepare him more for his future than the skills he learns in the classroom every day.

One way to make that connection is through mentoring. It is not just the students who need mentoring, either. The more educators are made aware of the skills required to be successful in today’s world and the future economy, the more likely they are to embrace changes in technology and the more likely they are to incorporate these skills into their classrooms. Teachers need mentors, too.

I was able to make this connection today through attending a local event and striking up a conversation. So the next time you are out at an event, bring business cards, ask for business cards or contact information. begin to build your own database of mentors. You never know when one might come in handy.

Photo credit: savetheclocktower on Flickr

Nov 042012

On Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity of leading a workshop on Digital Citizenship at the National Liberty Museum here in Philadelphia. One of the most important conversations to have at the start of the day is about the meaning and importance of citizenship in general. We spent the morning coming up with a common understanding of citizenship and why it matters. This conversation provided us with a place to hang new information on various aspects of our digital lives and to put our digital lives in perspective.

I was inspired by the conversation and the deep thinking that went into the definitions the participants created.




What we discovered was that there are a lot of parallels between face to face citizenship and digital citizenship, though the biggest differences are based upon the tools we use to communicate.





You can read the various definitions created by the participants and make the comparisons yourself between analog and digital citizenship.






After we pulled some common themes from these definitions, we were able to refer to them throughout the day. Many participants reflected that this kind of conversation was something that they could easily do with their own students.

After a brief ‘gallery walk,’ the participants used stickers to vote on the definition that spoke to them the most as well as the sentence describing why citizenship matters. 

Lifelong Kindergarten

 education, educational technology, technology  Comments Off on Lifelong Kindergarten
Oct 092012

First of all, I have to thank my friend, Kim Sivick for sharing this awesome gadget with me.


Today I received my Makey Makey kit in the mail and I haven’t stopped playing with it.

First, I opened the box.

Once I had it all plugged in, I immediately got some bananas and got to work.


I originally used the Makey Makey Scratch piano:

Then, the wheels in my brain began to spin. I opened up Scratch  and began to build a program.

Scratch Project

You can view it/play it here:

I have only begun to explore the possibilities for this awesome tool. At $40, it might be one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time.

May 202012

This year my 2nd graders completed a research project about African American Athletes using videos from and a public Google Docs presentation.

The students worked in self-selected pairs and picked an athlete’s name out of a ‘hat’ (it was actually a plastic beach bucket!). Over the next few weeks, they listened to the videos and took notes on facts they learned. They wrote the facts on a slide template (below) and then typed them into a public, collaborative Google Doc presentation. Once the presentation was done, I changed the settings to ‘view only.’






Once the project was complete, I thought of a comment I overheard Gary Stager make once about districts and schools saying “we’re just not ready for Google Docs.” He said something to the effect of “what, you’re not ready for word processing?” After watching my 8 and 9 year old students successfully take on a collaborative Google Doc presentation, I can’t help but think that Gary’s statement is an important one to consider. What could possibly hold a school or district back from using tools that allow students to collaborate on digital projects and then share those projects with the word, without even needing an account?

Enjoy our work!


Nov 292011


I attended Edcamp Harrisburg a while back but haven’t had a chance to share my reflections, so here-goes. One of my favorite sessions was run by my friend, Chris Champion and was entitled Doing Things Differently vs Doing Different Things. It was an important conversation about how and why we use technology in our classrooms.

Chris did a great job moderating the conversation, too. It was conversational and while Chris led the discussion, he also laid back (in true edcamp style!) and let the participants discuss and share ideas.

Here is a gist of the conversation. Basically, we proposed how technology allows us to do things differently and then challenged each other to come up with ways that we could do different things with the same technology.

It is vital that those educators who are passionate about brining technology into our classrooms evaluate whether that technology is actually helping us do different things in our classrooms rather than just making what we’ve always done easier or just a bit different.

These are the notes from the session discussion, though I would argue that there is a lot here to examine further. What would you add?

Doing Things Differently Doing Different Things
  • Word Processing
  • Collaborative writing in real time
  • “Blogging” reflections (just for teacher or w/out community
  • Students comment/real audience
  • Online Quiz with immediate feedback
  • Adaptive questions/testing
  • Interactive Whiteboards
  • Manipulative, simulations that require student interaction
  • Interactive video responses
  • Flipped Classroom model
  • driving differentiated instruction and also completing a project or interactive assignment at home w/support for what you didn’t get while you’re at school
  • Presentations
  • immediate feedback (polls/clickers), webinars with chat, microphones and break out rooms
  • Videoconferencing
  • Backchannel
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

Nov 102010

This past month my 6th graders have been working on videos in iMovie using photos and video I took of them completing a Science lesson. They handed them in last week after grading themselves using the rubric for the assignment. I then watched each one and graded it, stapling my rubric under theirs.

As I was grading them I realized that there were a lot of places for improvement. Rather than me taking the time to meet with each group individually I set aside a few classes as film reviewer sessions. We watched everyone’s movie and gave positive feedback and constructive criticism. I modeled the first few comments and then let them try it.

What ensued was the most effective feedback session I’ve witnessed in a while, adults included.

They said things like, “I think your music was good, but your text went too fast.” They even were able to take the feedback without trying to justify or respond.

The proof of the power of these feedback session was when I let them return to their projects to work on them based on the feedback they’d gotten.  I was blown away by how some students completely reorganized their images or deleted all of their text and changed it. Some re-recorded their opening videos or added smoother transitions.

This is a new group of students for me and it is their first attempt at an iMovie project. I was really proud of them. 

It took 2 1/2 class periods, but the self-assessment skills they learned were worth the time. I foresee these skills carrying into other projects as they review their final products.

Here is an example of one of the projects:


Many of the students emulated things they liked about each other’s videos, which is apparent in the above video, whose last clip had some inspiration from a classmate’s improv video clip that was a hit.

Do you have any examples of using effective feedback with your students?

Oct 152010
photo courtesy of K. Sawyer on Flickr

Just last week I had the first serious observation I’ve had in a long time.  I was observed during the first time my 3rd graders used the computers all year (no pressure!). I was nervous because this is my first year in the school, but I was also nervous because very few people, aside from aides and TSS workers have seen me teach. In the 7 years I worked in the School District of Philadelphia I was officially observed a total of 3 times. Two of those observations were before I was even certified.

The best part about my observation was the post-conference. The Instructional Coach who observed me had a concise and specific goal for me to work on, and it was one that I knew I needed to reconcile.  She told me that I needed to decide what exactly my learning goals for my students are.

As someone who believes that technology should not be taught as a separate class, teaching in a lab is a bit of a conundrum. 

I want to make sure that what I’m teaching my students is relevant to what they are doing in their classrooms. I want my class to be more than just learning how to do x, y and z. However, I also realize that my students have never been taught how to do much on the computer at all (the whole Digital Native thing is farce, believe me).

Part of the post-conference conversation was about learning goals for my lessons. I have to make a decision. Is the learning goal about the content or the tool?

In a perfect world, I would love for the tool to be a pathway to understanding content. First, however, my students need to know how to use the tool.

So to reconcile this dilemma I have realized that I can teach the tool and make my main learning objective be focused around the tool while using a relevant topic or concept that is aligned with the grade-appropriate curriculum to teach the tool. Perhaps later in the year, or even next year, once my students have enough tools under their belt, we can begin to explore content, not tools. Until then, my role as a lab teacher is to provide my students the time to explore a variety of tools so that when it comes to choosing what tool is right for the job, their belt has a few options in it.