Thursday, August 22, 2013

Moving Blogs

My blog is moving to Not sure I like the look yet and it's quite obvious the latest post was written after midnight, but you have to start somewhere. Adios

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 23 BLC13

This morning I was privileged to be in a session with Dr. Eric Mazur of Harvard University. Aside from being an international superstar in the world of physics, Dr. Mazur is also a superstar of pedagogy for his rigorous work with what is now called the flipped classroom. He originally called it "inverting the sequence," for the trivia buffs. There was much to dissect in what he said and I have some things to read over, but I want to get a few nuggets down here now.

  • Mazur quoting Camus, "Some people talk in their sleep. Lecturers talk while other people are sleeping."
  • Most uses of technology in schools are like old wine in new skins.
  • The design of a traditional physical classroom space is based upon the Greek amphitheatre which was designed for entertainment not learning.
  • Have you ever heard a student say, "Teacher, please be quiet. I need time to think?"
Lots of other meaty information from Mazur, but I need time to read it over and think.

I spent my afternoon with the gregarious Alan November. I love the way he thinks aloud while he's teaching. I also really appreciate how willing he is to entertain questions, even those that seem tangential.

As I listened to Alan, the effort/impact matrix that Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett reminded me of during yesterday's session. It would be interesting to examine various technology initiatives in schools in terms of where they might fall on this matrix.

Trying to keep this short tonight. Three more learning-packed days ahead!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

BLC13 Pre-Conference July 23

Basic thoughts on my first day at BLC. Will be revised and reflected upon later.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Grammar is not Glamour

It's summer break and the time when all good teachers put workbooks in front of their own children.

Despite all of my talk and beliefs about the need for learning experiences marked by discovery, collaboration, connection, relevance, and authenticity, my son spends time with a grammar workbook several days a week. 

If I make a Wordle of what his summer looks like, it's something like this, filled with a variety of great summer activities, places and people:

In my mind, though, admitting the existence of the workbook makes his summer look more like this:

He doesn't fight the workbook. In fact, he seems to enjoy it. I think he feels accomplished because he's good at it and it's concrete. Grammar is not glamour and requires practice, practice and more practice.

If you have any suggestions on how grammar can be taught in a way that would capture the minds and hearts of more students, I would love to hear from you. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

1999 and 2012

This adorable little girl was my student back in 1999 when I started teaching in a computer lab at an international school in Bangkok.

Her kindergarten class came in once a week for 45 minutes to learn how to use the computers. At the time, nobody on administration truly felt the kindergarten students should be in the computer lab, but apparently the parents clamored for it. A good international school would have computer instruction.

I was a bit against it. I thought young minds should not spend their time in front of a screen staring, being passive. I thought they should be out playing or possibly inside reading books.

But I was determined that if they had to be in the computer lab, I would try to make it as worthwhile an experience as possible, even given the rather limited resources.

So we played number munchers. It was a cheap PacMan knock off aimed at practicing math facts.

And KidPix. They all liked the bomb, but I hated the bomb and refuse to put a picture of it here.

Number Munchers and KidPix, I felt I could justify. We were "integrating technology into the curriculum." Yes, even back before the year 2000, we said we were aiming at that. (Are we there yet?)

I thought Mavis Beacon was going a little far for kids that age. I even read articles that said young children should not be keyboarding. They had plenty of time to learn that.

Some teachers wanted to get kiddie-size keyboards. Eventually the school moved to a new building with kiddie-sized toilets. Some felt placated.

We used floppy disks that were no longer floppy. These were very modern. They were all sorts of pretty colors. And we almost never filled them up!

The floppy disks went in computers like this which was pretty advanced also. It had a cd-rom.

The crazy man is my husband who was helping me demonstrate that students were not allowed to touch the server. EVERYTHING was on that server. The school's finances. The library program. The guidance program. All of it. It sometimes got backed up to a location from which nobody knew how to restore it. That's how things were and still we slept well.

This was my student in spring 2012, graduating high school. She's all grown up now and even has herself a long-term boyfriend. (We approve of him.)

Now she is never without one of these. If she's like me, she may even walk around with several similar devices.

She probably texts like this now. She always was all thumbs. (I can't stop thinking about my thumbs as I type this. I want to thumb type.)

I'll try to digest some of this in my next blog post. I want to reflect on what we really taught students about technology a decade-and-a-half ago and how it may or may not have changed. I want to examine what was useful and what was not. Most of all, I want to try to draw conclusions about how what we are teaching today may or may not be relevant for our kindergarten students when they graduate twelve years from now.

And below is my student's comment upon seeing this post.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

If I ran PD

We are all born as learners. As children, we want to hide in closets, climb trees, follow paths through the woods, and generally get into mischief. If we are fortunate, we have teachers who nurture these desires in us. They make us ask questions. They make us look for answers. A good answer will lead to a new question. Good teachers make us wonder.

When I read Ben Beaton's quote from #slide2learn a few days ago, a lot of recent ideas about learning coalesced. You see, I recently had a discussion with my principal about what our teachers do with technology in their classroom. We briefly discussed PD at the school. It's pretty normal in schools for teachers to diss PD, right? But do we ever offer solutions other than, "Let's meet less often?"

What if we redesigned PD so that it was a model for our students? What if instead of trying so hard to teach teachers how to personalize learning, we personalized learning for our teachers? What would that look like?

Such professional development would

  1. Be relevant
  2. Give teachers choice about what to learn
  3. Allow teachers to set their own goals
  4. Encourage collaborative learning
  5. Engage the broader educational community
  6. Be inquiry based
  7. Give permission for teachers to learn how they learn best
  8. Be self-sustaining in that it would not require external "instructors" or significant planning by administration
  9. Allow teachers to follow their passions as learners

Now, we may not be able to take all these ideas and implement them quickly or in large scale in our classrooms. But, could we do this for professional development at a medium-sized international school? If so, what would it look like?

Given that it's unlikely that the powers that be would give up each week's 90 minutes of PD time, let's assume that this New PD Model would take place once per month. I imagine something like the following:

During the first session, teachers brainstorm together in a giant room about what they want to learn. 

They share ideas about their passions and their needs in the classroom. Some things teachers might want to study could include things like reaching ELLs, PBL, using twitter for PD, what unique needs students from name the place have, teaching science using examples you find in the movies, cross-disciplinary projects, etc... You name it. Nothing would be off the table at first.

The community would corporately decide on a variety of topics to study. Each teacher would be able to chose the learning community they wanted to partner with.
Each learning community would meet to discuss their own goals. Each individual in each community need not have the same goals. Rather, each community member should be willing to share his own goals with the group and frame the goals in a way that will contribute to the larger learning community.

If people really are pursuing their own interests in the way that suits their learning style best, learning might look very different for each person. Let's imagine we have a four person learning community studying strategies to use with English Language Learners. One teacher/learner might love TED talks. She might decide she's going to approach her inquiry by watching one or two TED talks a week about language acquisition, differences in languages, or brain based learning. Anything remotely connected to ELLs would be fair game. A second teacher/learner might have a book about ELLs that he has meant to read for months but hasn't found time. His investigation would take the form of finally reading that book. A third teacher/learner might decide to participate in weekly twitter chats about ELLs for the duration of the project. And the fourth ELL might decide to study the data the school keeps on ELLs to look for new insights. 

Each group member would conduct their inquiry. Members would meet monthly to share ideas and discuss their progress. Each member would be responsible for reporting back to the group on their progress. Members might bring something tangible to the table while reporting their inquiry such as a prezi or a keynote. Or they might bring discussion questions and lead the others in a Socratic dialogue. The point is, the learning does not look the same for each learner. Each learner is pursuing what is relevant to their needs and interests.

In fact, let's dream big. The learning communities might not even meet during the regular weekly PD time. We are all educational professionals. If we decide to use our Learning Community PD time for student meetings, grading or even to catch up on sleep, then we will be responsible for meeting at a different time, perhaps at a coffee shop, to share our findings.

This learning would
be about what matters to us as professionals
give us choice about what to learn
allow us to set our own goals
encourage collaboration
engage the broader community
lead to more questions
let us learn how we learn best
not be a burden for those planning PD
allow teachers to follow their passions as learners
Now wouldn't that be more productive, and perhaps actually easier, than having one person talk at us for PD? And what a powerful statement about the value of inquiry such a model would give. It would expose teachers who have only met a traditional model to a more personalized inquiry-based approach. It would build community and learning would be fun!

Here is a sample of a school that let's its students learn how I've just proposed PD to be.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Let them max out the resources

Apple is doing the following things right right now at ADE2013 to see that the new ADE community maximizes and internalizes learning.
  1. Encourage friendships.
  2. Allow free play time. 
  3. Take care of basics – sleep, food, potty breaks and bug spray.
  4. Make the environment pleasant. 
  5. Celebrate failures.
  6. Provide frequent documentation of learning.
  7. Allow the students to teach.
  8. Let them max out the resources.
  9. Create lessons in which the hardest work of the day is reflecting, not memorizing facts and figures.
  10. Instill in learners the knowledge that you are taking care of them.

If they forget what day it is, you are probably doing a good job.

8. Let them max out the resources.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reflection on student videoscribe projects

My sixth-graders are about to finish up a project using Videoscribe to create plot diagrams. Working cooperatively, they have created original images to represent the main events in a novel they read, written a script for the events, and placed the events on a plot diagram in the form of a movie. Today I hope my students will be able to AirDrop me their product.

We have two more steps as a class. The first is to debrief. I intend to ask the students about the problems they encountered and prod them for solutions or ways they can foresee these problems in the future. The second step as a class is a celebration party where we look at all of the finished products. I hope to post them on a blog I just created for student work (empty still) at

Here are some of the lessons about cooperative work and technology that I have observed with my students. I look forward to hearing their feedback about what they think did not go as planned and what did.

1.     During class, students may need to call parents for passwords.
This is okay.

2.     Some students will be technologically ahead of others.
While using videoscribe, one group realized that they could not pause while recording audio and video. They realized they could record their audio using quicktime instead and then import it and match it to their pictures. This was a good solution for them.

Another group with a similar problem tried using vokaroo, but it would not import for them.

And a third student is still struggling with the fact that he can’t pause videoscribe while recording audio and video. He hasn’t figured out that he should use a different application for recording audio. (In the end, he found a very good workaround.)

3.     Students don’t think of the same workarounds that I do.
One student found that her app would only record for five minutes. Instead of seeking a different app that would allow her to work longer, she made two separate recordings. In my mind, I was thinking, “Why don’t you use Quicktime instead?” I think Quicktime would have provided a better alternative because she could have accomplished the same task with one file and no significant additional work, but my students don’t know about using Quicktime this way. The bigger problem, in this case, is that they don’t seek out better answers and they don’t use each other as resources.

4.     Trial apps expire.
While I love the app Videoscribe, the cost is high, so we used the trial version which was only valid for seven days. I alerted students numerous times that they had only seven days with the app, and that they should not download the program until they were ready to record, but several students had their trial expire becaue the timing was off.

My students realized they could email the app creator and get a two-day extension (kudos, students!), but that did not last long because Videoscribe was getting too may emails from sixth grade students in Korea and started emailing back that he would not extend their trials.

5.     Students will need extra time.
My sixth-graders don’t have great time management skills. They have had plenty of time in class to complete this project. They spent too much time on the drawing part and did not foresee that the later parts of the project would take time. Because of this, it has been a rush to finish last minute, even with extensions.

6.     Students have trouble finding time outside of class to work cooperatively.
My students had ample time outside of class to work, but as sixth graders who don’t necessarily live near one another, there are factors other than time at play. Many students were away for the past week on Lunar Break.

Others live far enough away from each other that they can’t work cooperatively if it means they have to be in the same room. This is a big problem with Videoscribe. My students are used to cooperative work using google docs, with enormous flexibility, so they can easily spot the limitations in Videoscribe.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Third Culture Kids

Last Friday several of my seventh grade students asked me if I was a TCK, a third culture kid. I considered this a great compliment, which is a far cry from my thoughts in college. In college, I thought TCKs were the kids who hadn't bought clothes or taken a shower since junior high. Apologies to my TCK friends.

I had to explain to my students that I am not a TCK. If there were such a thing as a TCA, a third culture adult, I would qualify. I lived in Hungary for two years, met my (American) husband there. We returned to the US for three years, but it took only a few months there to realize that we were not settled. We went to Thailand in 1999. In 2005, we again returned to the US for three years. Five years ago, we returned to Thailand; and this fall, we moved to South Korea.

I don't know if I will ever live long-term in the United States again. If it weren't for my parents and my need to update my wardrobe on occasion, I would have very little problem not returning to the US for an extended period of time. For me, Thailand feels like home. That's a bit crazy and my Thai language skills are
ไม่เก่งพอ/not good enough. I don't like spicy food, which rules out almost all Thai food. 

But my son was adopted from Thailand. My son's face is 100% Thai. Thai faces are the faces of my best student memories. Thailand is where I knew students in kindergarten and saw them graduate from high school. Thailand is far from idyllic, but when I think of a place to lay my head and rest, Thailand is that place.When I see pictures of friends in Thailand, it is where my heart longs to be.

Back to the TCK thing. This has set me to thinking on the types of TCKs in the world. Here are a few types of TCKs that I can think of. People can fit into more than one of these categories.

Image from
  1. The traditional TCK. A third culture kid is a child who has spent a significant amount of their childhood or formative years in a culture that is different from the home culture of the parents.
  2. The international school (only) TCK. This is a student who lives in their home culture, but attends an international school and thus is raised somewhat outside of the traditional cultural norms. (Many of my students in Bangkok fit into this category.)
  3. The TCK whose parents embrace TCKness. These are parents who are aware that their children are growing up outside of the home culture and foster the wide world that this experience brings.
  4. The TCK with reluctant parents. This is a TCK whose parents perhaps did not realize what they were signing up for when they agreed to bring up their children in a country other than their own. The parents may try to keep the children living under most if not all of the home country's cultural norms. 
  5. The TCK who is only in another country to attend school. In Thailand we had quite a few Korean students whose parents wanted them to learn English and attend international schools, but the students could not attend international schools in Korea. These students often ended up in some interesting permutation of a non-official boarding school, living with extended family, friends, or even on their own at a young age.
  6. The in-country TCK. These are some of my students now in Korea. They may or may not have spent a portion of their lives outside of their home country. Often they spent a few very young years away from their parents home country, but they have returned. These students have parents whose lives were not significantly transformed by their time overseas. These students tend toward the norms of their home country. (Some countries seem to have stronger pulls than others. Korea is a rather homogenous culture, so the path of least resistance certainly means living, acting, thinking Korean).
  7. The TCK Adult. This is me. I am a very different person than I would be had I not spent thirteen years of my adulthood (so far) outside of my home country. Major life events have taken place outside of my home country. I met my husband overseas. I met and adopted my son overseas. Friends have come and gone overseas. The sorrows and joys of my adulthood have largely been lived overseas. When I step back and look at my life, I ask myself, "Can I ever return to the US?"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The lessons of Downton Abbey for teachers

Like many people, I am caught up in the drama of Downton Abbey. At first it seemed like a fun period piece, complete with witty banter and amazing costumes. As season three has progressed, though, I’ve realized how much the writer is truly developing the notion of Robert as a man at odds with the changing world around him. He’s constantly struggling between the life he has known and the life his wife, daughters and various and sundry family members seem to be dragging him toward. At its core, it is a story about the struggle to reconcile old ways with modernity in a human way.

This is very much the same story that educators face today. The world is changing. Sticking to our old ways will not do much good. Our children, our students, will bring us to new ways of doing things, whether we want them to or not. And in the end, the new ways are what we need to thrive, to help our students thrive.

This idea was illustrated clearly in the most recent episode of Downton Abbey, season three, episode eight. Brothers-in-law Matthew and Tom are working to modernize Downton. Robert, who has been in charge on his own for many years, has just let go his long-trusted foreman and is now forced to work with Tom and Matthew, his sons-in-law. Many a father-in-law would have difficulty working with his sons-in-law, but staid Robert especially so.

Robert, Matthew and Tom have breakfast together. Matthew leaves to check on some things on the estate while Tom and his father-in-law Robert discuss the business of farming.

Tom: (About Matthew) “He’s putting a good face on it, but you know he wants you with him on this more than anything.”
Robert: “I should not serve him well. I don’t have the instincts for what he wants to do.”
Tom: “You mean you’re not a tradesman.”
Robert: “Your word, not mine.”
Tom: “Shall I tell you how I look at it? Every man or woman who marries into this house, every child born into it, has to put their gifts at the family’s disposal. I am a hard worker and I have some knowledge of the land. Matthew knows the law and the nature of business.”
Robert: “Which I do not.”
Tom: “You understand the responsibilities to the people we have around here, those who work for the estate and those that don’t. It seems to me that if we can pool all of that, if we can each do what we can do, then Downton has a real chance.”

Robert, Matthew and Tom accept their differences
while sharing their strengths.
Robert then compliments Tom’s eloquence and concedes the point, to a small degree. Robert begins to see that we serve different functions in a team and that collaboration is what is necessary to continue in an ever-changing world. At the end of the episode, Robert, Tom and Matthew are working together to play cricket and to bring the estate to its best state.

We look at Downton Abbey and we see a story of life one-hundred years ago. But these are the same conversations we are having today in education. What old ways must we give up? What strengths do different people bring to the table? How can we best work together?

These are not new ideas. Change is something that people always struggle with. It may be that the pace of change has accelerated and we now find ourselves with enormous institutions so that changing them quickly really is like trying to steer a large boat. The larger the boat, the slower it changes course. But like Matthew and Tom who keep at Robert to change his ways, we must keep at our course change, collaborate, and let our students share their strengths so that all can learn.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Stronger, faster, more powerful than ever before

It struck me today that tasks we used to need specialized devices for can now be done through an app. I had to scan some documents this week and because of a network issue at school, I could scan the docs on the printer, but I could not access them. I downloaded genius scan and was able to scan the docs into PDF file on my iPhone and use them just like I would use a scan created on a scanner. For artwork that might require fine details and exact lighting, this probably would not be the way to go, but is is a step in the right direction.

A second example of software enabling my iPhone to take the place of a traditional device uses Logitech's Touch Mouse App. Actually, that is a bit of an understatement. The app does take the place of a mouse, but not just any old mouse. It allows me to use my iPhone as both mouse and keyboard for my MacBook. I have to confess, I am really looking forward to trying this out tomorrow!

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