Competition vs. Cooperation: What Is Better For Our Schools?


Over Easter vacation a few weeks ago, something happened that I can’t get out of my mind.  My wife’s family conducted the annual egg hunt for all of the children, ranging in ages from seven to seventeen. The plastic eggs were hidden all over the yard, some filled with candy and others filled with various amounts of money. The kids scrambled all over the yard, screaming with delight as their baskets were filling to the brim. When the hunt was over, they all came inside and emptied their eggs onto the floor, looking over the newly found loot.

Grandma had an idea in her head about how this was going to go down.  She had a vision of all of the kids emptying their money into one big pile, and in the end, dividing it out equally among all of the children.  It was a good thought, and one that expressed the idea of cooperation. I have to give her credit, because she believes in a world where everyone gets along and we all help each other.  Boy, was she ever wrong.

When she announced her idea, the looks on the children’s faces turned from elation at finding their new treasures, to fear at having to give up what was clearly theirs and theirs alone. In fact, I witnessed one of the younger children pocket some of the money he found, not willing to give up all of his stash. He figured there was no way the pool of money would surpass what he was already in possession of, and therefore sharing was not going to be an option. Grandma’s vision of cooperation quickly turned to one of competition. They had an inner desire to have more and be better than everyone else around them, so no one agreed to the combining of the money. What most of them didn’t realize, especially the young boy who hid his money, was that if he would have put his money in the pile with everyone else’s, he would have actually ended up with more.

This got me thinking about how things run in our education system. It’s a system based on competition.  We like our schools to be the very best, and with that mindset, unfortunately, comes the need for a rank/order system so we can prove that indeed, some schools are the best.  And what about those schools that rank lower on the list?  Clearly they aren’t doing their jobs. Something must be done about it, and many times what we feel are desperate times should result in desperate measures.  There are stories and rumors of school principals being fired, teachers being let go, parents pulling their kids out of one school and placing them in another.  But is this really the best way to go?

The idea of competition implies there is a winner and a loser.  If a “winning” school wants to keep that distinction, they will need to keep their innovative ideas and teaching strategies to themselves, like the young boy hoarding his money. That’s the only way to stay on top.  If those schools, or any schools for that matter, share their ideas with others, then what’s to become of that?  In a nutshell, we would all learn more, have more, become greater. And what of the ranking systems? I believe they would become null and void.

Is that what we really want? To ALL be great together? To have a nation filled with schools that are all working together for the greater good of students everywhere? I think the way you answer that question defines who we are as a nation, as an educator, and at it’s very core, as a person.

Image Credit: Philip on Flickr

Educelerate Twin Cities: Emerging Trends in Professional Development

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Kristen Daniels, an Education Technology Consultant at TIES.  She also co-designed and implemented FlippedPD, a model of professional development utilizing digital resources along with a job-embedded coaching model to create personalized professional development for teachers. Additional information can be found at and you can follow Kristen on Twitter @kadaniels.



The first Educelerate Twin Cities meetup of 2014 was hosted at TIES in St. Paul, MN, on January 30.  Attendees enjoyed the first hour of networking, appetizers and drinks, all in front of a fireplace (particularly appreciated after that day’s snowstorm).  Marking the third Educelerate education industry networking meetup in the Twin Cities area, the topic for the evening’s formal portion was “Innovation and Emerging Trends in Professional Development”. Conversation was facilitated by John Moravec, PhD, the founder of Education Futures and author of several books and articles including “Knowmad Society” and featured a panel of diverse educators:

photo (10)

The panel discussion addressed an important topic in education today: professional development for educators. Significant changes in access to technology and the subsequent progress that some educators have made in transforming their classrooms has spurred innovative approaches to professional development across the country. Educators face an increasing number of opportunities for engaging students and creating deeper learning opportunities in their classroom. The underlying question that many asked themselves during the Educelerate gathering: Are we effectively preparing teachers to take advantage of these opportunities for creating more effective learning environments for our students?

Understandably, one of the first questions asked to the panel was, “What does the next few years bring for education and technology?” Superintendent Tryggestad offered that brick and mortar schools will still be the center of student learning, but that the purpose of the school building will change. He described a learning center that would provide students with opportunities for learning that were ready for them when they needed it, much like the way we utilize a convenience store. Drop in, get what you need, and go.

Betty Schweizer shared highlights from the 2013 K-12 Horizon Report and concurred with the Time-to-Adoption horizon by noting these trends are being observed throughout TIES districts. Trends such as Cloud Computing and Mobile Learning are widespread throughout Minnesota, while Learning Analytics, Open Content, 3D Printing and Virtual and Remote Laboratories are perhaps two or more years out still.

Later, the panel discussed the challenge of constant changes and updates in technology and how teachers can find time for professional development. Ann stressed the importance of having asynchronous online learning opportunities for teachers that qualify for state-required professional development hours. Online learning provides the opportunity and flexibility for teachers to be in control of their learning path and can be accessed from school or home, during the school year or summer.

Betty emphasized that professional development needs to be continually reassessed and new topics offered in order to create new opportunities for learning that match current trends as well as provide the opportunity for teachers to learn about innovative practices that they may not be aware of yet. In addition, she added that teachers need to take advantage of professional learning throughout the year.

One of the biggest challenges that face educators today is how to use technology to personalize learning for students. The Educelerate panel discussed personalized learning and the systems required  to be in place: software and technology for data collection; sound curriculum that is supported with digital content; and an environment, including trained educators, that supports and implements this process. Currently, there are software solutions that suggest the possibility of personalized learning, but successful implementations of this are few and far between.

aRTs Roundtable 47: Thank You, Carol Broos

This week on the aRTs Roundtable  the group thanks Carol Broos on her contribution to the arts. She retired this week from the Golden Apple Foundation. Tricia, Jennifer, and Brenda talk about how Carol helped and pushed them to share resources at conferences. An interesting talk about to become teacher’s of teachers.

Show Host: Carol Broos

Show Contributors: Tricia FuglestadJennifer Kolze and Brenda Muench 

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aRTs Roundtable 46: Expanding Your Teacher Reach

This week on the aRTs Roundtable  we discuss how to expand your teacher reach outside the classroom. It starts with our students and their work. The sharing and communicating with other educators on a personal level, leads to many more opportunities for you and your students.

Show Host: Carol Broos

Show Contributors: Tricia FuglestadJennifer Kolze and Brenda Muench 

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ToolZeit – 5 TEDTalk Playlists for Educator’s Summer Professional Development


Summer vacation has already begun for many educators in the United States. For some of us we have a few more weeks of school left. Summer is a time when many educators relax and recharge and allow themselves to learn something new. As life-long learners we sometimes look at increasing our knowledge and experience specifically in what we teach or it can be taking on the challenge of learning something new outside of normal, everyday comfort zone. In any event, learning is what we do.

One of the tools teachers might consider to spur their teaching and learning is TEDTalks. TEDTalks are presentations given around the world at TED events by leaders, artists, scientists, and more including educators. The talks can teach, inspire and spread ideas. They can make you laugh, cry, and totally change the way you think about the world we live in.

What makes these great for teacher learning is the talks last from a few minutes to 20 minutes. They are available in so many different ways that it is hard to find an excuse that you wouldn’t be able to watch them. You can watch them on the web at and Youtube. You can get the TED app on practically every mobile device and also subscribe using any podcast app too. TEDTalks are also available on your TV using a web-enabled TV, GoogleTV, AppleTV, and Roku box using Netflix, Youtube app or even the TEDTalk channel that some of those devices provide.

Common Features

Each of the playlists we have selected contain TEDTalks that range from a few minutes to 20 minutes.

TEDTalks are translated into many languages.

The playlists may not necessarily be education focused, but may be inspiring and amazing so that you can bring that amazement back to your students.

We did not include any playlist that has Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about schools killing creativity primarily because you have probably already seen it since it is one of the most viewed and shared TEDTalks out there.

We attempted to select playlists that were unique in the talks they included. We failed. There may be some overlap.


Words, words, words (10 talks)

Ken Robinson: 10 talks on education

Where do ideas come from? (5 talks)

For kids (10 talks)

Ben Affleck: 8 talks that amazed me


“As Wittgenstein famously wrote, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Watch talks by linguists, data analysts and word nerds who explore the all-encompassing power of language.”

If you think kids aren’t learning proper writing your skills because of texting, you’re thinking about it incorrectly. Pay attention to “John McWhorter: Txtng is killing language. JK!!!” in this playlist about language and words.

This list was handpicked by Sir Ken Robinson. It includes other people talking about the big ideas on how to change education. Highlights include:

Arvind Gupta: Turning trash into toys for learning

Kakenya Ntaiya: A girl who demanded school

Mae Jemison on teaching arts and sciences together

“How does the metaphorical light bulb go off? Is it a flash of genius? The power of crowds? These heady talks explore the nature of ideas themselves: Where they come from, how they evolve, and how each of us can nurture them.”

Highlights include:

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius

Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex

“Fun, informative talks for curious kids.”

Highlights include:

Arthur Benjamin does “Mathemagic”

The LXD: In the Internet age, dance evolves …

Beau Lotto + Amy O’Toole: Science is for everyone, kids included

This curated list is by Ben Affleck. What amazed him will probably amaze you and get you thinking differently.

Highlights include:

Benjamin Zander: The transformative power of classical music

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset (especially if your school using data to inform decisions)

Rives: The 4 a.m. mystery


Words, words, words  (10 talks)

Ken Robinson: 10 talks on education

Where do ideas come from? (5 talks)

For kids (10 talks)

Ben Affleck: 8 talks that amazed me

And because it was just too hard to limit it to 5, here are some more to check out.

Did you know? (7 talks)

Our brains: predictably irrational (11 talks)

How does my brain work? (8 talks)

Do you have a favorite TEDTalk that isn’t Ken Robinson’s Schools Kill Creativity? Let us know in the comments.

We’re Renee and Fred for ToolZeit on the EdReach Network. We bring you a new educator tool every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tools and apps may be for teacher use, student use or even tools you can use in your personal life. Checkout more great shows and blogs at

You can keep up with all of the ToolZeit tools we share by subscribing to us on Stitcher

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Do you use an educational tool or app that you think others should know about? Email us at

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Every Escalator Needs a Polka Button: My Time Amongst the Web Folk

I can’t really say what I was expecting, coming to the Higher Ed Web 2012 Conference in Milwaukee. Left to my own devices, I would never have picked a conference for web professionals. I mean, I’m not one. I work with the web all day, and I can crank out a site using HTML and CSS in a pinch, but it’s not really my job.

And yet, this week I found myself wandering the windy streets with a badge around my neck doing my best to network with the people who accidentally taught the world to “know your back channel.” Here are my takeaways:

Perks: I’m apparently now a member of the Higher Ed Web Association. A charter member no less. I doubt I’ll keep this up past next year, but I still have the button. I remember a discussion in grad school about how Librarians and Archivists are “professional” because they have associations and codes of ethics and organization; however most of the other disciplines aren’t really because they are too new and haven’t banded together yet. HA! Take that! Welcome to the club, guys. Now get on those ethics.
Also, ALA’s vendor swag beats HEWeb’s vendor swag*, but HEWeb gave me a fleece! It’s silvery grey and I loves it very much.

Know who you are: I must have said, “I’m a librarian,” a million times over the three days. I don’t know if I was trying to justify my ignorance, stand out, or remind people not to use jargon. No one left in any doubt whatsoever of what my job is, though.

Pay attention to the descriptions: I only went to one session that was really over my head, and that was my fault. I mean, did I really think that a session on responsive design wasn’t going to be mostly code? Also, responsive design is way cooler than a separate mobile site (just sayin’).

Make sure no one misses the best stuff: I love the idea of declaring five sessions the best in their track and then making those people do their presentation two more times. Genius. How many times have you spent money and time to go to a conference only to discover that you missed the best session sitting in a responsive design session that was not relevant to your work (or worse, in that session that makes you wonder if a drunken turtle was choosing the presenters out of a hat). I missed “I Don’t Have Your PhD – Working with Faculty and the Web” by Amanda Costello the first go-round, and it ended up being an incredibly valuable session. Her red stapler was well-deserved, and I will keep my notes for years.

Professional Development sessions always apply: I learned new stuff on social media, talked about MOOCs, working with grad students, working with vendors, and more. Since it was all coming from a slightly different angle than I’m used to, it was a good opportunity to see where I am in comparison to the rest of the world, and then adjust.

Adam Savage: Best speaker since Neil Gaiman at ALA Midwinter 2010. Great speech, great Q&A session, just amazing. Best tip: You don’t have to be friends with your partners to do good work. In fact, you might do better work with someone who is emphatically not your friend. I also learned that my librarian direction-following skills are handy. I mean, when they say, “We’re going to alternate mics,” which line should you get in: the one with one person or the one with six people? (Confidential to Mr. Savage: Thanks for answering my question, but I don’t think we can support an Arduino. At least not until I learn C. I’m going to keep pushing for the MakerBot.)

Would I do again? Maybe. If the price came down, or I magically got more professional development money. I am very happy I went this round, though. I met a lot of interesting people and genuinely feel like SUNY Oswego is on the right track. We’ll see about that regional conference at Mount Holyoke though . . . . I do love the Amherst area.

And every escalator needs a polka button.

*Most wouldn’t give me anything because I don’t have a say in SUNY Oswego’s content management system. But the guys from OmniUpdate win for vendors who I would have a beer with anytime they’re in town. Note to unnamed vendor: In Higher Ed the purpose of social media isn’t really to drive traffic to the website. All of our students know the website. It’s the only place they can go to get much of their stuff done. We’re using social media to have conversations with our students, parents, alumni, and faculty. In fact, any company using social media to drive traffic to their home page is doing it wrong. Search engines bring people to your site; social media is about conversations.


Emily Thompson is the host of EdReach’s show LiTTech, a show for the innovative librarian. LiTTech highlights the innovative news, gadgets, and resources for the literary educator. You can follow her on Twitter @librarianofdoom.

LiTTech #38: Social Media for Professional Development

This week on LiTTech: Emily and Addie talk with Jessica Olin about using Social Media to meet others in your profession, network, and discover new ideas.

Show Host: Emily Thompson

Show contributors: Addie Matteson, Jessica Olin

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LiTTech #36: Live from ALA Annual 2012

This week on LiTTech: a chance to see the inside of the ALA Annual convention from the attendees themselves. 33 people were kind enough to speak into Emily’s iPhone (usually when they were trying to do something else). Here’s what they had to say!

Show Host: Emily Thompson

Show contributors: See the show notes for a complete list of everyone who was kind enough to talk to us.

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LiTTech Show #30: Virtual 4T Conference Preview


This week on LiTTech: Addie and Emily preview the Virtual 4T Conference. It’s this weekend, it’s free, and it’s a great way to get some Continuing Education Credits in your PJs! (Oh, and Emily’s presenting as well. . . .)

Show Host: Emily Thompson

Show contributors: Adrienne Matteson

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EdCeptional #033 – We’re All Still Learning

Tonight we focus on Professional Development. As many of us are preparing to head off into summer shortly we decided to take a look at how we can personally keep up with our own professional/personal development. I fully believe that if you are involved in education that you should be a lifelong learner and willing to learn even on “your own” time



Show Host: Anne Truger (@atruger)

Show contributors:

Deb Truskey (@debtruskey)

Patrick Black (@teachntech00)

Here’s our Show Notes! 

Visit the EdCeptional Channel to view past broadcasts. 

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LiTTech Show #25: Mobile Learning in the Library (Part 2)


This week on LiTTech: Emily and Addie continue their conversation with Elisabeth LeBris. This week they talk about how new technology can affect professional development and how to get the teachers over the hump.

Show Host: Emily Thompson

Show contributors: Adrienne Matteson, Elisabeth LeBris

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5 Reflections From My Day Off of School

I had Presidents’ Day off from school recently. It’s one of the perks of being a teacher. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There are lots of perks when you are a teacher.  Our day ends at 3pm. No weekend work. Long winter breaks, spring break, and of course, one of the main reasons all educators decide to become a teacher; summer vacation. Are you picking up on my sarcasm? I hope so, because I’m laying it on pretty thick. Actually, my President’s Day off turned out to be a day ON to reflect. A number of ideas came to mind, but a few thoughts seemed to resonate in the Eduverse on Twitter that day.
Reflection #1: How can we ask students to be lifelong learners if we aren’t learning ourselves? Educators must become digitally literate.
I consider myself pretty tech savvy. But it wasn’t until April of 2011 that I decided to actually use my Twitter account.  650+ followers later, Twitter is now the best professional development and learning tool I have ever encountered. Did I mention ever?! Teaching is my third and last career, and thank goodness I took the Twitter plunge. Even though I consider myself a “content expert,” if Google can answer my students’ questions, I better have more to offer. That’s where Twitter comes in. I have read more, learned more, and connected more with innovative thinkers from all over the world, more in the past 10 months than possibly the other 39 years of my life on earth. Education reform, technology in the classroom, digital media, iPads, apps, apps, and more apps. Educational pedagogy, inspiration, motivation, support… bet. I encounter it all. I am more committed than ever to continue my life long learning.
Reflection #2: I never ask a student to complete an activity I wouldn’t do myself. I don’t do worksheets. Neither do they.

I came into the year wanting my students to blog. So I began to blog last summer. I now submit educational blogs to 6 national publications. I have certain expectations and techniques for video production. I personally produce 3-4 videos a month, and work directly with my students on these real projects to exemplify those techniques. I was a terrible test taker and poor note writer as a student, so we don’t take tests in my class. I prefer to videotape and record lessons as tutorials, rather than having students spend time taking copious notes. My students collaborate, work independently and create videos to tell stories, promote positive news, and to show content comprehension for a variety of subject matter.

Reflection #3: I never did well on tests. I performed best on project based learning & assessment. Guess which one we do in my class?

I have come to realize that I have successfully been implementing project based learning for the past seven years. Now, my critics will tell you that’s because of my content; broadcast technology and film. My content must be presented as projects. In part, they are correct. But I firmly believe that by basing my classes and instruction on projects for comprehension and assessment, students have fallen in love with the process and therefore like completing our coursework. What’s preventing you from creating at least 1 project based lesson in your class?

Reflection #4: We ask our students to collaborate, share, communicate, & create. Shouldn’t teachers do the same in their work?

Through my blogs, video publishing, tweets, podcasts, educational conferences and various other forms of social media, I relish the opportunity to reach out to educators all over the world to hear their stories. I want to learn from them. Share a common experience. I believe that not only should all educators find their niche in a similar fashion, but that it should be a requirement. Not a state mandate or school mandate, “you must do this…..” causing teachers everywhere to cringe. But rather, each of us should check our internal ticker, look in the mirror, and realize, there is a greater world out there for all of us if we allow for it to happen. Educators everywhere, please, take the leap. Take the initiative to guide your own professional learning. You won’t regret it.

Reflection #5: Quote from student – “We learn more than technical skills in Mr. Goble’s class. We learn life skills.” Bingo!

We all truly want to prepare our students for a successful life. That is the essence of why we became educators. I don’t believe we chose this profession to stand in front of a row of desks, talk for 50 minutes, and expect students to glean wisdom from us that would guide their successes. I believe we all want to engage our students in the creation and recreation of their thoughts, ideas, hopes and dreams, that are relevant to the world they will live in, not the world we were told was in store for us. Beyond the curriculum, we are in fact teaching our students life skills that will hopefully empower them to make smart choices for the rest of their lives.

Presidents’ Day was a great day off from school. I feel very accomplished, rested and ready to get back to my class. Can’t wait for spring break to see what creeps into my mind next.

MacReach Show #35: Apps for Professional Development

This week on MacReach: Kelly and I are joined by John Sowash to talk about some fantastic apps for professional development!

Show Host: Meg Wilson (@iPodsibiities)

Co-Hosts: Kelly Dumont (@KDumont) and John Sowash (@jrsowash)

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Subscribe to the EdReach Podcast Feed

View the complete show notes here on the EdReach MacReach Wiki to see all the links, resources, and apps discussed in the show!


Celebrating Failure: It’s About the People, Not the Technology

What happens when you throw a bunch of Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) in the middle of the Arizona desert for a week of sharing and learning? Some pretty amazing things! It was an absolute honor to be able to attend the ADE Summer Institute with such a phenomenal group of educators. The week-long institute was an opportunity for me to share, learn, and grow in ways I had never imagined. While I left the Institute with loads of valuable ideas and resources, I left with something far more valuable: two very important life lessons.

Lesson One: Celebrate failure!

According to Webster’s Dictionary, failure is defined as “a lack of success”. This of course, is right in line with what I learned growing up: failure is bad, success is good. The negative connotation of the word failure can impact us and our students in deep ways; when we feel we have failed, we feel defeated, crushed, embarrassed, beat down. We usually carry that failure with us, and let it dictate our path in the future. Up until last week, I admit that failure is a word I personally didn’t want attached to my name in any way… it is just not who I am. Or is it?

I was challenged to rethink my idea of failure when I was asked to start celebrating my own failures, my colleagues’ failures, and my students’ failures. Wait… celebrate failure? At first, it didn’t seem right. Success should be celebrated, not failure. Isn’t that the message we want students to hear? We strive to help our students succeed, not fail. In our grading system, an “F” is the worst grade you can receive. It seemed odd… why should we celebrate the negatives? After giving this a lot of thought, here are a few of my reasons why we should be celebrating all failures, no matter how big or how small.

Failure doesn’t represent a person, it represents a moment. Failure is truly authentic learning. Failure is where we change our thinking about something. Failure is the opportunity to re-evaluate ideas, thoughts, and processes. Failure is where we discover what didn’t work. Failure is where we explore other options and opportunities. Failure is where we are challenged to do better, and to be better. Failure is what makes us who we are.

When we start to celebrate failures, we are doing many things:

  • we are supporting the real fact that we all fail in life at some point, and most likely do it daily
  • we are acknowledging that the person is not a failure, that it was just the moment/idea/experience that failed
  • we are recognizing that we will learn more from our failures than we will ever learn from our successes
  • we are removing the fear of failing, and reinforcing the perseverance to not give up
  • and most importantly, we are creating a learning environment that celebrates learning at any moment

And, let’s be clear and very specific about how you should celebrate failures. Don’t just recognize failures and say, “well, I failed. I’ll try not to do that again.” No! Throw both hands up in the air and shout, “WOO-HOO!” as loud as you possibly can. Take this strategy back to your classroom this fall. Explain to your students that every time anyone fails, it will be celebrated… because those are valuable learning opportunities. Whenever someone makes a mistake, an error, an omission, a miscalculation, an oversight, a slip-up, a misunderstanding, a blooper, or any other inaccuracy of any sort… have the whole class throw up their hands and shout in celebration, “WOO-HOO!” Not only is it fun, but it creates an unbelievably supportive environment. I guarantee that your community of learners will take this life-long lesson with them when they leave your classroom: failure is good, and it needs to be celebrated.

Whether it is personally or professionally, this was a life-changing lesson for me: celebrate failures! Stop looking at your failures as a bad thing, and see them for what they really are: the opportunity to make you a better person. A better educator. A better student. A better parent. A better individual.

Lesson Two: It’s about the people, not the technology.

Lesson one brings me to lesson two. I walked into the ADE Summer Institute ready to talk about Apple technology all week. All my mental preparation was about technology tools and uses. Well… WOO-HOO, I failed!!! I couldn’t have been more wrong. In many ways, I feel like I hardly talked about technology at all. So you are probably wondering, I spent the week in the middle of the desert with a bunch of techie teachers and we didn’t talk about technology? So what did we do all week? Simple, we told stories. And through these stories, I met some amazing people who taught me how to do some amazing things with technology. The relationships that have formed will be far better resources for me than any website, Web 2.0 tool, software program, or any other other piece of technology could ever attempt to be.

In education, we often focus on the tools, resources, and content that we want students to understand and manipulate. But that shouldn’t be our main focus; it should be about the students. Each individual one. I know that I teach because I want every single one of them to be a better individual and to have a meaningful contribution to society and the world we live in. Everyone has a story to tell. And yes, technology can help us tell that story. When we shift our emphasis to relating to our students and their stories, we open up a door to using technology and content to share, learn, and grow. When we forget about competencies and standards, we remember the individuals sitting in front of us every day.

It isn’t about the technology we use with students. It is about the actual students. Kevin Honeycutt said it best, “technology is nothing without a real relationship with our students.” Yes, technology can help our students do some pretty amazing things. But it is people that use the technology to do amazing things. So shift your focus to your students and start asking them how they can leverage technology to share their own story? Start using Challenge-Based Learning to bring storytelling, technology, and real-world issues to your students. You might be surprised to find out how much you learn when you approach education this way.

All week, ADEs focused on storytelling: how do we tell our students’ stories? How do we tell our own stories? How will others learn from those stories? There is so much power in teaching through stories, especially when they are personal to you and your students.  Throughout last week, our main focus as ADEs was to create meaningful and authentic content for iTunesU. Our goal was to show the world how we use technology to tell our students’ stories, and our own. And I am proud to say that we achieved our goal! Stay tuned because this October, educators around the world will see the fruits of our labor on ADEs on iTunesU, where we created nine amazing collections to help other educators empower, engage, and educate students. In these collections, you will find fantastic resources, strategies, and stories that celebrate both the failures and successes of learning in the 21st century. It is our hope that other educators around the world will start to share their stories of success and failure with others, and that the online community of educators sharing and learning together will continue to grow each day.


Join EdReach at ISTE 2011!

It’s only a few days away, but the EdReach team will be at ISTE (that’s the International Society for Technology in Education- for your newbies) in Philadelphia, PA. The conference starts Sunday, June 26th and runs until Wednesday, the 29th. We’ll be starting out on Saturday, though, at EdubloggerCon, which is a fabulous “unconference” hosted  by Steve Hargadon. EdReach will be live blogging, taking pictures, and catching up with educators from all around the world. Although many of the sessions and workshops will be stellar, ISTE offers all sorts of opportunities to connect with educators. I find that the Blogger’s Cafe is my favorite place to hang around, and you may very well see us trying out our new Skype webinar tool, or recording material for podcasts later in the week.

I’m going to try to be the best listener I can this year. The best thing about ISTE, is the ability to hear the stories from some of the most innovative educators in the world. Most of the time, I hear these stories in the hallways after a session, at lunch time, at dinner time, and anytime in-between. Like many of our students- I don’t always learn best in the traditional “spaces.”

Some questions that I will be asking is:

What’s the most exciting thing you did with students in the past year, and what platforms and tools were most useful to you?

It’s a pretty good guess we’re going to hear a lot about iPads and tablets, but I sure hope there’s more. As our mission is Taking Education Forward, we feel it’s our duty to be there. We hope to see you there!

Image Credit: ISTE


A Professional Development Design Concept

Professional Development ConceptOne of my first tasks in my new position in Forreston is to take a 29′ X 21′ space and turn it into a professional development room for teachers. I was not given a clear budget amount. I was asked to dream it, propose it, and worry about the finances later. So, I fired up my copy of Google SketchUp Pro (Illinois schools and educators have access to a FREE license) and I came up with the design idea at the top of this post (a larger image is linked here).

To get a little feedback, I put this image up on my Facebook page. My Facebook network is filled with current and former teachers, friends from college, family, etc., and their feedback was very interesting. My attached message to the post was “Here is my proposed design for my teacher professional development room. I am considering ditching the smartboard though.

From a long time educator and personal mentor, Bob Hayes:

It appears you are going for collaboration. You’re right smartboard seems superfluous. More important to have wifi and electricity for laptops. Inviting room.

From a relatively new educator, Regina Aniolowski:

Leave the smartboard.

From a parent and cousin, Natalie Morhart:

Kayla and Emma love the smartboard.

From a cousin and professor, Larry Massey:

Are you sure that’s all that will fit in there? I mean there’s still some actual open space left over… LOL

From a colleague and EdReach contributor, Scott Meech:

Like it … Serious thoughts … Ditch big furniture for mobile … Storage should be close by but outside as the room should be completely immersed in learning and collaborating. Paint walls with idea paint.

My reactions varied to this feedback. First, why does my school district need this space? I believe in sending a clear message to the staff about the importance of professional development. I believe that educators need a place away from their classrooms where they can focus on their own growth in formal and informal ways. I believe that comfortable environment promotes collaboration. I believe that sometimes you just have to create of what you want to be a part.

It is worth noting that this school is in a very small town. The closest Starbucks is 31.5 miles away. The closest McDonalds is 11 miles away. No where is there a place for a teacher to just easily get away. Taking from the design concepts of those restaurants (McDonalds, in particular, is performing a major overhaul of its restaurants), as well as what I have personally witnessed in Google‘s Chicago offices, I wanted to create an oasis where people want to be. While the main purpose for this space is professional development, it also becomes a second teacher’s lounge in a town where the local coffee shop is also the gas station.

Notice the different size tables and chairs. This allows for different types of conversation to take place. Notice the pub-style high chairs at a small table that allows for quiet conversation for two to four people. These small tables may also be easily rearranged. Notice the large lounge chairs and the low table in the middle. This is great for prolonged conversation, long term work, or single reflection in a comfortable space where you could have four people sitting and not engaging each other, yet not feeling they are on top of each other. The standard table is actually two tables that may be used together or rearranged for smaller groups. The chairs around the table are your more conventional nesting chairs on rollers. The mobile whiteboard, located in this image near the low chairs, may be used anywhere in the room, but may be easily seen from any of these chairs.

The wall space presented a particular problem. First, I went with an accent wall. Typically, accent walls should be the first wall that greats the person as they enter a room. I also chose a feng shui friendly red color. Three of the walls are cinderblock, which do not lend themselves to being painted in Idea Paint. Idea Paint allows any flat surface to become a whiteboard (a table top could become a whiteboard just as readily as a flat wall). The one wall that is cut away is drywall, which would be perfect for Idea Paint. With about five or six Idea Paint kits, we could cover the entire wall. And since there are the mobile pub chairs and tables initially placed in front of that wall, the wall is not permanently impeded with large furniture. I say “initially” because who is to say the room will stay in this configuration. This furniture could be changed over at any time by the users of this space.

I do disagree with my colleague, Scott Meech, that I should remove the storage from this room and focus on the learning. Not pictured in this mockup is a sink in the countertop (I just could not make it look right). I also think it is important to have the coffee maker, and the refrigerator stocked with various drinks. I believe that food and drink helps to bring people together. Not only does Google do this for their employees, but I also saw this in the Glenbrook South professional development room. Note, I did not place a vending machine. It is a refrigerator where teachers can get free drinks. If treated with professional courtesy, teachers will act like professionals, I believe.

Probably the most controversial component of the room is the interactive whiteboard. I actually did struggle with whether I should include this device in the room. This school district is moving towards a 1:1 model with iPads, partially due to the 35% Free-Reduced Lunch (FRL) numbers, where Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) would only perpetuate the digital divide. If moving towards a 1:1, would an interactive whiteboard be an appropriate piece of equipment to install now? There are plans to have eight interactive whiteboards installed in various classrooms in the fall, so there would need to be appropriate professional development. A colleague and EdReach contributor, Judith Epcke, recommended an Epson interactive projector. And since the main 1:1 device will be iPads, there is less need for additional electrical outlets due to their tremendous battery life.

Thoughts? Feedback? I also need a name for this room. I do not want to just call it “The Professional Development Room.”

Conferences: What do you take away?

Yes by is an amazing month for educational technology conferences. It typically starts with the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC), then comes the Midwest Educational Technology Conference (METC), and this amazing month ends with the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) Conference. Having the opportunity to attend (and present at) two of these three conference this year was amazing. So, with the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) conference just wrapping up and February coming to a close up my thoughts begin turning toward the question: “What am I really going to take away from the time I spent at the conferences?”

Is it the new “tools” I heard about? Was is the thought provoking conceptual sessions on student learning and changing educational process? How about the practical sessions on best practice? Or simple ideas like being sure to show kids how I want them to do something? The new friendships that you created? Or were there times that I was simply overwhelmed by the ideas, thoughts, concepts, and lots and lots of tools… or was it the absolutely fantastic conversations that sprung up at seemingly random times…

The answer is probably a bit of all of the above with a lot of overwhelmed thrown in for good measure. From years of experience, I can share one thing for certain. If you do not act upon at least some of the new knowledge and experiences you have had at conferences (or any professional development opportunities) within 5 days, you will lose most or all of the ideas, concepts, and motivation you invested so much to gain simply because of everyday life. So, here are a few tips to help capitalize on the wealth of experiences and knowledge gained at conferences:

  • First, decompress. While it might not feel like it, conferences are simply overwhelming with the volume of information transferred to participants. Take a day to let some of the ideas settle in… this will help begin to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  • Second, within 2-3 days review your notes from the sessions you attended. Add information to them from the conversations you had during both inside and outside those sessions that are pertinent to the topic AND your personal thoughts and ideas on that topic.
  • Third, organize your notes and ideas. some may fall into topics like: classroom strategies, communications ideas, student focused, personal learning, tools, projects, stuff to further research, and even contact the presenter…
  • Fourth, again take another day to let the new ideas you most likely have generated from the above settle then pick TWO or THREE of those ideas or concepts, the ones that resonate with you, and immediately revise you personal practice or classroom plans and begin to implement them immediately.
  • Finally, BE PATIENT. Did anyone have a session where things didn’t go exactly as planned for the presenter? A tool they were presenting about just not want to cooperate at that instant? We all know it happens. Simply, be patient, but DON’T GIVE UP. Changing personal and professional practices takes time and you WILL experience stumbles, setbacks, and questions while on this road to change.

Notice I said, “pick TWO or THREE of those ideas or concepts” not tools? While I am SURE you saw (will see) some incredible tools at conferences. However, tools or websites will come and go. Additionally, there is often two or three (or ten or twenty) very “tools” that will accomplish just about the same thing. Focusing on an idea or concept will help guide you toward a “tools” that will aid in achieving the outcome you desire.

Finally, when you “hit that wall”, lose motivation, forget really what and why you were trying to change in the first place, take a few minutes about a month after the conference to GO BACK to your notes, GO BACK to the conference resource website, or contact the presenters that motivated or challenged you. Each of these actions will help to continue building your personal learning network and reinvigorate your passion for learning.

To help with that, here are the post conference resources for FETC, METC (METC Virtual Conference), and ICE (Wednesday Session HandoutsThursday Sessions – Handouts). Even if you were not able to attend these conferences, there are great resources, presentation, videoed sessions, and more. If you can’t find something you are looking for, I can’t stress enough how happy the presenters would be to help get you those resources and to continue to build a relationship with you. Remember, they are always building their own PLNs.

Also, FETC is having a Virtual Conference April 28, 2011. This is another chance for incredibly learning!

Image Credit: “Ireland” by Infomatique on Flickr