Conversations about Tech 2: Digital Literacy, Equity and More

This is the second in a series of three podcasts that captured a conversation I had at a local elementary school around technology. Part one was yesterday and it covered topics of outreach to the community and student engagement.

The second part of the podcast revolved around what we mean by digital literacies for young people, how this school (like mine) is shifting into interactive boards and what that means (or doesn’t yet mean) for the classroom, and then we moved into a really important part of the conversation: the idea that schools has an imperative to provide access to technology for ALL students and how equity has to be part of our conversations in schools.

Tomorrow, the last part of the podcast will be shared, and it covers some views around writing and ideas around how the modern world of media and technology is shaping our young people.

Peace (in the podcast),

Conversations About Tech 1: Engagement, Outreach and More

As I have mentioned in a few posts, I have had the privilege of working with some teachers at another elementary school in the past month through the work of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and I spent one whole day there recently, modeling some activities and exploring some ideas with the staff. At the end of the day, I sat down with the principal (Mike), the technology teacher (Liz), the literacy coach (Stephanie) and a lower elementary classroom teacher (Lauren) to talk technology for the school’s podcast feature on its website.

It was one of those great ideas for wrapping up the day, and we had a wonderful conversation that touched on a lot of different areas that relate to technology and learning. The school just posted the podcasts (the hour was wisely divided up into three shorter sections) and I asked the principal if I could grab a copy, and share the conversations out for others. He willingly agreed, and encouraged me to do so.

So I am going to be sharing out the three parts of the podcast over the next few days.

The first part of the podcast revolves around student learning and engagement, and I sought to define digital storytelling a bit (since that was a focus of the day). We also chatted about how to use technology as a school to reach out to parents and the community. The other classroom teacher, Lauren, has her young students now using Twitter to broadcast to family what is going on during the day (no more: “nothing” to the question of “what did you do today?”) We also touched on the idea of moving technology right into the classroom, and not having it seen as a separate unit of instruction.

I hope you enjoy the podcasts – the second part will get published tomorrow, followed by the third piece on Wednesday. Even though I was there, and talking, it was only when I went back and really listened did I realize just how much ground we had covered in our conversation.

Peace (in the podcasts),


Connecting Digital Storytelling with Learning Standards

Later this week, I am going to be spending the day with another elementary school in the region, working with students in some classrooms while teachers observe and then presenting to the whole staff later in the day. My presentation is about digital storytelling, which is a great theme for an entire school to adopt, and about how digital storytelling builds on much of the learning already underway and connects to our new state curriculum standards (ie, Common Core).

Here is a version of my presentation.


Do you notice any glaring holes? Any suggestions? Input?

Peace (in the sharing),


The Writing Project (Teacher) Writers

For the past nine months or so, I have been coordinating a partnership between our local newspaper (The Daily Hampshire Gazette) and our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. My role has been to solicit teachers in our writing project to write an educational column for the monthly education section of the newspaper. It’s a partnership that our writing project once had with another regional newspaper (The Springfield Republican) and it’s a natural fit, in a way.

The newspaper needs columnists. Our teachers can write. And our writing project gets some nice benefits by being associated with some great writers and educators in a very public forum. (Unfortunately, they don’t get paid for writing for the newspaper.) While the newspaper runs a paid website for most of its content, they have agreed to provide us with public urls to the columns by our teachers. So, here is what we have written about and explored this year:

My wife, Leslie, is a media specialists/librarian at a vocational high school, and she has done a lot of work around book clubs for her students. A grant she received has allowed her to run after-school programs that now mesh books with film.

“When I started a book club at my school, I wasn’t so naïve as to imagine that high school students would choose multicultural classics, or even books with optimistic themes. But I also didn’t expect a steady diet of dystopian literature or books about youth getting a raw deal from those in power.” — read more of her column

Momodou Sarr teaches special education at a regional high school. His column was about the power of community and the power of expectations of our students, no matter the academic level. He also shows how project-based learning, with real involvement in the community, can make a difference.

“Teaching in a self-contained classroom means that a group of students becomes your family, in a way. It is interesting to watch how grade-level identities disappear. Students coming together in one classroom begin the difficult task of trusting each other, letting stereotypes melt away as they gain trust in each other as well as the teachers in the classroom.” — read more of his column

Alicia Lopez wrote about her experiences teaching at a middle school, and about how emerging student writers are a powerful group to be witness to, and help along. She also explains how difficult it can be for a teacher to juggle teaching with their own lives outside of school.

“I find it hard to believe that I am halfway through my 17th year as a language teacher. I have taught grades five to 12, and am now in my eighth year of teaching middle school in Amherst. Having come from a family of supremely dedicated and hard-working teachers, I resisted the profession for a long time. I saw the exhaustion and frustration on my parents’ faces after a long day of teaching and dealing with students. Eventually, though, the other side of that story is what has kept me teaching: the simple rewards of reaching a student, of making a connection, of, in the long run, changing a life.” — read the rest of her column

Michael Braidman teaches English and runs the Drama Club at a high school. He wrote about the experience of providing a multitude of rich experiences for his students, and watching them flourish on the stage.

“As educators, we find opportunities both in and out of the classroom. I’m fortunate enough to run my high school’s drama company, which, like all extracurriculars, provides valuable teaching experiences for its coach as well as great learning opportunities for participants. After school the auditorium becomes like a second classroom for me, a place where I engage students in intellectual discussions on literature (specifically, plays we’re producing) as well as teach them about the various tasks, materials and arrangements necessary to put on a theatrical production. When I bring together a cast and crew to prepare, rehearse and perform a play, I’m facilitating all sorts of learning, as well as giving students a chance to have some fun. Some of them also find unique leadership opportunities.” — read more of his column

Julie Spencer-Robinson used her column to tell the story of how she helps her middle school students understand empathy, and action on behalf of others.

““Who are those kids?” Andrew asked me. He was talking about the boy in the wheelchair who rolled down the hallway outside our sixth-grade classroom every day, accompanied by one or two of his classmates and their aides. “Oh, they’re in a special class down the hall,” I replied. Later, we learned that the name of the boy in the wheelchair was Gary, and he and Andrew quickly struck up a friendship. They would hang out together at Andrew’s locker, and Gary would use his communication device — or his aide — to crack jokes with his new friend. Pretty soon Gary was coming into our classroom to visit, and so were some of the other kids in his class. ” — read more of her column

And I kicked off the series last fall with a piece on understanding video gaming as I listened to my students.

“It’s become clear to me over the last few years that video gaming is one of those worlds that most teachers and most adults know very little about, and one area of youth culture that we are more likely to dismiss as entertaining diversions rather than immersive environments where interesting learning and skill development takes place. We’re more likely to dismiss gaming rather than embrace it.” — read more of my column

We’re proud of our teachers and about the ways we have worked with the newspaper to focus on our teachers as writers. Just as important, we know we have important things to say, and the newspaper has been just another way to reach our audience.

Peace (in the sharing),

Slice of Life: New Literacies Consulting

Yesterday after school, I dashed to my car and drove to another school district in the area, where I am beginning to do some consulting work around the integration of technology and New Literacies ideas in an elementary school setting (this is all through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project). This district received an Innovation Grant from our state and is doing inquiry around how they can better use technology for student engagement and learning.

I was brought in yesterday to chat with a committee of teachers, parents, School Committee members, and the principal about the venture. I’ll also be spending an entire day there in late April, doing some demonstrations in classrooms and then working with the staff in the afternoon. It’s exciting to be part of this school’s push forward, and I hope I can help them do it in a meaningful way.

Our meeting yesterday was pretty informal. I presented some of my views around technology:

  • Helping student make the shift from consumers of media to creators of content
  • Using the backwards design model so that technology is just a tool to get where we need to be, not the focus of the instruction itself
  • Making sure teachers have time to play and investigate and reflect on technologies in a safe, nurturing community
  • Moving away from the isolated Computer Lab model to a more integrated model of technology right in the classroom
  • Valuing the technology literacies of students outside of school
  • Understanding that online communities provide important professional development opportunities
  • Reaching the “middle group” of teachers who are ready to make a shift, but need a path forward

One of my suggestions is that the school consider a “theme” for its move forward, and so we talked a lot about digital storytelling and its power to use voice, image, multimedia and writing across various age levels. My demonstrations will focus on digital storytelling in the various grades, although it will be only a taste (in a limited time).

In the meeting, there were questions around a lot of topics already, including:

  • Differentiated instruction and reaching all students with technology
  • The potential value of 1-to-1 computing environments
  • Ways to consider digital citizenship as part of an instructional unit
  • How technology can create pockets of collaboration
  • The potential of publishing for students
  • How does an ICT position (the lab teacher) transform into a technology coach position
  • How technology use might look different in the lower grade levels (and what that might look like)

I have to admit, I felt pretty honored and humbled to have been invited into this role. While I know I do a lot with technology with my students, and I am invited to give PD at various times for other districts, I’d love to see this consultant gig emerge into a partnership with this school where I can provide resources, advice and learning experiences for the teachers there in a way that makes sense for them. I want to value their school culture in our work. I see the role of consultant in this way as more of a partner, and guide, than the “expert.” My hope is to learn from them, as they learn from me.

Peace (in the sharing),



Resources from WMWP: Gaming, Digital Storytelling and Social Networking


Participants at our recent Western Massachusetts Writing Project event around pop culture, technology and the Common Core were asking that we presenters share out our resources, so they can share them out with colleagues. Of course, we agreed, since the writing project is all about the sharing of ideas. We had three main sessions: video game design, digital storytelling with online tools, and social networking with Edmodo.

Feel free to peruse the resources.


Peace (in the files),


Sharing, Learning, Exploring: WMWP Tech Event

If you have been the main organizer for a technology-infused event that brings together people you want to bring together, you know know how much stress goes into it. You wake up early that morning and think: nothing’s going to work today. The Internet will be down. The computers will be funky. People will get lost and won’t show …..

WMWP Tech Shot
That was me, yesterday morning (earlier than I want to say), as we held our Western Massachusetts Writing Project event that focused in on pop culture, technology and writing and the Common Core standards (now adopted by our state). Everything was perfect, though. The host school — West Springfield Middle School — is a fabulous facility, with three adjacent spaces that we used; almost everyone who signed up, arrived (and then some); our high school students who we brought in as our keynote speakers were fabulous; and the participants (about 25 people plus about 8 WMWP presenters) felt as if they could have used a few more hours exploring the themes and sites we shared with them.

Our technology team at WMWP led the event, with presenters coming from our ranks, and we explored the literacy in the lives of our students outside of school, the impact of technology on learning, and then breakout sessions took place for social networking (with Edmodo), digital storytelling (with Animoto and Voicethread), and gaming (with Gamestar Mechanic). Lots of people wanted the digital storytelling session, so we had some juggling to do, and it reminds us that teachers are looking for writing to be the very center of student work. There is high interest right now in digital storytelling, and free tools (which is what we focused on). We also made connections between our event and the national Digital Learning Day that just passed.


Our keynote speakers were from an organization called Video Vanguard (part of a Youth Action Coalition), and the two high school students were articulate and passionate and insightful about the ways that young people use media and technology. They shared a video project they recently completed in which they traveled to New York to observe the Occupy Wall Street movement, and focused a video on gender inqualities in the workplace. They interviewed people on the streets, and edited it into a powerful 5-minute video. It was full of researched information, and point-of-view, and video composition. What a great piece of art to share.

And it set the tone for the day, too, particularly when the students urged us teachers to “pay attention” to our students, and to find out what they are doing by forging personal relationships with them. Make connections, they told us, and ask questions. “Personal connections. It makes a difference,” Katie said.

Peace (in the sharing),



WMWP Pop Culture/Technology Conference

This Saturday, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project holds a technology conference in conjunction with Digital Learning Day. We will have about 25 to 30 people (including the presenters) attend as we explore the intersections of popular culture, technology and the new (Common Core-influenced) Massachusetts Curriculum Standards. I’m pretty excited about it. I am leading a session with my friend, Tina, on video game design and kicking off the day with a quick introduction.
Here is what I will be talking about to start off the conference:
Pop Culture, Technology and the Common Core PDF

Peace (in the sharing),

Upcoming WMWP Theme: Digital Writing

Each year, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project develops a “theme” that focuses our work throughout the year. The thematic thread points us to readings we want to do together, inspires our writing when we gather together, and provides a lens for workshops and professional development opportunities.

Two years ago, we explored social justice as part of our work with the National Writing Project’s “Project Outreach” initiative. The theme had us questioning (in a positive) way how we were working to meet the needs of all the teachers in our area. We came out of the year with new Mission Statement that really set forth our ideals around the impact of teaching for social change.

This year, we have been working around the Common Core, which our state has adopted as its new curriculum framework. An upcoming technology conference (which takes place in conjunction with Digital Learning Day) connects digital composition with standards in the Common Core curriculum. At other times, we have dove deeper into the curriculum, noting changes that will soon be impacting the things and ways we teach. This spring, we will be looking hard at the way that the new assessments (PARCC for us) are shaping up, and how those tools are going to affect our schools.

We’ve decided that next year, our theme will be digital media and digital writing. We’ll be using NWP’s Because Digital Writing Matters as a primary text for discussions and then sites like Digital Is as a resource. Our WMWP Technology Team, which has about 10 active members, will be the leaders of the effort, and as the technology liaison for WMWP, this is exciting for me. I am hoping we can find ways to draw people into the possibilities of digital tools for their students, and find ways to showcase student engagement and student use of technology in meaningful ways.

The idea of a “theme”over a long stretch of time is valuable, and opens up a lot of possibilities. Too often, our work around professional development seems scattered.

Peace (in the theme),