Blogging for Real Education Reform: Empower Students

(see the overview of the National Day of Blogging — which is today! The overview: November 22, 2010 has been declared a Day of National Blogging for Real Education Reform, promoted by AASA andASCD. ASCD has gathered 10 articles, in advance of Monday’s Day of National Blogging, in The New Faces of Ed Reformthat discuss reforming education with teachers as leaders and partners in meaningful, lasting change.)

I’ll keep this short and simple: We need to let students become more of the leaders in our classroom when it comes to exploration of learning. I know this sounds counter to the push for accountability, and I don’t mean to suggest that we teachers stop teaching.

We teachers must still provide the framework of activities, the tools of assessment that help with reflective practice, the mini-lessons that guide students at a more individualized pace and the rationale for a project that has meaning, and then, we need to allow our students the space for creativity, collaboration and self-inspired learning. Our perception of the teacher in front of a room of rows of students, writing down notes of what we say, must begin to become transformed into us, the educators, listening more to our students. Let their voices ring out.

If we are all in agreement that we are preparing our students for the world, then we need more creativity in what we are doing and not less. But this also means that all of us teachers have to raise our game, too, and not let our standards of how we teach to fall. We need to get better at what we do. We need to do more integration of new ideas into our curriculum. We need to find more ways to engage our students in their learning. We need parent support, and we need administrative support, and we need society support.

Peace (in the ideas),

NYTimes: Growing up Digital

In case you did not see the Sunday New York Times article, here is the link to Growing up Digital, Wired for Distraction and here is video that looks at the attention of teenagers. It is a look at the “massive shift taking place at the intersection of education and technology,” according to writer Matt Ritchell, of NYT. Schools are looking to balance “the thrill of immediate gratification with the rigor and discipline of regular education …”

Ritchell looks at the topic from the science of the brain, and what being online and connected does to our thinking processes. I have to re-read the article again (and maybe again) but it is worth your time.

Peace (in the wired world),

Reflections from National Writing Project, ancillary discussions

nwpam2010Sometimes at a conference, some of the most interesting conversations happen in the spaces in-between the official sessions. I made a few mental notes about some of the informal discussions that I was part of at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting last week — in hallways, near the snack area, after sessions, etc. — and thought I might share some of those topics out because I seem to think that they are bigger topics than I first imagined. That’s what happens when you get to talk with very smart people, as I was lucky enough to do last week.

Digital Identities: A few of us had a long conversation one night about the use of social media and tools and how we go about finding a “voice” on those platforms that is real. We find ourselves often caught between our official role as a “teacher” and 0ur role as a creator of content. There are legitimate fears from educators about how authentic one’s online voice should be, and yet, I would argue that we need to let some of that come through in our writing, our sharing, our collaborations. Hiding behind a veil of parsed language seems increasingly at odds with why one would create an online space in the first place, doesn’t it? And yet, I myself create a sort of wall for myself, too, ducking behind a nickname in some spaces. But I do try to write with an authentic voice as much as possible.

Future of Apps: There is no doubt that the biggest change from last year’s NWP meeting to this year is the explosion of Apps on handheld devices, and there was plenty of talk outside of sessions about what that means. Will the use of Apps mean a push towards allowing cell phones and other handheld devices into the classroom? That’s what we wonder, and then, we talked about what that would mean. Will the influx of new applications open up new spaces and new ways for composing and creating? In a session I did around stopmotion movies, one of the participants pulled out his iPhone and used a new app (imotion) for making stopmotion that used the camera in his phone. In minutes, he had created a movie and emailed a version of it to me from his cell phone. That’s pretty amazing.

First Steps: I had a lot of conversations with folks, wondering how they could take their first steps into the digital conversations. I mentioned places to enter with Twitter, and with social networks, and I pushed the use of RSS feeders to follow blogs. It seems to be me that this wave of conversation signals a concern that teachers are being left behind, and that they cannot ignore the technology any longer, if that was their tact. There’s more and more talk, and more and more evidence, that the media and tools that our students are using outside of the classroom are not filtering their way in, and the teachers I talked with are concerned about that trend. They want to feel relevant to the lives of their students.

The Standards: This topic came up in sessions as well as out of sessions. How do we balance the use of technology with the push and pressures of standardized curriculum and assessment? It’s a legitimate concern, and one that is local to the school and district where we teach. Some of us have greater freedom, as long as we are following curriculum frameworks, while others have more shackles, such as a cookie-cutter curriculum. It seems to me that we need to find ways to get more administrators involved in the kind of discovery that teachers are doing. If teachers have that support from the principal or superintendent, they are more likely to dip their toes into the water.

Plugged Out: At our conference, there was no Internet access. The cost was too much for NWP, I suspect. What that meant was that all sessions were off-line explorations, which works better for some ideas than others. But it was clear that many of us felt odd and strange, off the grid as we were. Many of us (not all) are used to taking notes online, sharing ideas from conferences “in the moment,” using backchannels for related discussions, creating multimedia interpretations of events, etc. It wasn’t until someone in a session pointed out that what we were feeling in this unwired space was probably exactly what our students feel like when we tell them to turn off and hide their cell phones when they walk in the schools. It feels disjointed when you have integrated something into your ways of communicating, and then find it suddenly revoked. We persevered, as most of our students do, but it never felt quite right.

Access: This is a constant from year to year — how to make sure our student have access to the technology and access beyond the firewalls so that the tools that we want to use for learning are not hurdles of frustration. I still hear about computer labs being used only for reading assessments, and of firewall filters being so strict as to be meaningless. Like many, I long for the day when this is NOT an issue facing schools.

Peace (in the discussions),

Reflections from National Writing Project, day three

I spent almost all of my day with the NWP Makes! Session, in which NWP teamed up with MAKE Magazine to think about hands-on learning and the informational writing that can be partnered with artistic discovery. We spent much of the morning “doing” — working at tables on arts activities that included sock puppets, bottle cap jewerly, LED bracelets and more. I led the table on Stopmotion Animation, where we created a dance party video with characters created by the participants.

Then, each table had to design a “mock up” website of how they would teach someone else how to do their activity. This sparked a lot of interesting discussions, as you might imagine. We then toured the room, to see and make comments on what other groups were creating, and the informational text they were composing.
Here is what my group created:
NWP Makes 014

Here are the mock-up sites:

As we ended, we were asked to reflect on the experiences of the day as we sought to consider the possibilities of what we did for the classroom and for our Writing Project sites.  Here’s what I wrote:

What has me thinking, and what still resonates from last year’s Digital Is Conference, is how engaging these kinds of hands-on, collaborative projects can be for creators of any age. However, for the most part, we as a society have mostly driven arts and crafts – ie, Makes – from many of our schools due to the pressures of budgets, standardized curriculums and standardized testing. As a result, many of these kinds of creative endeavors fall to after-school programs (Girl and Boy Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, private companies, etc.) or electives, and are not necessarily integrated right in the classroom instruction as much as they used to be. Perhaps making the connection of “creating” with “composing” more visible is a way to start to change that tide.

On a side note, my state (Massachusetts) recently passed a law that mandates documentation of creativity in our schools. That sounds harsh, but it is designed by some state legislators to show that while mandated testing is not going away, schools should not be drill-and-killing the learning spirit out of every child. The development of a Creativity Index would not doubt open up the doors for activities and projects like this, in which the experts teach the non-experts, when then turn around to become experts themselves.

Peace (in the making),

Reflections from National Writing Project, day two

Yesterday, at the National Writing Project General Assembly, more than 1,000 NWP teachers gathered together in one huge hall, and that in itself is a powerful experience to be part of. NWP Executive Director Sharon Washington and others urged us to remain positive in the face of increasing negative scrutiny from Washington and the national media, and to remember that it is our students — those young minds and hearts — that need our attention and nurturing.

The keynote speaker was Donalyn Miller (aka The Book Whisperer) who emotionally gave us a view of her history as a writer, and how difficult it is for her, and how her connection to the NWP helped find her a place to be and to thrive. She also brought us inside her classroom for a bit, too and all that added to a powerful keynote. (I am including a brief excerpt of her presentation here).

At the end of the assembly, Sharon Washington urged us to write (the silence of 1000 people writing together is an incredible moment) about the times when we emerged from our own difficult times in writing.

I wrote a poem about my first days at my own Summer Institute, and how the possibilities of writing opened up for me in new ways, and has never left.

I remember the room –
the nervous energy,
the possibilities

of writing

of wondering how it was
that so much of our days
would be carved out of words

I wondered
but did not question

I wrote:
streams of stories

I wrote what had been set aside
somewhere inside of me,
waiting for the space with which
to flourish.

I wrote as if the summer would never end
and I’ve never stopped writing

Peace (in the sharing),

Reporting from National Writing Project, Day One

nwpam2010During the first day’s events at the National Writing Project, I periodically called in a “podcast” as a way to reflect after the sessions. I’ll write about the sessions more later.

After: Digital Literacies Roundtable

After: Gaming in Education Lunch

After: Why Games Matter

After: Across Geographic Distance

Peace (in the sharing),

Quidditch: the game we play

I am following with interest the various news articles about the upcoming collegiate Quidditch World Cup this coming weekend (46 teams?), mainly because our elementary school has been playing a version of Quidditch for the past ten years. The college version is quite different than ours, and I have to say, I think I like our version better.

I noticed the other day that our Quidditch tutorial video that we made two years ago got more than 200 hits on a single day last week, which makes me think that there must have been a link posted somewhere out there.

Here is how you play OUR brand of Quidditch:

Playing the game of Quidditch from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (with the snitch),

Bringing Peace to the School Walls

I made this video for our art teacher, who hosts an outstanding art competition early in the year on the theme of peace. The Peace Poster project has our sixth graders envisioning the theme of peace, using just art and symbols. I love walking down the hallways and seeing this artwork, and thinking of how powerful the message of art can be (and how unfortunate it is when art gets cut during budget seasons in schools).

Peace Posters 2010 from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the peace),

Last-Minute Anti-Bully Lesson Revamp

PeaceBuilders Pledge

Do you remember that song by Jane’s Addiction, Standing in the Shower Thinking? (raise your hand). This morning, I was standing in the shower, thinking, and mulling over our new requirements to integrate more anti-bullying lessons into our day (it’s now the law in Massachusetts, although what that means is still being sorted out).

I do a morning meeting (Circle of Power and Respect) that I learned from The Responsive Classroom, and that is a great way to start the day, as it leads to discussions about social issues and allows everyone a space to share and participate. And at this point in the year, the students are totally in charge of the morning meetings. I mostly sit and participate.

An email from our principal yesterday, though, has me wondering how to do more. He wants to know what we are doing to work more anti-bullying messages into our day and he will be checking in with us. As our school is part of the Peacebuilders network, he suggests using some of their materials. I’m not a huge fan of their activities, to be honest. I find them too canned for my tastes.

But this morning, as I was thinking through the launch of a project in which they are going to build a travel brochure for an imaginary land (expository writing, connections to arts, creative writing, etc.), I realized that this might be an opportunity to revamp that project. So, I did.

Now, with the revision of the Imaginary Land Project, one of the main components of their Imaginary Land is that they have to represent at least three elements of the daily Peacebuilder’s Pledge that we do every single morning as an entire school. I realize that for many of my students, they are just saying the words but understand little of the meaning anymore. I don’t blame them — repetitive speech becomes like a droning voice.

So, by breaking off the pieces of that pledge, and then having them thoughtfully work those ideas of peaceful thoughts and interactions into their projects, I am hoping to engage them in discussions around what it is they are saying every morning (in hopes of making it more meaningful) and meeting the requirements of my principal. Plus, they still get to create cool projects (they love this assignment).

Want a copy of the assignment? Here it is.

Sometimes, the shower is the best place to think ….

Peace (in the lands),

Reflecting on Adventure Story Search Stories

There was a lot of “cool” and “check this out” in the classroom yesterday as my students used Google Search Story to create a different version of their adventure short stories. They had to put themselves in the minds of their main characters and give a flavor of their short stories with just seven (no more, no less) search engine queries.

The results were mostly interesting, I think. It’s always funny how the choosing of the music is the part they love the most. Even when we use Photostory, the same thing: they obsess over the music. Which is fine, but interesting to me.

I was thinking of the pros and cons of using Search Stories as a classroom tool.


  • Inferential thinking is at the heart of composing and reading these kinds of stories;
  • Understanding character — from the writing standpoint, they had to imagine they were their characters — what would they be searching for?
  • It’s an easy-to-use digital story format;
  • Certainly engaging activity — my students were very focused on what they were doing;
  • YouTube as classroom outlet — we loaded up the stories into YouTube, which sparked some interesting discussions among my students about how they use YouTube at home.


  • It’s a Google site, and they have built it to generate more search traffic, thus more revenues. I made this clear as day to my students before we got to the site;
  • Having seven query slots (no more, no less) was tricky for some kids;
  • Spelling is critical because the search is built around the words;
  • Not every student is at the critical thinking stage, so some stories are stronger than others.

Here are a few of the Search Stories my students created yesterday in class.

By the way, if you are wondering, I have set up a classroom YouTube account, so they all uploaded into that account (I gave them the password and then changed it at the end of the day) which cloaks identity completely. I then made a playlist of all of their search stories, which I will share out at our class blog. Here, I made a playlist in my own Youtube account of a sampling of videos from my school account. Needless to say, I was toggling back and forth a bit with this but it is worth it.

Peace (in the search),