Connected Educators: ED Talks with Massachusetts Teachers Association

(This is from an afternoon practice session. Thanks to @massteacher for sharing)


Last night, I joined eight other presenters in an format of presentation built off the model of TED talks. We were each given just seven minutes to make our presentation, and I had to go first. I actually didn’t mind because then, I could just kick back and enjoy the rest of the sharing of thoughtful folks. My presentation was about game design in the classroom as a way to spark inquiry and to shift the agency from the game companies to the young people themselves — by allowing kids to make games.

But as part of this month of the Connected Educator, I wanted to share out some of my distillation of ideas from the other presenters, too. I hope I do them justice. You should know that the presentations were videotaped (mine was done twice because the first time through, we had some technical difficulties) and will be available at the Massachusetts Teachers Association YouTube site at a later date. I will be sure to share that out later.

And now, some sharing of my reactions to presentations from:

Dan Callahan, K-5 instructional technology specialist in Burlington and chairman of the Board of Directors for the Edcamp Foundation, [@dancallahan] who talked about the EdCamp model (best title of presentation yet: Dan Callahan is Ruining Professional Development) which upends the ownership of PD from administrators to participants. I’ve watched EdCamp from the fringes but feel inspired by Dan’s work (as well as my own colleague, Gail, whose passion for EdCamp openness has me thinking). At EdCamp, the day begins with an open slate, and folks bring their expertise into the sessions. I like how Dan jokes that he is part of a “vast conspiracy” to kill off dull professional development.

Lily Huang, public education organizer with Jobs with Justice, spoke of needing to make more connections among labor groups, so that when one population, such as immigrant students targeted by government, is under fire, others can rise to the challenge. Lily noted that teacher union groups need to make themselves more visible as a way to encourage support of the profession, and as a way to protect our classrooms from politics.

Suzy Brooks, a third-grade teacher in Falmouth, tech enthusiast, MassCUE Pathfinder and Girl Scout [@simplysuzy], brought us into the workings of her classroom, encouraging us to encourage engagement with our students through inquiry projects that move beyond the tests and assessments. I loved the project where her students worked on a literacy project focused on encouraging new parents to read to their newborn babies, which culminated in a class trip to the maternity ward at the local hospital.

Diana Marcus, fifth-grade teacher, tech enthusiast and president of the Burlington Educators Association. [@pgroom209], discussed the power of collaboration among teachers, whether it is with a colleague down the hallway (she joked that she had skyped with another class …. just three doors away) or with another educator halfway around the world (in her case, she explored Voicethread with a teacher in England). I liked how Diana acknowledged some of the reasons why collaboration doesn’t always work, and then proceeded to turn those barriers and fears on their heads with suggestions.

Jason Pramas, artist, photojournalist, (non-union adjunct) communication professor and activist, took us on a visual tour of his hometown (@openmediaboston), Peabody, and asked us as teachers to make sure we not only teach local history, but also, that we give the broadest representation of history as possible. In other words, don’t just tell the story of the business community: tell the family histories of the people who have lived through the ups and downs of a community, and bring all perspectives into the story.

Mohamed Zefzaf, Middlesex Community College professor and ESL teacher, told a personal story of growing up in three cultures, and how coming to live in the United States in his early 20’s opened his eyes to possibilities, thanks to the strengths of our educational system. He noted how it took participation in classes here to realize the biases of his former cultures (Moroccan), and he encouraged us to validate the experiences of all of our students, where ever they come from.

Wick Sloane, Inside Higher Ed columnist and Bunker Hill Community College professor, handed out copies of The Bill of Rights and argued that we, teachers, must do more to connect our students with the tenets of the founding of our country, and teach our students how to write, persuade and influence policy makers around education. He suggested using Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing with students as a way to encourage reflection on values.

Chelsea Slater, student and vice president of the Vice President of the LGBT Student Union at Bunker Hill Community College, energized the crowd with a topic that she says we educators have to hear. Her message? Schools are failing their students by putting them into age-grouped classrooms (as opposed to learning-strategy classroom), by orientating curriculum around standardized testing, and by having a college educational system that is outside the financial grasp of most students. Chelsea’s presentation featured her own illustrations of her thinking, which reminded me a lot of Scott McCloud’s work. Her message might have been difficult (no one wants to be reminded that we are failing some of our students) but her participation was vital, I think. Her video presentation will be worth checking out later.

Peace (in the afterwards),


Using Edmodo as a Summer Reading Space

This summer, I have been experimenting with Edmodo social networking with my incoming sixth grade students. It began with some conversations with a teacher in Texas who was interested in learning more about using technology, and I suggested we join forces and launch Edmodo for a collaborative summer reading project. Our students are reading The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg and responding periodically in our shared Edmodo space to discussion prompts.

I’ve been interested in both the function of Edmodo, which is talked about a lot in teacher circles, and in finding ways to connect summer reading with writing in an online space. The collaborative element with friends in Texas is sort of like icing on the cake.

I have mixed feelings on Edmodo. One one hand, as the video overviews hows, it offers up some great possibilities for collaboration in a networking space that feels comfortable to students. Teachers have flexibility on sharing, moderating and more. And there are various communities for teachers to participate in on Edmodo, which allows extension of learning networks. Parents can be invited to view the work going on in classroom spaces (as observers), and you can even make some or all of the space public (see below). My students seem to have adjusted nicely to using the space with no help from me at all (I visited their classroom for one quick overview in June and handed out a paper with some basic instructions, but other than that, they have been on their own with their book and Edmodo). I think that demonstrates the ease-of-operation of Edmodo in a nice way.

edmodo sample

See some of our discussions around historical fiction and Homer Figg

But I also find Edmodo strangely limiting in its structure, and it may just be that I don’t find my way through its structure all that intuitive. Threaded discussions don’t happen all that naturally, it seems to me, and I am not all that high on the design of the site (which, I know, seeks to mimic Facebook, whose design I absolutely hate). And while Edmodo is free for schools, I worry about all of the funding it is starting to gather from venture capitalists (it just raised another $25 million).

So, we should be paying attention to these developments and wonder how those investments are going to pay off. Is there going to be advertising? Data mining? Corporate partnerships? There has to be something in works beyond philanthropy by the investors when it comes to that much money for a space dedicated to young people. That worries me. (see this nice overview of Edmodo to go deeper into the growth and shifts of the platform)

Peace (in the space),


Got Gaming? Preparing my Ed Talk Presentation

video game presentation icon image

Tomorrow, I head out to the Berkshires for the annual conference and professional development event of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Tomorrow night, I am taking part in the MTA’s Ed Talk, which is billed as a local version of TED Talks. I’m really looking forward to being part of the event, but it has been a struggle to create a meaningful presentation in a seven-minute limit. Plus, I am trying to keep in mind some of the things that make TED special: high interest, use of humor, pacing.

I had all sorts of ideas for my topic on video game design in the classroom. I thought it would be cool to come on stage with a massive inflatable game device. I couldn’t find any that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. (but I still have an idea that I am pursuing here.) Then, I thought: I’ll start out by playing one of my student’s games on the big screen. That might have worked (I intended to mutter loudly as I hit obstacles) and I even did a video capture of it, just to time it out. It was way too long, and so, I scrapped that, too.

In the end, I will do my best with injecting some humor and use pacing as best as I can, and hope that my seven minutes generates enough interest in the audience (the Ed Talks will be filmed and shared on YouTube) to spark some thinking of why we need to help our students make the shift from player to creator, and how game design connects nicely with writing process theories.

Here is the announcement info from MTA about the event, which features some very interesting folks and I am sure they are going to be lighting up the stage with some great ideas.

Heading to MTA Summer Conference at Williams? Join us Wednesday, August 8, at 7:30 p.m. for ED Talks.

Come hear 11 new “ideas worth sharing” about education and community presented in the style of TED Talks. Eleven speakers – a student, a vice principal, two community college professors, K-12 educators and a community activist around among them – will offer up their viewpoints in five- and seven-minute presentations.

The presenters are:

  • Suzy Brooks, a third-grade teacher in Falmouth, tech enthusiast, MassCUE Pathfinder and Girl Scout. [@simplysuzy]
  • William Burkhead, assistant high school principal in Plymouth and athletic coach. [@northeagles]
  • Dan Callahan, K-5 instructional technology specialist in Burlington and chairman of the Board of Directors for the Edcamp Foundation. [@dancallahan]
  • Kevin Hodgson, sixth-grade teacher in Southampton and technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. [@dogtrax]
  • Lily Huang, public education organizer with Jobs with Justice.
  • Katrina Kennett, high school English teacher in Plymouth in search of good books and bold ideas. [@katrinakennett]
  • Diana Marcus, fifth-grade teacher, tech enthusiast and president of the Burlington Educators Association. [@pgroom209 and @marcusBEA]
  • Jason Pramas, artist, photojournalist, (non-union adjunct) communication professor and activist.
  • Chelsea Slater, student and vice president of the Vice President of the LGBT Student Union at Bunker Hill Community College.
  • Wick Sloane, Inside Higher Ed columnist and Bunker Hill Community College professor.
  • Mohamed Zefzaf, Massachusetts Bay Community College professor and ESL teacher.

ED Talks will take place in Hopkins Hall 001 (Lower Level). The program is being coordinated by MTA members Camille Napier-Bernstein (Natick) and Monica Poole (MCCC).

ED Talks will be video taped and available for viewing soon on MTA’s YouTube channel.

See you there, if you are there, and if not, see you on YouTube!

Peace (in the game),


Hacking an Image with Tags and Text

Someone shared this site — ThingLink — as part of a Connected Educator activity (head here to see the activity, which involves adding tags and text to an image of an old classroom), and so, I dove in and added text and links to my Connected Me photo. Now, text and links should pop up when you hover over sections of the image.
I guess you can add links and text even if you are not registered and signed in, so that is interesting to consider for classroom use. My Connected Me image is not open to collaborative tagging. (I am not sure if you can moderate, however.) I’m trying to embed it here, to see if the tags and links work as an embed, too.
BUT: here is one that you can try. I “borrowed the image” from the wonderful Visual Writing Prompts site.

Peace (in the connections),


Conan O’Brien: The Clueless Gamer Reviews Minecraft

I’m developing an Ed Talk around video game design in the classroom and found this series of funny clips of Conan O’Brien, trying to game (and failing hilariously). Here, he chats about Minecraft, a game that vexes me but which my students love.

Peace (in the game),


Stopmotion, 3D Printers and the Making of ParaNorman

I’m a sucker for “behind the scenes” of stopmotion movies, and the making of ParaNorman is interesting because it is one of the first (according to Wired) to use 3D printing technology to create facial expressions for the stopmotion characters.
Peace (in the frames),

Connected Educator: Networking is Learning

My good friend, Terry Elliot, shared this video within a site that he and I and others have been exploring this summer called Vialogues, which allows you to not only view videos, but also comment on the videos as you move along. It allows for engaged conversations about video as a text. It’s pretty neat. Here, Terry put in a RSA Animate talk about Networking is Learning, from a talk by Manuel Lima.

I invite you not only to watch the video (which is a fascinating examination of the complexities of networks) but also, to join Terry and I in a conversation about what Lima is saying, in relation to our roles as educators. This seems particularly apt during this month celebrating The Connected Educator.

Peace (in the video),


Understanding the I Search Idea

Next week, a colleague and I will continue our work with a group of teachers in a local school district as we explore more integration of writing into the classroom. We had begun our first week by diving into the Common Core, and now we are using the wonderful resource — Content-Area Writing — as the stepping stone into helping teachers understand the power of writing to learn. During our time together, we are going to be helping scaffold an I Search project, which is based around personally inquiry.

I created the overview above with PowToons, just to give an idea of what an I Search is all about. Meanwhile, I, too, am embarking on an I Search project. My topic? What does science have to do with throwing a baseball pitch? It’s one of those things that I was never good at (pitching) but I watch my sons with wonder as they toss a variety of pitches that makes the ball do funny things in the air. I want to know why that happens, and if there are ways for me to throw a oddball pitch.

Peace (in the searching),