Cleaning the Classroom, Cleaning the Websites

I feel like we are getting started so much later than everyone else, but our school year with students starts today. I’m pretty excited and antsy about the start of school, about getting to know our students and setting a good, positive routine to start of the year. I think my classroom is pretty well set (although I seem to have lost or misplaced a few posters that I usually hang on the wall, and it is irking me to no end right now).

I also began the task of cleaning up the online spaces that we call “home” with our sixth graders. Yesterday, I went through the process of removing a lot of old content from our classroom weblog (keeping some things up there so it doesn’t feel like an empty space and so incoming students have an idea of what’s ahead of them). I also went into our daily homework/project blog, and scraped it pretty much clean.

The other day, I worked in Bitstrips, the webcomic site, which I will be using today with my homeroom kids, and now I need to shift into and Gamestar Mechanic, opening up spaces for this year’s students by “retiring” my former students. I usually make room to keep a few past-year stragglers, if they are active in a site. I like having some connections remain.

But it seems odd to have some empty shells of sites that I know, soon enough, will become hubs of activity for us.

Peace (in the start of the year),


A Summer of Video, part one

This summer, my wife and I decided to buy a couple of cheap video cameras for our boys, and let them get creative with the devices. My older son has a real talent for video and our younger son is getting there, although mostly he likes to perform in front of a camera on a tripod. I’ll share out some videos of my older son tomorrow, but look at this one from my youngest. What I like about it is that he actually took an idea from his brother (using video to create “magic”) and vamped on it himself.

Right now, I am helping my youngest son to complete a documentary movie (of sorts) about our neighborhood. He has been interviewing neighbors and family about life here in our neck of the woods. I am helping him with the editing, since using iMovie is still a bit tricky for him.
Peace (in the vid),

Anxiety about Common Core is “Universal”

ELA Guiding Principles
I led the first of three sessions in my own school district around the Common Core and our new Massachusetts ELA Curriculum Frameworks yesterday. It was a group of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade teachers from our elementary schools and our regional middle school, and for many of them, this is the first opportunity they have had to really dive into the standards and see what is there.

I began the session by using a new tool called ThingLink, which allows you to layer text on an image. I created a time-line of sorts, asking them to situate where they are with knowledge of the CommonCore on the line, with a little note. There were a few glitches (maybe a limit on number of folks editing at the same time? I’m not sure) but in the end, it worked nicely to show me (the presenter) where everyone was, began sparking informal conversations among the participants, and introduced them to a technology tool they could now consider for their classroom.

After a number of activities, including looking through our state’s guiding principles for key words and ideas and creating a word cloud (see above), we read a few articles and watched a video about the Common Core. What resonated with the teachers was the feeling that change is underway … and they are not quite ready for it. They also noted that many of the teachers in the video, from another state, were expressing the same anxieties.

“I guess that’s a universal feeling,” one teacher noted, and we all agreed.

They articulated the need for:

  • More time to work the standards
  • More time to meet with content-area colleagues to consider the expanded scope of literacy
  • More time to begin revamping lesson plans and curriculum to tie into the Common Core
  • More informational/non-fiction resources to draw upon

As we ended our session up in Edmodo to reflect on something learned and a question still looming (and showing them how to use an online space for collaborative writing), the feeling in the room was our inquiry was helpful and that if they were to redraw themselves on the “line” from the start of the session, most of them would shift left quite a bit further. I consider that a good start.

Peace (in the sharing),

Slice of Life: The Saxophone Didn’t Break

Last Tuesday night, as my band was practicing to get ready for our gig over the weekend at the local regional fair, I was in the middle of a solo (on Love Potion #9) when the neck of my saxophone snapped off and fell to the ground with a sickening “thud.” I was stunned, and the rest of the band just stopped and stared. I have an old saxophone, but still … that certainly had never happened. And the gig was just days away!

The next day, I took a long ride to a music store, and pleaded with the repair dude to see what he could do. He did, and he was able to put the pieces that came apart back together.

But throughout the gig, I was tight, thinking that any moment the saxophone was going to fall apart on me, in front of all those people. It sort of felt like those before-first-day-of-school dreams we get (I’m having them this week) in which all of your careful planning goes for naught. But my saxophone held, and I am sure my first days with students will be fine. Sometimes, things fall apart, but we can find ways to get them back together again.

Peace (in the fix),


Juggling the Common Core: A Webcomic Representation

Jugglin the Core
During professional development sessions around introducing the Common Core to teachers, I often stop at some point and ask them to create a visual image of their relationship to the Common Core. You’d be surprised the varied responses that  we get, and how engaged teachers are when you ask them to draw (stick figures are OK). I often share the basics of mine, which is this idea of a juggling act in which various elements of the Common Core and my curriculum and myself are all precariously balancing in the air. Sometimes, something drops (as in the comic).

What would your visual look like?

Peace (in the comic),


A Look at Atari (Remember Pong?)

Microsoft is celebrating the role of Atari (Pong, Asteroids, Breakout, etc.) in the video game history by launching an interesting site that showcases the old arcade games. Using HTML5, Microsoft is now offering a bunch of old games to the web browser.
But, also, they are providing some tools for game developers to build arcade games. I have not yet explored that end of the site, and wonder how much programming one has to know. But it is worth a look … (Note: the video becomes a shout-out to Microsoft, just so you know)
Peace (in the games),

Connected Learning: Teacher Research and Inquiry

If you have the time, check out Bud Hunt and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, both from the National Writing Project, as they chat about teacher research and how learning should be a goal of everyone — students AND teachers. This is part of a series of interesting interviews and topics explored at DML Research Hub.

Peace (in the chat),


When Education is (Big) Business

Business and the Core


Two posts this week have me thinking about the ways that business is shoehorning its way into our classrooms, and how alert we have to be to those influences, and those who are influencing our policy makers at the upper levels. Of course, most of this stems from the Common Core implementation now underway in most states. Businesses see an opportunity they just can’t pass up: a nervous market facing deadline pressures (school superintendents, curriculum coordinators) and unsuspecting clientele (teachers, students), plus public cash. I know that sounds a bit cynical, but it feels more and more to me as if schools are the next open market.

First, Bill Fitzgerald over at Funny Monkey posted a few pieces about start-up businesses trying to carve out a niche in education. It seems to me that everywhere we turn, some app developer or business venture is trying to get a piece of the educational action. Maybe it has always been this way, but the Common Core movement has really opened up the floodgates, or at least that’s how I perceive it. Bill first notes that one start-up site (which includes a news collection that I subscribe to) appeared less about education, and more about the commercial aspects.

“From a quick visit to their site, it felt as much like an advertising portal as an informational resource. Admittedly, I didn’t spend much time there, but I didn’t see much in the way that would compel a longer visit either – but that could be a design issue, and I digress.” — Bill Fitzgerald

In a second post, Bill notes how start-up ventures don’t always “get” what is needed in the classroom. He said some companies are good at building “widgets” that meet a specific need, but may not have real value when in the room with real students.

“… this creates another collision point as startups careen into education: many people building educational products fail to understand why, where, or how their product fits into the process of learning. Some of this can be chalked up to unfamiliarity, and some of it can be chalked up to hubris, but there are a lot of funded startups building products that only look good on a pitch – when they get shoehorned into a classroom, they stand out like a substitute teacher trying to get kids excited about phonics.” — Bill Fitzgerald

Then, Paul Bogush crafted a piece this morning in which he dove into some test questions from his state of Connecticut, which is part of the Smarter Balance consortium for Common Core assessments. (We’re a PARCC state up here to his north, so I am curious about differences, etc.). Paul has written before about the business connections to the Common Core movement, and tried to make clear who is behind the movement.

This morning, in his post entitled “In Bed with the Enemy,” Paul investigated some of the resources being used for the test questions that are aimed at his students, and realized that almost all of the online sources and sites being used were owned or at least partially-owned by the educational giant, Pearson.

Paul ends with this:

“I don’t think anyone would teach using a unit on tolerance given to them by the enemies of civil rights.  No teacher would put up with that.  But yet, teachers (including myself) will start off this year fully supporting the Common Core in the classroom.  I feel as though every day when I come home I need to take a shower, because I have spent my day in bed with the enemy.” — Paul Bogush

As teachers, we need to always have our eye out on these kinds of developments. Hey, the Common Core talk about “close reading” of texts and supports media literacy skills, and Bill and Paul are doing that with their writing. Are the rest of us doing it, too? Are we being critical enough of the resources we bring into our classrooms?

Peace (in the money),