Students, the Twitter-verse and Me

Here was my vision.

Students would create an informational website with a white paper on their issue. They’d create a series of ads and flyers (using Canva) for both on-line and off-line ads to be distributed via a Twitter feed. They’d use Twitter and the ads to draw audiences to their websites, seek feed back on the concerns of the community, and then ultimately write a problem-solving proposal shaped on the feedback from the community. I’ll be posting later about how I rolled all of this out to students along with the resources I used. I was inspired to this vision after reading about such a sequence in Understanding and Creating Digital Texts: An Activity-Based Approach (Beach, Anson, Breuch & Reynolds 2014) and a parallel sequence of activities from the Michigan State University FYC. [If you would like to see my launch event for the project, you can see it here.] Although this is not the only reading I did. Both Troy Hicks (@hickstro), posts at Movingwriters , and the good folks at KQED Mindshift have pushed my thinking about writing, social media, audience and the use of Twitter. 

Laying the Foundation for Twitter.

So, really, this is the first in a series of posts about using social media, particularly Twitter, as a way to help students think about digital citizenship, to create academic and professional profiles using social media, as a tool for research, connection, and a new resource to bring us to texts to use as mentor texts, analysis and evaluation.

One step I took before building any materials, was to check in with my principal, who also actively tweets (@vtenney3) to make sure I had his support in this endeavor, and in my weekly email blast to parents, I let them know that we were going to use Twitter as part of the course.

Unfortunately, one thing I didn’t do, and I don’t know if it would have made a difference, was to check in the the IT department to make sure that Twitter was unlocked (as it should have been). On the planned roll-out day, my first period students couldn’t access Twitter through their network accounts. I pushed things off for a week to make sure after the filters had been changed, students could access.

Roll-out and Procedure

On the day I rolled out to students, I started with them reading an article, “Why Every Personal Brand Deserves and Early Start,” which had come to my attention through reading George Couros’ (@gcouros) newsletter. Students got links to the articles in a Schoology update and then had to comment on the articles. Here is a snapshot to give you a sense of the tenor of the overall response from students: 


Several student responses to the launch article. 

So, I created a Schoology page with ISTE standards and my own learning objectives for why would be using this social media tool. The page provided students with the details I wanted them to use.


My Schoology resource page for my students. I wanted the use of social media to capture and focus their attention, and I also wanted to make sure I had formal purpose to our work as justification to administration and community.


For the first Tweets, I used the weekly KQED Mindshift “Do Now” questions. To help us all connect, I used a hashtag (#kpedz103). Using the hashtag allowed me to discuss the formal purpose of using hashtags as a way of search for conversations appropriate to research, as well as to help them aggregate their own research. 

As you can see, I most of what I did here was synthesized from a number of different sources and resources. Like what I was asking my students to do, I was using Twitter, links to followed Tweeters to aggregate information and put it together. I also had to employ a number of tools and resources to get this all to work.

At this point, students knew how to write a tweet, follow, re-tweet, search hashtags, and use a hashtag to help link tweets around a central idea.

We went on to start to use Twitter as a research tool. Students would need to find organizations that created content, research, writing, blogging about an issue that they were studying. We used a Gale publication and database on their issue, which provided a list of organizations to contact. I instructed them to see if these organizations maintained Twitter feeds and to follow them.

Where I’m headed…

Working from there, we will return to the Twitter feeds in the next day to evaluate the sources and the kinds of information these sources were providing to us through the Twitter links.

The next part of this, about source evaluation and teaching students to think about how Tweets are making arguments will be coming soon.

I started this post describing a vision I was working towards in my English 103 class that would bring in real-world writing, distribution of this writing, and working with audiences to shape writing products. Teaching Twitter as a tool became the first step in making this vision reality for my students.

My First 10 Weeks into Edublogs

In my new course Media Maker, using a Pro account, students have each established their own blogs, blog on a weekly basis. These blogs are a combination of responses to class tasks and writing of their own choice. For example, in the last module we completed, students worked on information bases writing projects: they created articles styled after wikipedia entries and Buzzfeed style listicles. So, weekly blogs included reflections on research, summarizing sources and linking reading to the projects they were working to create. Additionally, optional assignment are given to the students where they write product reviews, create photo essays, or conduct and document interviews. All of this writing is put onto the student’s blog.

I’d like to take some time to discuss some of the habits I’ve developed as teacher to manage the use of Edublogs and evaluate some of the strengths and weaknesses I see in Edublogs as a teacher.

Before getting into that, I’ll take a minute to outline my decision to use Edublogs as the primary platform for this class. First, I was looking for something secure and that I had control over as a teacher. Edublogs provides the security to create logins and passwords for those seeking to access these blogs. Thus, it’s easy for parents and peers to be given access, but there’s a layer of difficulty for anyone else. Second, as a teacher with students linked to my class, and the Pro accounts, I have backstage access for control of what students are working on. Here are some examples of where I’ve had to put a degree of influence and control over student work:

  1. Connotation. One student overlooked the directions around blog names provided at the outset, and used the title “How to Make Life Lit.” Because of the connotations around “lit” for students these days, I was able to edit the title, and then send a note to the student on Schoology about my rationale.
  2. Awareness of audience. This second example really brings together a range of blogs and posts from students around the inability of many students to shift language to appropriate contexts. Thus, many students struggle to edit, proofread and shift language so that it’s appropriate to being read by a wide range of audiences on the web. It’s typical for students to write with a lack of using capital letters, to forget apostrophes, to use the lowercase for the first person pronoun.  In some cases, this lack of awareness and ability to apply the rules is so bad, I can just go into the student blog and pull the post. In the best cases, I’ve been able to sit with the student and edit work together to remind and reinforce the rules.
  3. Acceptable and Fair Use. Students are encourage, and really required to use their blogs as a platform for web-based writing. Thus the use of hyperlinks, images, and curated content from the web becomes part of the texts that they must create. However, students often nab photos or other images, but then fail to adequately cite these images. Again, I’m able to get onto a student dashboard, and change the status of posts and pages to draft status until these issues are resolved.

Over the past year, I spent time looking at a variety of other blogging platforms: Medium, Blogger, WordPress. At one point, I considered giving students a choice of platforms, but ultimately decided against such a move. Edublogs gives me something central. And, as I said above, Edublogs provided security that many other platforms cannot give. As part of this, our school internet filters block out WordPress and other blogging sites, often because these platforms contain pornographic content. Because my school has become an Enterprise level Schoology user, I did look at the simplified blog tool that it provides. But, it is highly simplified. For a course where students are blogging as a part of the curriculum, students should have more power and have to grapple with the rich tools that are provided by Edublogs. Still, those looking for an entry platform into student blogging, and who are also using Schoology, would be rewarded by looking into this feature.

Like its parent WordPress, Edublogs has a great deal of control for its users, perhaps too much. And, while I don’t know all nuances, there’s enough that’s super easy to use for teachers and students.

To manage all of this, I’ve developed a few habits. On average, students make a post once a week. It’s easy enough when a post is due, to start to work through the list of students, read their blogs and leave feedback. Blogs are assessed and graded, and I’m able to spot check for student comments, and be on alert for any issues that I discussed above. Students are required to double-post their writing. They post to Edublogs so that their work can be read, but they also post the same assignment to Schoology so that I can mark, edit and comment. This cumbersome for both me and the students.

Edublogs is primarily a blogging tool that has some features that make it useful for a teacher. It’s not a teaching tool and learning management systems that provides high-end blogging features. Trying to manage the blogs for thirty some students is cumbersome and tedious. There’s not a great way to see student blogs. Edublogs could improve its delivery by creating a way to manage individual sections, and within those sections create alphabetical ordering of students. Even better–provide a way to grade those blogs with rubrics and feedback tool that allowed discussion between teacher and student. It would be super nice if there was a level of connectivity between an LMS like Schoology and Edublogs, but what that would look like, I really couldn’t say. At Canandaigua, many in our English department like the way that Schoology and Turnitin connect. Anything to enhance the one-stop-shopping experience.

I’m not going to write about the benefits of blogging with students. There’s a ton of material, resources, groups and others who have written on this topic. One cool thing that’s happen, and actually happened almost immediately when we turned on the blogs was the power it gave to students in the room. Right away, a bunch of my students–mostly gamers–started blogging about games that they were playing, writing reviews of these games, and posting follow-up comments on each other’s blogs. They continue, even now, 10 weeks into the course, to go beyond regular assignments (sometimes in place of them) to keep up these habits. This spoke to me about the power of student blogging to give students a voice and entryway into the discourse communities they want to be part of engaging in conversations with.

Still, there are some places I still need to explore. I realize that in describing the issues that I’ve been working with in this classroom over the past ten weeks, I’ve also stumbled across several issues of the politics of the classroom: Should a teacher be able to exercise control over student blogs and remove content from what they’ve created? What is the value of students creating texts in which they are essentially curating content of the web.

Is There a Rubric for that?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we’re talking about educational philosophy. We’re charged with the daunting task of educating students in heady stuff: character education, Common Core standards, digital citizenship, critical thinking.

We’re challenging ourselves to be innovative as well.

On top of it, the educational system isn’t really designed to be innovative, to encourage or reward innovation from its students and its teachers, or to allow for it in the hallways of public schools. What’s a teacher to do?

The purposes of education, originally were utilitarian–keep kids off the streets and out of the factories and mines. If we can’t put them to work at such a young age, and they’ll resort to savagery on the streets left to their own devices, we should put them into schools where they’ll spend some time learning things that we need them to learn to be functioning member of society: to read a little, some numbers, perhaps the start of the trade. And, because your family was probably in the factory or mines, then you had to learn things that couldn’t be taught at home: some basic work in carpentry or machinery, some basic homemaker skills.

Today, while we don’t look at it in the same terms, the ends of the educational system, in its traditional forms are much the same. We still use schools as a physical space to care for children while their parents cannot because of work. We believe there is a certain amount of material that they need to be competent in to be functioning members of society.


However, everyone recognizes that the system isn’t working. And, the debate is why? Some will blame teachers. Some will say we need to have more rigorous standards. Some will say we need to change the entire system by placing more authority and power into the hands of those that the system is designed to serve: children.

It’s this last perspective that I’ve become the most intrigued with and that I think has the most accurate reasons why our kids are undermotivated, our schools underperforming, and our teachers feeling burned out and disgruntled and underappreciated.

Our purposes in education should be to connect students to their capacity to learn, to create a citizenry of empathetic, driven learners who want to design

I’m not saying anything new here. I’m synthesizing the reading of blogs and books and discussions and TED Talks. People who pay attention to educational conversations will recognize the threads.


So, how am I trying to innovate?

I make no claims as to the authenticity of my innovations. First, I wondered, is there a rubric for innovation? Can I quantify my moves towards it? Then, I figured, if there’s a rubric for it, it’s not really innovation? Second, do I just pay good lip service towards innovation, and am I really doing it.

However, here are something that I think that I’ve done in the past several weeks to shift things back to students and to put them into the position as learners.


  1. I’m no longer reading directions to students. Instead, I’m pointing or repointing kids to resources where they can find the information. I’m giving space to time to read and process directions.
  2. I’m no longer answering any questions where I’ve written the answer on a handout, hyperdocument or place where students can find it in resource.
  3. I’ve stopped answering questions that can be found through a Google search, or can be found in the Help Menu of a web-based resource. For example, here’s a conversation I had early last week:

Student: “How do you change the margins?”

Me: “Why don’t you look in the help menu?”

Students: “What’s that?”

Me: “Here, I’ll show you how to access it”

  1. I’ve stopped answer questions that other students in the class know the answer to. For example, in my Media Maker class, I’m having the students learn about QR codes as a way of sharing their blogs. I shared some resources and let them go at it. But about ten minutes into class the following discussion occurred:

“Mr. Pedzich, can you show me how to do these QR codes?”

I turned to the class, and said, “Who’s got the QR codes down?” Several hands went up, and I said, “Ok! Go see them.”  

  1. I’m recording direct instruction as screencasts (as fast as I can. I’m not always able to keep up with the technology integration as fast as I need to). When there are readings, I’m giving them time to read, to use Docentedu as a way to do close reading and answer text-based questions, and then focusing lessons on application.  


As I think about some of these small moves, part of me is motivated and dedicated to continue. And, part of me is sad. Should it be innovative that we give kids time to work towards and to explore their own interests and passions? Should it be innovative that teachers blog and share their experiences and build connections? Should it be innovative that we have students share their thinking, their writing in the classroom and that classrooms are breeding grounds of self-expression?

Beyond this, I’m thinking big too. In a later unit in my English 101 class, we do informational writing. I want my students to create blogs that will inform people about issues important to them, to use social media to promote those blogs, to create connections between their blogs to develop their own PLNs, to create media that can go on those blogs to help further the information sharing. I want them to be assessed not only on the quality of their writing, but also the reach of their connections and sharing, and the depth of what they’re learning about the issues.

Also, a couple of department members and I are in discussion about new furniture. We’d like to throw out the rows of desks and chairs. Fill spaces with modular furniture, cafe style seating.

In the IMMOOC, we’re all inspired to action by what Couros and Burgess are having us do, but wouldn’t it be great if we had a culture of learning where such radical notions weren’t radical but part of the common vernacular and practice?


What We Did? First Full Week

Here’s some of the cool stuff we did in the first full week.

One of my favorite lessons of the year comes when I introduce the writing process to my English 101 students by creating with Playdoh. Here are some pics from the pencil holders they create with the stuff.

I first came across this lesson almost 20 years ago, and I did it for a while. When I started teaching freshman composition to high school upper classmen, I knew that I had to bring it back. In a over-tested culture where students learn to write for examinations, I knew I needed a way to have students engage in the steps to the writing process, and pull in diverse learners while doing it. This is a lesson that works.

Taking a quick tangent here, I have a tentative plan to do a 1/2 day design thinking workshop for all of my students in the fall to teach them the design thinking process over the course of the afternoon and then to build aspects of the process into the course content.

In Media Maker, students have begun to create their blogs and are starting to write about topics that they’ll be following in the first five weeks of the semester. A few students have already started to write beyond the requirements of the class and are starting review of favorite games and systems. Using help from Eric Bateman, the librarian, we took pictures of students and are getting ready to use the pictures to create a school wide bulletin board of our work, and QR codes to link pictures with the work were doing. Tomorrow, we’re learning some photoshop basics to get those pictures ready for publication.

As I’ve written about in the past, IB is going to be focused on satire in the first five weeks. I’ve flipped a satire lesson–around the techniques of satire. This was paired with Margaret Atwood’s short story “Rape Fantasies,” and were starting their own blogs to share developing thinking on the Atwood’s novel A Handmaid’s Tale.

Given that it was the first full week of school, the Friday after a late night at Open House, I was dreading the last two periods of the day. However, with the IB students having blogged before class, and having read each other’s blogs, students came fired-up for discussion.

Moving to online writing with two class, and approximately 30 students, I’ve been challenged to see how to follow student work. Certainly Edublogs is a great platform to use to have students publish writing and media to the web, but it is also a cumbersome tool for use as a teacher in attempting to follow, moderate, comment, and look at what students are producing. When we were analog, it was picking up a notebook and turning to the right page. Now we have to find the content, follow links. I’d love suggestions from fellow educators on work flow management when students are blogging.



Schoology: The First Two Weeks

I was inspired to write this post after reading Rich Colosi’s blog article, “Six Tips for Starting Your Schoology Course.” For those who are new to using a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Schoology, you’ll find his tips on getting your classes set up and running helpful. Also, people should read Dylan Rodger’s blog, which offers solid ways that units can be organized. You may find it helpful to read these article before continuing into this post.

This is at least my third year starting with an LMS; however, it’s a first for me to be a paid subscriber and to have the full Enterprise version of Schoology with the capability to be used by all students and teachers at Canandaigua Academy. While the set up of my classes wasn’t impacted by this, the results long-term impacts of this integration building wide are, for me,

I’ve found that setting up my classes in Schoology isn’t a whole lot different from the moves that I make when setting up a regular classroom. It takes some planning foresight, logical organization, and a committment to creating working long-term program.

Here are some things that I do:

  1. Build it and they will come. It’s important that when bringing students to an LMS, there has to be content there for them to work with, and there’s purpose for why students are there. Make sure you have either a calendar populated, folders with course content in them, even if it’s as repository system, an assignment to turn in, a quiz to take, a discussion to contribute to.

Without it, where’s the rationale for using the tool. So, it means that the teacher needs to have  some reasons to use Schoology. What I recommend is to pick one way that you can use it, do it, and then add other purposes as the year goes on.

2. Like what Colossi suggests, organize by folders and create a numbering system. Can’t agree more. However, content is organized, work to give students a guide. When I go into Schoology the first time with my students, we open the folder for the first unit, I direct them to the first page in the folder. It’s a unit plan or outline to follow, and each item in the unit is given a task, goal or quest number. See below:


Each of these items is then linked to the assignment, video, link that they need to accomplish. What I’ve found is that students can independently move through the tasks, I can assist where necessary, as well as give target dates on where they should be in the module, and spend class time in conferences with students. An ordering system like this also makes it easy for kids who weren’t in class to figure out what they need to accomplish.

While I don’t share it here with students, simply to try to keep it streamlined, I have each of these tasks linked to a Common Core standard.

3. No substitutions. One of my fears when starting to use a LMS was that students would have problems with the technology or wouldn’t be able to find materials, or that they just wouldn’t work. When students came to me and said, ” I couldn’t find this,” or “It didn’t work,” I was pretty accommodating and took things in paper, made extra paper copies, and allowed excuses.

As I’ve grown more comfortable, I’ve stopped that enabling. Once it’s made clear that this is the mode by which business will be conducted, these problems disappear. Teachers shouldn’t have to apologize for their planning, how they give resources, or the integration of technology into the classroom. Additionally, at all levels we need to stop rationalizing, privileging and normalizing the idea that “Computers don’t like me.”

4. Model. With the above in mind, I realized that anything I wanted to do in Schoology, I had to teach and model. Once I showed them how to submit an assignment, I knew they could do it, and then there were no excuses. We do this with other things, so why not with this? Link students with the Schoology help menu, which is rich in resources for how to do things. Teaching students to use help menus is a valuable skill in terms of self-reliance in a 21st century world.

5. Reward. In trying to gamify the first module in one of my courses, I reward students with 24 hour extensions for completing groups of tasks, which I call levels. This has been an inexpensive means to reinforce routines, procedures and tools that we’ll be using. Kids want the small tokens I give them and the badges I developed. Schoology let me monitor and keep this system organized.

My strategy in working with cool new tools and strategies has always been to jump in and see what happens. After the class ends, assess the fall-out and then make it better. If you take this approach, and you’re jumping into Schoology, just keep going, building, and making it better for you and your students.

For those who move with more caution, then, consider the above, and then just start, go slow, figure out how it will work for you.

Either way, keep going and making the classroom better for you and your students.


Innovation for Innovation’s Sake

It was a great summer for writing, blogging, remaking course materials, getting ready to adopt new paradigms. I felt like I couldn’t fully let go of summer without acknowledging that, and trying to put a cap on it with a final blog post. I felt like maybe I needed to put down some goals, but then, I’m realizing that I really hate sharing goals publically. More on this below.

I left the school year, like many teachers, ready for a break. But there was something more to it than that. I had been feeling a bored, unchallenged, and not really sure what I wanted to do professionally. I’m sitting on the doorstep of twenty years of teaching, and I was asking myself questions like, What should I do for the second half of my career? Is it time to go back to school? Time to consider pursuing administrative certification? Do I need to go teach Middle School for a while? What am I really doing here? How can I keep going, perhaps for 10 or 15 more years?

And, I asked many of these questions with a great deal of trepidation. I was asking what I needed to change about myself. Change, evolution and personal growth all get good lip service particularly in the educational world. People say, What are your goals this year? How are you going to grow? Yet, we don’t have any systems in place to really enact this. I imagine that like myself, many of you keep files of old lessons, unit plans, binders of course materials. Many teachers started their years by opening files to access that first unit of the school year. Deep inside, there’s that caution: Why change what isn’t broken? Why change for the sake of change? Or, if you’re going to change something you better have a good reason!

Some of these fears, questions and doubts were reflected in Starr Sackstein’s blog for Education Weekly, “Twitter Chats Can Build Collaboration for Systemic Change.” In her blog, she draws on results of mid-career educators and their fears and doubts about their career. Please go read it here.

There are even more deeply embedded aspects of our culture and institutions that prevent change. Last week during a curriculum writing session, I suggested several ideas about changing the school day, teacher assignments, and compensation of teacher time. At each one, I heard, “The union won’t like that.”

So, inside, while I wanted to find a new direction, I was fearing change.

Even as I asked myself these questions, I still felt like I had a lot I wanted to accomplish. I knew there was more I could do for others and for myself as a person.

Still, all of this was a bit vague and shadowy. So, I was having a Dante, beginning of the Divine Comedy kind of moments.

One of the things I spent time watching this summer on Netflix (next to Stranger Things) was the second season of their show Chef’s Table, and the new iteration of the show, which focuses on France. The most powerful episode for me comes in episode 1 of season 2, focusing on Grant Achatz. In this episode, Achatz describes his need for creativity as an important part of his work, and especially for sustaining himself over the years. He’s continually reinventing recipes, his restaurant, his food, and his delivery. It’s through these changes that he finds energy and passion for his work. This theme of change and creativity is very much present in the French Chef’s Table. Go watch!

Watching this show set a path for my summer. Listening to these chefs spoke directly to me. Their thinking about their craft echoed my own. I heard my own needs to create, to innovate, to be original. When they spoke about changing, I heard a permission to do away with the old and change, not simply for the sake of change, but to change because for many people, creative, inventive revolution is necessary to feel inspired and to keep moving.

These two vocations have much in common. I can see this across so much of my practice. When I have three sections of a class and have to teach the third section the same lesson that I’ve already taught two times, I would always change it. I couldn’t do it the same way. My files, both paper and electronic, are cluttered with variations of lessons from year to year, or add-ons to units where I had a new and different idea (see my post on blowing up my IB class). Without realizing it, I’ve been reinventing and creating throughout my career, but perhaps not always cognizant of why.

Much of my summer since that late June watching of that episode of Chef’s Table has been focused on creating for myself and getting ready to help my students create in the coming months. Helping students to do this isn’t so much a goal as I new way I hope to move through the classroom spaces I want to make.

Let’s have the best year of innovation ever!

Blow It Up

It’s raining.

For several days, I’ve been trapped while working on revising my opening unit of my IB English 11 course. The opening unit is on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Ur-text, A Handmaid’s Tale. It was a bad trapped. Like coffin buried six feet underground and running out of oxygen with mud seeping into the pine box trapped. I was ready to stop. I was ready to fall back on the old unit plan. I was ready to…yep, go all old school and traditional. You all know what that looks like: stand at the podium, point at them for a few questions, write words on the board or Smartboard, read assignments to them, collect to the in-basket.

But, this morning, my run postponed by some much needed rain falling across Upstate New York, I had that moment of clarity. Staring at the Chromebook, it finally came altogether. Maybe in the hero’s journey of unit planning and lesson design, I had the archetypal moment where the rain comes, purifies, and the sun rises on epiphany and enlightenment. Ha!

Old me did the classic AP/IB English teacher move: Pack it all in. When I taught Atwood’s book, my students studied “A Modest Proposal,” “Rape Fantasies,” “Siren Song.” We looked at satire and satirical techniques, tone, formation of tone through diction, imagery, details, language quality and syntax. We looked at conservative social movements in 1980s America. We had three essential questions that we looked at. We looked at feminism. Kids wrote a commentary and did a visual essay. We looked at current events like social movements in the Middle East and declining birth rates. Man, I was good at giving them all a lot of college level content.

After the last time I taught the book, I knew something had to change.

Oh, and I also wanted to add readings from Richard Wrangham’s Demonic Males and Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy. I loved all this stuff, and I was sure to impress upon my students how much I loved it. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t embracing the change.

I’ve had a lot swirling in my head around change: Starr Sackstein’s book Hacking Assessment, stuff from the Buck Institute for Project Based Learning, George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset. I was looking to leverage the power of Schoology, my desire to flip my classroom. How to bring in Edublogs to my IB students? And, I really wanted to bring sincere inquiry to the process of learning between myself and students in my room. My understanding of from all of this is for me to stop talking and give students the opportunity to do it themselves.

How could I combine all that great stuff that I used to do with all the new approaches that I wanted to embrace? Thus, the coffin-like stuck that I found myself in the past few days.

Then, the rain came, and my run was still postponed. I was in Schoology fiddling with the calendar, unit outline, essential questions. I stopped and deleted it all.

I had to burn it down. Blow it all up.

I made a simple decision. We would look at one question in this book. The essential question were going to focus on: Is satire an effective form of political commentary to promote social change?

From this decision, and really this moment of clarity, everything else is falling into place.

The first thing that came after that was the final project. Students will create some kind of satire of a social ill or problem that they’re passionate about. They’ll integrate satirical techniques. They’ll comment on each other’s work. They’ll pick a genre for their satire and a mode to display that satire in.

From there, I was able to start to backwards design the necessary lessons, calendar and timeline, and then figure out what needed to stay and what I could cut away. Then, I was able to design a Grading Outline to show students what needed to be completed to earn a grade in each grade band.

It’s still not all done, yet. I had my moment of clarity about 90 minutes ago, and then I’ve spent about 30 minutes writing this reflection and post. I’m working on it.

Anyway, rain’s stopped. Time to go log some miles!



Inspired this week by Katie McFarland’s (@Katiemc827) #slc2016 Maker Challenge, and reading George Couros’ (@gcourcos) The Innovator’s Mindset, I arrived at a major brainstorm, which I’m calling #edmakercamp.

As 21st century educators, we read educational books, create Professional Learning Networks through social media such as Twitter and Pinterest, we attend workshops, we read blogs by other educators who reflect on their practice, we attend edcamps. We spend a great deal of time collecting data and information on educational practice, it becomes and kind of research where we hope that one day we can put it into practice.

Sometimes we do actually find the time to integrate that stuff into our classrooms. We write curriculum in the summer. We spend August creating a new unit. Often, we find ourselves saying, “When I have time.” We spend a Saturdays and evenings writing new lessons or making activities that evolve from our research. But, it’s not easy.

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I’m making a call for “#edmakercamp,” and here’s the idea. Pull together a group of your educational besties–those teachers who you work well with, but who will also hold all members of the group accountable for actually doing work and creating. Then, go find a work space–perhaps some classrooms, a computer lab. However, try to get away from it all and find a place for a retreat, a place where everyone can work without interruption. Fill it with laptops, cameras, paper, markers, scanners. Fill it with maker items. Stock it with everything teachers need to create for a day.

Then, fill it with teachers and administrators who are looking to make.

At #edmakercamp, the purpose is to take all the stuff you’ve been reading and learning about with education, and do the stuff you’ve been looking to do.

If you’re in need of time to think about your practice and want to grow through self-reflection, spend time writing and then blogging. Been wanting to make some Schoology resource pages for your department, do it. Looking to retool that unit on “Revolutions” in your Global class. Looking to implement the PBL in the first semester of your IB Biology class, use #edmakercamp to do it.

It’s not a research and learn time. It’s a time to put those thinkings and ideas, and to create the stuff to implement, so in the next day, weeks, months, next school year, you can pull it out and use it.

Use the group. In bringing people together, spend the first part of your edmakercamp to share, discuss. Get ideas out. What are people going to work on. What will be each campers outcome at the end of the day. Use the first part of your time to get the gears primed for work.

But then, stop the talk, and move into work time, and work as a group to be focused. Commit to quiet work time. If you’re working in groups, great, but be focused and assign someone to keep the group on task. You may need to create quiet spaces and semi-quiet spaces. Have all participants decide on a how long this block of time will be, say “We’re going to make for the next two hours.” Set a timer. Then, at the end of the block, come out of it, grab some snacks, share and discuss. Talk about what you made. After a brief rest, back into work time. 

Bring to your #edmakercamp some people who aren’t making. Bring some helpers. Some people who can scan items, take pictures. If you need a video file converted, that person can do it. This role could be played by a couple of tech-savy students, or a media specialist who sacrifices his or her work time for the benefit of the campers.

We need time as educators to not only read about innovation, but also time to prepare for those innovations and to create the materials that will be put into practice. We need to give ourselves time to reflect through our blogs and share those innovations with our networks.

Developing #digcit

This is the last of the three part series responding to the #slc2016 created by our Professional Development coordinator, Katie McFarland (@Katiemc827). The last part of the challenge was to create an assignment for students to help them develop as digital citizens.

To be honest, I really struggled with this part of the challenge. To accomplish it, I went to some of the resources Katie shared, such as Common Sense Media, and I also did the standard Google and Youtube searches. I spent time looking at the Cybraryman to see what he had on the topic, as well as looking at Kathy Schrock’s page to see what she had to say.

Part of my struggle, at this point, was that I felt completely overwhelmed. Too much stuff to wade through. Understand, there’s a lot of good stuff. It seems that Common Sense Media’s page is the go-to place for THE digital citizenship curriculum. But, once I started to look at the different strands, I thought, “What part should I do?” and “Should I do all of this?”

In the back of my mind, I had a fear. Would any of this be real for my students. I voiced as much to my colleagues: I see the need for digital citizenship for my students, in the same way I see the need to teach study skills, character education. However, often when we get into lessons about note taking and time management, we find them to be deadly dull and the kids don’t always see the benefits and applications.

So, for a couple of days, I sat and let things ferment, percolate, and then I sat in on the #slc2016 Twitter chat on digital citizenship, and things began to come together for me.

Here’s some of what helped:

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Through this student’s tweet to me, about something small like doing a Google search of the self, is one way that we can help build the digital citizen. It didn’t have to be a binder full of a multi-week curriculum. It had to be small, meaningful, discreet activities. Well-planned and with context…and, I thought to myself, making a metaphorical slap to the forhead, “You big, dummy. It’s Beginning teaching 101.”

Once past my teaching-block, the ideas began to come forth. Here’s some of the take away I’ve had this morning:

  1. Authenticity. One of the biggest problems, in a long list of problems, I see as a writing and composition teacher in our tests and in the writing assignments given to students is that they lack authenticity. They don’t present students with real world writing situations and real world audiences. Thus, students aren’t prepared to write for actual, living, breathing human beings. They don’t have a sense of how their writing might be perceived by others, how it might be physically held, where it might be found. Student writing exists in a vacuum of in basket, rubric markings, out basket, binder. However, students write all the time: on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, on their phones, in text messages. And, when they write, and they do things that make us cringe–they don’t act as good digital citizens–it’s because they don’t realize that they are ineffectively communicating.
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My breakthrough last night during the #slc2016 Twitter chat.

For me, understanding my role as a teacher of digital citizenship is tied together with my role as a teacher of communication–not separate from. In essence, when I teach digital citizenship, I’m asking students to consider what they are communicating about themselves to others. Seeing digital citizenship in the context of the writing situation– purpose, audience, subject, self–brought this into focus with clarity.

2. Small, manageable bits. In my new “Media Maker” course, I’m worried about students posting content to their blogs which may be inappropriate, rash, without thought and without care for themselves or for others. And, I’ve struggled with how to make this point meaningfully to students and help them be aware of this, because it speaks to my concerns about writing above. I’m giving students the power to write about their passions and interests, and I’m giving it to students who have been writing in a vacuum. They will be writing with real purposes and audiences, I think, maybe, for the first time in their lives.

To address this, and to take on my need for teaching digital citizenship, I’m going to offer challenges to students in each of the projects of this class.

So, for example, in the first project, we will focus on digital footprints. In the next unit, as we start to look at bringing in outside sources to our writing, we’ll look at acknowledgement. Thus, digital citizenship, composition go hand-in-hand.

It was a great couple of days for me in the #slc2016 to really get motivated around these new aspects of learning and action steps for the coming fall. Time to get lesson planning.