Student led learning design

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Lawrence Public Schools in Lawrence, KS. It was my first trip to Kansas and aside from Jayhawks basketball, my only other connection to Kansas was the Wizard of Oz. My other connection was through Jerri Kemble who is the Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Technology for Lawrence Public Schools. Jerri’s work has been driven by a silly book she read titled The 1:1 Roadmap: Setting the course for innovation in education. In her quest to roll out a 1:1 iPad environment, she noted a particular chapter that discussed a course I designed at Burlington Public Schools. This course was not your typical course, but rather a hybrid of many skill sets we hear about in educational discourse today.

Continue reading “Student led learning design”

21st Century Learning and Assessment Example

Yesterday I wrote a guest blog post for Edutopia on 21st Century Assessment and learning. In order to keep things concise, I only provided a brief example of how to incorporate this type of learning into the classroom. However, today I am going to share my wikispace and show you one of my assignments that I am starting today with the novel The Kite Runner. The assignment covers a variety of skills and objectives and asks students to seek out information, think critically, and answer a question. This question does not have one solution and is open to interpretation. I am asking students to present their findings using any method they see fit. In order to keep track of progress each student will be sharing a Google Doc with me and are required to update their daily progress and provide a summarized brief of tasks, roles, and what they accomplished for the day. I have found this method is essential when using group work forums. Students can easily get lost or skim by in a group, therefore, it is essential to track their progress and have them assess each other.

Here is the assignment. You can also access my wikispace with this assignment and other ways in which I have been using this platform and incorporating various learning tools.

Today’s Focus: The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan: Symbolism in Chapter 10

1. Go to the Springfield Township Library Search page. Use Google “News Timeline” to research the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Remember, this occupation started on December 24, 1979 and lasted until February 1989.
2. Find some information on the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan during this span of ten years and answer one of the following questions:

  • How is the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan representative of what is happening in The Kite Runner thus far?
  • What effect does this occupation have on family and traditions in Afghanistan?

3. Organize your information and be prepared to present this to the class. This will be your test grade for chapters 1-10. Your presentation may be done individually or within a group. Everyone must take an active role and each group member must organize their information on a Google Doc and share it with me. The Google Doc must include:

  • Group members names
  • The Question you are covering
  • Links to any information, images, or music that you plan on using. All of this information must be cited properly
  • Tasks you accomplished and everyone’s role in the group (i.e. creating the presentation, organizing information, etc.)
  • A daily brief summarizing what you accomplished for the entire day.

You will be graded on the following criteria:

  • Did you answer your question? When you are doing your research you must always refer back to your question. I’m not looking for a concrete solution, but I’m seeking you to think critically about the subject and follow through with supported opinion and a logically constructed answer.
  • Did you play an active role in the group? What role did you play in your group and did you participate actively and equally with all group members? If you and your group can answer yes to both, then you will receive full credit for this component.
  • Did you present well? Is your presentation method creative and interesting to the class? Did you think “outside the box” and move beyond a powerpoint or create a dynamic powerpoint that serves as a backdrop rather than a slide inundated with bullet points?
  • Knowledge of content? Did you discover the symbolic meaning of this invasion as it is related to Kite Runner? Did you present the material in a way in which you know and understand what you are talking about, rather than letting the powerpoint talk for you (i.e. DON’T KILL US WITH BULLET POINTS!).

NOTE: A special thanks to Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) for creating an amazing student research start page at Springfield Township HS Library.

Where Do You Live?

Today I started my class with a prompt.

Would you rather have someone comment on your facebook status or give you a compliment in real life?

Before I get to the responses, let me take you back to how I came to this question.

I find myself ensconced in social networks. That’s right, I have completely draped myself in social networks. As the anti-hero George Constanza once uttered, “I would drape myself in velvet if it was socially acceptable”. And although it may not be socially acceptable to drape oneself in velvet (although it’d be a lot cooler if you did), surrounding yourself with tiny networks is perfectly fine.

The latest social networking forum to hit the web is Google Buzz. Yes, we are all now buzzing, however, we are also tweeting, blogging, skyping, ning-ing, and facebook-ing. Verbs are flying all around the Internet, but in reality, who can possibly keep up. Furthermore, who has time for reality when you have such a presence elsewhere?

In my end of decade post eloquently titled, My Decade, I predicted that one day, in the not so distant future, there would be one device that houses one, cohesive social network. It will simply be called Awesome. The Awesome…sorry, the developers at Google just locked down the patent for this name. I will now refer to my idea as “The Artist formerly known as Awesome” or TAFKA.

TAFKA will connect everything and everyone in one central forum. It will have a sleek interface and users will only need one username and password. This username will actually be affixed to all birth certificates after the year 2015. The filtering system on TAFKA will allow users to see all of their threaded conversations and happenings in real time. You will even have the ability to block content or users that constantly remind us in status updates that, “Today is a gift, that’s why it is a present”. I am not going to apologize if this happens to be your current status or a bumper sticker currently affixed (yes, the second time in one paragraph) to your Dodge Stratus, however, I will block you from my TAFKA feed.

Unfortunately, TAFKA is only a dream.

Last week, while I sat packed beneath mounds of snow, I began buzzing. I felt really guilty as I started to set up my new social networking tool. I felt like I was cheating on facebook. In fact, when I logged into facebook later that day, I received an error message followed by a hand reaching out from my screen and slapping me in the face (all are true, save for the Internet coming to life and slapping my face). Surely this was a sign of facebook’s disdain for my actions. But not to worry facebook, the buzz is slowly wearing off.

Throughout our daily lives, we are all connected in one form or another. Many of us subscribe to multiple forums that demand consistent attention. Some of us have encountered the awkward moment when you see a friend in real life, but have not yet replied to him or her in your virtual life. So how do we manage it all? And how do we find time to focus on real life when our social networking life is so demanding? Or, how do we find time to keep our network strong and vibrant and at the same time, manage the daily schedule of real life?

And this is how I arrived at my prompt.

I wanted to ask my students what they prefer when it comes to a simple compliment. Is it facebook compliment or verbal compliment?

Here are their results. Please leave a comment so they can see the world come filtering into their classroom.

In modern day life, I would rather have people in real life give me a compliment because it makes me feel like a better person having someone give me a compliment. On facebook there isn’t really any difference because of the fact that people are doing the same which is giving you compliments that can be posted on your facebook for a long period of time. But that person on facebook will just comment on your picture. What they see on your facebook can be different from what they see in person, which is why I would rather have people comment to me in person


I would rather have someone give me a comment in real life than on facebook.

Reason being, is some people make some smart comments on facebook that can really upset someone. Sometimes these comments can start big fight or disagreement between two people. In real life you can talk to that person about the disagreement rather than try to make fun of someone on facebook. That’s why I would rather have someone make a verbal comment to me than on facebook.


I would rather have someone give a compliment in real life than from facebook

because it means much more than if it comes over the Internet. I think if it’s a compliment over the Internet then the person that said it could just be saying it just to say it. For example, you may like a girl because of her looks on the Internet and when you meet her in real life then she isn’t what you expected her to be. I think a compliment in real life means more because you can tell if the person really means it or not and how they act without finding out later.


I would choose getting a compliment on Facebook. I would choose to get a comment on my status because more people notice. I would rather get a comment on my facebook, because more people can show their appreciation at one time. Someone can also comment and tell me what I need to do to do better than what I am doing. This is what makes a comment come first than a compliment in person.


I would want someone to give me a compliment in real life because it’s face to

face and you know they mean what they’re saying. Facebook comments are the same but you don’t know if friends mean what they are saying. I think compliments are better because they are more meaningful to you.


I would rather have someone give me a complement in person than on my Facebook

status. The reason why I prefer a complement in person is because when you comment a status everyone can see it and people may be all up in your business, and most people don’t like that. So Instead of people knowing what I talk about with my friends on Facebook I’d rather talk in person and have a good time with out spectators.


My 50

For my 50th post I wanted to do something special, something big, however, if you know me, that’s not me. I prefer my fireworks on July Fourth, prefer to give a gift rather than receive, think that confetti could be put to better use and wonder why we still have ticker tape in the 21st century? Can’t we just drop ones and zeros on a parade? I would like to distance myself, for the time being, from these celebratory traditions and focus on the reason I began this blog.

For this minor anniversary, I decided to focus this post on the reason why I get up in the morning; The reason I spend my days browsing twitter for new ideas; the reason I scour blogs; the reason I linked up (and IN) with a PLN; the reason I decided to get this blog rolling in the first place: my students.

My students motivate me daily, just as I hope to motivate them. When I see one of my students disinterested or not engaged, I get motivated. That student becomes my challenge! I want to motivate that student and I want that student to enjoy my classroom. I want them to leave my classroom and continue talking about how much they liked my class or continuing to seek questions and answers about the literature we are reading. I want my students to give me a shout out at our weekly student summits, not because I want the attention, but because I want them to enjoy school and I want them to appreciate what a grand opportunity education is! Like a proud parent, I want them to have everything I have but I want their time to be better!

Therefore, I will stop talking and focus my attention on my students; especially the students in my first and second period English class.

To my class: This is your shout out! This is your voice being heard not only by me, but also by the masses. All who read and comment on this blog will know your thoughts, desires and your wants for technology integration in your classroom. This is my gift to you. This is your voice reverberating around the globe.

Today I gave my students a prompt at the beginning of class. I asked them this…

We have been using various forms of technology thus far in the classroom – wikispaces, google docs, RSS feeds – what have you liked thus far about the technology integration in the class? What do you dislike about the technology integration? Do you have any suggestions for further technology integration in this class?

My goal was to give them a say in where we go. I wanted them to take ownership of their education. I am merely the facilitator. They are creating their educational path and they should have a say in how it is fostered and presented. Here are some of their responses:

I like how we use the Internet and I like the idea of having our own website it’s all a very great idea. I don’t dislike anything; it’s all a great way to learn because the kids pay attention more. I think we should make a part to this where the kids can make their own blogs and we should categorize it…example: sports history holocaust and all the stuff we are learning.


What I like about the technology thus far is that instead of writing on paper – half the time having a hard time looking and understanding the handwriting – typing it out can make your writing easier for the reader to understand your writing.

But for some, others prefer to use paper and a pencil to do their writing. What I can infer, is that people dislike technology because they don’t know how to use it, and is having a hard time to get to there destination on their new technology.

For those who don’t know how to use this new technology, you can use a set up guide for them to go back and forth to use for their assignments.


I like that we have more access to our computers and not just pen and paper. I like that we don’t just have our computers sitting in our bags and lying around. I think that we should connect with other schools that use technology.


I think using technology is cool for this class because technology is the future.


Well I like the idea of using technology in class, but we could use some other web sites like twitter, like maybe we could come up with a Boys’ Latin twitter address or something like that. However like I said I do like the idea of using technology in class.


The things that I like is that we can get on the Internet in the classroom. What I dislike is that when we are on the Internet we have people on are backs.


I like that we are using computer for technology an do most of the work. There is nothing I dislike about working with technology.

~ Jaron

Well being that I have just been transferred to this class I don’t know about most of the technology integration into this class, yet. Although the technology integration into the school is probably the best thing about the school. There is really nothing I dislike about the integration of technology. I think that technology should be integrated even more so that the classes can flow much more smoothly and faster.


I like many of the things we get to use in this class. For example, I like that we get to use laptops in this class. This is something that I like because most teachers don’t use laptops in class and I felt that having a laptop was a waste to have if they weren’t used in class. I don’t believe that there is anything that I don’t like about this class.


These are just a few of the responses I received from my class today. I urge you to give them feedback and motivate them by sharing your thoughts about technology integration in the classroom.

Finally, I would like to thank a few that motivated me and helped me become a better educator.

I would like to thank Ms. Stellfox who was my inspiration and the best teacher I ever had. She challenged me daily to think critically and inspired me to read beyond the back cover of a novel. She made Shakespeare fun and told us about her world travels in class. We all benefited from her teachings.

I would like to thank Ken Rodoff and Joyce Valenza. Without them, I would simply be 1.0. With their help and guidance, I became a more dynamic teacher. Ken and Joyce introduced me to the world of 2.0 and power points without bullets. They are truly inspirational figures in my career.

I would like to thank Donelle O’Brien. Donelle challenged my thinking and provoked me to become a life long learner. She always commented on this blog and opened the doors of my PLN.

I would like to thank Steve Anderson. Steve is one of my most influential Tweeps! He is a integral part of my PLN and although I have never met him, I feel like we have collaborated on one hundred projects. He is one of the founders of #edchat and has truly created a forum in which we all can benefit.

I would like to thank Lori Vanaman. Lori is not on twitter,doesn’t blog, but she is a dynamic, dedicated teacher and most importantly, she was my first fan. She inspired and motivated me to be an author (almost there) and to write this blog. She provoked my thinking in a way that made me a better teacher and person. She challenged me to write a book someday and expects to be one of my first readers. She is a true friend and without her, I would have never written my first post.

The list could go on for days, but those listed above, helped me see my true potential. They helped me get started and they are the reason iTeach.

Thank you to all who read this blog and those who have shared my ideas. You are all motivators and inspirations to my writing. I cannot say thank you enough.

This is my 50. I look forward to 50 more.

My Letter To Parents

To Whom It May Concern:

This trimester in English Literature and Composition, my class will be taking a new approach to learning. We will be utilizing various technology resources to communicate, collaborate and differentiate instruction within our classroom.

Each student will be setting up their own free e-mail account for my classroom. We are utilizing the G-Mail platform through Google Applications. This e-mail will only be used for our class. I told each student that they will have the opportunity to communicate with me through this e-mail and I ask you to do the same regarding any questions or suggestions you have for this venture.

Secondly, I have created a classroom website that will only be used for my class. It is a completely separate platform from the school’s webpage, but serves many of the same functions. Our website is created through a wikispace. A wikispace is a site where we will communicate, collaborate and engage in a variety of classroom activities. The wikispace is a private platform and can only be accessed when you are invited by the organizer. I briefly showed the students how to use this site and informed them that they now will have 24-7 access to their classroom. If students miss class or are absent for some time, they can keep up with their work simply by accessing this site. All that is needed is a computer and an internet connection.

We have created classroom rules for this venture and on Wednesday, I had the students come up with their own rules for technology use in our classroom. They know these rules will be enforced and you can view our rules on the reverse of this page.

Finally, one of my primary goals for this venture is to include everyone in the learning process. I invite you to join our wikispace and become a part of the learning process. If you have any questions please feel free to e-mail me or call me (e-mail and number to follow). If you would like to be a part of our wikispace learning community, please provide me with your primary e-mail address so I can send you an invitation to our page. Please provide your name, signature and e-mail at the bottom of this page.


Mr. Andrew P. Marcinek
e-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 484-416-0424

Parent/Guardian Name (Printed):__________________________________________________________

Parent/Guardian Signature: ______________________________________________________________

Parent/Guardian e-mail:_________________________________________________________________


The Following Rules were designed by periods 1 and 2 at Boys’ Latin Charter School of Philadelphia

  1. No social network sites in school
    1. Myspace
    2. Facebook

  1. No games
  2. Laptops are not to be used for notes
    1. When teacher is talking, laptops are down
    2. Notes can be written and transferred to computer
  3. No Youtube unless it is being used for a presentation or reference
  4. No inappropriate searches for images
  5. Background must be a solid color


  1. First policy offense – cannot use laptop for the rest of the day. Parents and Administration notified
  2. Second policy offense – cannot use laptop for the week and assignments will be done through another platform (i.e. pen and paper). Parents and Administration will be notified. Student will also have an after school detention.
  3. Third policy offense – student will lose laptop privileges. Parents, Administration, teacher and student will have a conference. Student will have to earn his laptop back by completing the following:
    1. Write a laptop reinstatement letter to teacher and administration detailing why they broke policy and why we should let them have their laptop back. **

**If student has his laptop reinstated and break a policy rule again, the laptop will not be used for the rest of the year.**

This is my letter to parents. I welcome your feedback and ask you to share your own experiences with incorporating technology into your classroom. How did you involve parents? Administration? What was the experience like with parents working within the website? I look forward to hearing your experiences and I plan on writing about mine as we progress in the classroom. Also, if you would like to join our wikispace and become an observer, please feel free to get in touch with me at the e-mail listed below.

Let’s make learning ubiquitous!

With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility

Today we started a new trimester. We had shortened periods today so I decided to follow up with the #edchat topic from last evening. The topic asked, how could all education stakeholders balance the need for learning vs. the need for network security and safety? The conversation was very engaging and I left with some good insight from my PLN.

Today I decided to see what my students thought.

First, I played them this video clip.

I took their responses after it was finished.

“Technology is everywhere.”

“Most kids are on facebook and other sites while their teacher is teaching”

“Our jobs are not made yet”

“Most teachers don’t use technology, because they don’t understand it”

I was pleased by each reflective response. Several responses led into brief conversations about technology and education. Once we finished our discussion, I reemphasized how important technology and education are to their future. I quoted Spiderman by saying, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” I asked them what that saying means to them in the context of technology in the classroom. Responses followed…

“there is so much on the internet and we have to be careful where we go.”

“the internet is full of freaks”

“we have to be careful what we click on in case we get a virus”

Again, I was pleased with the frank responses to this question. Each student said their response with subtle hesitation as if they didn’t want to “tattle” on someone next to them. It was an interesting discussion that eventually led to this…

I wrote on the board in bold letters: ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY FOR TECHNOLOGY

Based on our discussion, I asked them what kind of rules we should have in place for using technology in our classroom and what should be some of the consequences for inappropriate use. Here is what we came up with…


  1. No social network sites in school
    1. Myspace
    2. Facebook

  1. No games
  2. Laptops are not to be used for notes
    1. When teacher is talking, laptops are down
    2. Notes can be written and transferred to computer
  3. No Youtube unless it is being used for a presentation or reference
  4. No inappropriate searches for images
  5. Background must be a solid color

And that was it. This is the list we generated and tomorrow I will be sending it home as a hard copy for parents and guardians to sign. The students will bring the contract back, sign it themselves and then had it in to me to sign. I will also make a copy for our principal and our IT department.

When a student breaks a policy what should happen? Here is what the students came up with…

  1. First policy offense – cannot use laptop for the rest of the day. Parents and Administration notified
  2. Second policy offense – cannot use laptop for the week and assignments will be done through another platform (i.e. pen and paper). Parents and Administration will be notified. Student will also have an after school detention.
  3. Third policy offense – student will lose laptop privileges. Parents, Administration, teacher and student will have a conference. Student will have to earn his laptop back by completing the following:
    1. Write a laptop reinstatement letter to teacher and administration detailing why they broke policy and why we should let them have their laptop back.**

**If student has his laptop reinstated and break a policy rule again, the laptop will not be used for the rest of the year.

This is our plan. The plan was created by the students for the students. A contract was signed and will serve as an agreement between all parties. Again, with great power, comes great responsibility.

As educators we can only monitor so much. However, if we give the students the power to govern themselves and act responsible then we can feel comfortable knowing they are using technology as a powerful tool while maintaining responsible behavior. It is not to say we should sit back and not monitor screens, but hope that the students feel they have put something in place that they created and will now live up to.

15 Slide Show Tools for Teachers

Slide shows are a great way to present information and engage students inside and outside the classroom. This article contains of list of 15 free slide show tools that would be useful to almost any educator.

Empressr – Empressr is a free multimedia tool that is virtually effortless to use. The tool creates, manages, and shares slide shows without limitations.

VoiceThread – With VoiceThread, teachers can create dynamic multimedia slide shows for students or colleagues to comment on. Comments can be made through microphone, telephone, audio file, text, or video.

SlideShare – SlideShare is the world’s largest community for sharing and managing presentations. The site allows you to upload presentations to the public or a private group of people.

Slideroll – This site offers free software for creating smooth slide shows that can be viewed by anyone with Internet access. Created slides can be published on the site or embedded in web pages, blogs, or emails.

PhotoPeach – PhotoPeach is a slide show creator that uses photos, text, and audio. This is a great tool for teachers who want to create entertaining slide shows within minutes.

Joggle – This free beta site allows users to manage and share photos, music, and video. Joggle provides the tools for quickly embedding slide shows into websites, blogs, and more without the use of complex coding.

Yugma – Teachers can use Yugma to upload and share presentations, collaborate in real-time, or host a web conference. This site makes it incredibly simple to make educational presentations for students.

Animoto – Animoto is an easy-to-use slide creator that offers unlimited videos to teachers. Within minutes of signing up, teachers can start creating custom slide shows of images, audio, and text. This site can also rearrange your photos to create a new slide or custom video.

Slide – This interactive presentation site features tools for creating slide shows, posting video, and creating an online group.

One True Media – One True Media offers a free subscription for teachers who want to upload and share images, music, and videos. This site also features special effects for a dynamic, personalized touch.

Vyew – This free web conferencing site provides tools for hosting presentations, webinars, or online meetings. Vyew also allows teachers to upload and create real-time courses and collaborative learning.

Vcasmo – Vcasmo is a rich media presentation solution designed for personal use and academic teaching. As soon as you sign up for a free account, you can start uploading images, audio, and video to create a personalized presentation or simply publish a pre-created PowerPoint presentation.

LectureTools – LectureTools is a free lecture and slide tool that can be used to engage students in lectures. The site provides tools to upload and organize slides, make notes directly on them, and post questions.

iWebPhoto – This site is a free image hosting site that allows you to create slide shows for embedding and sharing with colleagues and students. The free membership includes five free slide shows with 50 photos each that can be linked to websites and blogs.

Sliderocket – Sliderocket offers 250MB of free storage for slide show presentation and creation. This site also allows you to import, organize, synchronize, and share your presentations.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the Guide to Business School. She also writes about online degree programs for

Independent Reading 1.0

This was a discussion prompt that introduced my independent reading unit. We just finished a unit on the fundamental literary elements: plot structure, conflict, point of view, characterization, etc. Students will now be applying these skills to their independent reading. I’m sending them out into the literary seas in search of adventure and intrigue. NOTE: This lesson is very 1.0 but I will apply how one can make it a 2.0 activity.

The question: Why do we read fiction?

Eager hands abound!

Some of the responses:

“For Fun”

“To learn”

“To expand our imagination”

“To be taken somewhere”

“To learn about another place or culture”

Yes! It’s working; they understand the purpose of fiction!

I decide to challenge their thinking further.

The question: Those are all good answers, but why should we waste time reading books that are not true?

Students pause momentarily; I can see the critical thinking wheel spinning feverishly.


“We read fiction to travel somewhere we have never been and to experience something new. Like I have never been to China, but I can go there through the author’s perspective.”

I pick myself up since I just fell over from this brilliant response. This question ignites another burning mind.

“We read fiction, like to be taken, say to the past, when we wasn’t around and find out about different historical events through fiction.”

Eureka! I am loving these responses (save for the use of proper English).

This was my class today. I started with a simple question and challenged students with critical thinking. Mind you, these students are all below reading level and were anxious about reading a book outside of our required text. Maybe, it was the aesthetically appealing covers of many new books, or maybe it was the new found ownership they all half over their novel, but what ever the case, they were thinking critically before cracking the page and by god, THEY WERE ENGAGED!

This project is intended for 1.0 instruction. I am not utilizing any form of technology until I first get my kids to read. Their responses are all done…get ready…in a packet. I know, this term is a sacrilege and completely against everything iTeach stands for. However, in one of my previous posts I mentioned using and to foster summer reading. Both of these sites would serve as wonderful forums for housing your responses and tracking the progress of your students. Although these sites work well for the summer reading project, I would definitely transition my packet into a wikispace. This allows for students to post responses, collaborate in a discussion and track their progress. For my students, I would recommend having some form of tracking method that would reward efficient, not fast, readers.

Please let me know if you are doing independent reading through 1.0 or 2.0 methods. My colleagues in the 9th grade are all setting the course in this independent reading project and so far we have had great success with our 1.0 project. I look forward to hearing about different independent reading projects and what your experience has been whether you are a packet or a PC.

Your Technology Magna Carta

It is the first day of class, students arrive and technology is present. Your students salivate at the idea of using a laptop, a smart board and a digital camera. They become attentive and are leaning in on your every word, hoping the next sentence is, “You may now get your laptops!” Students rush the COW and in the matter of minutes there is a dropped laptop, a ‘Z’ key missing and an entire laptop has mysteriously gone off the grid.


It’s easy, you allowed students to use technology without a technology magna carta. Along with your classroom management rules, that you designed somewhere in your student teaching practicum, the technology classroom rules are just as critical. Here are a few ideas that you can incorporate on the first day of class. Not the second day, or the day after you find broke laptops, but the FIRST DAY OF CLASS!

Laptops = Responsibility

When you give each student their laptop for the year, make sure they are all numbered. Before you allow any of your students to get their grimy paws on a computer, give them a number. As soon as you get your class lists, give each student a number that corresponds with a laptop. The first time you use the laptops take the entire class back to the COW (or where ever you house your computers) and explain to them the procedures for holding, walking with and what to do when they get to their desk. Also, explain that you MUST plug in your laptop when you put it back and if you are a neat freak like me, make sure they are all facing in the same direction. When your students return to their seats, call their names out one by one and allow them to go get their laptop. Monitor their retrieval and have students point out any flaws. Finally, remind students this routine must take place daily or laptop usage will be suspended or revoked. Also remind them that any damage to the computer will come back to them.

Smart Board is NOT a White Board

If you have a smart board mounted in your room or even if you have one stationed somewhere in your room, make sure you keep it clean! Keep all dry erase markers away from it and if you use a special stylus pointer, make sure you keep it in your desk or somewhere safe.

If you are going to be absent and your smart board will be in your room, make sure you have specific substitute plans. The worst experience I have had with this is a colleague in my department getting told that his sub wrote the entire days plan on the smart board. Even worse, the sub used a sharpie marker because she could not find a dry erase marker. It was an awful cleanup! From that day forward our technology czar gave every smart board user a sign to display when we were absent. The sign said:




Cameras and Video Equipment

Time management! If you give students a camera to use for a project, make sure you include a column in the rubric that accounts for time. I have observed teachers using camera and video equipment for a lesson and just allowing students to run off with the equipment and take two to three weeks to shoot and edit a video. Ummm…no.

Have students sign out this equipment as well, monitor their time and enforce this rule! Don’t allow them to go over the time and make sure you keep consistent with this.

Acceptable Browsing

This rule should be primarily enforced by your network administrator, however, there are loopholes. Students are more technology advanced than most of us. When you say no facebook, no chatting and no non-academic browsing to a student, they think, “ha, I can get around this.” And they can! How? It’s called a proxy server. If this is an unfamiliar term to you, click the link and read. This proxy server allows students to access most sites that a schools network has blocked. I caught many students using facebook and various chat applications throughout the class. This needs to be a zero tolerance policy. Obviously you cannot see the screens for all of your students (until I patent the double sided laptop screen), but when you do catch them quickly minimizing a window containing facebook, enforce your policy and send them back to the 20th century classroom. Give them a pencil and paper and require them to complete the same project with tools of days gone by.

These are four simple ways to protect your equipment and maintain an efficient working environment in your classroom. With great power, comes great responsibility. Make sure your students understand this power and respect the classroom tools.

My Graduation Speech: One year later

A year ago toady I was the faculty speaker at commencement for the class of 2008. It was a hot summer evening that drew an immense crowd to the attention of the 50-yard line at Springfield High School. I was very nervous. It was the largest audience I ever had at my attention. My parents were there as well. It was the second time they had the opportunity to hear me speak at a high school graduation. The first time was when I presented the class gift as the class of ’98 class treasurer. We presented a tree. I think it has since died.

Recently, I was reflecting on what I said to the class of 2008. Was it relevant to their lives? Did it make an impact? Or was it simply a subtle message mixed with some funny stories? I hope it was all three. If you are out there and you heard it last spring, let me know, I would love to hear what my speech meant to you. Or if you missed it, I would love to hear what you have to say as well.

Good evening Dr. N., Members of the School Board, Administration, Faculty, Parents, Family members and the Springfield Township High School Class of Two Thousand and Eight. Welcome.

I am honored to be here speaking to you today. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Chris S., Ken R., Barry W., Eric G. and the Dali Lama, I can’t help but wonder how I stumbled into this elite company. Who will ever forget the Dali Lama’s speech in ‘86? What a speech I mean really, to be in the company of Mr. R. and his holiness the Dali Lama, you must be doing something right. And let’s not forget Mr. G’s eloquent Beatles metaphors, Mr. W’s resounding “Ooo-Rah!” and Mr. S’s little blue suitcase. These are the moments you will remember. The little moments that tend to get overshadowed by the chaos and hustle of daily life.

When I first heard rumors that I would be speaking at graduation circulating through the halls of Springfield Township High School, I sort of brushed it off thinking that it would never happen or that my students were just plotting an elaborate joke. Then I won. I won a contest I never entered. That never happens! I’ve won one contest in my life and it involved naming a rabbit at a local department store. The rabbit had two black spots over his eyes so I went with, “The Lone Ranger”. That’s not even a good name. Most likely I was the only entrant in the contest.

Nadine Sheahan came into my room and asked me if I would like to speak at graduation and that it was not mandatory, but that I did win a majority of the popular vote. Unfortunately I did not win the majority of delegates needed to secure the nomination…Whoops. Wrong tangent. I smiled and said I would speak. Playing it off like a cool cucumber. Then she left and I realized that I had to write something. I had to write something good. I had to write something memorable. And according to feedback from most students I had to be funny.

So here is my story to you…

In April of 1990 – while most of you were still writing about your first days on earth in your super small baby journal – I was getting prepared for my tenth birthday party. I was all set to have my birthday party at a near by amusement park; my party and my friends. However this was not the case. My mother informed me that I would be having a combined birthday party with my cousin and our celebration would take place at the local skating rink. To most kids at this age, this would be an upgrade in parties, however, for my disproportionate, husky frame, this was a nightmare.

I arrived at my party to see all of my friends intertwined with my cousin’s friends skating around to the hottest pop music of the time, which most likely is now 80% of ring tones on all of your cell phones. Once I wedged my tree trunk ankles into the little boots on wheels, I decided to stand up as if I was taking my first steps as a child. For most of the party I became a fixture on the ledge that enclosed the skating area. Until, I decided to leave my comfort zone. I decided to release my grip on the ledge and push myself out on to the floor. Eureka! I was skating!

Then I decided to get greedy with my skating and move my left leg. My leg went out and never came back causing me to spread eagle in the middle of the rink. My husky size acid wash jeans ripped right down the backside exposing my superman under-roo’s as my body fell to the left. There I was, a giant heap of child lying on the ground, with my jeans ripped down the back.

The moral of the story is that sometimes in life we are forced to leave the ledge and skate outside our comfort zones; the places that are familiar and safe to us. Some of you will never live in Springfield for twelve months out of the year again. Eventually your parents will turn your room into a guest room or that extra work space they always wanted. The comforts will continue to become increasingly unfamiliar. However, you will find new comforts. You will embrace new friends, new rooms and new opportunities. Leave your comfort zone and embrace the time away. Learn from your new comforts and know you can always come home, even though the artist formerly known as your bedroom may look like a newly renovated condo in Ocean City, New Jersey.

I don’t need to stand up here and tell you that life is full of uncertainties that we all must deal with whether we want to or not. How you deal with these uncertainties is how you build character and establish new opportunities that will lead to life experiences. Some of you will eventually encounter the skating party and figure out how to adjust in an uncomfortable setting. And even though you fall several times at your skating party, get back up and try again. Know that it is okay to fail. Getting it right the first time is not always going to happen. Through failure we gain life lessons that translate into opportunities which yield life experience.

When I left high school I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in high school it is very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine everybody here knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, how many Newsweek articles you had to read for Dr. D., how many minutes you had to speak for Mr. Mac’s Senior Seminar and what tie Mr. E would be wearing on the third Thursday of every month. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

High School is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in a myriad of ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong.

I will leave you with one final story.

In high school, I had the same English teacher for junior and senior year. Her name was Miss Stellfox and she governed the class room with graceful authority. When she walked into the room everyone would know what to do. She spoke softly, but engaged each student with clarified wisdom. It wasn’t until my junior year that I really appreciated language arts.

After my high school graduation I had my picture taken with Miss Stellfox and I still have it perched on my desk. Most of you ask why I don’t have any other pictures on my desk but the one of her and I. The answer is simple. She challenged me to do something different with my life. She challenged me to see the world through a different lens and convey what I witnessed to others. She dared me to visit another country and experience the beauty of immersing myself in another culture. I vowed to head her advice.

I corresponded regularly with Miss Stellfox while in college and after I graduated from college. She was always intrigued by the happenings in my life. The last time I spoke with her I was discussing my plans after graduate school. I was not sure if I wanted to get into teaching or take another path. This was the last time I would talk to Miss Stellfox.

In October of 2003, she was hit by car while crossing the street. It was a tragic event that happened to the wrong person, who was just beginning to enjoy her retired life. I never got to tell Miss Stellfox that I became an English teacher, but I know she is aware of my choice.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy, but simply, enjoy your days. Especially the days you are about to encounter. Enjoy a day that is completely spontaneous and unscripted. When the obvious choice is to drive; walk instead.

Try something you never thought you could accomplish. Yes, if you didn’t get it by now, this is the message I wanted you to soak up after I showed by Skydiving and bungee jumping videos on the first day of class.

Leave your comfort zone. Tomorrow you will all wake up and wonder what to do. There is no bell schedule tomorrow and no where to be. The summer will rapidly be eclipsed by the smell of fall and a new beginning will be under way.

And finally, call your parents. Call them frequently and listen to what they say. Treasure your time together and always answer their questions about technology with guided patience. Trust me, once you leave the house your parents’ tech support is basically gone. Most likely your first phone call from college will involve your parents asking how everything is going and then you will reciprocate the question. However, their answer will be something along the lines of your father hooked the television up to the typewriter but for some reason, he cannot access the inter-highway.

Enjoy this conversation. Enjoy the small things in life. Enjoy your days. And never throw your children a roller skating party.

Thank you

NOTE: Last names have been shortened to protect the innocent.