Browsing "education"
Aug 26, 2015 - education    No Comments

First Day of School

Next week is Willa’s first day of Kindergarten, and even though she did Pre-K, it still feels pretty huge to leave our beloved preschool behind, and have the baby in full-day school. Crazy. But this post isn’t about HER first day of school.

Open house for #Willabean kindergarten already? Impossible. 😥 #backtoschool #bgrkids

A photo posted by @snappity on

Being a connected educator also means being a connected mama, and one of the things I hear at this time of year is discussion around the teachers our kids get assigned to, and one of the things that deflates me a bit is when someone comments about getting a young teacher, or a first time teacher, and attaches a judgment to that that is…. less than positive.

Here’s the thing – now that I’ve sent two kids to school for the first time, I am realizing how sending our new teachers to school for the first time brings up a lot of those same fears and worries. “Please let the other kids [teachers] be kind to her. Please let them see her unique traits. Please let her feel confident and brave in a scary new environment, remind her that every day is a new start, that everyone makes mistakes and that mistakes are how we learn. Also please don’t let her catch lice.”

Don’t fear the new teacher. This is a person who is finally seeing realization of a dream – their OWN classroom and their OWN kids and their own bulletin boards and little cardstock name tags and their morning meeting chart paper and books they have carted from their dorm rooms to their parent’s garage to their first apartment. They have worked so hard to get here, HERE, in front of YOUR kids, that they don’t want to mess it up, and they are going to try like hell to be the best teacher ever. They aren’t jaded. Often, the new young teacher doesn’t yet have children of her own, and is giving 110% of her patience and love for kids to her classroom. She’s making a paltry salary, compared to some of the parents in her room, and to other parents, she is rich. She is going to be exhausted every single night. She’s realizing that twenty minute lunches are really only about twelve to fifteen minute lunches, once you get the kids there and then go back to retrieve them. She’s finding out that kids grow up in all kinds of situations, ones that maybe she could never have fathomed, and she goes home and tries to think of the best ways to reach all of them. She hasn’t given up on the most needy kids.

And behind her are all of us, the teachers that have watched her grow and learn as an undergrad. We get excited when they get interviews, and love hearing when they get jobs. We hope they take with them the lessons we taught – which were not just about content and methods, but about caring for kids and building those relationships – and we hope they thrive in their new roles.

Don’t cringe when you hear your kid is getting a first year teacher. Celebrate that. And maybe throw them a Target gift card or some supplies, because they are spending way too much of their own money (from a meager salary that still has to pay student loans, usually) to build their first classroom. Every teacher you’ve ever heard great things about was once a first year teacher.

The first days of school are often about letting go, letting our kids spread their wings, and just know that it’s not just the little kids spreading wings this time of year, but the grown ups, too. Don’t clip them with your doubts.


(I used the female pronoun because I have daughters – for our male teachers, they sometimes face extra scrutiny, but know that this all applies to them too, in some cases, it’s even more loaded when they might be the only male adult in a child’s life. That’s a whole other dynamic that our students walk into, willingly, because they want to make a difference for a kid. Remember that.)

Sep 18, 2014 - education, technology    No Comments

I love my LMS, and I’m okay with that.

There has been a lot of chatter on the web lately about how the LMS is just the WORST, and I find myself mystified by it, so I wanted to add my two cents to the conversation. (This post has links to most of the posts I am talking about) I am an instructional technologist who also teaches — I teach our Technology in Education class (for preservice teachers), and I teach a first year seminar class. I am not faculty, I am staff that teaches, but I started out as a teacher and love teaching. I also firmly believe that teaching makes me a better instructional technologist, because I am actually digging around and working with the services I support.

My Tech in Ed class has changed over the years (because that’s what good teachers do, reflect on what worked well, and what didn’t work well, and add to it) but it has ALWAYS included using Web2.0. My classroom was initially an iMac lab, because here in Maine we have the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI – 1:1 laptops, er, devices, for every student in grades 7 and 8) and since MLTI was historically using Apple laptops (until it was fractured by our current administration) the idea was that teachers should also be using Apple products as well. Now, I am deep into the Apple system – if it has an i in front of it, I probably own or have owned it. However, when it comes to teaching my future teachers, I teach platform neutral. Even when we were in the iMac lab, all of the systems we used were Web2.0  that they could do on a PC. When our new building was erected and the school of education got a dedicated classroom, I asked to move my class there, because the furniture was flexible and could be arranged into pods of varying sizes, easily. I also moved to a BYOD model, but provided the school’s laptop cart for those that didn’t have or want to bring a device, because I despised my students being hidden behind all those screens. Once, my students showed up to class and the desks were in rows from a previous instructor, and they said “ohhh, she is not gonna like this!” and they got to work breaking down the rows to form the pods. My class usually starts with a discussion of the reading, which is not a textbook but trade books – this semester it is The Connected Educator by Nussbaum-Bach and Hall, and It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by danah boyd. We’ll also talk about technology and/or education in the news (ie, the Apple Watch’s ability to send sketches, I’ve predicted, will be the new way that teens pass notes without the teacher noticing during class, and those notes will probably include body parts. Just a guess.), discuss what they’ve seen in their practicums (a few each year are in a field placement concurrently, which is a great way to connect what we are talking about), and then we move on to the content, which is broken into topics like Fair Use, Accessibility, Ethics, etc. They blog, they tweet, they create, and they research (current students, it’s coming ), and they have to create a portfolio to show how they’ve met the ISTE-Nets for Teachers standards.  I share what I do in the classroom, because it absolutely impacts what I do in the LMS.

We never had an LMS before Canvas. We had a little add-on to our ERP that let you upload documents and maintain a (clunky) gradebook, but that was it. A silver lining to never having had an LMS means that I am not having to “un-learn” users from a different system. When we were looking, I was an essential part of that team, and I brought in other faculty from all schools and colleges to get their take. It was very much a faculty driven process. I am proud to say that.

Managing my tech in ed class was AWFUL before Canvas, for me, and for the students. And while it would be awesome if all of my students came to me with intrinsic motivation and a deep passion to learn and love everything I teach them, it’s not going to happen for most of them. There’s always a few that get into it (like I did in my own undergrad program, which led me to grad school to make it my actual career) but it is a required course, and there’s always a range of how much they truly care about it. That’s how it is. I will hear students sometimes complain about instructors “god, all she TALKS about is [insert subject]” and I remind them that that’s who they WANT teaching them — someone who is passionate about their field. Anyone could make them buy a textbook for $200 and show the packaged powerpoints, and use the test bank and assignment suggestions for my class, and students could get a good grade, but is there passion in that route? I don’t think so. I wrote about this two years ago, so I’m just going to link to that post to remind folks of what my workflow used to be like. But, basically, I teach, I work full time, I am a parent and a wife and a runner and a reader and a learner and a friend, and frankly, ease and convenience matters to me. In addition, my students are often some or all of those things too, and it matters to THEM. My students end up spiraling back to me in their last semester, when they student teach, and it’s in that class that they understand best what I was trying to teach them in my class a year or two before. They always tell me to tell the current group to “Pay attention! You will USE this stuff!” But, it’s one of those things that you won’t know until you know, I guess.

When I had my snow tires put on, the usual courtesy van driver wasn’t available so they sent one of the shop guys to pick me up, and when he called I knew he must know our campus by the way he asked which entrance to find me, and so I asked when he arrived how he was connected to the school. He was a student (who also worked full time) and when he asked what I did, I didn’t even MENTION Canvas, but he heard the ‘technologist’ part of my title and asked “do you do Canvas?” I told him yes, and he spent the whole drive back to the dealership going on about how it was the best thing to come to campus, that he uses the app to know what he needs to do, his grades, if he needs to contact the instructor, etc. The main complaint about Canvas from students is “why is this teacher NOT using it?”

I have had faculty try new things because of Canvas. A professor that always wanted to try blogging with his students, did, once I showed him how I managed it in Canvas. Another had them do video projects. The use of portfolio assessment has gone up dramatically because of Canvas. They can use the baked-in eportfolio, or they use Google Sites to do them, or something else – but they are collected in Canvas. It works.

I am totally on board with being anti-closed system. But, some things need to be closed by way of FERPA and HIPAA and other privacy regulations, just as we can’t post grades or graded papers on our door for students to retrieve, we can’t share a Google Spreadsheet of our gradebook. The closed LMS is NOT what I am defending. I am defending the concept of the LMS as a hub for real-life projects and learning.

I have had a few students who have taken my class twice, for various reasons. When I posted back in 2012, on the first day of the semester (maybe even before it started), I made the bold prediction that “I am convinced that my students will be more confident in their progress in the course, and that I will see that reflected in my teaching evals.” I was totally, totally right. Some of my second timers even said that to me, personally, outside of the anonymous course eval, and in that semester, I was honestly surprised when my students added their use of Canvas to their ISTE portfolios. I hadn’t meant for that to be a learning experience, but it was. (And remember, it’s education, so this is the kind of thing they will be navigating when they teach, in some fashion.)

I have been teaching with open tools for years. I taught Twitter before my students knew what Twitter WAS. (Which is fun, because when I teach Twitter, we follow each other, and when some of those “um, what is this ‘Twitter’ thing about?” students dusted off their accounts and started really using it, I admit, I had a bit of “See, I TOLD you so!” drift through my brain.) Using Web2.0 and open systems to connect with my students has been one of the best things to come from my teaching. I know that when a former student chases me down in a parking lot to tell me they got hired for their first teaching position, or when one contacts me after starting a job for advice on how to do something, that what I do matters. Not because of the content, but because of the relationships.

Yes, the LMS is convenient for me. But so is having a classroom where we can all meet twice a week to learn from each other, and so is having a laptop cart that I can provide for students that don’t have one, and so is having a campus directory and an ERP and and and. Being able to spend less time juggling all of my open assignments means that I can do more with my time. I’ve added the deep dive research project since starting with Canvas, because I felt the breathing room available to do so. (It’s a project where they research an aspect of tech in ed that they really want to know more about, like coding or impact of tech on kids’ health) And regardless of the conveniences, all of the conveniences in the world won’t matter if a teacher isn’t working hard to engage their students.

I am glad that there are people out there pushing the envelope and questioning authority and making us think, but the LMS does not automatically make teaching a dystopian wasteland of publisher provided PowerPoints and multiple choice quizzes. And like I said on Twitter, I would much rather see expensive* canned content (delivered in any form) taken to task than using an LMS.


*Yes, an LMS is expensive, here I am referring to the non-tuition expenses passed to students. And while an LMS is expensive, there is a price for free as well – human capital and/or hardware overhead to maintain a ‘free’ service should not be ignored.

Nov 26, 2013 - education, technology    1 Comment

US vs Canadian schools

I grew up on the Canadian border. The border between Maine and New Brunswick in that area is the St Croix River, and any time you went from one country to another, it was “going over the river.” Some things about growing up on the border (particulary in the 90s):

  • You know the difference between M&M’s and Smarties, and know that Smarties are superior
  • You know the difference between American Smarties and Canadian Smarties, and know that Canadian Smarties are superior
  • Tim Horton’s > Dunkin Donuts
  • Nanaimo bars. That’s all.
  • You know that if your friend takes a serious header on his skateboard in the US, you drive him over the river before seeking medical attention.
  • You get Sesame Street in the US version AND the Canadian version. (or, you did when all you had was a rooftop antenna.)
  • Mr Dressup. 
  • Everyone you know has been to another country, but some of those kids have never been to another US state.

I could go on, but growing up on the border has given me a slightly different perspective on a lot of things. So, when I find myself following lots of Canadian educators on Twitter, I can’t help but wonder how their great ideas and practices translate to American schools. This post was inspired by finding this Tedx Vancouver talk by Dean Shareski: Whatever Happened to Joy in Education?

Dean is a Canadian educator, that now works for the Discovery Education Network. Most (all?) of the people he features in this video are Canadian educators, and it brings up the questions about the border differences that I have now, 20 years removed from my own public school education and deep into my career as an instructional technologist working to prepare the next wave of American teachers.

The question I have for the Canadians, particularly those that spend time with teachers on both sides of the border, what are the differences that you see between your schools and American schools? Do you think that you have more freedom to find joy in education? Do you have more freedom to connect your students with others via social media?  Is there more freedom to inject your own style into your teaching? What are your perceptions of American schools?


Sep 26, 2013 - education, family, technology    No Comments

An educator/parent wishlist

Today in my class, we talked about the variety of ways that our lens of what school is has changed (or not) dependent on generations. For instance, I never had technology to distract me at my desk – but that just meant that I was distracted by the writing and passing of notes folded into football or star shapes. It didn’t mean I wasn’t distracted. A student talked about hating the laptop in middle school so much that it ended up broken because all it was used for was typing papers, but then in talking about how technology was used in a high school physics class, the sentiment was totally different. Our views change as we see things used, and see things done in new and different ways. The seed for the conversation was from one of our texts, the Connected Educator, where the author talks about being a homeschooling parent who was mystified as to why other homeschoolers just ‘did school’ in a traditional way, only at home. (Desks in rows, books of worksheets, etc.)

As an educator, I have some strong opinions about education. As a parent, I have some strong opinions about my family. As an educator/parent, it can he hard to know where the line is, so I wanted to write up a wishlist of what I would like to see happening in the schools that my kids will attend, and what I hope my current students will take with them when they begin their professional practice. I actually discussed with my own students today that this post was brewing, and then when I scanned through my Feedly, there was a fantastic post at Edutopia that hit on a lot of the things I would add to my wishlist. What Parents Want You (Teachers) to Know. Go ahead and read. I’ll wait.

First, this was generated by asking parents directly “what do you want teachers to know?” Start there! Start with that! Schools should ask their families what they need to know. The concept of school is one of great authority, because of the lens most parents grew up with. And yes, we want children to respect their teachers and their classmates, but I do strongly believe that it is okay to advocate for your families needs. I don’t mean “My precious snowflake doesn’t like sauce on her pizza, so please carefully remove any traces of red from school pizza she is served,” but that it is okay to ask if you think that something is amiss, or if you want more information.

The key points in this article that made me jump up and down were these:

Please plan for us

I am active in the PTO, and the drum I find myself beating often is “but what about the working parents?” This has improved a LOT in the few years I’ve been involved in PTO, but so often an event would be held and the only notice would be “we’ll post it in the lobby and make an announcement!” But I am never in the lobby, except maybe once every two weeks when picking up after a club meeting, so I would never see those notices or hear those announcements. Several times, I would find a note in the backpack that says “Event tonight!” and, well, I’m a working parent, so that note would usually be found in the morning, by my husband who makes and packs the lunches. If the only notice of an event is a sign posted where some parents will never see it, or a same day backpack note, you cannot expect to have good turnout or participation. A great way to help with this is by thinking about “Meet us where we are,” below.

Homework must be meaningful — if given at all

I haven’t had to advocate about this yet, but I’m sure I will, eventually, based on conversations with others that have older kids. I read The Case Against Homework when I was in grad school, and used it to back up my own no-homework policies, and wish that it could be read by more educators. Similar to the “please plan for us,” with two working parents, we have limited time that is spent together as a family. Basically, I have about 2.5-4 hours between the end of the work day and my girls’ bedtime, and that will include dinner, special activities (and I am NOT an overscheduler – my 7 year old does one activity that meets once a week, and another that meets once every two weeks) playing outside (when we have the light to) reading, playing LEGO, eating dinner, asking (SO MANY) questions, bathtime (on bath nights), bedtime stories, errands, etc. And we are very lucky that we ARE a two parent family in a stable home, with jobs that align to the school day, for the most part (as opposed to shift workers that might not even be available in the evening). For kids who deal with two homes (or no homes) or have situations at home that are not conducive to learning, the challenges are even greater. Challenge Success (from a little place called Stanford University) has a great whitepaper on homework as well. I am also not fond of any decision being backed up with “but we have great test scores!” That’s great, great test scores, but at what cost? I am fortunate that my kids have recess in their schools (when I have colleagues in other states where recess has been totally eliminated, from K on up) and I would hate to see test scores trump recess and free play and opportunities for critical thinking and exploration and expressing creativity.  See also: Race to Nowhere. I love their Healthy Homework guidelines, and this video (about 5minutes) basically sums up my own feelings about homework.)

Meet us where we are

This one? This one is huge. I teach my students how to connect with their students, and their students families, using technology, but I have gotten push back when I look for it from my own neighborhood school. There is a fear to use blogs “we can’t put up student pictures!” because there is a poor understanding of what blogs are. (I teach my students how to comply with fair use and FERPA when blogging, from the basic “don’t take pictures of kids” to “here’s how to blur a kid/identifying info out of a photo.”) I am envious when I see teachers/schools using 21st century tools to communicate with their community and families. I have had teachers that are very proactive in replying to email, and that is so appreciated, especially by the parent who is not able to take a call (but can scan an email quickly) or who doesn’t want to send sensitive info back and forth in a school folder with a kid who is both curious and a strong reader. In this part of the post, I thought it was interesting that the “Hard Copy Parent” was considered the one to be sure to accommodate, where I find that the HCP is the default setting for many schools. Pew Internet (a FABULOUS resource for all kinds of stats like this) just released a report yesterday that 15% of adults do not use the email or internet. But that ALSO means that 85% DO, and to default to the 15% is leaving out so many people. I’ve also heard “well, not everyone has a computer.” But technologies now mean that you don’t need A Computer to access internet resources. In fact, 1/3 of my students this semester do not own a computer, but rely on a mobile device to do most of their class work (in ALL classes, not mine) and then access a lab or a friend’s computer when they have to. Pew has some info on this, too. Asking someone if they have a computer does not answer the question “do you have access.” Again, defaulting to the lowest common denominator is easy, but I feel strongly that it’s not RIGHT.

One of the things I really stress in my own teaching is that teaching is about relationships. You need to have strong relationships with your students, their families, other teachers, and the community. Teaching can be SO isolating, and embracing the concepts of becoming a Connected Educator have an impact in all of those areas. And YES, teaching also takes a lot of time and energy and thinking about adding ONE MORE THING to someone’s plate may seem daunting, but the benefits are there. If you have connected with the families of your students, you don’t have to spend a parent teacher conference catching up on the basics, you can focus on expanding on what they already know is happening in your classroom. (When I have nontraditional students, I ask them – what does your kid say to the question “What did you do in school today?” and I swear, you could have had an assembly, a field trip to the Magic Kingdom, and ice cream sundaes for lunch and most kids will just say “Nothin’.” The parents I have taught always laugh at this, because it’s true.) When you can share the great things that are happening in your classroom, the bad days aren’t as bad. With classroom access limited more and more due to security concerns and academic concerns, parents still want to know what their child is doing in school. (And again, remember that there are many families that will never see the classroom because they work, and aren’t in the schools.) Blogging is such a great way to do that. With more classrooms/teachers being equipped with mobile devices, it’s easier than ever to do that! When we went to the Common Ground Fair, there must have been fifty school busses, and I saw several middle schoolers using their MLTI iPads to take pictures and video of the various events and exhibits. Imagine the blog post a teacher could make about their day or week!

October is Connected Educator month, and their (TOTALLY FREE!) Connected Educator Kit is a PDF that helps get educators started. (It almost reads like a crash course of the one that I teach – a lot of the resources they use are ones I use with my students, and in my own work.) If you need inspiration on teachers who blog, Kathy Cassidy is a terrific one. Not only does SHE blog, she has her first graders blogging.

I am fortunate that I have kids who love to learn, who love books and exploring and creating, and I am SO fortunate that my kids have low student-teacher ratios, access to art, music, PE, library, and recess, and a sense of community that comes from having a neighborhood school, where their friends are just around the corner or down the street. I see my friends in other states, California, Florida, etc, who have kids having much different experiences – a classroom of 30 kindergarteners with no para supports, for instance, or the Florida schools that have cut recess in favor of more seat time, and I almost don’t want to add to my wishlist. The largest class size we’ve experienced is 18, and that wasn’t til the end of the year when several kids moved into the school’s zone, for most of the year, she was one of 14. But I am also one who will always strive for more, and is always looking to improve on what already exists. I am still pretty early in my journey as an educator/parent, and I am hopeful that the next 15ish years in that role will see a continuing evolution of how our schools foster a spirit of learning and community. I hope that the lens of “this is how it’s always been done, so this is how we will always do it” will be adjusted, and that we aren’t just “doing school” they way we remember it, but embracing change and taking risks and connecting schools and families.

Jun 3, 2013 - education, technology    No Comments

Library books on my Kindle

I’ve had a Kindle for a long time — I had one of the first versions through work, long before I had a smartphone or iPad, and thought it was great (but something I’d not have spent the $400 on myself.) As time went on, I found myself reading more on my iPad once I got it, and then I started getting annoyed by reading on my ipad, because I’d be reading along and a banner alert would pop up that I had a new email, or it was my turn in a game, or someone had a tweet for me. I missed reading on the Kindle without distractions (but I loved that I could read on the iPad in the dark). This Christmas, I got a new paperwhite, which is the best Kindle ever.

And while it IS true that I spend more on e-books now than I do on paper books, and read paper books less, one of the things that I LOVE about the Kindle’s evolution is that now you can read library books on it. You couldn’t do that when the first Kindle came out. And the books you can read aren’t just B list books — right now I’m reading Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, and I’m reading the second Harry Potter book aloud to Ingrid, for example. Downloading the books is SO EASY, all you need is a library card. For me, I use my work provided one (the university is a partner library) but you can use your municipal library card as well, in most areas. (And for Maine, anyone Mainer can have a Bangor Public Library card, so truly, anyone can use this system.)

Here’s how it works*:

  • Go to the website:
  • Browse around. I don’t do audiobooks, so I like to browse by category, or sometimes I’ll search for a specific title.
  • Flag books that look interesting (this doesn’t create a hold or check them out, it just makes a list, so I get pretty flag-happy) This is where you’ll be prompted to sign in with your account – just find your library, and enter your card number. (For us at HU, you have to add “HUS0000” to the beginning of your number, so it will look like “HUS0000#####”) You may need to check with your local library to see if there are any identifiers you need to add. A tip – when I first did this, I saved the link to the download library and titled it with my ID number, so I didn’t have to keep looking it up.
  • You can search for just Kindle books, or for ePubs, etc. There are ways to get ePubs onto a Kindle that are….. not exactly endorsed by anyone, but if you Google you can decide for yourself if you want to proceed.
  • When you find the book you want, you can check it out or place a hold.
  • Checking out – if you choose Kindle, it will direct you to the Amazon website, and you can then click a button to download to your Kindle. If you have multiple devices, you can choose to download it to any of them. Some titles allow USB transfer to Kindle only, but I have not yet had to deal with that. Or, you can use the Overdrive app on a tablet or phone.

Pro Tips:

  • Log in to your settings and make your default loan period two weeks. (It’s set to one week, and that’s just not enough time for me. You can always return a book early if you finish early.)
  • When it’s available, you have a few days to check it out. Wait to check out until just before you start reading to maximize your loan period.
  • If you don’t finish before the loan is up, go back to the site and re-download or place another hold. When it’s available again, and you open the book, it will be right where you left off.
  • Holds may seem “long” but I haven’t found them to be in most cases. For instance, the Harry Potter book is always checked out, and it takes a long time to read aloud. I’m on the third checkout of the book, and when it expired on Friday and I placed a new hold, I was third in line, and the book was available by Sunday night. I don’t think I waited for more than a week for Lean In, and that had a lot of people ahead of me.
  • New tip! 11/13: If you turn off your wifi, you can keep a book indefinitely on your Kindle, but it is ‘returned’ to the lending pool at the end of the loan period, so you aren’t holding up the waiting list like you would with a physical book. This wouldn’t work with a smartphone or iPad, so much, because they really rely on data for a lot of other things, but with a Kindle it’s very simple — navigate to the settings and turn wifi to off, and finish the book. Of course, as soon as you connect to wifi again, the book disappears, so you can’t add any OTHER books to your Kindle while it’s off the grid, but it’s a great hack to use when you are SOCLOSE to finishing a book.

I really love being able to use my paperwhite for library books. I have read stuff that I wouldn’t have necessarily wanted to spend money on, but that I still found interesting and worth the read. Here are the directions from the website on how to use the download library, and here’s a video explaining it as well:

*These instructions are specific to the Maine Infonet download library, but if your library uses Overdrive, they probably work for you, too.


May 23, 2013 - education, life, technology    No Comments

Twitter in my classroom

Last year when I taught this course, I tried to roll Twitter into it, but after the initial setup, most students didn’t keep up the way I had hoped. This year, I made it an actual assignment. Three, actually, I divided the semester into thirds and required that everyone meet a minimum standard. They had to post at least twice a week, and in each time period they had to have shared 2 resources, had 2 @ messages and 2 retweets. That’s all you had to do for full credit. The objective was to keep them going back, and hope that they started going back without prompting. I also always offer to work out an alternative for those that really, truly do not wish to use social media in my course, but no one has asked to exercise that option yet. We also go over the privacy expectations when we are getting started. Having this as an actual assignment definitely made a difference.

Top 5 benefits of using Twitter in the classroom, as according to Gretchen:

1) Relationship building. I have two class sessions each week, and it’s hard to build relationships in those two 1:15 periods. The students that engaged in the Twitter exercise built deeper relationships than those that didn’t. For instance, I have never given much thought to the sports programs here, but having two softball players tweeting about their victories made me much more interested – I noticed headlines in the paper that I would’ve skipped, because I was looking to see if my students were mentioned. In addition, my students know more about ME through Twitter, more than they probably know about any of their other instructors. I do not have a special ‘work’ twitter account, I’ve rolled everything together as a “Gretchen” twitter account, because I am a teacher AND a geek AND a mom, AND a runner, AND a citizen of Maine AND AND AND. I can’t compartmentalize my love of teaching and technology as separate from the rest of the things that make up who I am.

2) Beyond the class connections. I have two students that are former students, but have stayed in touch on Twitter, and have sought assistance in their other classes by sending an @message or DM to schedule an office visit. I am certain that they have appreciated this level of access.

3) Modeling connected learning and teaching. Our Skype with the 8th graders came about because of a Twitter connection. We participated in the lipdub because of Twitter, too.

4) Sharing current events with the class. I do a tech survey at the start of each semester, and very few students are reading or watching traditional news anymore, so I can’t assume they will see things that impact teaching and technology and local politics surrounding education. I try to share news and information that they might otherwise miss. (By tagging it with #ed307, it shows up in a special widget in our Canvas course as well.)

5) Modeling the digital footprint. My students know a lot about me (see #1) but they also see how I can be authentic without being rude or unprofessional. I talk about this openly in class — they will never see me complain about work or my family online. Ever. I will never tweet bullying comments about peers or students, or share things inappropriately. I also think it helps my students to remember that professionals use twitter, too, and maybe they will think before they tweet if they know their teacher is reading along. I am clear that I understand that they are college students and in a different station of life, but that they should still be thinking about the impression they make using social media. I would rather have them learn in my class, which is a safe space, than learn in the ‘real world,’ where it might jeopardize a job opportunity or other relationships.

Here’s my favorite twitter story from the spring semester, though. And it really ties to the “building relationships” piece. One of my students had to unexpectedly miss class and drive halfway across the country. On her drive, she tweeted:



And I followed with:



That was at 6 pm, and I didn’t hear anything again until an hour and a half later, when the student tweeted this:


The farm my mom grew up on. THE farm. Not just a farm nearby, THE FARM, 750 miles away from here. On the left is the house and on the right is the barn. The vineyard is between the highway and the buildings. I couldn’t believe it! I tweeted right back at her:



And I sent the pic to my mom, who was on vacation, and she emailed back:

“Amazing. That your student captured a photo so clearly showing the old farmhouse and barn.  It was a moment to remember good times there…and especially onMay Day.  I think that was a gift from Mom….Alesa and I used to celebrate May Day by picking violets from the pond, putting them in Dixie cup bouquets,  sneaking up on Felton’s porch, knock loudly, leave the cup of flowers and run and hide while Loretta discovered her surprise.  Thanks for bringing back happy memories for me.”

So, why does this matter in teaching? A good teacher builds strong relationships with their students. I strongly believe that Twitter helps me foster those relationships beyond the classroom. Without twitter, I’d have never known that my student was going to be passing through, and without that relationship, my student wouldn’t have felt compelled to try to take the pic. But because she did, it set off this little chain reaction of good stuff — I shared it on facebook and my mom’s childhood friends were liking the photo and commenting. My grandmother has been gone for 27 years, but whenever these small miracles happen, we call it “a Nana thing.” That my student grabbed this photo, and brought back so many good memories, and (I think) lightened her own spirit a bit, was totally a Nana thing, but it would never have happened if not for making Twitter part of my teaching practice.

Two side notes that came up since I started working on this post:

First, I’ve been nominated for the Hashtagger award from Social Media Breakfast: Bangor, for my use of twitter in education. I’d love to get your vote!

Second, my evals for this term arrived while I was finishing up. They were overwhelmingly positive, and jumped up from previous semesters, and the two things I did differently this term were that I required Twitter and used Canvas. I am convinced that both of those things are what made the difference.

Apr 30, 2013 - education, technology    No Comments

The MLTI debacle.

When the news about the newest phase of MLTI hit, it was a glorious Saturday and I had already had a great day by PRing at Erin’s Run. But then my phone lit up with email from the ACTEMList, a listserv of Maine teachers and techies, and the rest of the day was spent going through the first few phases of grief, I think. I am still so emotional over this whole thing, but I have to write about it.

Some backstory: I’ve been advocating for MLTI from back with it was MLTE, when the E stood for “endowment,” and not “initiative.” Back in 2001, I was an Americorps volunteer with an org called Project GO@LS: Go Online At Libraries and Schools. I was still an undergrad at UMaine, and it was working with Project GO@LS that I learned about the instructional technology field, and that UMaine offered a graduate degree in instructional technology. I did my undergrad in Elementary Education so that I could get the M Ed in Instructional Technology. Working for GO@LS, I had an office at the Bangor Public Library, and I helped patrons there and at other area libraries. Our group also worked on providing curriculum to local schools – in 2001, the model was that there might be one or two desktop computers in the room, and it was still pretty new to use the internet in a classroom lesson. As part of that service year, I got to meet Jim Moulton at a workshop (I think he may have even been still teaching in the classroom then? Or had only recently left) and Bette Manchester. These are names that maybe don’t matter to many people, but in the world of MLTI, they are well known. Anyway, I got a button from one of those events that said “ask me about MLTE” and I wore it on my backpack throughout that year at UMaine, and since the project was new, and I was an edu major, of COURSE it was discussed a lot in our classes, and I was always advocating for it. “No, it’s NOT a toy, yes, it IS important,” etc. Actually, when I took my Praxis that year, I got to the writing portion and thought I was being pranked, because the prompt — randomly assigned — was “Some people think computers in the classroom are unnecessary. What do you think?” I literally looked around the testing room — one at Little Hall at UM — to see if someone was going to pop out and say “haha! here’s the real prompt.” No one else that I took it with that day even had that question! So weird.

Phase two of my backstory is that the second year at UMaine (I was a transfer/nontrad so was deep into education coursework from the start) was the year that the iBooks rolled out to 7th graders. That year at Christmas, my then-boyfriend Dave said “I know I should have probably gotten you a ring, but I thought you would like this more” and presented me with my own iBook. “I figured you should be as equipped as the 7th graders.” That iBook was the impetus for so many things – I took it to campus and got a wifi card installed (!), and it was my faithful companion throughout my undergrad degree. When it came time to student teach, I was supposed to be in a 5th grade classroom, but a sudden shift of teachers in the middle school landed me in a 7/8 Multiage, as a long-term sub, and I was hired to go on contract as soon as my degree was finished. (And once I had THAT news, Dave did get me a ring, and we were married six weeks later.) But, I firmly believe I would not have ended up teaching in an MLTI classroom so quickly had I not been ready from the start, thanks to the iBook I already had. I taught in that program for two years, and then went to UMaine full time as a grad student for a year (having Ingrid conveniently on the last day of the semester) and completed my Instructional Technology degree in December and started at my current position in February. But all the while, still believing in MLTI big time.

And WHY? Well, I grew up in Washington County. I graduated from a small school that cobbled together a class of 54 from 8 different towns. I graduated with people that had never been farther than Bangor, and that was on a school trip. I have always, always seen technology and the internet as a way to flatten the world, to see beyond the World Book collection in the back of the classroom. But a rural school can’t afford what a richer, coastal school might be able to, and that has ALWAYS been the case, and would have always been the case with technology until Angus King made MLTI a reality. Now, my alma mater had the same.exact.system as the richest schools in the state. The network expansion alone was something that would have taken years to accomplish for some of those rural schools. (As it is, my hometown — 30 miles from the schools I attended — never got a high speed connection until 2009 or 2010, and that was only after raising taxes to build a tower for a wireless company to use.) MLTI made sure that outside groups could create curriculum for middle schoolers that would work in any school, because of the unified approach.

I am not upset about the decision to mark HP as the top choice for MLTI as much as I am upset about the move to let schools choose from a menu of options. Doing that undoes the core of MLTI, and just by watching the ACTEMlist over the last few days, I see that digital divide opening. Of course one of the wealthy coastal districts is going with Macbook Air. Of course one of the more rural northern schools is leaning HP. That’s what would have happened in all the years between 2001 and now if MLTI hadn’t happened.

I’m also not sure I think the iPad is the best choice, either. I love my iPad and use it DAILY, but there are some projects that I still NEED to use my laptop for. My ideal version of MLTI would be that every student has an iPad, but that there is also a laptop cart available for those in-depth projects that need a little more firepower. But, the goal of MLTI was to “know where the puck was going,” and I’m certain that tablets are just getting started. There are plenty of businesses run by tablet these days (mostly small businesses, but the Governor probably doesn’t care too much about that? Oh wait.).

But looking at all of the documentation, the HP is an underpowered, outdated machine. It is *lesser* in every way from the Macbooks this new phase is REPLACING. That part is just crummy.

It was also ranked 4 out of 5 as the best option for learning. This is important — MLTI stands for Maine LEARNING Technology Initiative, not LAPTOP. The beauty of a Mac (and I am biased) is that the machine gets out of the way of learning. They are not susceptible to viruses, they are thoughtfully designed and user friendly. Case in point: I teach my undergrad class as a BYOD class. I DON’T teach mac (or PC) specific applications, but we focus a lot on web tools. The most recent project was that students had to create a how to video. In my class, about 2/3 have a Mac and 1/3 use PC, and the Mac users videos were done without complaint, and the students using Moviemaker (on their PC) had issues. “I couldn’t get the music on.” “It said I needed to update and then it downloaded a bunch of stuff and slowed down my machine.” “I tried to speed this part up but it just froze it instead.” My Mac users had lovely movies, created in iMovie, with no technical complaints. And these are ADULTS, who have been using these machines for probably at least a year or more (they are their own devices.)

The HP solution drastically reduced PD support (and the documents note that they “took exception to this requirement.”) Ironically, choosing HP = job losses in Maine.

The idea that “Windows is what businesses use” is troubling. We are using technology for learning, not for job training. Yes, there are lots of businesses that use Windows machines, but there are also lots of careers that use Apple. It’s NOT ABOUT THE PLATFORM, and it’s NOT ABOUT LEARNING HOW TO USE AN OPERATING SYSTEM. OSes will change all the time, learning an OS in 7th grade does not mean you are ready for the workforce in 6-10 years. Not about the platform. I actually teach totally platform neutral in my class, because it is not guaranteed that all of my students will become Maine teachers. I often get friends and family asking me for a recommendation when they need a new computer, and I always recommend some flavor of Mac, and will look at the refurb store or outlet to highlight an especially good deal, and it never fails, I get a reply a week later “oh, I found an HP at Best Buy for WAY CHEAPER!” …. and then a year later, they are asking again, because their computer has failed them in some way. Viruses, crashes, etc. Choosing HP is the Governor saying “look what I found at Best Buy for way cheaper!” and ignoring the bigger picture.

Here’s the straight up data:

Here is a link to all of the proposals. (It will eventually have a FAQ as well.)

Here is a link to the scoring summary. The choice was made based on HP being the cheapest laptop, and other scores were seemingly ignored. (Professional development, software,  support, etc was not factored in the final decision.)

Here is a link to the comparison of the 5 finalists. Note the network, support, software, and cloud columns. (Also, may I point out that the HP proposal = eliminating jobs in Maine? Ahem.)

A few more tidbits — if you read the HP proposal, you’ll learn that charging is meant to happen at home, but they will supply a limited amount of chargers for the school. (15 for a school of up to 250 kids, and it goes up from there.) There is also not a full featured screen reader, like Apple rolls into their OS, and their software solutions are Office and Office365, Internet Explorer, etc – the basic apps that come on a basic machine.

Technology in education is obviously something I am passionate about, and have been for years. MLTI has been a game changer, and now the game has been changed on the program in a short-sighted and drastic way.



Apr 10, 2013 - education, technology    1 Comment

Lipdub FTW.

Today was one of those days that makes me so glad I’m an educator.

There is lots of backstory here:

My students are always really into the digital citizenship and cyberbullying discussions that we have, but this year we were especially moved by some headline grabbing events in our area, that led to other discussions.

I have been working hard all semester to drill the idea that being a connected educator is valuable and necessary, and pushing them to connect beyond the classroom using Twitter and blogs.

This week was devoted to video, and my intern did the formal lesson on Monday…. but all semester long, there was a blank spot for today, Wednesday. I figured I’d use it as a flex day — maybe work on videos if they needed, or portfolios, or…. whatever.

Then, last night I saw this tweet:


And it all clicked together….

Wait, we could do something to help a real class, of 6th graders, during video week, by way of my striving to be a connected educator? I was in, but I had to put it out to the class, too.

When class started, I shared with them some other lipdubs, shared the post, and we voted to contribute to BOTH projects. It was not required, and I reiterated the privacy options, and the students who chose not to be on the video were made crew. We listened to the song, picked out our lyric, and then tried to come up with our “something nice” to say, which was harder than you might think.

Next, location — most wanted to use the sign at the North entrance, and a few (my ATHLETES!) were grumbling about the walk. We talked about doing teams in two locations, but ultimately decided it would be more powerful to be one group, so I had everyone bring their phones and we headed out. It’s a 1/2 mile to the sign (I know this because it’s my route for the wellness walks!) and halfway there we felt one or two raindrops, but I was confident we could get it done before any rain.

Once at the sign, we did a few practice runs, and then recorded both videos, confirmed we had it, and then headed back to the classroom, all of us smiling and laughing. Back at class, I had the student who’d recorded the lipdub video email it to me, and I had used my phone for the “say something nice” project (during the lipdub, my phone was used to guide us with our lyric), and we played both before wrapping up class.

Before the day was over, I’d submitted our videos to both projects, and emailed the teacher to share some of the backstory I shared above, and when I tweeted out looking for a still pic that I knew was taken, I got this:


It was a great class. We learned how easy it is to participate in a global project, and how a global project can be a fun way to learn. It tied in so perfectly to what we’ve been talking about, and I’m hopeful it inspired them to be more connected and to seek out these opportunities (or to create them on their own!)

I would encourage anyone to participate in such a project — it took us less than our assigned class period of 75 minutes to go from “here is what it is – do you think we should do it – done.” And now I think it was just a premonition or fate that kept me from filling in that 4/10 box when I wrote the syllabus last winter, because it was perfectly timed for today to be doable.

It was a great day to be a teacher of this great group of students.

Apr 2, 2013 - education, technology    No Comments

Skyping with the 8th Graders

One of the things I am constantly repeating to my students is that it is important to be a connected educator. My passion for technology (in education, and everything) comes not from all the shiny whiz-bang things you can do with it, but from it’s ability to connect people that otherwise wouldn’t be connected. I also really strive to model the best practices that I am teaching my students, so I was really excited when I had the opportunity to Skype with a real live classroom. But, how did that opportunity even come up? My PLN, of course.

Twitter– I’ve been following Mrs Harris on twitter for years, and she follows me back. Our common interests are that we are both educators, and we both use technology in our teaching. She teaches 8th grade in a Maine school, which means she has 1:1 laptop access thanks to MLTI. We also have kids around the same age (her son was born a few months after Willa) and we both like to cheer on Maine Hockey – go Black Bears!

When she tweeted something about her students having finished their Voicethread projects, I sent her a message about how my students would be doing Voicethread later in the term and maybe we could work something out that they could share their work. The conversation moved to email, and we set a date! Which was snowed out… but our snow date was the next week, and it went great. Heidi’s students were well prepared — they had planned what they were going to share, and they were articulate in their thoughts when we asked some questions that they hadn’t planned for. They shared some of their work, and they also talked about when NOT to use technology. My college students were quite shy (which the 8th graders even noticed!) but did ask some good questions, and their reflections after the visit were great. They all felt it was a valuable use of time, and I especially found it valuable for my students to hear that real, live, 8th graders were using the very things I am teaching them in ED307. In addition to learning about tech, they noticed the classroom management style of Mrs. Harris,and the general energy of a post-lunch 8th grade classroom.

How we prepared:

Heidi and I set up a test run, without students the week before. It was spring break for me so I used the same classroom at the same time to make sure all the connections worked. I also used an ethernet cable to ensure that we wouldn’t lost our connection because of flaky wifi.

On the day of the chat, I had my students move all the tables to the side, and move all the chairs to the middle. Then I made them move all the chairs CLOSER. We had my laptop pointed at them, and the screen displaying us behind them. I also brought my wireless keyboard and trackpad so that I could make adjustments off screen.


Heidi’s class had clearly prepared in advance, and had notes to help guide them. She had hoped to use a different camera, but that didn’t work out, so she pointed her laptop at her students as well. When there was a question about how to share her screen, her students jumped in and helped (and I pointed that out to MY students – you want kids to feel empowered to help if you need it!) and we were off and running.

For followup, I had my students reflect on the experience in their blogs, and I shared those reflections with Mrs. Harris. I also found that some of my students tried Blabberize – one of the tools the 8th graders mentioned, and that we hadn’t used — and Mrs. Harris has plans to try Pixton with her class later this year.

And, by the way, did I mention I’d never actually met Heidi in person? It’s true! (Actually, I think one time she recognized me at our shared OB’s office — remember, we had babies around the same time– but didn’t speak up.) This past weekend, at Target, I heard someone calling my name – and it was her! We took a picture and I tweeted it out, tagged it with #ed307, and several students on Monday had seen that. The power of the PLN, right there.

photo (3)


Mar 28, 2013 - education    No Comments

Being a Student

Yesterday, NESCom had a Tech Expo that I was invited to, and when a meeting was cancelled I decided to check it out. It was really geared toward A/V pros (although there was one Epson guy there with an interactive projector, which was interesting), and I decided to sit in on a demo/talk by the rep from AVID. About 30 seconds in, I realized that I knew NOTHING about audio editing (and really don’t need to know about audio editing) and was completely overwhelmed. So, I did what most students in that situation would do — pulled out my phone and checked Facebook. I stayed though, because I didn’t want to be rude, and then I stayed because I realized that I was actually having a great learning experience — I was getting to be a student in class with an expert, and being totally confused.

I tried to follow along — here is what I learned. Alicia Keys uses ProTools to edit all of her stuff. AVID has an insane amount of fine tuning and equalizers and plug ins and effects to make that happen. If you are using AVID, you probably want at LEAST 3 monitors, because there is a TON of STUFF to tweak.

Then I started wondering “really? Why do you need to tweak THAT MUCH of a song/voice/instrument? What would the people at Sun Records think about all of this? They were the birthplace of rock and roll, and didn’t need to have crossfading clip gain automation (all words I learned, so I guess I learned something!) to make Elvis a worldwide phenomenon. Or the wax cylinders that Edison created in the 19th century?

— a digression — I went googling for an example of the wax cylinder recording, and found the Alan Lomax info at PBS: Lomax the Songhunter, and then noticed that their example of a wax recording was done in Calais, ME, of the Passamaquoddy snake dance in 1890. But the link was broken, so then I went in search of that recording, and found it on WFMU, and am embedding it here:

Anyway, so I was thinking of Lomax and Sun Records as we learned about all this tiny fine tuning Alicia Keys uses with technology, and realized that probably that’s how some people feel when I talk. “Great, oh my god, you can do infinite things with technology, blah blah blah, ELVIS DIDN’T NEED ANY FANCY PRO TOOLS!”  So, I decided to sit back and see what I COULD learn. By the end of the 45 minute talk, when the expert was demoing how the audio is done for a movie, it was really interesting. I don’t think I’ll listen to a movie in quite the same way, when you see all the things they take into consideration, just for the audio – never mind the video. In the clip he showed, there were 312 tracks for one tiny scene. 312 DIFFERENT SOUNDS that make my movie-watching experiences more realistic and more enjoyable. Crazy!

While I really didn’t need to learn anything about audio editing, I did enjoy the experience of learning to be a student again.