Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Simultaneous at the same time"

So, today was literally one for the record books. Phoenix and Booker Middle School were the two schools in Sarasota County to participate in Florida's effort to break the Guiness World Record for the most people reading the same thing simultaneously.

Despite the somewhat corny intro. and showing by Gov. Bush and our state's education czar that they are fairly disconnected with the psyche of Floridian middle schoolers, and despite my initial reservations, I have to admit it was a fairly exciting thing to be a part of.

The students weren't really sure what to say about it. The cynical side wanted to mock the whole thing, but the prospect of breaking a world record kept that in check. Instead, we were left with awkward jokes they didn't really believe in.

So, we got a couple hundred thousand Florida students reading simultaneously today. The next step is getting all of them to learn simultaneously.

More later.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

The Student Side of Online Conferences

A great opportunity for students:
What does it mean to be a global citizen?
Four conferences for students! iNet is hosting four online conferences that will allow students around the world to learn about global issues and it will provide students with the opportunity to share their ideas with their peers as well as develop a global perspective on life on our planet. More importantly, these conferences will permit students to develop a more active role as global citizens and to discuss what it means to be a global citizen. “We need students help to make the conferences a success. We invite students to use their imagination and creative skills to tell us what they think about their role in the world – today and tomorrow. This might include short stories, essays, letters, mind-maps, drawing, videos or audio files. We have provided questions as a starting point, but they are only a guide – we want students to be honest and submit resources on the issues that matter to them. The resources may then be discussed by students from around the world.”
The online conferences are based on material produced by students. Adults are not allowed to participate in the student online conferences.

Students and teachers, who intend to forward access details onto a large number of participating students, may register for free for the set of four conferences at

Conference 1: Global Citizens – Are You A Global Citizen? 11 Dec. – 17 Dec 2006- Deadline for papers / presentations is Monday, Oct 23 2006

Conference 2: Global Equality – We Are the First Generation Who Can Eradicate Poverty. 11 Dec. – 17 Dec 2006- Deadline for papers / presentations is Monday, Dec 11 2006

Conference 3: Global Resources – How Can We Protect Our Planet? 12 Mar – 18 Mar 2007- Deadline for papers / presentations is Monday, Jan 29 2007

Conference 4: Global Peace – How Can We Bring Peace To Our Planet? 14 May – 20 May 2007- Deadline for papers / presentations is Monday, Apr 2 2007To learn more about these conferences, please visit

For questions, please e-mail Online Conference Manager, Ms. Debra Brydon at

Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning Project (ABEL)

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It's Game Time!

Science Teacher Stephanie sent an e-mail out today asking for "links of educational websites the students can peruse in the before school program." I don't have a huge database of educational games.

I know they're out there and growing in popularity, but that's about it. I remembered Marc Prensky's talk at BLC'06 and turned to the web.

More specifically, I turned to and started a tag search. Not two minutes later, I was breezing through a site called Social Impact Games. I'll admit, I stopped by a few to test them out. I'm got particularly hooked on "Wast of Space" by Hidden Agenda Games. They've got some spectacular science games. Nothing like blowing up aliens and getting a first-class refresher on the laws of motion at the same time.

I have yet to find any writing games, but I'm sure they're out there. This is not to mention the writing component that can be built in to explaining any of these games.

I remember doubting the validity of what Marc was saying when he spoke of the coming wave of relevant educational games. A child of "Oregon Trail" (I never made it without breaking an axel or losing an ox) my memory is of edcuational games that could never stack up to the system that was waiting for me at home. While these newer offerings are not yet up to par, their inclusion in a classroom environment would likely meet with excited students. This is taking the learning where they live.

Incidentally, this has become my mantra for the year, "Take the learning where they live." If they live online, we've got to go there. If they live for sports, we've got to go there. The way I see friends and family in specialized careers, I see my students more and more specialized in their lives. Though these specialties may not last, it's where they live.

More later.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

"Heavy is the head that wears the crown."

So, this happened yesterday:

Dr. Carol Todd, President
School Board of Sarasota County Florida
1960 Landings Blvd
Sarasota, FL 34231

Dear Dr. Todd and Members of the Board of Education,

It is with sadness that I am serving you notice today that I will resign my position as Superintendent of Schools effective June 30, 2007. I appreciate the fact that with your “meets expectations” vote on my evaluation, June 21, 2006, the board automatically extended my contract another year until June 30, 2008, but unfortunately, I must decline your offer. I intend to immediately begin a search for a new position.
The past several months have been unnecessarily tumultuous and have exacted a huge toll on my family and me. I have loved every part of my 24-year career as superintendent of schools until recently. I think it best for the school board, the school district and my profession, that I not elaborate any further.
The past few weeks have cemented my realization that while the work to create a NeXt Generation education system is essential, there are unimaginable roadblocks in Sarasota County that will continue to impede the transformation.
My passion to insure a NeXt Generation Education for our children is now even stronger than it was when we first met in October, 2003. Every single day, the research becomes clearer that this type of educational reform is necessary for our students to be successful in our changing world. I intend to offer that vision to another community or institution.
I will continue to work tirelessly on your 4 goals until June. Equally important to me is that your next superintendent has a very smooth transition period. I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens.
Thanks for the opportunity to work with the fine professional educators and support staff in this school district. I truly believe in them and their abilities. My sincere thanks, to all of our outstanding community partners, that have been so supportive of our efforts. I sincerely hope that the community believes that we have made a small difference in establishing the vision and elevating the discussion about the importance of transforming our schools.
Sincerely yours,
Dr. Gary W. Norris, Superintendent

I'm still taking time to process the whole thing. I actually had a meeting at the district office toward the end of the day yesterday. Before I finished the 20-minute trip, I had two texts and an e-mail letting me know what had happened. Still, I didn't have any concrete proof until I sat down in my meeting and everyone received a copy of the Superintendent's resignation letter. Definitely a pallor to the spirit of all involved. ITC Wendy asked what I thought about things. My response:
You know that feeling people describe when they're telling you the campfire story/urban legend about the guy who wakes up in a tub of ice water and his kidneys have been removed? That guy, that's how I feel.
It's true. All along, I've said Dr. Norris is a man of vision and the back-to-school meeting gave evidence he was recognizing the need to better communicate that vision. True, there is some value in the criticism that he wanted to do too much too quickly, but the responsibility for these past few years' tumult cannot rest on his shoulders alone. Our district has proven itself to be a lumbering machine. So often do we hear cries of improvement, that we failed to act when the cries were real. Thinking critically is good. Living in a constant mode of criticism is not.
Tumult, tumult, tumult.
More later.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Of Geeks and Google and the Tears of Heaven

To say it rained in Sarasota last night would be a gross understatement. Last night brought a cataract of ark-building proportions. It does that in sub-tropical locales. As such, the power in our school flickered on and off a few times. The network went all screwy and connectivity was hit and miss all day. ITC Wendy came into my room mid-day and said, "I think if you don't restart, you should be ok."
I had, of course, restarted at least three times to try and solve the problem. Luckily, the student laptops were still functioning, so I didn't need to fall back on Plan B. This deep into the school year, I wonder would I would have done were I already up and running as a blogging classroom. Generally speaking, in the traditional classroom, the textbooks aren't given to disappearing after a storm. Still, I'd much rather have what I have than have not.
Our ESE Resource teacher Lynne helps daily in my last period class. This means she was in on my Eminem lesson yesterday. This morning, she told me last night she read my post on the lesson. She was in her daughter Crissy's room, she'd forgotten her laptop at school, and Crissy came in. She explained what she was doing and told Crissy what she was reading about.
"They got to listen to music in English class?" she said, "I want to go to Phoenix."
I'm a little incredulous at the idea that music in a classroom is so difficult to believe at this point in the game. It's such a rich mix for a language classroom in the first place. Given the success of yesterday's as shown by my students' almost total recall of what we had done and the lesson to be learned, I'm planning on using it more and more in my classroom.
The room has also become a hub of activity during lunch. I've a contingent of male students who pile in to use the computers to listen to music and look up weird news. I've also a contingent of female students who come in to look up videos of the latest dance crazes. These same students who struggle when I give them a research topic or question are incredibly adroit at finding exactly the right video or finding their way around dead links. The knowledge is there, but the building is dead. I've got to bring more relevant content to the class.
My students, by-and-large, do not see themselves as writers. If I can get them writing about where they are and interacting with the online segment of experts on those various subjects, I think they will be pushed to explore their abilities.
More later.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Music for the Masses

Part of biulding endurance in writing in my classroom is using daily journaling in response to what I try to make high-interest prompts. We've been journaling for about 10 days so far and my results are encouraging.
One common frustration is the way almost all of my writers start their journal prompts. Today was a prime example. One of the prompts was, "What are three things in your life of which you are proud. What makes you proud of each?"
Any teacher who has thrown such a prompt at their kids knows most beginning writers will come back with a first sentence that starts something like, "Three things in my life I'm proud of are..."
Determined to show my students why that can make for painful reading, I played just the intro. of Eminem's song "Lose Yourself" from the movie 8 Mile.
The song starts with a piano solo a la the introduction to a Mariah Carey song. Just as you're getting pulled in and lulled in to thoughts of herbal tea and afternoon naps, a strong bass guitar line takes the place of the guitar.
Before I started the song, I wrote the question, "What do you notice about the beginning of this song?" on the board and told them all I wanted to do was listen and write.
When it was over, after promising we could listen to more of the song later, I asked them to share what they noticed.
The results were great.
"In the beginning, I thought it was going to be a Mariah Carey song because it sounded like one of her beats, but then it changed up," a student recalled in last period.
It got me where I wanted to be and got them thinking about how they started their writing.
I asked them to think of what they wrote today and what they read of other people. "Raise you hand if what you wrote or read started with..." I listed the usual suspects, hands went up.
"Would you really want to read that?"
A chorus of "No, that would be boring."
"Then I challenge you not to write it. Don't write what you wouldn't want to read. Easy is boring."
Talking to other teachers after school today, it sounds like they were listening. Tomorrow's journal prompt will be a better barometer.
More later.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Human Error

Time for some soul cleansing.
Sitting at my desk this morning, I am responding to school e-mail and notice I have yet to RSVP to an invite to take part in some district training. I hit the reply button and type my missive, explaining I will be a little late due to our school's late release time.
Two Minutes.
That's all it took before the e-mails started rolling in from across the county letting me know that I had inadvertently "Replied All." I've unsent the message now. Anyone who hasn't already seen it, won't. What's interesting to me is the mood of the response I got from many teachers. The few from around the county who know me and read the message were polite with their replies. Not everyone was.
One teacher, whom I do not know, replied:
You've got to see the irony in using all caps and the "That way the whole world does not have to read your messages or be a part of your business," coupled with "Have a great day."
It's amazing how snarky we can be to each other when there's no person attached.
So, here I sit, replies rolling in from those teachers who already opened the message. Each one telling me just how to reply to an e-mail. Nothing like starting the day with humility brought to me by EVERYONE in the district.
More later.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Run, Dean, Run

Life has become 50-50-50. As a marathon runner, I have a natural curiosity when it comes to Dean Karnazes' planned running of 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. As a teacher, it goes a bit farther. Tomorrow, the day of Dean's second marathon, my students will be exploring his site, the site The North Face (the event's major sponsor) has set up and the Runner's World website to gain a better understanding of what exactly is underway.
Friday, I used the USA Track & Field route mapper to show my students what 26.2 miles from our school would look like using the site's Google Maps-based technology. They were hooked.
Then, with no prior knowledge, I had them predict the times for Dean's first 10 marathons.
As he goes, we'll fill in the actual times and work in Excel to create formulas to track the differences. The math teacher on my team is on board to help the students with graphing of the results and tracking trends. It's actual data. It's something real.
Outside of that, Dean's blog will be a big focus. As we uncover information, I'm going to show the students how to post their findings as comments to his blog. Hopefully, this will whet their appetites and usher in the use of blogs in my classroom. My difficulty thus far has been the idea that they would probably not just latch on to blogging. It needs a purpose and I think this will help them see it.
As far as how this connects to writing, it's clear to me. They are doing authentic research, interacting with the world and making informed predictions. I'll be asking them to think about why Dean's doing what he's doing and how that could be compared to their lives. They'll be looking at what this can do to his body and explaining it to others. The hope is for this to build natural intrigue.
In other realms, I missed an opportunity Friday. My daily journal prompt asked my students to identify who was the more successful of two men pictured. The picture on the left was popular rapper Ludacris. The picture on the right was Vice President Cheney. There wasn't one class where at least one person could identify the vice president, though it did take time. Were we farther along, I could have posted the prompt on my blog and had my students use the "Blog This" function of Flock to pull down the pictures and then write their response.
The piece that's missing is the learning of the skills. I'm not only trying to integrate tech. literacy into my classroom, but I'm also charged with paving the way for my students to come in to their own as writers. Some days, I'd settle for capitalizing the word "I".
I've been doing some interesting reading lately, but, as always...
More later.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I could throw in the ubiquitous lines about it being a long time since I've posted, but I don't want to waste time with that.

With the holiday last week and then a professional day Tuesday, we had a 3-day week last week. Talk about difficult recovery. A full week out for Kagan training and a four-day weekend, getting the students back in class was difficult. It's like starting the year all over again. This week is a bit better. We're getting there.

Last week, we started journaling, the old-fashioned way, on paper. What incites this has provided into what is going on with my students. It also shows great formative assessment opportunities as to where their gaps are in writing. Still, it's quite a bit of information to process.

Today, as I'm sure many teachers across the country are doing, our journal prompt has to do with the attacks of 9-11. I was on the fence as to what I was going to do. Ignoring it seemed wrong, but I know the country's close to saturation on remembering what we must remember. The students have a choice between two prompts: Where were you 5 years ago today when you heard about the WTC? OR How has America changed in the time since 9-11? What examples can you give to prove your point?

Here's something I hadn't thought of that is unique to students in my county, some of them were in the room when President Bush got the news. They were there. One young man raised his hand during our post-journaling discussion and said, "I shook his hand that day." That's something he'll always have. While it was clear from my follow-up questions he doesn't quite grasp the impact yet, with time, he will. I also have students whose family members were in the Twin Towers that day. Here they are, sitting in a school on a day when the entire country is remembering and theirs are the memories that are more unique than most.

What to do with this information? It seems to me to be teeming with possibilities for using multiple literacies. I'm not sure we're ready yet. I don't know how to evaluate those skills. I know I'm ready. I know I have the knowledge necessary to blog and research and respond to posts, but do they? How do I know? It's something severely lacking in my pre-service experience and professional development. How do I assess media literacy? Where's the test?

I can't remember what I've never forgotten.
More later.