Two years ago, I attended my first EdCamp at its birthplace- Philadelphia! Going in, I was reluctant that I would learn anything new. When I left, I was overwhelmed with new ideas; I have never had that experience with professional development. The EdCamp, unconference model of professional development, opens professional development in a way many teachers never experience.

Rather than the sit-and-get professional development we all experience, EdCamp encourages multi-directional, collaborative, shared experiences from professionals, both leading the session and in the audience. This is the first part of the EdCamp I love. You are expected to contribute. In fact, the leader of your session is not the expert on the topic. It is expected you come to participate, share, and take away new ideas. If you do not participate, you miss out. The second part of EdCamp I enjoy is “the rule of two feet.” If you happen to attend a session you realize is not benefiting you, you are expected to leave and find another session. You do yourself no good to listen to shared ideas that do not apply to your educational situation.

After such a great first experience with the EdCamp model two years ago, I encouraged colleagues to attend EdCampPhilly last year. We had a blast. By inviting some DASD colleagues and their friends, I made local connections, shared great DASD teaching practices, and had a blast.

But now, it’s our turn. Kristie Burk enlisted a few daring individuals to pull together an EdCampDtown. We need your help. First, we need your expertise. Come share the best practices and wisdom you practice every day. Second, be bold. Even if you have not led a work session at a professional conference, come, lead and share. I plan on holding sessions on topics I am not comfortable with, so I can learn. For instance, I love using Google Drive, and I like to think I’m pretty savvy with it. My session will encourage the audience to share best practices with Google Drive. There’s always something new to learn with Google!

So, come on out. Share. I can’t wait to learn with you!

#EdCampDtown Saturday, March 21, 8:30-1PM, at the STEM Academy.


Ideas for Managing Teacher Workflow

Our lives are… BUSY! Whether you are a teacher, student, office worker, lab technician, artist, or general savant, we live in a digital world; if you are like me, your digital world is messy. Me? I have multiple cloud accounts spread across multiple services. I am active on social media. I have several email accounts. And, I would rather still take notes on paper. Some days, life feels very messy! In a recent Twitter chat (#edtechchat– Monday evenings at 8-9PM Eastern), we discussed how to manage this workflow. I began investigating some options in the past week, and I am proud to report on some success.

1. Managing e-mail. At last check, I have four very active email accounts, and a fifth as a throw-away when I sign up for free stuff. One person cannot manage all the data! One account is a work email from my school. Two others are Gmail accounts set up for Google Drive access. Both of those are active, but I never check them. Technically, those are both school-based accounts that I use primarily with students. I have a third Gmail account for personal use. My last account, as I said, is an older Hotmail account with no contacts or personal data, because a few years ago it was hacked. I still keep it around to collect my unsolicited email. To manage these accounts, I prefer to use the built-in email forwarding features common in most accounts. I mirror both of my work-related Gmail accounts to my work-provided email. If a student emails any of these addresses, all the mail funnels to one account. I have this work account and my personal Gmail account all funnel into my iPad, and I routinely sift through and manage my email on this device. My older Hotmail account is attached to nothing, but it allows me a level of security against unwanted email.

2. Cloud-based storage. I love Google Drive. I use the account to create and share digital files with my students. I have two accounts so I can separate my course content into separate parcels. It also affords a bit more storage! I recently used my old Hotmail account to access Microsoft’s SkyDrive. I have been tinkering with some SkyDrive-based syncing options on my iPad to improve my workflow. But, sometimes I forget where everything goes. For that, I have recently been introduced to the iOS app Cloud Browser. With this app, you can sync your cloud-based files to your iOS device and share to different users. The Google Drive iOS app is frustrating because those of us with multiple accounts cannot access multiple drives at once. Cloud Browser makes this possible.

3. Note-taking. Teachers take notes. I find many of my notes are still on paper. I write more quickly than I type on a device, and I believe electronic devices alter the conversations you have with others. I always carry a Field Notes brand notebook in my pocket. Aside from the plethora of useful features, I like that Field Notes brand products are still made in the United States. But, workflow from a paper notebook is difficult if you don’t carry it with you. Or, so you thought. I was recently introduced to Evernote’s fantastic ability to search for text within an image. Rather than keep my notes in a stand-alone notebook, I now take a picture of my notes and load them to Evernote. I’ve just started this process, but it has already been a lifesaver. In addition, Evernote allows me to schedule notes to address later; if I need to remind myself to attend to an item at home, I can do that very easily.

4. If this, then that. I’m not completely sold on If This, Then That, a website which allows you to create simple “recipes” to bring together your data. I use two “pre-made” recipes now: one sends me an email of the top ten news items I should know about each day, the second records all of my favorited Tweets to my Evernote notebook. Neither of these features are game-changers for me, but IFTTT is worth investigating when bring together your workflow chaos!

Honorable Mention- iCloud. I have not used iCloud much for more than syncing my personal “home” life; mostly pictures and music. However, Apple’s iCloud allows online creation and sharing of documents among peers like Google Drive does. Apple’s recent improvements have made iCloud better, but for efficiency, Apple cannot beat Google. What I do love about Apple’s iCloud is the appearance. The Keynote presentations and the Pages document templates are design-oriented while the Google Drive suite are more efficiency and collaboration-driven. So, I have begun working more in iCloud, but it is still not the greatest program for a connected lifestyle.

As I said when I began, I have data everywhere, in both digital and print format. Hopefully some of these tips give you more ideas to try in your classroom. Good luck!

Sit and (For)Get: Advice for Better Professional Development

As the new school year approaches, educational leaders get anxious, just like teachers and students. The start of a new year brings new challenges, among which includes teaching teachers– professional development. I hope to share some advice to make this year’s professional development more engaging. Teachers have a phrase for professional development-“Sit and Get”. I content it should be “Sit and Forget.”

The first faculty meeting of the year is your first “lesson” of your yearly professional development. This meeting should be as important to administrators as the first day of school is for teachers. As such, I have compiled some advice for new and veteran administrators alike. I am a classroom teacher, but I do lead monthly professional development as my building’s educational technology leader. My advice below stems from my experience as both a teacher and building leader.

1. Don’t forget your roots– You are a teacher at heart. As an administrator, you are a master teacher. Do not abandon tried-and-true teaching practices because you are teaching adults. After a full day of teaching, or with the stress of the upcoming year, teachers have so much on their minds. Use your good teaching strategies to make professional development enjoyable, meaningful, and useful. Everything that comes next really is a subset of this first point.

2. Start with the end in mind– With no disrespect to Grant Wiggins or Jay McTighe and their Understanding by Design movement, planning your teaching with the end in mind is really a simple concept. Think about how you plan a vacation. You know where you are going, and you make decisions about how to get there. Now, think about how faculty meetings are planned. Piecemeal? Start with the whole year in mind. What do you want the teachers to really learn? Set a yearly goal, share it, then plan backwards to get there. Design formative and summative activities to measure your progress. Make this plan apparent to your staff at the first faculty meeting.

3. Be prepared to fail– Planning a year’s worth of professional development means something will go wrong. Your plan will get amended for an urgent matter in your school. This is okay. Be willing to demonstrate to your staff how to handle failure. If you don’t model risk-taking and failure, how can you expect your teachers to know how to take these risks? While we are on failure…

4. Try new teaching styles (and technologies)– Many administrators want their teachers to flip their classroom content. Flip parts of the first day’s faculty meeting. Please follow some sound advice for flipping content, but experiment with it. Conduct some of your meeting in a blended learning style. Allow your teachers to BYOD and then USE THEM! Set up a Twitter conversation to run while you present. IF you want a less public “backchannel” try TodaysMeet. Again, be prepared for failure, but if you don’t model successful and failed attempts at these new(er) teaching tools, do not expect your staff to use them.

5. Abandon PowerPoint– Even if you manage to make a good PowerPoint, it’s not as good as you think. PowerPoint requires passive responses from your audience, at best. At worst, PowerPoint has negative connotations as boring and ineffective, especially when the presenter is on slide 5 of 54! Peter Bregman called it the number one killer meetings. Fortunately he also gives advice for making your meetings more interactive.

6. Chunk your time– Think 10 to 15 minute chunks. Carmine Gallo, for Forbes Magazine, advised readers on why a ten minute presentation is important. However you design your first faculty meeting, use different teaching approaches, technology, and staff input sessions to diversify your teaching. Over a three-hour meeting, this will mean plenty of changing. You can re-use strategies (i.e., have more than one flipped session), but try not to put them back to back.

7. Include your audience– Rather than handing down directives from above, perhaps you offer problems the school is facing, and through dialogue sessions discuss how or why certain solutions will work. Since you are a master teacher, you know you can still direct the audience to “your” answer, but if you help the idea organically grow from their input you will have greater buy-in. Interestingly, if you work this way, teachers will also understand the importance of a new change. Another way to include input could be to have staff create short recorded videos (1-2 minutes) on a rule or procedure important to the school. These videos, then, could be used to inform the students when they return. How powerful would it be to have the teachers convey the new rules rather than the principal running a long meeting with the students? There are dozens more ways to get your staff involved. Rely on your strengths and find what works best for you.

8. Make learning personal– As much as #1 was the key to the entire list, tip #8 offers a full-circle closure. Your staff will only retain the training if it is personal to them. Your veteran teachers and first-year teachers probably should not be in the same meeting the entire time. Perhaps diversify your message by grade-level or subject. You should really consider a needs-assessment for your staff before you begin. Does everyone need to hear everything you deliver? If not, you are wasting their time and squandering opportunities you can push them further.

If you approach your professional development this year as a year-long learning process and not piecemeal, you will find your teachers get more from your meetings!

Dare to change the world

On May 18, 2013, I attended an education “un-conference” called EdCamp in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the movement. At the Saturday conference, I met Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers), who spoke with passion about her believe in student genius. Many educators at the conference were excited about her ideas, but when challenged to implement the vision in their schools, many recoiled. They asked, “What about the standards?” “What is your business plan?” “What if my administration says no?” Perhaps because I am daring, bold, or simply because I like a challenge, I raised my hand and asked to those who doubted- “Why would anyone stand in the way of your students daring to change the world?” I said yes.

The rest of the weekend, I spoke with Angela many times in person and on the telephone. By Monday, I had enough confidence to bring Angela’s and my idea to a set of innovative teachers at the Downintown STEM Academy. These teacher always focus my ambition and provide checks of reality. After a few moments, they agreed we should give this a shot.

I followed by emailing the Headmaster of the school and the superintendent of the district, asking for support for our plan—I wanted Angela Maiers to come to my school for a two-day workshop in the last week of the school year, AFTER students had finished finals. The biggest fear was whether students would show up. They gave me the latitude to continue, and I put aside the doubt and proceeded.

I believe it was Thursday, May 23, that Angela Skyped with some students of mine to discuss the possibility of coming to the Downingtown STEM Academy. The group of about 30 students were very excited. A colleague of mine and I then planned out the two-day event on Friday, May 24. The dates are important because this happened very quickly.

Taking a pause—many times in this process I doubted it would work. Would students show up? Would all teachers support it? Would Angela’s visit be worthwhile? Would Angela be disappointed? Could I organize support from all stakeholders? Would I disappoint them? If I had stopped at any of these breaking points, none of this would have happened. Public education needs risk-takers. Breaking barriers and making school better for your students requires daring and risk-taking. It would have been easy to quit, but my growing network of support kept me going. Voices joined together and said, “Keep going.”

Angela came to my school on June 3 and 4, and still on my way to school on Tuesday, June 3, I had doubts. What if the students didn’t buy in to her vision?

I have a personal belief that students excel with less boundaries; they will use creative, curious, innovate, and investigative means to reach new plateaus of knowledge. Teachers should support these endeavors, not block them with standards, tests, and requirements in schools. Would students buy in to my vision? I had no proof.

Well, Angela has already posted her view of the two-day workshop. More posts are coming.  Below is the proof- in two short days, these are just a few of the organizations my with which my students will change the world.

Do not underestimate the innovation of your students. Do not dare to take risks. Do not say no because everyone else is. Believe you can make an impact and you will. You matter.

Bikes with Benefits (@BikesBenefits)- Supporting emergency medical relief to isolated portions of third world countries. Visit our Facebook page. [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShvPMyZi-4o%5D

Brighter Days (@BrighterDaysOrg)- Raising money, raising awareness, saving lives. Taking suicide prevention to the next level. [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA0udPIOBk8%5D

Cancer Matters


Lunchbox Notes (@YouMatterLBN)- Lunchbox Notes sets forth on a mission to create a world where smiles are genuine and happiness isn’t rare. A world where thoughts count and actions matter.

Need2Lead (@Need2Lead)- Providing inner city boys and girls, ages 11-15, with a friend and mentor who teaches what leadership truly is.


Valour Organization (@valour_org)- We’re setting out to change the world’s mentality toward mental illness. We are part of @AngelaMaiers #Choose2Matter [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2Yw7NObIIY%5D

My First EdCamp: #edcampPhilly Reflections

Four years ago, a group of Philadelphia educators brought the “unconference” movement to education with a new model for professional development called EdCamp. Mary Beth Hertz (@mbteach) provides a more thorough overview for Edutopia.

Today I attended my first #edcamp meetup in Philadelphia. At first I was overwhelmed. I had only talked to many of these individuals on Twitter; what if they didn’t like the real-life me. Or worse, in real life, you are more accountable for your ideas. Would I be as bold to share my thoughts on education?

Experienced edcamp-er Lisa Butler (@srtalisa) welcomed me to the process, and I was captivated. I attended sessions and shared ideas with many awesome individuals. If you are bold, check out the #edcampPhilly hashtag and see our stream-of-conscious ideas from the day. I walked away with a gigantic take-away though.

Modern education is NOT about a sage dispensing information. Education has not really been about this since the widespread use of the printing press and increasing literacy rates. Rather, education is about the lowering of barriers; barriers to information, barriers to service, barriers to success, etc.

Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers) spoke about students connecting with real opportunities to help others in their communities and around the world with Quest2Matter. Let’s lower the barriers and allow students to follow their human desire to help one another. Teachers can then embed learning within these projects and promote inquiry-based, problem-based learning that is completely authentic and creates a closer global community.

Sean Junkins (@sjunkins) and Christine DiPaulo (@ckdipaulo) inspired educators to allow students to innovate using free materials on iTunesU to learn in subjects of their interest. iTunesU provides free content from top universities worldwide. Such access lowers barriers to learning. Students now have access universities of content online. As educators, we need to allow them this opportunity.

Tom Murray (@thomascmurray) and Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson) led teachers to think about what a model professional development program might look like for educators. In short, professional development must model good teaching. Good teaching, using digital tools, allows students and teachers to connect to content and learning in unfathomable ways.

My day, the various sessions I attended, and the MANY conversations I shared helped me realize we live in a world with lowered barriers to knowledge. With these new connections followed by group action, change will happen more quickly than ever. I am excited about my profession, though teachers face many challenges. We stand on the precipice of fundamental change to the educational system. Learning and knowledge are no longer locked in institutions. These fundamentals of society are everywhere.

Let us, as teachers, lower the barriers to accessing this information. Let us lower the barriers to student success. Let us leverage our connectedness and technology to move the world.

Kenneth C. Davis Coming to the DASD STEM Academy

kennethcdavisI am pleased to announce after months of organization and work, New York Times bestselling author Kenneth C. Davis will come to the Downingtown STEM Academy on March 15. Below is the press release from my school district.

Mr. Davis plans to visit our school in the morning to see our students in action. In the afternoon, he has agreed to speak to our students about the American presidency.

If all goes well, I plan to live stream the event and take questions via Twitter. I’ve never done that before, but I’m sure I can figure it out in the next month. I will fill in more details as we get closer to the event. I’d love questions submitted from classrooms around the world!

best selling author to visit STEM


Do Something Crazy

“If you’re not doing something crazy, you’re doing the wrong things.”

-Google CEO Larry Page

Think for a moment about your job. Are you doing something crazy or something mundane? Are you supporting the status quo or are you creating innovative change in your industry. If you’re a teacher, I bet you’re maintaining the status quo. Most of us do. Unfortunately, the status quo prepares students for a future of the 1970s, not the digital, global, and collaborative future we can only predict. Teachers need to do something crazy, or our students will be ill-prepared for life.

Steven Levy’s (@StevenLevy) article, 7 Massive Ideas that could Change the World (in Wired Feb 2013), also included a rare interview with Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page. The quote above led the article. The quote isn’t specifically about education, but Page later addresses education directly, albeit probably higher education.

“It’s not easy coming up with moon shot [ideas]. And we’re not teaching people how to identify these difficult projects. Where would I go to school to learn what kind of technological programs I should work on? You’d probably need a pretty broad technical education and some knowledge about organization and entrepreneurship. There’s no degree for that. Our system trains people in specialized ways, but not to pick the right projects to make a broad technological impact.”

-Larry Page, in Wired, Feb 2013

America’s current K-12 and higher education systems do not adequately address the broad understanding needed for successful innovation in the immediate future. I’d argue, at least in K-12 education, students are not prepared for the future at all. Students are receiving a fact-based education, one which can be Googled rather than memorized. Yet schools still focus on memorization and rote responses. Standardized tests largely reinforce this.

As an educational reformer (or an educational revolutionary!) we need to practice revolutionary change. Page also calls for 10X change, change that is 1000 percent better than what currently exists. Page recognizes such attempts can come with spectacular failure sometimes, but without such risk, you are also guaranteed to not achieve wild success.

What will you do, as an educator, to succeed wildly? What risks are you willing to take? If we do not take risks, our K-12 education system will suffer mightily; generations of young people will be ill-prepared to identify and solve today’s problems.

Do something crazy.