Friday, July 31, 2009

Leading By Example - Transforming Education for the 21st Century

I’ve had the great fortune to spend a week at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities conference in Boston with a group of New York City school administrators who have made significant progress in becoming transformative leaders. I felt it was important during my week with these leaders for us not only to talk the talk, but to walk the walk and (even if things got messy) use a variety of the tools they were beginning to explore so that in addition to learning about theoretical implications of innovative practices, they would have hands on experience in discovering what it was like using these tools. During our time at the conference our group used a variety of technologies to enhance the way we were communicating and collaborating. To set the stage it was important to establish that our work together wasn’t around learning about things like wikis, blogs, twitter, and learning networks (which we did learn about) but rather about working in innovative ways that enhanced the work we were doing.

Sharing Knowledge with Google Docs

Prior to the conference we established a Google doc where we would each capture our Schedules to enable us to share our plans for the conference. This would serve a couple purposes. 1) It allowed us to be aware of the sessions one another was attending as it’s always great to be able to connect with colleagues who experienced the same learning as you, process, and extend the thinking. 2) It enabled us to capture the knowledge each of us set out to gain so we had an instant record of our group’s professional development experience.

Using a Wiki for Collecting, Capturing, and Accessing Important Materials

We also set up a wiki page for our conference experience. This provided a place for us to collect and access all important conference information such as the conference program, our daily reflection. It also provided a place where we could capture notes and materials shared at various presentations.

Tweeting to Follow Conference Activities and Share Reflections and Plans

School leaders set up Twitter accounts which they used to follow the goings on of the conference using the tag “BLC09” for the first two days. By day three most school leaders were also contributing tweets that included instant reflections of what they learned that they planned to bring back to their schools. This is now permanently captured and available for future reflecting and all leaders have access to see what their colleagues are thinking of doing allowing them to connect and collaborate. Here are some examples of their tweets using the tag 21cl.

· I plan to introduce digital writing portfolios through student blogs, expand use of wikis/blogs, expand our newspaper to be multi-media

· I will learn and share Google secrets by going to

· Use twitter and google docs to promote a sense of community that can be extended outside of school

· Have staff tweet to share what is going on in school using a school tag

· Teachers can tweet homework assignments

· Have students create tutorials using Screencasting. (

· As a leader I will model using tech tools in my practice

· Use Google Docs to construct grade level planning conference agendas and collaboratively write lesson plans

Using Google Graphs, Spreadsheets, and Twitter to Poll Participants

Our group was determining what our online brand would be. To do this, all members of our group were asked to contribute by tweeting nominations for the potential group name using the tag 21cl. I collected the nominated names and placed the 25 nominees in a Google Spreadsheet which we planned to use as a free polling tool. Our group members names were placed across the top of the sheet and each school leader used their five votes to nominate their top choices. As they did this we watched the graph rise and fall. The winner was Transforming Leaders for the 21st Century.

During Conference Reflection Using Google Forms

School leaders completed a Conference Reflection Form a few times during the conference to capture what they learned and planned to bring back to their schools. These were captured as
conference reflections that were published enabling each participant to have the ability to access their own reflection any time as well as those of their colleagues.

Posting Conference Reflections Using a Blog

Each principal is going to write one reflection in response to the question, “What specific thing(s) will I do as a transformative leader in my school?” This will be posted on our newly created blog at

Connecting Across Schools and Across the Year with A Free Learning Network

Our group spent a session designing and creating the TED21C Learning Network which will be used across the year for schools to connect, communicate, and collaborate both within their schools and across schools. School leaders created groups and customized their home pages.

Capturing Memories Using Flickr

Photos of our experience were captured at Flickr using a new account we set up at ted21C (friend us). These photos are also posted on our learning network.

I’ve spent a memorable week working with school leaders who are thinking about ways they will bring transformation back to their schools. During that time we were Flickring, Blogging, Google Docing, Polling, Networking, Tweeting, Eating, Speaking and more. I can’t wait to see their plans for taking some of what they learned back to their schools as they continue down the road of transformation.

Kids Teach Kids with Mathcasting

At the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston this week, I had the opportunity to meet an impressive teacher and two of his students who are engaged in exciting work involving kids who are psyched about math because they get to teach other kids how to get smarter. Eric Marcos is a middle school teacher who had created a video using Jing to help a struggling student understand a math concept. A few days later, another student happened to see the video and when he came across a difficult math concept he asked Mr. Marcos if he would make him a video too. The next thing he knew he had his MATH students asking to stay late to make math videos. It was previously unheard of at this school that students would be staying late to do math.

The kids were excited to make their own math video and the concept took off. Mr. Marcos’s teaching began a transformation as he started using the student videos as a powerful tool in his classrooms for instruction and assessment. Next he had to determine a place to host the videos. He set up a site called The site has the student video tutorials on various math concepts. They are just fantastic and popular. Soon there were kids around the globe watching these videos asking Mr. Marco’s students how to do math concepts and requesting more videos. Then students began discussing the math concepts they watched in the videos. Of course, not only is this a fantastic and motivational instructional tool, it is also a terrific assessment tool to determine if students have mastered a particular math concept. All videos have popularity rating, quality rating, and comments not only from educators, but also from their peers. BTW...this is all free.

Visit the site at and check out all the great existing content you can share with your students OR your students can create and contribute their own content.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Get Going with Google Apps in Your School

As a Google Certified Educator I am often asked how to get started using Google Apps. As many teachers know, Google Apps Education Edition is a free suite of hosted communication & collaboration applications designed for schools and universities. (See the top 10 reasons to switch your school to Google Apps.)

Though I know Google is a valuable tool, when faced with this question, I first ask, “Why Google Apps?” This is important to consider as the goals and objectives must come before the tool. Here is a recent response I received to that question:

We're looking for a school web site that is enhanced by the tools that Google seems to offer.As a school, we'd like to be able to communicate with students and parents about assignment deadlines and events, on a general school-wide level as well as for individual classes. We'd like email accounts for students and teachers, calendars, class web pages. We are also interested in using Google docs as a means of encouraging collaboration among students during group projects, lab activities, etc. I think there are a lot of applications to our school.

We are on paid site right now, but I have heard a lot of good things about Google Apps for Education. It seems more user-friendly/intuitive since Google is something the kids (and staff) are used to working with. Not to mention that it's free.

This school seems to have some great reasons for using Google Apps. Now that the stage is set, here is how I recommend getting started.


Read the Quick Start Guide
The Education Edition is engineered to help schools organize the wealth of knowledge that lives inside schools. This guide will assist a full-scale deployment of Google Apps.

View Tutorials & Tips
View videos and tutorials on how you can use Google Apps at your school and in the classroom.

Sign Up for Free Email with Message Security in Google Apps Education Edition for K-12s
Keep your students safe with Google Message Security, offered free to current and new K12 Google Apps schools that sign up before July of 2010. Customizable inbound and outbound filtering based on content or senders - you make the rules.

Set Up Sites for Teachers
Check out the new Sites for Teachers page to see how teachers, students and administrators are using Google Sites to create their class sites, organize school trips, and run school projects.

Help Students Search Effectively
Educators often say that they could use some help to teach better web search skills in the classroom and make sure Google is used well and to its full potential. Google Certified Teachers have develop a set of nine modular and practical lessons to help educators do just that.

Review the Tools for your classroom
Become familiar the products that comprise Google tools for educators including staples like
Blogger, SketchUp, Docs, Book Search , and iGoogle and their incredible newly featured products like the Custom Search Engine.

Take a look at Classroom Activities and Tips Posters
Be sure to check out some examples of teacher work in the new classroom activities section and check out the handy tips posters, which you can print out and hang in your classrooms, computer labs and libraries.

Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to start connecting with others doing the same work. These will be your best resources to becoming successful using Google Apps for Educators. Here is how you do this.

Get on the map
Find other Google Apps educators & students around the world. When you visit the Map you will find schools, along with their url, that are using Google. Figure out the key people at that school. Connect and visit. Here in New York you will find:

Become a Part of the Google Teacher Community
Here you will find the Google for Educators Discussion Group designed to keep you updated on Google's K-12 Education initiatives. The group has become the home of a vibrant community of educators. In this space educators start discussions with fellow teachers; share ideas about innovation in education; ask questions about where to find teaching resources; tell colleagues about curricula you've created that have worked really well and more. You will also find examples of classroom activities using Google products.

You are now ready to begin using Google Apps at your school. You will want to introduce this to your colleagues through a meeting or email. When doing this be sure to include your school goals and objects around why you are doing this. Have some simple ways they can get started now. Share some ways you plan to measure success.

You may also want to get started with this video that explains “Why Google Apps for Education.”

Celebrate Your Success and Get on The Map
Once you launch this work in your school, add yourself to the Google Community Map publicly with your colleagues. Share your success by commenting here. Invite others to your school (physically or virtually) to see the great work you are doing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Innovation Roadmap: Criteria for Innovative Schools in the 21st Century

Today I will be joining a colleague from Teaching Matters at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities conference to speak with school leaders from around the world. We will be discussing the following questions.

  • What is a 21st Century School?
  • Where does my school stand on the continuum of 21st century success?
  • Where do I want to be?
  • How might I plan to get there?

At the conference we will be exploring this concept and looking at this question using a newly created tool called the Rubric for School Innovation. The Rubric provides a guide for thinking about different stages in the development of an innovative school. This tool offers a set of guiding questions and indicators of effectiveness and innovation, especially innovation made possible by technology.

You can find out where your school sits right now by visiting What Level is Your School? at The Innovative Principal area of the Teaching Matters website. Leaders can complete this with their staff, discuss the results, discuss where they want to be and then begin building an action plan for innovation to get there.


Twitters can follow tweets during the conference using the tag 21CL

Monday, July 27, 2009

Suggestions for Administrators Interested in Assessing Innovative Practices at Their Schools

This week I am with leaders of schools in Manhattan at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities conference. During the conference we are reflecting on the question “What am I going to do to become a transformational leader?” To help frame the question conference organizer Alan November has shared these questions for administrators to keep in mind as they are thinking about their schools and how they are assessing the implementation of innovative practices that will build capacity and enrich teaching and learning at their schools.

As you read the below suggestions, reflect on what you are doing. Leaders what will you self-prescribe to be a transformational leader? Educators, what would you prescribe for leaders in your school? Is anything missing?

• Does technology serve to create new opportunities for teaching and learning that were not available before, or is the computer simply serving as a $1000 pencil merely automating standard assignments?
• Are students thinking critically about the information they access online? Are they gathering their content from multiple resources? Are they cross-referencing information and bringing in content that provide opposing or alternative points of view?
• Are the boundaries of social discourse being expanded? Is collaboration a point of emphasis? For example, are foreign language students being connected with native speakers, or are science classes connecting with the local crime scene investigation team?
• What opportunities are being taken to build school/home/community connections?
• Is content being developed and published to authentic audiences or only consumed?
• Are students being exposed to a broad range of skills and applications or are teachers focusing too much on too few? Are they being taught to create podcasts, engage in digital storytelling activities, utilize social bookmarks, collaborate with others using VOIP tools, etc.?
• Are students providing support to teachers in areas they are familiar with, or is technology use limited only to what the teachers know?
• Are faculty development sessions addressing curriculum with as much intensity as the tools being used, or are the tools the sole purpose? Are faculty development sessions being offered online and in different formats to engage teachers at different levels? Is support available to all staff members in an efficient and productive manner?
• Are students working in teams and individually to meet the goals and expectations set by themselves and the teachers? Are all team members contributing to meet the goals of the group? In group settings, are these groups mixed in ways for everyone to receive equal opportunities?
• Do teachers have the ability to override school filters with a password to utilize appropriate resources that have inadvertently been blocked?
• Does the current allocation of technology within the school meet current needs? Are pioneering teachers being encouraged and rewarded for their work? Are these teachers being utilized as role models for those who are still trying to figure out how to leverage it all?
• Has your school’s Acceptable Use Policy been reviewed recently? Does it address newer technologies, student safety and ethical considerations? Are students acting in a socially responsible manner, and are they demonstrating respect and appreciation of others? Are students aware of protecting their identity and the identity of others?

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License
Courtesy Alan November. Expanding the boundaries of learning

Monday, July 20, 2009

What Might a 21st Century School Look Like?

As innovative educator Peggy Sheehy’s students recently explained in their video, No Future Left Behind, “Education really needs an upgrade!” A 21st Century school, unlike other schools wouldn’t be a place Rip Van Winkle would recognize after his 100 year slumber. Sheehy’s students complain, “I can't create my future with the tools of your past.” “The future is trying to get in, but you’ve blocked it.” “Let the future in. We want to talk to the world.” Marc Prensky of “Engage Me or Enrage Me! ” fame would applaud these students for so articulately sharing the concerns of others around the world. An evangelist of student-centered instruction and decision making Prensky advises, that we should accept “the students, not the teachers, should be leading the charge with using technology.” As I think about the advice of my personal learning network, what I take from this is that we are moving toward a time when the teacher’s role will become more of a personal learning facilitator who’s role is to help students exist in what Sir Ken Robinson refers to as their “Element,” a place where natural talent meets personal passion.

So, how does this take place? In Disrupting Class, the authors share that 50% of all high school classes will be delivered online by the year 2019. The expansion of this type of alternative delivery of instruction provides unique opportunities not previously available to students. For instance online delivery of instruction could enable students to access less popular or more advanced areas of study then would be possible at a single school campus. It provides opportunities for students who may not be able to participate in school due to illness, familial obligations or pregnancy. It allows students to connect with others in a niche area of study.

Teachers at a 21st Century school would all have laptops, projectors, and video recorders and would engage in innovative practices like Richard Buckland who teachers a regular class to students, but also tapes all of his classes and allows students who are not physically present to receive credit upon watching the video and completing assignments. His students have the added bonus of being able to rate and comment on his lectures giving their teacher and each other feedback that is currently not existent in most classrooms. They can also watch segments of the class over if there is something they missed or skip past information they already know. This addresses an area Sir Kenneth Robinson recently spoke about when he asked, “If everyone agrees we learn at different paces, why in school are we expected to teach everyone at the same pace?” He adds, “Why is the date of manufacture the single most important thing educators think kids have in common?” Digital learning opportunities could allow students who are having difficulty in a subject to spend more time in areas of need, and those who are advanced to continue on. The students mentioned above in Richard Buckland’s college class by the way are high school students hungry for more challenging coursework not available to them at their school site. That said, it should be a given that students attending a 21st Century school would have the basic technology necessary to succeed in the social or professional connected world in which they live which includes having a reliable internet connection, a keyboard enabled device in which to access it, and an onsite student support team to ensure it’s effective and efficient use.

Peggy Sheehy’s students also hit upon another important ingredient lacking in many schools when they complained, “You don’t know me. You don’t trust me. You don’t believe in me.” The 21st Century school would be created as an environment for personal success. Every student in a 21st Century school would have a personal learning profile and plan for student success using tools like the Renzulli Learning System and Personal Success Plan. At many schools teachers don’t really know the whole child, so it is difficult to teach the whole child and nearly impossible to group students for instruction or provide truly customized, personalized instruction. If all students are profiled, they become more than just a name but rather teachers can instantly find out information like the following and align the work they do to their unique interests, learning styles, abilities, and expression styles.

Here is an excerpt from my learning profile:

Lisa has specific preferred instructional styles. Learning or instructional styles are the ways students like to learn and the strategies parents and teachers use to help them learn. Lisa has very clearly defined learning preferences. Her preferred instructional style is through technology. Her second choice of learning style is discussions that happen when two or more students talk with their teacher or in small groups about issues and topics by discussing facts and opinions and discussing them. Lisa also enjoys learning games that enable her to learn content by playing games or participating in activities with cards, board games, or even electronic games.

If only my teachers had let me learn based on this information, education would have been a much more valuable experience for me. However, it is not only important to be in touch with students interests while they are students in the 21st Century school. As Geoffrey Canada founder of the renowned Harlem Children’s Zone recently shared, “I refuse to let kids disappear into the abyss after they leave me.” This would not be a possibility for 21st Century school students who would be involved not only in the school’s instructional online network, but would also have the opportunity to stay in touch with their 21st Century school teachers and classmates through the Facebook accounts and groups they safely, appropriately, and responsibly participated in with their teachers. It is through these types of connected learning environments that educators and classmates would continue to support and share successes with one another.


Note: This post was originally published in The Innovative Educator blog

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Opportunity to Support Leaders Interested in Realizing the Promise of the 21st Century School

Innovative educators will often share that one of the best ways to discover and implement innovative practices is by learning from others who are doing this work. Hearing about and seeing promising practices from those who are engaged in them is powerful. School leaders interested in hearing from others who are on the path to Realizing the Promise of the 21st Century School are encouraged to attend Teaching Matters annual school leader forum: A Roadmap for Innovation which takes place Wednesday, July 15, 2009 from 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm at 475 Riverside Drive with a special breakout session for Manhattan Title 2D principals from 4:00 - 5:00.

At the forum they’ll be asking, What is a 21st century school? For the most part technology is radically changing every sector of our society, yet schools remain largely unchanged. However, there are schools that are breaking the mold and engaging in innovative practices to engage learners and prepare them for the world in which they live. The forum will provide participants with the opportunity to hear from a panel of innovative NYC school leaders on the vanguard of rethinking urban education. They will speak about their experiences regarding what is important, the challenges and what's possible! Featured guests include:
• Alisa Berger: Principal, NYC iSchool
• Sarah Scrogin: Principal, East Bronx Academy for the Future
• Gregg Korrol: Principal, PS 101
• Julian Cohen: Director, New School Development

Teaching Matters will also provide a new and simple assessment tool for gauging where your school lies on a continuum of the 21st century school outcomes. It will help you evaluate your school's readiness and offer a roadmap of ideas for innovation in those areas you deem most critical.

This event is free to school leaders who can attend by rsvping to or calling 2128703505. Wine and cheese will be served and all principals who attend will be eligible to enter a raffle to jump-start a 21st century classroom with: 15 FREE Flip Video Cameras or 5 FREE Netbooks.

To get an idea of what happens at these 21st century schools, check out the students at PS 5 in the Port Morris section of the Bronx and their amazing documentary about the history and impact of Nicholas Negroponte’s ground breaking XO pilot project in their school.

XO Project Documentary - Class 501 - Port Morris School
by jelbin

You can read about some innovative schools I’ve had the pleasure of visiting below.
X's & O's for the OLPC XO - A View from the Classroom
Immunization for an Uninteresting Curriculum Found at the iSchool
The Power of 21st Century Teaching and Learning Brought to Life at Bronx Middle School CIS 339’s Open House
You Can Get a Dalton Education at a NYC Public School
Bridging The Digital Divide in NYC, Science Leadership Academy – Lessons Learned