Why I Embrace Technology…

I’m sure that I’m like a lot of people.  When the house is quiet, the TV is off, and I’m doing mundane but necessary tasks like putting away laundry or watering my plants, my mind wanders to places I hadn’t visited in a long time.

Like today. I was enjoying my first Saturday of summer break.  The house was quiet and I was unencumbered by the pressures to do other things.  I meandered through the house putting away the things that pile up while I’m working.  In women terms, I believe I’d call it tinkering or puttering.

Nothing ground breaking about putting away laundry or changing the sheets, except that when I try to sing “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Mama Cass Eliot.  I’d heard it recently in a 2014 movie and was surprised because I wondered how many millennials actually knew who she was or what her music did to the music scene back in the day.

So there I am, puttering this morning and I begin to hum… or at least try to hum the song in my head.  Of course I then tried to put the words to it and was grateful that I was alone in the house with no one to hear my crackling voice.

I remembered that there was a day that I had a pretty good voice.  I sang in the Madrigal choir in high school and I loved music and ballet.  But I grew up in large family.  And what I remember most was always feeling invisible.  My parents were busy doing what parents with five girls do: work, cook, clean, delegate.

That’s why I embrace technology

Technology lets everyone be visible to someone.  As my thoughts continued to chain together, I thought about how lucky the children are today.  They never have to feel invisible.  There is always someone just a click or two away with whom they can connect about whatever they’re interested in.  Granted, this idea can be a scary proposition, which is why not all school boards and administrations embrace social media in our schools. But let’s stay positive.

Technology let’s everyone be heard.  Every child can have a voice.  Every child can find a mentor who will help them get to where ever they think they want to go.

Wendy Whelan started her career in Louisville, KY at the age of 3 as a mouse in the Nutcracker Suite, ultimately joining the New York Ballet from which she retired in 2014.  I bring her into this conversation because a statement she made in the documentary I recently watched about her really stuck with me.  She said that someone had said to her, “Wendy, there are people in other places who can help you become the best dancer you can be.  You should go find them.”

There are people in other places…

And that’s why I embrace technology.  Not because it’s got great gizmos.  Not because it’s the lasted craze.

I embrace technology because it truly opens windows to a world we would otherwise not see.

In education, we use the words ‘career and life skills’.

I think what we should say is that we need to embrace all the amazing people and ideas that are speeding about us so we can be inspired to do what we love, even if it seems like a long shot.  We need throw the world of moonshot thinking at our students, particularly our high school students.

There really is a fabulous world out there.  And we do a disservice to our students every minute we restrain them to minuscule work in our classrooms.

Swimming Against The Conformity Current

I started my Saturday morning off as I start many of my Saturday mornings.  I typically wake up (always a good start…) grab some coffee and work my way to my spare bedroom/office and jump into #SATCHAT with my other buddies who share a passion for sharing and learning.

After concluding my chat time and regrouping for my work for the day today (aka, refilling my coffee cup), I went back and reread the posts from the morning’s chat.  A post from Pernille Ripp caught my eye:

Thanks go to @PernilleRipp and #SATCHAT (2/7/15)

Of course I had to click on the link (goo.gl/lBKJqk) and I invite you to do the same.  Her words spoke to me as if she were “Killing Me Softly With (Her) Song” .  I don’t often add comments to a post; I’m not much for the Redundancy Chamber.  But given that I’d had the following experience just the previous afternoon, I was compelled to respond.

I wrote on Pernille’s Blog:

(A brief recap: My co-teacher and I designed a unit length project using ExplainEverything using all the electronic materials the students are given (aka handed) on their classroom wiki, in their iBook, and possibly some Internet research (beyond minimal). Their assignment: create an ExplainEverything project using 3-4 slides per unit from their learning goal rubric where they identify and synthesize their understanding of the topics presented. Their first unit had 17 learning goals. Upon presentation of the project to them, they immediately did the math and said…51 to 68 slides!!!??? and under their breath… are they crazy????)

If you went to Pernille’s blog and read my response, which I hope you will take the time to do, you will read a bit more about the question my Gen-Ed HS Biology co-teacher and I were asked:

If doing this kind of work is so important, then why is this class, our class the only one doing it?  Why isn’t every teacher making us do this kind of work, to work so hard, in all of our classes?

The truth is that I ask myself this kind of question every day.  Why aren’t teachers in our high school asking the students perform creative knowledge constructing projects every single day? Why do we ask so very little of our students? 

To be fair, which is a code I live by every day (and some days better than others), some of the teachers in my building are doing incredible work.  But it still begs the question asked to us by our student:  Why isn’t every teacher asking us to work this hard?

As I said in my post to Pernille, I had to hold my tongue.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student what I’ve experienced in my co-teaching classes.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student of the multiple or even many conversations I’ve had with my building colleagues about changing their craft to include projects like the one I created and (to her credit) my co-teacher has supported. (This has been a bumpy journey; bringing a project like this into a classroom for the first time is filled with unforeseen bumps in the road, despite my months of planning. And she has been a terrific co-pilot, pointing out how we can tweak the implementation here and there to make the process less stressful for the students. God bless her…) But I couldn’t possibly tell my student the words I’ve been told In conversation after conversation; the words that strike frustration and disbelief to my heart:

“I don’t have time. I’m too busy with (insert your excuse of choice here) and (insert your other excuse of choice here) to put all that time and energy into changing what I do.”

During this morning’s #SATCHAT as with many other Twitter Chats I follow, someone inevitably goes down the road of ‘providing teachers with professional development…..”.

Which brings me to my question of the day:

What does it take to have/inspire/cause a teacher to swim against the Conformity Current?

I wish I was writing because I knew the answer.  I wish I could say that the tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of dollars my district has spent on iPad training for our staff was the answer. I wish I could say that getting teachers (yes, even new teachers) to swim against the conformity current had an answer I could provide.  But the sad truth is that I don’t.

Before I close, I will share with you where I find the inspiration and courage to fight the good fight, as my friend Courtney Pepe would say (@iPadQueen2012), everyday.

For health reasons, I was home last spring, away from my classroom, and missing my work.  I was using Twitter to stay current on my political addictions and I decided to see what was going on in the educational arena.  Of course, you know the ending to this part of the story; I found my courage and inspiration from the millions of you out there who support and encourage us to do what’s best for kids everyday; to fight the good fight.  And if needed, to swim hard against the Conformity Current.

In swimming against the Conformity Current with the support of my Twitter friends and colleagues, I was no longer alone in the fight but supported by hundreds of others with a greater vision like mine: that kids won’t have to just do worksheets and multiple choice tests, but will have to put their minds to work and create new understandings and possibly change the world in the process.  Now… How Cool Is That?

P.S.  Thank you for choosing to Swim Against The Conformity Current and inspiring me every day.


As you may know, my involvement with Twitter has led me to find a renewed passion about teaching, leading, engagement of students and teachers, and… the list goes on and on.  (See my article, My Digital Transformation.) As a member of the NJASCD Executive Board and Technology Committee co-chair, I have also had the opportunity to meet and work in a group of incredibly dedicated educators; new, veteran, techie and not.  Each of these individuals have added to the colors on my palette of life experiences that help me be a better me.  A better me in the classroom, in my work, and in my relationships both personal and professional.

I started my amazing journey after I completed my work at Rutgers University Graduate School of Education in 2011 and felt it was time for me to leap into the world of educational leadership.  Along my journey of enlightenment through NJASCD,  I was introduced to board members who were active in a professional trend called EdCampNJ.   I don’t know every member of EdCampNJ, but those with whom I have been fortunate enough to meet and learn from have taught me that the time for personalized learning for students must be translated into personalized learning for teachers, too.  Just as students who sit in our classes everyday have personal tastes in topics and styles of learning, so too do the teachers with whom we also work every day.  The Edcamp process honors, celebrates, and supports the individualized learning of teachers in the very same way we work to honor our students’ personalized learning needs.

So… what exactly is this Edcamp idea?  What could possibly make it such a ground breaking idea?  PD has been around for… a very long time.  What could possibly have changed that it is creating such a stir in the PD circles around the world? (Yes… really… around the world!)

In this month’s Principal Magazine, Meredith Barnett does what I wish I’d thought to do. Meredith has written a wonderful article presenting the Edcamp idea to those many principals who do not know about or who have ever heard of Edcamp before. (I’ve attached the PDF of Meredith’s article here.)   The Edcamp model is fairly well known in the South Jersey/Philly area and the North Jersey/New Brunswick area.  But Central Jersey has yet to get the news: Edcamps are the wave of the future.

As I work to develop a team of teachers who are willing to become part of my leadership team for this annual SpEdcampNJ project, I am frequently asked, “What is Edcamp?”  I am frequently dismayed by the responses I get when I explain that these are workshops that take place on a Saturday. “Saturday?  Who would go to a workshop on a Saturday?  You should consider having it during the week when teachers can be released from their classrooms.  You’d get a much better turnout…”  The thing is that Edcamps have FABULOUS turnouts.  Imagine the energy created  when 300-400 teachers from around the area, sometimes from around the state and neighboring states as well, come together to share ideas… of all things… on a Saturday!  (When I was asked, ‘who would go to a workshop on a Saturday’, I answered, ‘I guess that teachers dedicated to improving their craft and student outcomes come on Saturdays….’  The look on the teachers’ faces when they processed my answer… (‘right… dedicated teachers…I guess you don’t really want everybody  to come… just those who really want to be there…’)  was priceless.

The fact is that not everyone belongs at an Edcamp.  Edcamps are for people who truly want to expand their understandings on things they may have never considered and feel it is important enough to take time away from their personal lives to do so.  The topics and discussions are participant driven and the energy and conversations among like minded individuals is, for me, a priceless experience.  I’ve attached a video of one of the workshops created, designed, and developed completely through a Voxer chat group among six people we’ve never even met face-to-face about bringing music into the classroom.  (The discussion had been framed out with enough room for spontaneous participation from the group.) We had a blast putting it together and the 20+ participants had a blast too!

To be fair, EdCamps happen all the time around the US and are popping up around the globe.  This is a link to the EdCamp Foundation site where more information about the wonderful work being accomplished can be found.

I’ve been able to attend EdcampLeadership in Philly during the summer 2014 and EdcampNJ 2013 & 2014.  I found them to be so inspiring and uplifting that I’ve decided to put start SpEdcampNJ 2015.  I am currently looking for a central Jersey location where my team and I can host special education professionals from around the state to share their energies and practices that will inspire us, bring fun learning to our classroom and raise achievement in our special education classes along the way.  I will keep you posted as we move along our newest journey toward bringing SpEdcampNJ 2015 to fruition.  Stay tuned!

PLNs: My Digital Transformation

As I was perusing the Table of Contents for a purchase of a Kindle edition book this morning, I stopped and fixated my eyes on one particular chapter’s title: Apps and Personal Relationships.  As an aspiring administrator, I, like many others, read an inordinate amount of material covering a wide range of topics; from assessments and proposal writing to leadership and walkthroughs.  But this title put the words ‘Apps’ and ‘Personal Relationships’ in the same sentence.

It was at that moment that I realized my Twitter PLNs had made a drastic change in my perception of digital relationships.  Some of my readers may be surprised to know that I’ve been a tech person long before tech was cool.  I bought an Apple Macintosh computer instead of a PC in 1985 because I couldn’t fathom that the DOS based systems of the PC market could possibly blow away the intuitive operations of the Apple Macintosh.  So much for betting on Gate’s marketing abilities…

My computer obsession had always taken me away from people. I could, then and now, spend countless hours alone at my computer doing any number of things that would probably drive many others crazy.  I’ve taught myself countless programs as a business owner because I couldn’t afford to have a tech come in and handle the process.  Computer literate was a misnomer: I was out in front of almost every business owner I knew.  Few people could understand my consuming obsession with tech.   But even with the advent of the interactive Web 3.0, I was still alone at my computer.  Of course I used email because that is a given communication tool. I used all sorts of programs for marketing, spreadsheets to create cash flows and identify trends.  But much beyond that, I wasn’t really communicating with people outside my normal circle of contacts.  How is it, I wondered, that people can have their faces buried in their phones, chatting and Tweeting to people they’ve never laid eyes on?

Fast forward to my computer time today.  As a result of a needed surgery, I’ve had some time off from the daily grind of work.  I found myself drawn to my computer just as I would have been under normal circumstances.  I’ve had time to read great books like “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times” by Eric Sheninger (2014) and “Teach Like A PIRATE!” by Dave Burgess (2012) to name two.  As engaging as these books were, something was missing. I was tired of the one-way circuit.

I decided to ‘venture’ into the world of Twitter.  I had a Twitter account but, surprise! I only used it to keep up on topics to save me time.  Well, long story short, I dove into the waters, drank the Kool-Aid and have converted from the one-sided world of tech to the two way world of Tweeting!

Now I know to some of you, this will be a ‘Duh…’ moment.  I had dabbled in Tweeting to a parent through a single channel so I could keep her up to date on the progress of her newly placed son in my class.  I ran into some tech issues (like the site being blocked) which soon put an end to my classroom use for the tool.  (When I later mentioned it to a person who was in a place to fix it, Twitter access was restored. Phew!)

Some of you may say that I was reluctant because I am not a millennial. Nothing could be farther from the truth!  To know me is to know that I am not afraid of tackling most anything, least of all a piece of technology!  I guess I just couldn’t wrap my head around why I needed to talk to people I didn’t know…

But, as you can imagine, this story has a happy ending… (Most of my stories do!)… I am a digital convert and discovered the Twitter chat on “Teach Like A PIRATE” (#TLAP) as well as an upcoming Twitter chat/book study on “Digital Leadership”.  I have certain chats logged into my calendar and my husband laughs when I tell him I can’t go to wherever because I have a Twitter chat to get to! I use Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to keep up with the feeds and it is so invigorating that I have trouble resting my brain when we’re off-line!  I often wind up re-reading a section or searching online or writing notes about a great idea.  Sleep often has to take a back seat!

Quite frankly, this has really provided me with a refreshed window of energy.  I’ve met lots of people from around the United States who share my passion for relationship building, engaging instruction and best practices for technology integration. If you haven’t dived into the world of Twitter, absolutely do so.  I have met so many great people, gotten so many great ideas that I just have to say, “How Cool Is That?”  Follow me @chrisduane819 !  See you there!

I don’t understand…

Again, to reiterate, I am an In-Class-Support  high school math teacher.  As an ICS teacher, I am, for better or worse, subject to the class management habits of the teachers with whom I work.

Each of the teachers I work with opens her class with a Warm-up, Do Now, or whatever term you choose.   On more days than not, the students receive their worksheet upon their arrival to class.  Each teacher verbally expresses her desire to have the students complete this opening exercise within the first 5-10 minutes of class while housekeeping items are dealt with.  Sounds reasonable enough, no?

And this  is what I don’t understand: Why do these same teachers then engage students near their desk in a conversation about anything from the change in lunchroom duties, to their plans for the weekend, or the students’ plans for the weekend after just instructing them to complete their Warm-up?

The class slowly erupts into many side conversations, the warm-up isn’t completed by the students, notes are not accessed, prior knowledge is not activated, and the students merely copy down the work the teacher dutifully explains as she questions and leads them through the answers, using the Elmo to display this work on the front whiteboard.

And we want to know why we don’t have student driven learning?

I may have mentioned that I am taking courses toward a Technology Certificate.  In one of our readings about the challenges facing distance learners is that… of all things… most adults went to school where they were passive receivers of information… Go Figure!!! The article I reference was written in 2000-ish… One might assume that things have changed.   [I will add the reference to this as soon as I get back to my desk at home.]

I am here to tell you they have not… and so it goes… until the pedagogy expected at any level begins with the expectation that the teacher will NOT be the ‘sage-on-the-stage’, we will continue to have passive receivers of learning.

Can we have a call for leaders instead of managers?

Technology Integration: Are the incoming teachers really as adept as we think?

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First started on 9/8/2013:

As you may know, I am a high school teacher.  With the new school year and new rosters of students comes the NJACHIEVE initiative for teacher evaluations, integration of the Core Curriculum Standards, Student Growth Outcomes, new technology… Some would even say technology is the new frontier where incoming freshman teachers are supposed to have an advantage.   Being a teacher in today’s schools requires as much dedication, (some might say more dedication) than ever before; especially with the level of technology integration required within the Core Curriculum Standards.

I attended CCA 2013, Core Content Academy 2013, held at Rutgers New Brunswick this summer with the co-sponsorship of the NJDOE.  About three hundred of my colleagues from around the state spent 7 hours a day for a week delving into the standards, what they meant, where they were going.

What we discovered was that technology is the integral vine growing and weaving its way deep into each subject, each standard, at every grade level. Discussing, sharing, learning how we can, as a state, get up to speed to close the achievement gap and truly bring our 21st Century work to our students in our classrooms.  We listened with rapt attention ( no lie…) as the speakers inspired us to meet this challenge head on.  Workshop presenters brought us new ways to look at our teaching methods.  No book selling.  No publishing handouts.  Pure education.  Seasoned teachers thirsty to extend their skills and truly become master teachers of their craft. Gallery walks to examine others’ work.  We came away each day tired but looking forward to bringing it all home to our classrooms.

I grant you that the incoming teachers have a handle on their technology skills.  Well… they know how to text, and they know how to email, and Instagram, and Facebook.  But quite frankly, I haven’t seen any evidence of them being any more skilled at integrating technology into their teaching.

We all want technology integrated into our classrooms.  But integrating technology into an 90 minute block with adept facilitation is no small task.  (Imagine when the blocks are smaller!)  Integrating technology into a classroom of kindergarteners without succumbing to chaos… Quite frankly, you aren’t going to convince me that until my current student body (those graduating in 2013 and beyond) come into the workforce are we  going to see staff that really understand technology’s integrative capacity well enough to use from Day One.  That will be really cool!

Not only will the new staff come to us with pedagogy thoroughly and expertly infused with the proper technology at the the proper time, but the students we teach will flourish in an environment in which they have immersed themselves since… they could swipe an iPad as a toddler.

Which brings me to my friend Barry Saide.  In his blog, Barry posted, ” Technophile or Technophobe: Which Are You? ” Barry adeptly writes about the impact our subtle or mindless actions can have on our colleagues.  His writing brings to us the idea that we can mow down or motivate our colleagues and our students with a look, an intonation, or reaction.

I love when anyone takes the risk to try something new.  How cool is it when any teacher takes the risk of experimenting with a technology?  Some districts are still acquiring projectors while other districts have moved to using iPads, tablets, and phones.

I think it is very cool when teachers (regardless of their years of experience) take the risk to master the skills needed to truly bring technology into their learning environment. I also think we should be willing to understand that while our new hires grew up with microwaves, iPads, Smartphones, and GPS, we should be mindful that these tools, used skillfully from the consumer end, bring an entirely new challenge to the integration into classroom instruction.  Administrative and professional support is still needed to assist all teachers with the level of integration required by the Core Curriculum Standards.

This integration will take time, supported by resilient teachers and supportive workplaces that bring all staff members to a common pedagogical goal.

What do you think?



Student Centered Learning

For those of you who don’t personally know me, I am an avid reader of just about anything I get my hands on. That said, as I’ve been browsing the monthly journals I receive monthly, I continually ask myself, “How can I make my teaching more student centered?”

Heaven knows that as teachers we’ve learned how to weave the technology piece into our daily instruction. The SAMR model accepts the understanding that there is an evolution to our instructional development with technology. It understands that we start out by (S) substituting technology for another dimension of our work, sort of like we substitute low fat Greek yogurt for sour cream because we know we should eat better than we do. Speaking for myself only, my substitution is sort of hit and miss. I don’t always remember to slip in the yogurt just as I try to slip in the technology. But I don’t find that either leads to a satisfying experience of implementing meaningful changes for me or my students.

So, you might ask, what’s a teacher to do? Well, in my case, as my family and friends can readily attest, I head back to Rutgers. My dissatisfaction with piecemeal implementation of technology has taken me into a certificate program with the ultimate goal of my learning how to construct an online classroom environment.

That’s pretty heady stuff for me.

During the course of our class, (we’re in Week#3), we’ve discussed the history and development of distance learning from the beginnings of the correspondence courses through the high tech online course work we pursue today.  I couldn’t help asking myself, ‘how do average high school students ( emphasis on average, not AP, not Honors… average students) become learners who are driven to find the answers rather than just to complete the work?

[ Yes, I know you will say that the work has to have relevance.   I teach a lower track Algebra 2 course and explaining to my juniors that imaginary numbers are used in engineering endeavors doesn’t go very far in terms of relevance for them.  Perhaps you see my dilemma…]

As I’ve rolled this question around for quite some time, I seem to think that being an independent learner is a process.  Like all things, starting small, independent learning should progress through a hand holding period to the training wheels to the freedom that comes with being able to seek answers within one’s own time schedule while still meeting the deadlines.

My problem is that I just can’t figure out how to make it happen.

Like most projects, some of the students get the hang of it and seem ready to loose their training wheels. But as soon as the independence is given, the rider is in the bushes and parents are saying that independent learning is too advanced for high school students.

How do we make our average students ready to take up the responsibility and challenge for learning? Should it start in middle school?  Does it need to be a school wide policy? Perhaps you can let me know your strategies.  I’d really like to hear about how you’ve moved to the ubiquitous flipped model with the less motivated student population.