The Annual Westchester Trip

Each October since 2007 I’ve made my way to TechForum Northeast for a day of learning and sharing with colleagues from all over the Tri-State Area.  In previous years, I’ve had the pleasure of learning from and with the likes of Alan November, Chris Lehman, David Jakes, Scott Meech, Kathy Schrock, Ryan Bretag, Diana Laufenberg, Lisa Nielsen–well, the list could go on.  

This year, I was fortunate enough to be the Keynote speaker to open the conference, an honor which I hope I lived up to.  However, aside from that experience, this year’s conference left me thinking about a great many things that I hope to spend some more time on the coming weeks.  Among them are a few below:

  • Jerry Crisci, the Director of Technology from the Scarsdale Public Schools, spoke about a project he began this year in Scarsdale called The Center for Innovation.  Sparked by his and his colleague’s interest in fostering a culture of innovation and thought-leadership and funded by the Board of Education, Jerry has created an ambitious agenda to get this project up and running.  In a conversation with him, he sparked what I hope is the seed of some future projects for me: his team, in the early stages of the Center, visited several places that were at the core of innovative practices like the MIT Media Lab and several startups in Silicon Alley in New York City.  This got me thinking of a great question to pose to teachers within my district: If we keep telling ourselves that we are preparing our students for the workplaces of tomorrow, do we know what workplaces currently look like?  If not, I think we should.
  • Pinterest has taken hold within the education community.  In a roundtable discussion after lunch, several of us talked about how we curate content for ourselves and for our colleagues, and pinterest really came out as the tool with the lowest entry point.  Russell Wray, (a wicked smart guy from West Windsor-Plainsboro) showed the group how they easily worked with a few teachers to create a few hashtags within pinterest that they easily aggregate through Flipboard on their iPads.  Genius!  
  • continues to blow me away with web-automation.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go check out the site and set up some recipes.  David Jakes showed us some outstanding recipes to use to make out workflow simplified.  
  • In that same roundtable, David asked a great question that has me thinking a great deal as well: at what point do we begin to expect students to curate for themselves?  When do we expect students to begin accumulating information in an organized form and keep it for ease of access for later use?  

I wanted to thank Judy Salpeter and the rest of the team at Techlearning for making this event happen yet again, and I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned and applying it to some of the projects I am working on currently.  


Worst Presenter Ever

It’s now a few days since my presentation at TechForum Northeast, and judging by the lack of hate-mail or the searches I’ve conducted on all the available backchannels, I didn’t offend anyone too greatly.  Although, by traditional standards, I may just be the worst presenter ever.

I have to admit, and I did so to open the session, presenting at EduCon has changed the way I view conferences. The format asked for at EduCon, from the start, has been conversational; the standard role of presenter is completely changed to that of facilitator, and that changes the way you prepare. Personally, it becomes a situation in which I completely invert the presenter-presentee experience.  Instead of pursuing the traditional “I speak, you listen” model, the ruling ethos has become

The smartest person in the room, is the room.

David Weinberger

As I have prepared for the last few presentations I have given I am forced to keep asking the same question: How do you get a group of concerned educators together in a room and just deliver the message are asked to  deliver without turning them loose on one another?

Very simply, you don’t.

You ask pointed questions, and then listen, and listen very closely to what they say.

Think about where you are when you give a presentation, or view a presenter at a conference.  You are in the company of many passionate educators, those passionate enough to travel a distance to learn more about their craft, and most likely lose class time with their students.  Who holds the knowledge in that situation?  The speaker?  perhaps.  But what I am banking on when I present, and this may cancel every proposal I submit over the next few months, is that the best information you will gain from being at a conference is from the people who are there attending alongside you.

That is not to say that I have no role in the learning that goes on in these presentations.  There had to have been something in the idea I had in pitching the presentation in the first place, and there had to be some direction in which I intended the pretty slides I prepared to move in, right?

But would I have ditched all of it to have a great conversation about how to make the schools we work in into the schools we want to work in?  You bet.  My role for them was to put in place the interaction pieces so that they could construct something of value for themselves.

This model should sound familiar…but does it?

Image credits:

“January 25th 2008 – The word for the day is “knowledge”, pass it on,” Stephen Poff

“The Seven Principles of Learning,” dkuropatwa’s set on Flickr

Random Sampling

This is a big attempt to get in the habit of more regular writing, so these are some very loosely connected ideas and things I like:


In the last two months, I have picked up two more blogs on which I’ll be writing.  Twice a month, I’ll be posting at Tech and Learning.  I’ve joined a fantastic group of educators there, a group of people who I truly admire and enjoy reading.  Look for those posts on the first and third Wednesday of every month.  Also, one of the people I met at ASCD this year, Jason Flom, has invited me to post whenever I’d like over at Ecology of Education.  While I am not too familiar with a lot of the writers over there, I’ve been impressed with what I’ve read so far.  Jason and I were both covering the ASCD conference this year as media, and were flabbergasted at how well they treated us and the access they gave us to the presenters.  I look forward to reading and writing over there.


I’ve fallen hard for the emergence of data visualization as a high art form.  I’ve said often to the teachers I work with, especially those in the social sciences, that those individuals who can translate the amount of data that we now have in our possession, and will continue to accumulate, into meaningful images will be very powerful people in the future.  The folks over at Cool Infographics and Flowing Data have recently been blowing me away with their ability to visualize statistics in illuminating ways.  Be sure to check them out if you can.

Also, Hans Rosling recently created a wonderful overview of the last 200 years and how they have completely changed the world.  Check that out below:

sarcasm= saying it-not meaning it

Earlier this week I wrote a post for TechLearning which I posted here and at Ecology of Education titled “Open Letter to the Teacher who said ‘I Hate Technology.'” Sarcasm is not my strong suit, but it just felt like the right mode to match the way I was feeling.  I’d like to turn this post over to the commenters at each of the three places that post appeared because of the conversations that sprang from it.

From TechLearning:

Veiled sarcasm and disguised insults and insinuations are not productive tools in diagolue. Nor, are they good tools for persuasion. Yes,it is difficult to leave your comfort zone, however, it is necessary for growth.”
— Roxann

While it is tempting to poke fun at those who resist technology, these teachers are often (but not always) the ones who have many of the other skills and talents necessary for good classroom instruction. They have the learning strategies, classroom discipline and understanding of curriculum down cold. When we honour these skills and abilities and provide on-going support many of these “resistors” are encouraged to use technology and change their teaching. When we belittle them, they, just like our students, retreat, resist and defend. Too often, when we “train” these teachers they feel overwhelmed as they struggle to see how the software connects to what they are doing in the classroom. And so they continue doing what they’ve always done.–Kendra Grant

From Ecology of Education

We might do well to also hate technology for its ability to shed light on assumptions and render the teacher’s knowledge authority obsolete. What’s more, when students understand technology better than us, it only serves to illuminate our own ignorance, further eroding our positions of authority.

What are we left to do? Level with students? Learn alongside them? Or worse, admit we don’t know something and learn from them?! Blasphemy, Patrick. Blasphemy.–Jason Flom

There are many good examples of how teachers are using technology with their students, both in and out of the classroom. It’s important to make those connections so teachers can see the value. Problems arise, though, when some teachers refuse to even participate in the discussion. They don’t need technology, and nothing anyone can say (or show) will change their minds – they’ve closed them tight. I think those teachers are in the minority, but they definitely present a challenge.–tcervo

Think there’s a deeper, possibly more discouraging aspect to this. The teacher who hates technology communicated a hesitation to learn and grow. Technology just happened to the target of the moment. And if that’s the case, this teacher needs to find a job where learning and growth aren’t the actual reason for the job to exist. We all resist change, and perhaps that’s more the motivation here. But failing to recognize that growth = change, and that to continue being a relevant teacher I must grow, and that to grow I must learn, and that technology may be the thing needed to be known at this point in history—that’s a sad commentary. Sure, our teachers did it without technology, but technology (other than filmstrips—BEEP!) was not an option.–Kevin Washburn


I’m not sure if your response is to a hypothetical person or not, but I wonder if the tact you take in this blog post will be a constructive addition to the conversation. Rant is certainly an appropriate tag for the post, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone an occasional rant. However, if conversation is what your looking for, why not ask questions.–msstewart

Patrick, I too hate technology. That is, I hate technology simply for technologies’ sake. On the other hand, I love learning and I love teaching kids how to learn. If I can use some digital tools among the other tools I’ve acquired over the past 17 years to help kids learn, I love that process. The more tools I have, the more effective I can be, as each tool may not be relevent, useful, or timely in every situation.–Barry Bachenheimer.

Thanks to everyone for truly pushing my thinking on this.

Open Letter to the Teacher who said “I Hate Technology.”

Dear Teacher who Said “I hate technology,”

First of all, I want to thank you for your candor and your willingness to openly share your opinion regarding the use of tools for learning.  I am a firm believer that we should all have an open forum for expressing our opinions about our profession and the factors that influence it.  That is why I am writing here.

Rather than do what most readers of this letter are expecting me to do and refute your claims, I have to admit that I concur–I hate it too.  Yes, I must admit, that comes as surprise, I am sure, but something tells me that our reasons for this shared loathing will not be the same.  Let me share mine with you and then we can have an informed discussion to compare and contrast.

First, I cannot stand that I have had to give up hours of painstakingly annotating papers with carefully crafted comments and editing marks.  I’ll miss that fullness of self when I return the essays and research papers back to the students and they scurrilously thumb to the last page, jettisoning any comment or edit I made, to find out their total score on the paper.

Secondly, the fact that there will be conversations about topics in my class that occurr UNABATED and not in my presence is inconceivable and incorrigible.  Thoughts about the content of my class that do not occur during the sanctity of my 50 minute class period belong either as one-on-one conversations with me in the hallway, clearly stated on their homework papers, or held onto in the working memory of the student until the next class period or hallway conversation with me.

Lastly, the assignment of group projects should be a rite of passage that includes several if not all of the following situations for students: one student should do most of the work including but not limited to: writing, researching, organizing, and assigning ancillary roles to other team members, one student should lose the flash drive that has the slide presentation at least once during the assignment duration, one student, most likely the one who pulls down 30+ hours at the local burger joint, should not be able to meet with the rest of the group at any time outside of school, provided the other group members athletics and extracurricular activities schedules do not preclude any outside of the classroom meetings.  Additionally, I should not be able to see the extent to which each of these students worked on the project until the very end of the process.

As you can see, my role as a teacher is being compromised by the intrusion of tools that render aspects of my daily goings-on as obsolete.  This I won’t stand for.  Plus, adding to my ire is the fact that there is all of this talk about new definitions of literacy.  Reading is no longer just the deconstruction and reconstruction of text, but now I am being asked to help students make sense of rich media, data sets that are visualized, and more streams of immediate news and information on a daily basis.  If you ask me, there is just a whole lot of noise.  What do you say we just don’t listen to it?

We had teachers growing up who were able to teach us the finer points of composing, of calculation, of geography, and the greater literary works of both North America and Europe, yet their technology was limited to chalk, and blessed be, an overhead projector.  Can’t we do as much or more with the same?

So I am with you, I think, in resisting this move, and I’ll do just what’s mandated of me by my building principal.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go close my classroom door…

Cross-posted at Ecology of Education and TechLearning.

Effective School Leadership in the Digital Age

A few posts back, I stated that I would try to get out the audio that accompanied my slides from the TechForum Northeast Conference on October 24th.  It’s taken me a while, and along the way I lost my notes, but here it is, as best as I could deliver.  I am already rethinking the format of this and the content; it’s like with our students when we ask them to read their writing out loud–it takes on a whole new level of awkwardness.  In the end it’s great for the piece, but it sure feels weird while you are standing there.  I’ll make one glaring admission before you view:  I need to include the student part of this the next time I deliver it.  It was in the planning, and I spoke about it at the conference, but did not get to it here.  What is their role in school leadership today?

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Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype: Focusing on What Really Matters

A few months back, I got an email from the organizers of Tech Forum Northeast asking me if I wanted to participate in a panel discussion at their upcoming conference.  The panel, they said, would include Ryan Bretag, David Jakes, and David Warlick.  I emailed back a quick “are you sure this is the right email you wanted to send that too?” message, and found out it was me indeed they wanted on that panel.

Whoa.  What a great opportunity for some serious thinking and dialogue.  And again, whoa.  Who am I?  So before they could reconsider, I accepted.  Our panel called Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype: Focusing on What Really Matters, went on at 9:30 and I wanted to thank Lisa Thumann for recording it.

I wanted to thank Judy Salpeter for inviting me and making the arrangements, and to the other panelists, David, David, and Ryan, for pushing my thinking.  It was a blast, and I was thankful that David gave us some of the questions beforehand. The audience asked some great questions and made some salient points, but I think it was Ryan’s point about asking us what we really define an educated person as that will drive my thinking for a while.

What do we expect our students to be when they leave us?  What is our goal as educators?  I heard Zac Chase in my afternoon session on School Leadership state it in a way that I immediately gravitate towards: ethical, responsible, citizens.  The elements that define those three descriptors still need to be determined, but I think it’s an excellent place to start building backwards from.

The video is below.

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Framework for planning

One of my goals for next year is to really move forward in the area of changing our philosophy from one of “how can I add technology to this lesson,” to one in which the technology was planned for as the lesson idea was hatched. As it is now, on evaluations or yearly reviews, a staple recommendation is to try to integrate technology into the lesson or into the curriculum as a whole. I have noticed a semantic shift lately in the blogosphere, away from the word “integrate” and towards something altogether more holistic, like “embed” or “underlie.” Until this shift takes place within the mind of the subject area teacher and building administrator, I truly believe I will be working on a Sisyphean problem.

Planning for this to happen will involve a shift in philosophy for me, as well. My primary focus will continue to shift from plugging holes and putting out fires, to one where I am more concerned with meeting with teachers and spreading ideas. Thus, the processes of planning and steering become priorities above all else in this new model. David Jakes via the Techlearning blog shared his framework for planning, which I thought was brilliant and clear. Here it is in it’s entirety:

First, the technology use should support a fundamental literacy that the school or organization believes in.

Second, the use of that technology must extend the
lesson, or learning, to a place that could not be achieved unless the
technology had been included. In other words, there must be a
value-added component to the inclusion of the technology.

And finally, the use of technology must be framed
within a pedagogically sound instructional approach-without that, the
first two are meaningless.

So, after reading this, I came up with a quick to-do list

  1. First things first, what are the literacies that we believe in in my corner of the globe? I don’t know that I have ever sat down and tried to articulate what types of literacies are important to our students. Where do I start with that?
  2. If I analyzed every project I worked on this year, what would the ratio of projects that had technology added for the sake of doing it v. projects that were authentic, where the technology took the learning to a place that could not have been reached without it? This is something to look into.
  3. What were student reactions to newer versions of projects? Relying on actual data from students should be an integral part of every project, just as important as any other facet.
  4. How were the teachers and myself bringing this to the students? In just a cursory glance backward, I can see several instances where we pushed an pulled too much on the students without giving them requisite freedom to explore. The approach has to be wide-open next year, where we approach each project with the idea that the learning is open-ended.

Jakes goes further into how he develops these ideas by listing his essential four literacies:

  • Be able to connect.
  • Be able to create.
  • Be able to communicate.
  • Be able to collaborate.

I earmarked these for several different topics that I plan to cover this summer, most notably any contact time I have with building administrators in the form of workshops or meetings. To me, these four are the quintessential starting blocks for planning with any teacher; all other curriculum can easily fit within these guidelines.

Image credit:
Vidiot, “Sisyphus.” Online Image. March 25, 2005. June 3, 2007 .