Monday, November 18, 2013

Hard Questions in Ed Tech

Photo by Megan Black
Despite my last name and city of birth, I'm white. This is an identity with which I have struggled in one way or another most of my life. Growing up in Detroit, I was often the lone white girl. I spent five years in Chicago and another sixteen in Los Angeles in mostly Mexican neighborhoods. Until recently the schools I taught in were lower socioeconomic communities of color. 

For the past six years I have been back in Michigan. I spent the first five at a public charter in Detroit. When I first got there we had nothing to speak of by way of technology. When I left we had plenty. I'm told the digital divide is being crossed. At least on paper. Many minority schools and city school districts have the same technology tools as their wealthier counterparts. 

But I challenge you to go to an educational technology conference and look for diversity.  With the rare exception, it is a sea of white faces. And not just white teachers but white teachers from white schools. The MACUL conference this past March was at Cobo Hall in Detroit. There were thousands of educators. I worked an Ask Me booth above the main floor for two hours at the end of the first day. It allowed me to see the entire crowd as they departed. I counted less than a dozen minority teachers. 

And don't even get me started on the perception that the major players/presenters in the Ed tech field are mostly men. In a profession predominantly peopled by women (education) the vast majority with the authority to present and pack a room are men, in their mid thirties. Former high school teachers. Don't get me wrong, these are good men with a lot to offer. But, are there that many less women instructors with the gravitas to impart best practices in this area? Oh I know there are a few noteworthy elementary education technology integration specialists as well as a few female high school experts in the field, but again, the numbers are skewed. Why?

I believe  digital divide still exists but it is less so about having the tools and more about the expertise in how to skillfully integrate those tools.  I want to be wrong about this and I welcome feedback that tells me I am with explanations. Is it possible that minority schools are getting their professional development in house and/or on site? Or is this a casualty of the survival mode struggling districts seem to operate under? 

If I am right, what can be done about it? How can we cross the great divide and bring equity to all?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Beam me up, Teacher

Looking for a way to share student work on iPads with the class? Want to do that on a budget? Airserver is your ticket. Airserver is one of three popular services that allow iPads to send their display to another device, AKA mirroring. However, as with all things there is a dark side too. Here's the full skinny.

Schools can get licenses for the Air Server mirroring software for just under four bucks per laptop. Apple TV is just under $100 each and Reflector runs around $13 per device. In my experience they all offer about the same level of service except that Apple TV can be reflected to a television. (This is unnecessary in schools with projectors.) Downloading and installing the Airserver software onto a laptop is quick and easy. From there, you are prompted to provide your activation code.

Once installed you can set private passwords and I recommend that you do. Once mischievous crumb snatchers know how to use the controls, they can co-opt your display with whatever happens to be on their iPad. A recipe for disaster to say the least. When you want the students to display their work, you have options to allow access. You can select to send them a password or passcode that is displayed on your desktop that they punch in or you can have them ask you. You can also select no Password but I would only do this if I completely trusted the class not to try it and lets face it, seeing your iPad up there in the front is pretty tempting.

One lesson we learned the hard way after installing Airserver on all the laptops at our school is that you need to have recognizable names for each laptop. Otherwise all the laptops on the wireless network will show up in the students iPad and they will not know which name to select when they go to turn on mirroring. I recommend a system based on the teacher's last name and subjects taught. (Of course this all depends on the size of your school and how many Mrs. Johnson's you have teaching there.)

Embedded into this blog is a tutorial for how to use Airserver for both teachers and students.  If you would like to download it you can also find it here.

Last but not least, at the time of publishing this post, iOS7 is still crashing when mirroring to any service after 2 or 3 minutes. If the iPad crashes it can be rebooted by holding the home button and the power button at the same time for ten seconds. To avoid crashing the iPad, keep the mirroring to less than two minutes. In the meantime, let your displeasure be known to Apple so that they fix the bug.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Miracle Worker

It never fails. 3:00 AM. Can't sleep. The worry that I am possibly the meanest, most merciless teacher in the world runs through my mind. All this because I made a kid go back and walk when he ran and hurdled chairs in the library. Or I sternly told a young man to put his shoes and socks back on and that his behavior was rude and inconsiderate when he ignored the repeated requests of myself and his classmates. It seems that the prevailing winds of education tell us that if the kids aren't having fun 100% of the time it is our fault. I know this isn't true in the grander scheme of things. Circumstances require that I play the ogre occasionally. When necessary and when pushed or excessively tired, I can become Staff Sergeant Black. I am human afterall. But, it is the least favorite part of my job. Albeit, a necessary one.

Being the disciplinarian ranks way down on the list of fun parenting responsibilities too. Which is why I am dumbfounded when parents are upset with teachers and other caring adults for setting and holding limits. Perhaps it is our job to teach or mentor the parents as well. To remind them we're on their side. We are on their kid's side. We are their partners in raising their children to become all they can be. Just as it is a parent's job to help their child make the best decisions to build a stable, loving home life with strong family relationships, it is our job to guide them to make choices that will help them succeed as global citizens. We want Ralphy McPeevish to have friends who care for him and aren't afraid of him. We want Sally Ann Wigglepants to practice attention so she can focus on learning and listening which in time will lead to self soothing and inner peace. Little Moises Grumblewhine must understand there will always be things he doesn't want to do, that he needs to do. There is a fragile balance to maintain order with any group of humans, but especially miniature newbies. The hard truth is they have to walk the line just like grown folks.

I keep thinking of Helen Keller. What if her parents got their way? What if Anne Sullivan had gone easy on her like everyone else in her life had done previously out of pity or exhaustion? This world would have been deprived of one of the greatest thinkers, speakers, and writers of all time. A truly unique voice and perspective, a veritable light in the darkness, would have been dimmed. As much as I admire Helen; her spirit, her grace, the truths she brought forth, I know that none of that would have mattered if it weren't for Anne Sullivan's determination to shape that potential. And the process wasn't always pretty. Or fun. Or "nice." Some even thought her cruel. I’ll admit to squirming in my seat when I watched Anne Bancroft muscle Patty Duke into submission in the film classic, The Miracle Worker. Hindsight is always twenty twenty. And, we all know the outcome when it comes to dear Helen. However, I have to wonder if while she was living through it, Anne Sullivan didn’t have more than a few 3 AM bitter watches, reckoning if she was doing right by Helen. Trusting the process is difficult for everyone. But faith and trust is what is needed.

Of course Helen said it best. I will end this and try to get back to sleep with these wise words from the luminous mind of Ms. Keller.

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

"Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light."

"When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Learning, Sunshine, and Theta

Photo by Megan Black
Summer Learning Loss? Hogwash, I say. Bananas. Balderdash.  As if learning something different isn't learning. There are a million ways to grow your brain in the summer, none of which has to do with memorizing math facts. Not that I am against math fact memorization. I'm old school when it comes to some things and that is one of them. Unless of course you try and try and it just doesn't happen for you and then I say, no sense spitting into the wind. Use a calculator.

We all need a rest. We need to get bored. Remember that? It was when I actually slowed down enough in summer as a kid that I discovered what I really liked to do. And, I noticed things I never noticed in my hustle and bustle. As an adult, one of the benefits of being a teacher is that I get this same opportunity every year. It isn't that I stop learning. Au Contraire. I prefer to believe that my mind works differently. Deeper. More creatively. 

Energy Psychology, one of the interests I plan to investigate this summer, says that when our brains are in Theta state there is a free flow of learning that not only enters our brains but flows right into our nervous system all the way down to our cells and DNA. Theta is the primary brainwave pattern when we are born until we are nearly 6 or 7. It is the pattern of immersive play. After the age of reason, so to speak, we only enter Theta phase just before sleep, just upon waking, in deep hypnosis, or deep meditation. I hope to spend a lot of time in Theta and sunshine for the next several weeks. 

When visiting the alpha or beta states I may attend one of these Professional Developments. Maybe you might wish to as well.

Edutopia Virtual Workshops
Brainpop Webinars
Discovery Education Network Webinars

If you are a Michigan Educator please check out Learnport's offerings. Some of  the folks I admire the most are hosting classes with Michigan's Virtual Learning in conjunction with Learnport

Summer is a great time to plan, practice, and play with technology integration. In fact, a couple years ago my Specials teammates and I made a cheesy, but fun, silent movie that demonstrates training and planning are the meat and potatoes of successful integration. The brief but hopefully entertaining, silent film is embedded below for your enjoyment with apologies to Chaplin and du Fresnay. 

In the meantime....

The Teacher will be able to:
  • Sleep late
  • Lay down in the soft grass and watch the clouds roll by
  • Grow tomatoes
  • Put your feet in a cool stream
  • Read
  • Watch the doings at a pond
  • Climb a tree
  • Listen to the birds
  • Breathe
  • Notice 
  • Appreciate

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Splits Baratta: Adaptive Tech and the Maker's Movement

Contrary to what you may be thinking, Splits Baratta is not an Atlantic City show girl. She is a special needs duckling. Hatched just this Memorial Day, Splits is a champion for the Maker's Movement. She was born with a duck form of hip dysplasia. Hence the name. Other duckling Moms may have given up on Splits but not Angeline Baratta and her duckling mom mentor Beth Ahee. Beth suggested Ang move Splits in with the healthier ducklings when Splits and her sibling, affectionately known as Tumor, were languishing in the incubator. Splits went to Ang. Tumor to Beth. Both were welcomed into their brood. Tumor began to thrive within hours. So much so he was renamed Butterball. Splits made her way to the food dish where she spread out and stayed, making her none too popular.

Cut to Rosemary Barker, the Grosse Pointe Academy's consistently cheerful, ever determined, school nurse. She looked into the duck defect and discovered that it can be corrected with physical therapy. It was suggested that the duckling's legs be taped together. Splits was not at all happy with this arrangement. (Her outrage was adorable though.) So, Rosemary tenasciously tried a number of different everyday objects to force Splits' legs together including a tiny condiment cup and a toilet paper roll. This combo seemed to do the trick. When Splits is in the cup she can move her little winglets to balance and stand. When she is in the toilet paper roll she is calmer but it holds her legs in place. After just a couple of sessions, Splits was walking more normally. We are confident after a few days of physical therapy she has a fighting chance at a quacking good life. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

The maker's movement is founded on playful inquiry.  Rosemary's quest was born of necessity. This makes a powerful combination. Jay Silver, wearer of merry pants and inventor of Makey Makey, An Invention Kit for Everyone talks about all the uses of his whimsical kit in his fascinating TED Talk: Hack a Banana.  Jay shares the story of a father who used his kit to make computers more accessible for his child with Cerebral Palsy. Depending on the nature of the spasticity, many people with CP are limited to a single switch for communication with a computer. This resourceful Dad put the Makey Makey Kit into a glove and used Conductive Paint to create a circuit along the thumb and first finger. Viola! His child now has multiple entry options. The Makey Makey Kit along with Conductive Paint opens adaptive technologies to a whole universe of possibilities.

We will have an Innovation and Design Center at GPA next year, filled with fun things like Makey Makey, Conductive Paint, A MakerBot 3D Printer, and littleBits. I can't wait to see what they invent!

MaKey MaKey - An Invention Kit for Everyone from jay silver on Vimeo.

What is littleBits? from littleBits on Vimeo.

Ayah Bdeir is the inventor of littleBits. She is also the wearer of some cool and funky boots. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interesting Ways to Use Aurasma-Augmented

A couple of weeks ago I attended EdCampDetroit . This is a free and righteous gathering of dedicated teachers coming together to learn from each other. On the first beautiful Saturday after a long Michigan winter no less. While there, I attended an App Smackdown and learned from Erin Klein of Kleinspiration about Aurasma.   Scratch that. I really learned about Aurasma  from the Ted Talk, Image Recognition that Triggers Augmented Reality given by the inventors last year but I had a lack of imagination of ways I could use it in the classroom. What Erin did was share with us ways she uses Aurasma in her second grade class which I will write more about after I explain what it does for those who may not know.

Aurasma is an Augmented Reality App. If you are unfamiliar with Augmented Reality I cannot describe it better than Commoncraft. Check out their entertaining and informative video on the subject here. Augmented Reality in Plain English

It helps to have an understanding of the vocabulary involved in using this App. So here are the basics:
  • Triggers are the static images (reality) that the video or photo content shows through (augmentation)
  • Overlays are the photo and video content (Augmentation) that lays over and plays through the static image trigger
  • Auras are the completed combo of triggers and overlays.
At least that is my understanding at this point. 

Erin told us she uses Aurasma  to teach vocabulary, tapping into kid's natural love of hamming it up. The kids create a vocabulary card with a drawing as the trigger. Then they get a classmate to video tape them acting out the word as the overlay. Once the aura is created by matching the overlay to the trigger, from then out when a student holds an iPad or iPhone on the Aurasma app up to that trigger they see the wee thespian's video. 

Ms. Klein also used Aurasma on Back to School Night to have students introduce themselves and the classroom through their "About Me" pictures. This got me hepped up and thinking. I thought of Tom Barrett's Interesting Ways Series. Tom set up and published for collaboration, Google Presentations of various web 2.0 tools and how they can be employed for learning. The way it works is various teachers simply add a slide to the presentation creating a community garden of useful ideas. I  wondered if anyone is doing that for Apps. A quick Google Search seemed to confirm that for this app at least no one has done it. My apologies if someone has. However, I decided to put it out there and collect your great ideas in one spot. If you would like to add to the Interesting Ways to Use Aurasma in the Classroom Presentation, please do so. 

I have embedded below my How to Aurasma Presentation that I put together to help my teachers feel more comfortable with using it and creating their own Auras. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Merit Pay....Really?
Steve Wampler Photography
Do you know of anyone who went into teaching for the money? Don't get me wrong, I am all for paying us more but most teachers are not motivated by cash. In fact, according to the research people in general are inspired by things other than money. Daniel Pink says what really drives us is autonomy. I would like to add to that recognition, relevance, and appreciation. Even though most educators I know would take a bullet for their kids, they are not martyrs. Pleasers? Possibly.  Suckers? Absolutely. Gratitude gluttons? Come on, who isn't? 

Nine out of ten teachers surveyed say they went into teaching to make a difference, one child at a time. 

Photo by: Megan Black
So when the powers that be talk of education reform and motivating teachers why not use reason and listen to the research. If you want to see us perform better give us the support we need.  Motivate us with merit autonomy. Give us the "Google Twenty Percent Time" during the school day or week. (More things to do at home on our sofa do not count.) Most of us would happily chew gravel to have a week, free from the burdens of standardized testing, meetings, and curriculum mandates. Where we could decide how best spend our time or  improve our instructional ideas.

If you really want to rock our world, give us 3-5 days a school year to select our own professional developments and send us to them. Gratis. With a seasoned substitute at the helm in our absence. 

Merit Massages would be nice too. A brief thank you note will turn a teacher's day around. Coffee... Chocolate... Scotch... 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fabulous Five Free Apps for STEM

STEM...STEAM...Potato...Potato... Whatever the acronym, education in the US these days is focused on improving learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. Wise educators recognize that the Arts are a critical component of this process. How can we build if we can't design? How can we design if we can't imagine? 

There are many great STEM resources out there on the iPad. Personally, I am a bargain fan though so I am highlighting free resources. You don't get any better than free. 

The first three are all created by Autodesk. I believe they must see these apps as an investment in their future employees because not only did they create engaging and visually stunning apps that really make your brain hurt and give them away, but they also provide free training for educators on their STEM website

AutoDesk Digital STEAM Applied Mechanics teaches basic mechanical engineering principles through games in these five topics: Energy and Work, Forces, Loading, Power, and Mechanisms. Players learn these principals by playing games that apply them. I learned that my understanding of forces and loading are far superior to those of Power, Mechanisms, and Energy and Work. I tried playing each of the latter three games several times and each time I lasted less than seven seconds before the game was over and I lost. 

Digital STEAM Measurement is an app where even the tutorial is pretty nifty. You click your way through each of the measurement topics and get a brief, entirely visual introduction to the various forms of measurement. Topics covered include: Linear Measurement, Perimeter, Area, Volume, Angular Measurement, Proportion, Weight, Liquid Volume, Temperature, Mulitple Variables, BTU, and Power. It looks wicked, awesome cool too!

Digital STEAM Visual Design teaches the language and basics of design. Players can wade to their knees in 3D design as well. The Elements explored are: Space, Point, Line, Shape, Form, Value, Texture, and Color. Principals covered are Balance, Emphasis, Rhythm, Unity, Proportion, Contrast, Continuation, and Economy. 

DIY Nano HD helps students investigate the nanoscale through DIY projects. What is the nanoscale you ask?! (Insert maniacal, cartoon-villain laughter.. Moo haw haw..) Why the nanoscale is the scale of atoms and molecules...of course! DIY Nano has three main elements: Activities, Videos, and The activities are fun, well explained and organized, and are simple to do with most materials easily and inexpensively acquired. 

NatureTap fuels the bio science lover's needs. It comes with a grid of various birds from all walks of life. You can see stellar photos of them and listen to their calls while reading an Audobon-esque description. Then you can test your new knowledge by playing games and completing puzzles. With a free registration you can also get the Spiders and Insects grid. For $0.99 you can learn more about mammals, reptiles & amphibians, and wildflowers with more areas slated for development. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Beauty in Diversity

I've been extra busy lately pulling together a media show for a charity my Dad works for called the Race Relations and Diversity Task Force. Every year the RRDTF puts on a breakfast honoring diversity champions. These champions are people in their organizations (schools, businesses, non-profits) that work tirelessly to bridge the distances between us. I can't share with you the entire program I put together, but below are the quotes and pictures I assembled. Enjoy. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Girl EmPower, Not Just for Chicks

Girl emPower
I must be wearing my lucky pants today because I am in the right place at the right time. Everyday I get to work with incredibly cool people, one of which is my colleague Denise Phelps. Denise is one of those teachers that kids remember for the rest of their lives as someone who made them feel heard and seen and who made them realize their power and worth. She must have done the same for her daughter Laura Phelps because she and her partner Andrew Cavanagh just won the Presidents' Equal Futures Challenge Notable App for Girl emPower . The app is designed to help inspire civic leadership in girls. Perhaps an unintended bonus outcome you get from using the app is the realization that inequality in government is still appallingly present! (For Example, there are 435 seats in congress yet women only occupy 81 of them. There are 100 senators and yet only 18 are female.)

But let's focus on the positive and this very righteous app, shall we? What does Girl emPower  feature? Well, your journey starts with a map of the US. You can hone in on women representatives from various states and read their bios, find out about the issues that inspire them, and read their recent Tweets.

You can easily locate and contact your own representatives by inputting your zip code into the connect section. 

The Watch tab of Girl emPower connects you to the recent US government You Tube uploads on the latest hot button issues. At this writing there are press conferences on the Boston Marathon Bombings and Gun Violence featured into Girl emPower's feed.

The Learn section will show you How a Bill Becomes a Law through a nifty, interactive, graphic organizer. Girl emPower gives you Fun Facts about the government and how it works in a flip book. IMHO, the best part of the whole shooting match is the In Their Own Words section. Laura and Andrew curated oodles of video clips of phenomenal femmes talking about what it means to be a woman leader and why it is crucial we work toward equal representation. 

The last stop on Girl emPower lets you quiz yourself on what you learned about the US Government. 

I am going to throw down a challenge here and ask parents and educators not only of girls but of boys as well to have them explore Girl emPower.   Until our young men learn to admire strong, female heroes and role models, there will be no lasting equality. 

Watch below as The Man himself, President Barack Obama announces this noble, brave, and free app. 


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Build Books Like A Boss

One of my esteemed colleagues sent me on a quest recently to find an iPad Book Creation App that will allow no limits on uploads, embed video and audio files, and generate and share QR Codes. We also thought it would be handy if the App could integrate with Google Docs.  No small task right? Turns out there is just such an iPad app called Creative Book Builder. I learned all about it from Jeremy Brueck on his excellent blog Raised Digital. So, as with all quests I came home with more treasure than anticipated. Not only did I learn of a better book creation app than the one I previously recommended but I can now follow a terrific new blog. Win. Win.

You can use Creative Book Builder in a variety of ways in the educational setting. Obviously you can create your own textbooks and stories. It offers a simple way to assemble professional looking student portfolios. Because of the easy integration of Google Docs classes can work on collaborative projects and publish their findings as a whole. There are other book building apps out there but I know of no other app that does all the things that Creative Book Builder does. It also exports to a variety of sources to make sharing simple and easy. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

3D Sweet

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Oliver Quinlan:
Want to hold in your hands the visions you see in your head? 3D Printers let you do just that...after a very, very long time. Magic happens but 3D printers require the patience of trees.

My favorite part of Ironman is when Tony Stark is in his lab bossing around robots and manipulating objects he invents in mid air. I want my own form of Jarvis. A 3D printer is a step toward realizing that fantasy.

This summer I plan to attend a class to learn how build my own 3D printer along with a colleague at Michigan Tech. Here's the skinny on that.  Maybe your school can afford a 3D printer. More likely they can't. However, that doesn't mean you can't design 3D objects and see them.

Here are good resources for 3D printing:

The 3D Printer Experience   This site is home to many different kinds and sizes of 3D printers. It has design tutorials on the site. You can scan and print a 3D version of your head using your cell phone camera. They have a design app as well.

AutoDesk 123D Printing Services  will let students design models  with online tools by dragging pieces together. Their models can then be sent to 123D Make and printed. Students can construct their models without a 3D printer.

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by Detlef Schobert:
Mission Street Manufacturing is focused on making 3D printing more affordable and accessible for all. 

The Following are sites focused on design for 3D printing. They are pretty nifty:



Makerbot Thingverse

Freedom of Creation


Monday, April 8, 2013 Visual Awesomeness

There is a new service out there called It is sort of like Padlet (formerlyWallwisher) meets Pinterest. If you are one of those visual thinkers who likes to organize and sort with pictures rather than word lists, this is a tool for you. Before all the snazzy gadgets, I was the kind of geek that would post ideas and important papers on cork boards and move them around. I also like to brainstorm ala Dr. House on white board. allows you to do this digitally. What is better is that you can invite others and work on boards collaboratively yet keep those collaborators and your work exclusive and secret until you are ready to share with the world. not only allows you to post websites, videos, pictures, and published content, you can also import your cloud services like Google Drive and at that to the mix. This makes a natural tool for schools. Once you create a board you can then turn it into a presentation! Voila!

This is a screenshot from a Mural. ly I am putting together to build our STEM/STEAM curriculum here at GPA. You can see the toolbar on the left and the navigation tool on the right. Below the picture is a short introductory video with a sexy voice over.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Join the Moby Fan Club

In the title of this post I refer to the orange robot, not the singer songwriter or the great white whale. Moby the singer is cool too but this is about one of the oldest and best technology integration resources in education, BrainPOP. Surely you already know what BrainPOP is but did you know you can become a BrainPop Educator? I would like to encourage you to sign up if you haven't already. It is free even if your district or school does not belong to BrainPOP. One of the reasons BrainPop has remained current and relevant is that it listens to teachers and constantly evolves.

For those folks not in the know BrainPOP and its babies, BrainPOP Jr. (For Grades K-3) and BrainPOP ESL, are standards aligned, entertaining, informational videos on most important topics in the K-12 curriculum. The videos are brief, to the point, and use an Abbott and Costello format with Tim (a sharp young man) explaining things to Moby (a silly and none too bright robot.) They usually start with a question in a fan letter and end with some kind of a joke. Each video has follow up quizzes that can be taken in a variety of ways. There are additional fun features like comics, experiments with Bob the Lab Rat and more. Last year, BrainPop added Game Up. They partnered with some of the best educational game sites on the Internet, like the Jason Learning, to align game based learning with their videos and quizzes.

So why become a BrainPop Educator? Because every month they will email you their newest offerings. They offer free professional development webinars. You have access to free standards based, core curriculum aligned lesson plans. A recent feature added is the Make a Quiz Generator. You get badges and embed codes for your classroom website. They have graphic organizers, activity pages, and Interactive White Board resources for you to use as well. It is a Las Vegas Style learning buffet.

The latest offering from BrainPop is a video on Ethics. It clearly explains what ethics are and why they aren't always so clear. BrainPop Jr. features a terrific video on Chief Joseph. Every month BrainPop has a theme and most relate to your well known classroom themes. April has Earth Day and on BrainPop it is Earth Awareness month. Throughout the month they will highlight the videos that relate to this theme and offer some for free on a rotating basis.

Photo Credit: "
Finally, if do not have access to a subscription to BrainPop and you would like one, BrainPOP posts funding sources and research they proves its success in the Educator's section. Either you can fund your own classroom or you will have an aresonal of research driven data to present to your administrators to show them what a valuable asset BrainPOP is to any school.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Nerd Herd and Tattle Box Tales

The Nerd Herd at Cobo by Megan Black
Kevin Honeycutt kicked off the MACUL 2013 conference by challenging all of us to tell our story. He said, "We (educators) are dying of humble. We are so busy helping kids that we don't feel we have time to tell our story. Other people are doing it for us and they are getting it wrong." Telling our story, promoting the work we do, was reiterated time and again at nearly every presentation I attended. All three of the keynotes at #MACUL13; Kevin Honeycutt, Adam Bellow, and Steve Dembo were on point, inspirational, funny, and poignant. All tell a great tale. My gratitude for having sat in their presence among like minded/hearted others is immense. 

Gwyneth Jones, The Daring Librarian, calls us, affectionately, the nerd herd. Incidentally, she championed story telling as well. However her focus, at least in the presentation I saw, was on telling the story of libraries and librarians. She challenged book lovers, in this age of budgetary cuts, to unite under one banner and promote the importance of having a trained expert on staff dedicated to the modeling and teaching of all forms of literacy.  

My spot is in the school library. I call it my spot and not my desk or office because it is simply a chair and a couple of drawers at a lovely platform in an expansive room of beauty and community scholarship. I am not the librarian. Nor could I hold a candle to the generous, mighty woman that runs the library at Grosse Pointe Academy. Jane is indeed humble. I am not sure others notice the careful thought and quiet passion she puts into her work. She reads. She organizes. She listens. She has the uncanny ability to match the right book to the right kid. To my great fortune, Jane is rooted and wise. Not sure how I could have managed this year without her to talk me out of a tree or two. I love to listen to her read and it is clear the kids do too. But I digress. 

Personally, I'm more at home in the hype girl position, telling the story of others, giving my students the credit. Likewise are most educators. Teachers will not sit, or use the bathroom, or drink water so that they can go without using the bathroom.  They will survive on stolen nibbles from recycled snack bags so that they can return messages or xerox or laminate during the 20 minutes allotted for lunch. Non-Believers think school personnel only work from 8-3 and get the summers off. No, from 8 to 3 is the time most adults who work schools deny every bodily function in order to serve. The rest of the waking day is spent planning, reflecting, problem solving, grading, and holding the ginormous weight of the responsibility of every child in their care. And when a student of theirs accomplishes a great task or is recognized for their growth and character, most of the educators I know will deflect or deny their own contribution and shine the light right back on the student and their parents. That's the way they roll.

So, while I don't feel comfortable sharing my successes, I promise to work on that, in the meantime, I love a humorous anecdote. The Tattle Box was a classroom management strategy I put into place to keep my sanity. It paid off in unexpected ways.  The purpose was to let kids state their truth but also make certain it was important before I took time out of the rest of the learning to address it. They wrote down their beef and I dutifully read them at the end of each day. The hidden treasure was this, kids are hysterical. These are a few that earned me a free adult beverage in the past. The names have been changed and the spelling upgraded to protect the innocent.  

"Hector burped in my face. And it smelled…..And he laughed." 

"Amber S keeps using the word marvelous over and over again even though it is really annoying and she calls me SeƱor Smarty Pants and I DO NOT LIKE THAT ONE TINY BIT." (Yes, that's right, all capitals and each word was underlined.) By the way, Amber S (not her real name) racked up a whopping 412 tattles that year. She still holds the record.  She was a fantastically talented button pusher. 

This next one was sweet. "QuVon called you white, Ms. Black!!!!! (I am) But I told him you jus' light skinned." (I can't tell you how honored this made me feel.) 

And my personal favorite of all time tattle must have taken place in the boys bathroom. It went like this, "Miguel and Oscar peed on our shoes. On purpose. They were holding their privates like pistols and told us to pick up our feet and dance." Ah...I miss the Tattle Box. 

This is a link to Kevin's Keynote Address at MACUL. It cannot be embedded but you can stream it and it is well wroth the time. It is titled "Launch Me" and it is just the rocket fuel you need to get through to Summer. (Currently the video is not playing but there is a work order in to fix it. Try book marking it and coming back later. I promise it is worth it.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

SOLE and the Granny Cloud

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo by
Recently a revisit to Sugata Mitra's brillant TED Talk "Sugata Mitra Shows How Kids Teach Themselves" has been published. This one is titled "Build a School in the Cloud." Both talks are not only worth while, but funny, insightful, and thought provoking. Mr. Mitra invented SOLE which stands for Self Organized Learning Environments . It is this movement that earned Sugata Mitra the Ted Prize given each year to an "Exceptional individual who wishes to inspire the world." 

Sugata discovered that if he simply put a computer in a hole in the wall in some of the worst slums of India, children would find a way to use it and learn from it. He also discovered that they did not keep this information to themselves, they taught it to others. Ten to twelve year olds learned microbiology in a second language as well as experts many years their senior with only two ingredients;  technology and encouragement. Not enough can be said about the later. 

Sugata had the theory that the students would improve even more if they had some one who encouraged them in the way a "Granny" does. Please do not mistake this for false praise. Grannies say things like, "You can do it, just try a little harder." Or, "Remember what you did here, well take that and apply it over here." Or more importantly, "Don't be afraid to fail. Nothing great ever happened without mistakes or messes." 

The Granny Cloud invented by Sugata consists of British Grandmothers volunteering their time via Skype to read to and encourage learners in remote areas of India. These students are not only developing their academics, they have acquired Cornish accents and a greater sense of self. 

After watching Sugata's first talk a few years ago, I experimented in my own relationships with my middle school students in Detroit. Many of my kids rarely received any kind of encouragement. For some I had to earn their trust that I was genuine.  It took time and consistent effort. Some never stopped teasing me and started calling me "Granny" even though I never told them the impetus of my ways. However, universally they ate it up faster than Cheetos or candy. And once I had them hooked, they never wanted to disappoint. I realized I had a killer motivating force in my tool belt. So, why don't you try a little Granny love yourself? Come on, I know you have greatness in you! Think of the hearts and minds you can change for the better. Go on now...