Fantastic idea about how to help high school students get ready for college — and I think it would help them STAY in high school!

Nick Stoneman writes about his school that schedules seniors in a way that gives them more autonomy over their day. In Nick’s words, this so-called “fifth grade schedule” is a problem: “Complacency is a risk when students have their time managed for them, as are both absenteeism and a lack of engagement.”

Even the brightest, most successful high school students have trouble when faced with the unstructured schedule of college.  This approach with a phased-in schedule would be a great way to give kids a safer place to experience this schedule, as well as keep kids engaged. Seniors are DONE with school by their last year, and giving them more responsibility and freedom could be a great way to keep them engaged.

Would some of them abuse the privilege? Of course. Guess what: they already find ways to sneak out of class and even if they are in class, they aren’t always present.

Will this happen? In most schools, no way, at least not for most kids. You’ll hear about transportation issues. You’ll hear that kids need to be in school. The transportation issue is real, although there must be ways to work around it.

Figure it out.

Meaningful Learning

Sam Tanner is another teacher that inspires me. He isn’t a national thought leader – yet – but his head is in the right place. While he actively avoids technology himself and in his classroom, he has the same mindset about education that attracts me to the digital advocates. He is a perfect example that it isn’t the device that makes quality education, it’s the teacher, the philosophy and the pedagogy.

Sam blogs. It is wacky (his word), irreverent and honest. As he prepares to leave public high school teaching for the hallowed halls of higher education (where I’m sure he will continue to challenge the status quo in his own quiet and very meaningful way) I have enjoyed his recent observations on public high schools.

For example:

I proctored an ACT test two weeks ago. Simply put, here is what I think after being a high school teacher for twelve years: building art with high school students is meaningful and testing them isn’t….if what you are advocating limits creative potential, I’m not interested. I’d rather spend my time with people making new, strange things. That is my conception of education, naysayers be damned.

Fortunately for me, my daughter had the opportunity to take a number of classes with him. It’s about all that got her through school. I’m not sure that he fully understand yet what a gift he has been to the students lucky enough to work with him.

Doors Slamming Shut

Once again, Will Richardson’s blog inspires me. Well, it makes me mad – not at him, but again, at the public school system.

I’ve been saying for years that if you’re in education and you’re not feeling uncomfortable right now, you’re not paying attention. Our collective discomfort with the system should be growing. And the window for action is closing pretty quickly.

I have been uncomfortable with education for many years. Like Mr Richardson, I have two teenagers about to head out into the world. One graduates from high school in a matter of days. The window for her in K-12 is closed. It slammed shut a couple of years ago, although in retrospect, it had been slowly closing since entering public school. (It is one of my biggest regrets that we kept her in this school and didn’t move her. We first seriously considered moving her in 3rd grade. Oh, how I wish we had.)

The damage – and it is significant – has been done. Because she doesn’t learn in a way that fits the traditional mold, the message has been pretty loud and clear that she doesn’t measure up. I, however, see her as a creative, insightful person who has tremendous gifts. I can only hope her next stage of life rewards this instead of snuffing it out.


Just back from a crazy trip to Austin, TX for SXSWedu. I admit I was beyond excited to get a chance to go to the legendary conference.

Here’s the highlight reel:

Reading digital text

There is much controversy about the efficacy of reading on a device. In the past few months, a couple of “studies” have come out showing that students don’t learn as well when reading digital text. This session took issue with these studies, and I applaud them. I am oversimplifying their points here:

  • One major point was that comparing reading on a device to print is like comparing apples and oranges. It is not the same type of reading, usually. Device reading is often for a completely different type of content.
  • Point two: it is crucial that we teach students how to read on a device. The skills of digital reading need to be taught.
  • Point three: digital text offers advantages including immediate feedback.

For someone who builds digital materials, it’s important to note that we need to use digital text to enhance the reading experience. Things like customizable fonts/sizes, audio narration, highlighting, taking notes – all these things are important.

The founder of Curriculet was part of the session. It was very interesting to hear why he founded the company in response to what he saw as a lack of good digital content when he was a teacher/principal.


Tile map activity from

Went to a fun playground booth by National Geographic. Great activities and demos about using geographical concepts with kids.


What can I say about Kahoot besides that I love it? They are coming out with some new features in the next few months that will make it even more useful for my needs.

Student Data

Student data and data privacy were big buzz topics at this conference. I should have attended more sessions about this. I need to do more on this topic. Hoping there is some of this conversation at ISTE as well.

Final Keynotes

The last day was 4 keynotes.

The first was the director of the Grammy Museum talking about the importance of music education. I agreed.

Sal Khan spoke. I have never heard him speak at a conference, and he was awesome. He’s very funny, a great speaker, and has a great story to tell. I knew lots about Khan Academy, but it was great to hear from him about their recent things and plans for the future.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 2.23.25 PMHowever, the best part was the tech fail. He was showing a video about a kid who used Khan Academy to not only catch up in high school but get ahead. The kid just accepted a full time job at Khan Academy (he has gradated from college now…) The video didn’t work. The audio did, but not the video. The tech guys tried three times, nothing. Sal just gracefully plugged through and kept going. Fortunately, the audio was the most important part, but the lesson here was watching him deal with the potential melt down of his talk. He rolled with it and was inflappable. I will remember that for the next time my tech fails — fortunately, it will not be in front of hundreds of people!

Overall Thoughts

This was only the 5th SXSWedu, building off a very successful brand for the Music and Film events. I believe I heard there were 8,000 people for the EDU event. After ISTE with 15,000+ people, this one felt small – but that’s not a bad thing. I was able to get in to sessions with no problem and the venue was easily accessible without being overwhelming. Attendees were an interesting mix of some teachers, more administrators and lots of edtech company folks.

Sessions were a mixed bag, but that could be because of the sessions I chose. I naturally gravitate to the technology sessions, but with one exception (the digital reading one), there was nothing new or even that interesting. I started attending sessions that were far more out of my normal subjects (such as the student data session), and that was better. Still, the sessions I attended were not all that inspiring.

As I’m learning, the best experiences come in more direct connections. The most valuable conversations happened in the Playground, where a handful of vendors were set up. It wasn’t an Exhibit Hall (which was oddly open only during one afternoon???) although it was people with commercial products. It felt more like a demonstration area. There was a space for short talks and another for hands-on interactive experiences. This was where the folks from Kahoot and National Geographic were located.

Overall, I think SXSWedu has great potential, but at this point, it feels a little unfocused and it needs to find its stride.Not being quite as teacher centered at ISTE, the conversations were bigger and more theoretical.  Unlike ISTE, SXSWedu has potential to have a bigger museum presence. We felt that conversations about informal learning and how museums are a great partner option would be welcome here. Next year we’ll propose a session!

Choir and Technology

I’m currently at a conference, although not really. My daughter is singing in a national honor choir (congrats!) and I’m here as her “chaperone.” Basically, it means I have a ton of freetime while she is in rehearsal!

As chaperone, I can go to sessions and concerts. I was excited to see a fellow blogger Chris Russell presenting today. (To be clear, Chris is truly a blogger with useful information. I just happen to vent on a WordPress site from time to time….)

I’ve seen Chris present number of times at education technology conferences, but really enjoyed seeing a presentation in a music conference setting. Many different kinds of jokes from this perspective!

It’s pretty clear that choir classrooms are not the first to jump on the technology bandwagon (except for Chris!) He did a great job setting up why it’s crucial to be using technology. He points out (very accurately) that the kids are using technology in your class already, whether you like it or know it.

I especially appreciated two thoughts. One was a phrase I haven’t heard before — but just loved and will use (with credit, of course!) The concept of technology integration vs. outtegration. He feels that most of the tech use in music/choir classes has been outegration — a recording made outside of class, or listening outside of class. Instead, the use needs to be in class.

Second, was attributed to someone I neglected to note – but the quote was, “Are you here to learn or are you here to change?” This is a great way to think about technology in classrooms. We should never be using tech in a classroom just for learning the same way we always have. Does the choir classroom look the same way it did 50 years ago? Instead, technology allows us to change  the way the classroom looks and the way the learning happens.

The rest of the session covered 9 excellent strategies for stepping in to the shallow end of the SAMR model: substitution and augmentation. This is a great way to approach a group of people who aren’t comfortable with tech. There were definitely a few of those people sitting by me.

The audience asked some great questions. It seemed to me that it was a group of folks hungry for information about this topic. It is definitely scary to some, but this wasn’t a group that seemed resistant – quite the opposite. It was clear that some of them were familiar with the concepts, had used some of the tools. They were there because they were excited by the possibilities and wanted to learn more. I left feeling very positive about the direction this is going. I think there will be many more opportunities for Chris to share his knowledge with this group!

Maverick Superintendent

My local school district is looking for a new superintendent after a long tenure (17 years, I believe). The current sup is much loved and revered by some — he’s done a great job keeping the district fiscally sound and has weathered the ebbs and flows of student enrollment. He closed schools early on and is now having to add space. He’s led the district through significant demographic change and is responding to the changing demands. He saw the introduction of the first 1:1 iPads in the district this year.

I did have the opportunity to participate in a focus group to give input on the new hire. No idea if they’ll listen to anything we said…. Just saw this great article about a maverick sup in NJ — THIS Is what I’d like!

Why? Highlights:

…we’ve redefined what public education should look like, to include creative problem solving and social and emotional well-being to be as important as academic success.

…we reframed what teaching and learning looks like by focusing on project-based learning.

I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it? Because we have so much information today. How do you help kids navigate that? That’s critical thinking and creative problem solving.

[businesses] want kids who can solve problems and think critically.

I am not anti-testing. I’m concerned about the policies associated with the testing regime and how they may detract from the quality and purpose and the use of tests.

Let’s bring this guy in!!!