Three Teachers on Integration

Untitled from Tom Woodward on Vimeo.

Despite the massive amount I still need to learn as a videographer and editor, these three teachers say some interesting things. It’s worth thinking about how some of their responses parallel despite open questions and not hearing each others responses.

The video is about 7 minutes long and has the comments of three teachers from Byrd Middle School in Henrico County.

Iron Teacher

So there’s been good conversation lately recently about the lack of good lesson plans on the Internet. I think that’s true. I’m not sure this game will bring us much closer to the end game but it has the potential to produce some good content1. Hopefully it’ll be fun and catch on2.

Here’s the idea Milobo and I came up with a few days ago. It’s Michelle’s better twist on the Pimp My Lesson Plan idea that’s been nagging at me for a while3. Instead of Pimp My Ride, the inspiration is a lesson plan contest based on Iron Chef.

Basic Rules

  • Two teams of educators (more if others are game) will battle4 to develop a unit or lesson plan to meet the requirements of a selected teacher.
  • Each team will share their lesson along with the process they used to brainstorm and develop the idea.
  • A panel of judges, including the teacher who issued the challenge, will rate the lesson on Originality, Student Appeal, and Ability to Meet Outcome.

Here’s the current lesson request. It’s due by midnight- Sunday, April 26th. Post the content to your blog and link back in the comments5.

The Audience: 2 classes of 10th grade General Level Literature students.

The Secret Ingredient:
The novel “A Separate Peace”

The Challenge (as defined by the teacher):
Students are beginning a book discussion of the novel “A Separate Peace.” These particular students struggle to demonstrate understanding of content through writing, but have recently become more motivated to read and respond to literature as their teacher has incorporated audio books and modern literature into the curriculum.

The teacher shares that the class performs better when asked to discuss personal experiences and would like to incorporate the book themes of envy/conformity into the book discussions. These students in particular are not easily motivated to participate in class activities. Their teacher is looking for an original and fun way to have the students discuss and share while demonstrating understanding in a way that goes beyond writing an essay or taking a multiple choice test.

Two weeks have been dedicated to class reading and discussion of the book.

1 If nothing else it’ll give me a chance to get back into what I really like to do and do it in a way that might actually help some people.

2 Probably not, given what teachers have to do but you never know.

3 Apparently someone’s already used the title although, this looks so hideous I can still claim the idea in good conscience.

4 Good, fun competition, not bloodsport.

5 I’ll be getting a decent website built to tie things together as soon as I get finished with this lesson.

Creating a Safe Space: Hacking WP

60% of my teachers have been in our county for less than 3 years (and, most of these newcomers, have never worked with a 1 to 1 initiative). More than 40% of my teachers have put less than 3 years into this vocation. With this in mind, I have created a space, online, for teachers to discuss instruction, vocation, and solutions for our school. I hope it will be a community building experience that gives teachers as much time as they can to the process without having to commit to meetings.

Following the lead of Alan Levine with Tom’s guidance, I started by sketching out my vision. I wanted a place that was password protected and required unique usernames for participation. This site would be a  safe place where teachers could speak their minds in a professional manner. At the same time, I wanted to foster open communication, so anonymous responses would not be an option. I didn’t want a traditional blog format. The U/I needed to be as intuitive as possible, and I wanted meta-data to be presented in a way that encourage conversation. I sketched up two different layouts and solicited some feedback from my faculty.


The overwhelming response was for the second layout. After sifting through themes that mirrored my sketch, I decided on Blue Earth. Then, it was time to edit the Main Index Page to pull posts according to category (instead of arranging posts chronologically). The code is annotated, so feel free to play with it:

Right Click to Download index.txt file

On the right sidebar, I’ve added a section that lists the most recent comments using Get Recent Comments, and I’ve also created a section with the most discussed topics using Most Commented Posts. This will give my faculty an idea of what topics are most engaging at the moment.

On the left sidebar I added a section where I can place featured topics that committees and clubs will use to solicit feedback.  Finally, because the topics cycle through the main page weekly, I wanted the archive to go beyond a general archive based on month. The challenge was figuring out how to sort the posts by week for the first month without having to change the tags or code each week. I tried to find a plugin that would do this for me, but nothing seemed to fit. In the end I was digging through the WordPress Codex and found this little gem:

<?php query_posts(“showposts=3&offset=9″); ?>

Since I am only posting three entries a week, I was able to code the archive on the left by counting back (offsetting) from the most recent set of posts, and I added an archive that sorted by category along with the traditional monthly archive.

In an effort to model open communication, I added a FAQ and a Feedback page along the header so my staff could participate in the evolution of this site.  Finally, I had to remove the rss/atom feeds from the site to seal up the blog.  Being a fearless hack (who always backs up data/copies code into a NotePad or TextMate/saves the original theme in a folder on my hard drive) I simply found the rss and atom php files in the wordpress folder and deleted them.  Yes, I deleted them.  Refreshing the page (and expecting the white-screen fatal error message of doom), I was pleasantly surprised that everything worked fine.  I tested my hack by trying to subscribe with Google Reader and NewsFire, but was stone-walled.  

Below you will find a list of the plugins I used and links to helpful resources. Again, Alan’s walk-through was an unbelievably helpful starting point (Thanks, Allen). I’m going to leave the demo site open for your exploration (with commenting turned off). I’ve ported the site to a secure location for my staff, but I’d be happy to update you on how it is being used.


Angsuman’s Authenticated WordPress Plugin (password protect with unique passwords)
Brian’s Threaded Comments (threaded discussions)
Dagon Design Import Users (bulk user creator)
Exec-PHP (used for querying the database for specific posts, images, categories)
FAQ-tastic (FAQ creator–very user friendly)
Get Recent Comments (pulls the most recent comments on your blog–can be adapted very easily)
Secure and Accessible PHP Contact Form (Feedback Form)
Smart Archives (Archives by Month and Subject/Category)
The Excerpt Reloaded (Excerpt Generator)
Most Commented Posts (Tracks the most discussed posts) 

Web2Summit: Make Life More Like Games

From the O’Reilly Web2Summit: Make Life More Like Games

  1. Games come with better instructions; you have a clear goal, and other people share information on how to succeed.
  2. Games give you better feedback on your performance in the form of scores and ratings, plus they provide an audience that’s tuned into your success.
  3. Games offer better community: everybody’s agreed to same rules and narrative, and you share a heroic sense of purpose.

I’m not sure how quickly that’ll happen in life but what about school? How can we make school more like this? How can you make individual projects more like this? Every little bit will help.


Just about every kid wants to please. Some of the major problems I’ve had in my classroom, and seen in other classrooms, occur when kids don’t understand what you want them to do. They get frustrated and/or start wandering off task. You get mad because they’re not doing what you “explicitly” told them to do. It’s often interesting to see what a third person thinks of my “crystal clear” directions. I usually run my directions and plans by at least one person.

The hard part for me is figuring out how to get a community of support built around your class. Our current school system is certainly not set up to enable or encourage students to help one another. That’s usually called cheating in the school system. Anyone out there succeeding with this? Let me know how.

Performance and Audience

I think the thing that differs about game scores and ratings is that they’re pretty much instantaneous and constant. That’s not often the way school works. How can we give feedback that is constant and relevant? Should it even be the teacher doing this? It seems like that’s be impossible. Feedback and rating has to be farmed out to more people- that real audience. Creating a class where this happens takes some work and it certainly isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of.

Then there’s the fact that the goal has to be something the student wants to get to. Education is often really, really bad at this. For the most part, I’ve haven’t been interested in teacher set goals – not in high school, not in college, and not in graduate school. The main problem I have is – I don’t matter. My interests, my knowledge and my background too often have no bearing on what I’ll be assigned to do. That cancels out a lot of my buy in.


This is one place I’ve seen a fair amount of success. I see teachers set community standards and get their classes motivated and excited. The teacher creates a sense of purpose and can even weave a narrative that suspends disbelief. I love watching amazing teachers do this. This is one of those things that has a lot to do with personality and style. I often wonder if it can be taught.

Magic Bullets Don’t Exist

Techlearning has an article that was passed around our school email celebrating Eight More Reasons for Technology in Education. After reading it, I’m feeling a little like the crab in the photo above.

Now you may have noticed that I?m a fan of technology in education but I feel this list is, for the most part, the kind of thinking that leads people down very wrong roads. We’ve been looking for a savior for education for a while. It’s time we started realizing the savior of education must be the teacher- use all the tools available but it’s really up to them/us/you.

You can read the point by point below or my summary here.

Technology does nothing by itself. Technology doesn’t change teachers or how teachers teach. It simply makes certain changes easier. The sooner we stop celebrating magical techno things that don’t happen the sooner we’ll have real conversations about what needs to happen in school. Teaching with technology takes just as much work and planning as teaching without it (if not more in many situations). This is no Utopian ideal. Teachers need staff development, planning time and lots of hard work to start integrating technology into the classroom in the ways described below. Technology doesn’t make it happen- teachers do.

  1. Using technology involves the student in the learning process. Students using technology become active participants in the learning process instead of passive listeners.—- Technology doesn’t do this. Good teaching does this. Technology often makes this easier to do and leverages student interests but ask anyone who’s had to sit through a two hour Powerpoint if the technology engaged them in the learning process.
  2. Using technology eliminates most discipline problems. When the student is involved in the work, there is little time for trouble.—- It’d be interesting to see how many teachers with one to one laptop programs would agree. Technology does nothing to eliminate discipline problems. Technology does, once again, help you design engaging lessons which do decrease discipline problems but not because of technology.
  3. Using technology allows students to take ownership of the project. When the student is empowered to find his/her own answers, the learning process becomes much more interesting.—- A well designed lesson gives students ownership. Technology can’t do that. That has to be done by the teacher in partnership with the student. You’ll find the student can find their own answers in books, from people or on the Internet. It’s not about the technology, it’s about the ownership.
  4. Using technology transforms the teacher from authority expert to facilitator.The teacher becomes more of a participant than authority expert when the students use technology to find answers online.—- Bah- technology doesn’t change teachers. Having students find answers online doesn’t change a teacher into a facilitator any more than having a student find answers in books. Changing your teaching style to take advantages of the increased access the web gives you might transform a teacher but it’s a change in mind set not in technology usage.
  5. Using technology is familiar to today’s students. Technology use is part of the normal learning process for students; it is in their “comfort zone” and teachers often learn new technology programs along with students.—- I’m game up until the part about teachers. I don’t think teachers commonly learn new programs with students. I’d love for that to be the case but it doesn’t really seem to be what happens in real life.
  6. Using technology reduces the workload on the teacher. Technology as a tool enhances, and replaces, text, paper and pencil because students can use technology for both reference and presentation.—- I’m not sure about this connection. Because students can use tech for reference and presentation then the teacher’s workload is reduced? It might reduce the student workload but I don’t really agree with that either. It can change what they spend time and energy doing.
  7. Using technology allows for a smooth transition from school to work and school to college . Technology is used everywhere – in math, science, engineering, transportation, manufacturing, and every business application you can think of. From sales transactions and inventory control, to e-commerce, the uses for technology are limitless.—- I agree with this with the caveat that technology is used in relevant and real world ways. That’s certainly not always the case in schools.
  8. Using technology allows for the free exchange of information. The widespread use of compatible word processing and graphic software programs allow information to be exchanged easier than ever before.—-
    Well, technology allows for this. Too often schools often go to every length to make that exchange impossible.

Facebook Loosening Up Privacy Restrictions


Facebook is letting non-registered users find pictures and names of private accounts owners.  See link below for official Facebook statement and the page you need to keep your pic and name truly private.

This would be good information to pass around to your colleagues.  Many teachers have Facebook accounts they have made private to keep prying students at bay.  This change would give the students access that most responsible teachers try to prevent.

Link to Facebook’s explanation of  the privacy change
Link to page where Facebook users can (again) restrict search access.

via Lifehacker

Finally, a Planbook for the 21st Century Teacher (Update)


Let me say that as I write this, my wife is gleefully entering her first week into Planbook. Periodically, I hear an “oo” and am informed of another feature that simply makes sense for the modern teacher.

Planbook is a digital lesson book. Actually, it is a digital organizer for teachers. Jeff Hellman was frustrated with the limitations of a paper planbook, so he created a program that includes document and link integration, lets you publish to the web with customizable themes, and will print your plans in a traditional format.

I was using a blog as the information center for my English classes the last couple of years. It made managing my disorganized students a reasonable task. If they lost something, I told them to go to my blog and click on the link. If they missed a day, I sent them to the blog before arranging their makeup work. Planbook gives you the same opportunities but integrates it into your organizational system. That’s one less step each day in your routine.

When it comes time to share your plans, you can publish them or print them. You choose the information you want published and tell Planbook to send it to your website, iWeb, or a folder. The publishable plans can be accessed through a master list or a calendar. Links are sorted on a sidebar by date. Jeff provides guidelines for creating personal themes and has published several user-created themes on his site. If you need to give a copy of your plans to your administration or a sub, you can print a daily plan. Want to look at an overview of your week? Print a weekly plan (for us digital immigrants who sometimes need to scratch at something when we plan). You can even publish lists of attached files and links.

Here’s the cherry on top: Jeff is asking a reasonable price for the program. Individuals pay $30, but if you can get ten teachers together, the price drops to $10. For my faculty (140 teachers), the per teacher cost would be $2.14. That’s a pretty small investment for such a powerful organizational tool. It’s out for Mac now, and Jeff is shooting for a Windows XP/Vista version this month.

Update:  Jeff’s released the Windows Beta.  See comments for details!

Planbook (Via TUAW)

Wiki Testimony

As part of our parent training we’re having teachers and ITRTs speak about powerful ways they’ve been able to use technology in support of 21st century skills. This is Ken Kellner’s comments on how using a wiki changed his classroom (6th grade history).

He does a good job and conveys a lot of excitement. If you see him jumping and twitching it’s because I edited like crazy to get the movie down to about a minute and a half. Deep breaths and dramatic pauses were not allowed.

It’s in TeacherTube as well.

Download Video: Posted by bionicteaching at