Saturday, July 28, 2012

EdCamp Vermont Reflections #SummerBlog12 #VtEd

#8 in the Summer 2012 Blogging Challenge, #Summerblog12


In April, 2012, I led the Vermont ASCD's first effort at an "unconference." EdCamp Vermont had its roots in another place and another time.

In the fall of 2010, I was driving to some EdCamp with Dan Callahan, when he brought up the idea of EdCamp Boston. He had come up with a date and a venue with some other folks and was ready to add to the organizing committee. I jumped at the chance. Through the winter, I did my part working with an amazing committee to put together the first EdCamp Boston in April 2011.

Shortly before EdCamp Boston, I accepted the position as principal of Wolcott Elementary School in Vermont. I was thrilled to have the position in place before EdCamp. When I told Dan that I got the job and would be moving to Vermont, the first thing he said was, "When is EdCamp Vermont?" I laughed him off figuring that in my first year in a new state there was no way I'd be able to organize an EdCamp.

As I settled into my new house and job, I was asked to join the newly reconstituted board of the Vermont ASCD. The new president, Ned Kirsch, had been a twitter contact for a while. I accepted.


At one of the first meetings, I mentioned EdCamp. Ned and the board were intrigued, and we decided to make Vermont's first EdCamp part of the VTASCD revival. I was thrilled. Organizing an EdCamp as part of an existing organization is super easy. We didn't have to set up a bank account or search for sponsors. We kept our plans small. You see, Vermont is very rural and spread out.


So, on a Saturday morning wedged between the vacation weeks of various parts of the state, about 40 educators showed up for a classic-style EdCamp. We had participants from all over the state, from as far as Boston, and even over the border from Canada. Even with a small crowd, we filled the session board and even added a fourth room. As usual with an EdCamp, the conversations were wonderful.


Now that we've held one EdCamp, VTASCD will surely hold another. Stay tuned for more information.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Tools I Use #Summerblog12

#7 in the Summer 2012 Blogging Challenge, #Summerblog12

Every once in a while, I read a post from my PLN about what tools they use to do their work. Recently, Dan Callahan did just that.

So, my work consists of principaling, blogging, and reading. For almost everything, I use my iPad 3. I think it might be the best computer I have ever owned. I primarily use the following software: Blogsy, Echofon for twitter, Reeder for rss feeds, Kindle for reading, Toodledoo for todos, Evernote for note taking and storage, and Notability for handwriting notes and marking up PDFs. I tie everything together mostly with Dropbox. In fact, one of the main ways that I have been able to rely on my iPad is that most of my primary software tools connect with either the cloud or a desktop version. With a few small exceptions, all my stuff is available on any platform.

Speaking of platform, I do use a three other tools besides the iPad. At home, I have a 2009, 15" MacBookPro. Still works great because I loaded it with extra ram when I bought it. Since I started using an iPad, I rarely pick up the MBP; in one fell swoop it became way too heavy.

At school, instead of having the district buy me a new laptop when I started, I decided to go big with a 27" iMac. This has been one of the best tech decisions I've made. The giant screen makes working with data a breeze. It's like having two monitors, but way cooler looking. The full computer is still necessary for intensive work, more complex spreadsheets, and a few websites here and there.

To round out my tool collection, I carry an iPhone 3G that works great on wifi. I only get cell coverage in certain places here in rural Vermont, but I still find the iPhone useful.

That's it for tools. I'll write more about how I use the iPad as a principal and how I plan to use it as a classroom teacher in a future blog post.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ancient Egypt to Medieval Florence in 80 Days #Summerblog12

#6 in the Summer 2012 Blogging Challenge, #Summerblog12

A vital part of riding a bicycle is knowing to where you are going. It stands to reason, then, that teaching (see this post for more info on my teaching) will be easier if I know the curriculum (duh!).

Over the past four years, my supervisory union has convened curriculum committees for literacy, math, science, art, music, and physical education. Notice that social studies is not on that list. That is until this spring. Since the committee is just getting started (more on that later), there is no district/SU Social Studies curriculum. Fortunately, one of the teachers in my building was able to find this chart for sixth grade social studies. Written years ago, this outline of the curriculum has only been loosely followed in recent years.

N.b. The standards referred to in the chart are from the Vermont History and Social Sciences GEs (Grade Expectations): Grades 5 – 6.

Please don't get me wrong, I like archaeology, Ancient Egypt, Greece & Rome, and the Middle Ages. The thing is, I'm not sure that these topics are the most important to teach my sixth graders. This is especially true when I think about how little understanding of the world the students have. Will studying early humans and ancient Egyptians really help the children of Wolcott as they prepare to go out in the world?

On the other hand, if I look at the topics only as vehicles to get the students to the enduring understandings and essential questions (or, in my case, the Grade Expectations), it doesn't really matter what topics I choose.

On the other, other hand, kids ought to learn about some of this stuff someday. If not now when? (Maybe high school?) There are really cool things to learn about in each of the topics. There are even some great connections to modern life, especially Greece, Rome, and Middle Ages (not so much with ancient Egypt, though).

So, I am still left with the question: What to teach?

Feel free to offer suggestions. I have an idea brewing that I will present in here soon.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

10 Top Ideas for Social Studies from the Kids #Summerblog12

#5 in the Summer 2012 Blogging Challenge, #Summerblog12

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be teaching sixth grade social studies next year. Because we are in the midst of writing district social studies curriculum and there was little guidance in the past, the choice of topics is wide open. Of course, I expect to use the History and Social Sciences GEs (Grade Expectations): Grades 5 – 6, but there is far too much in this to do well in two years, let alone one year. The GEs are created in the style of thematic and understanding/doing standards. There is almost nothing in the GEs that suggests what specific topics should be taught, only specific social studies skills, processes, and connections. I like that style of standards much more than the Massachusetts standards that are only about content. As much as I might like the Vermont GEs, they don't tell me what to teach (or do they? More on this in the near future.)

Since I was encouraged by the fifth grade social studies and 5/6 Language Arts teacher to take a fresh look at what we teach (as long as she has time to gather literature to connect with the social studies), I am taking that fresh look. Since I have been preaching the merits of letting students have choices as a form of autonomy (see my post about Drive), I realized that I better put my money where my mouth is. I decided to go to the kids to see what they want to study in sixth grade.

A few days before the end of the school year, I went to speak with the fifth grade (remember at my small school that the fifth grade is a single class) about their sixth grade social studies curriculum. I asked them a simple question, designed to get a simple response. After a moment to think about what interested them, here are the answers I got with my comments in parentheses:

  • Rome (been part of sixth grade recently)

  • Middle Ages (been part of sixth grade recently)

  • Dark Ages (been part of sixth grade recently)

  • Native Americans (covered somewhat in fourth and fifth grades)

  • Greek mythology (been part of sixth grade recently)

  • The Pilgrims (covered in fifth grade)

  • African Americans (hmmm... Could be interesting)

  • 1980's (I resisted the urge to suspend the kid who thinks my childhood is as historical as the Dark Ages)

  • WWI

  • WWII (Wars are always neat to study)

Well, only some of what the kids mentioned is stuff that I like to teach (does that even matter?). How did the kids' interests line up with the old Wolcott Elementary School 6th Grade Social Studies Map? Hmmm...

What to teach? I needed to take a look at what the map called for and what the retiring teacher had been teaching. Stay tuned for more.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Knowledge, Hard Work, or Attitude #Summerblog12

#4 in the Summer 2012 Blogging Challenge, #Summerblog12


On a short visit in Carol's class this past April, I got to participate in an interesting assignment and discussion about knowledge, hard work and attitude.

Carol told her class that she had just read the book, Toilets, Bricks, Fish Hooks, and PRIDE The Peak Performance Toolbox EXPOSED, by Brian Cain. Without explaining too much more, Carol told the class about the really cool thing that she discovered in the book. Although, it is hard to see in this photograph, Carol wrote on the board the following from the book:

"If: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ is represented as: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26


K+N+O+W+L+E+D+G+E = 96%



H+A+R+D W+O+R+K = 98%



A+T+T+I+T+U+D+E = 100%


After explaining how the system worked (you know, letters standing for numbers and all that), Carol asked the students to open their journals and write an answer to the question of which is most important to success: knowledge, hard work, or attitude. Being the type of educators who believe that kids should see us write, Carol, the paraprofessional in the room, and I all wrote our response to the prompt. Once the students shared their writing, Carol read hers and then asked the para and me if we wanted to read. We both did. Here is my first, unedited, draft.

While Knowledge, Hard work, and Attitude are all important ingredients to success in all endeavors, attitude is the most important. Without a good attitude, people see right through your efforts. A good attitude is the hardest of the three to teach. We have many ways to gain knowledge. Hard work can be practiced. Attitude comes only from within and as such cannot be easily "given" to someone else. In fact, when I hire, attitude is the most important factor I look for in a candidate.

Looking at my writing months after the fact, it's clear that this was a journal-write, first draft. The good news is that I still like my thinking from that April day.



*Carol is the same pseudonym I used in this post and this one.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Just like riding a bicycle, right? #Summerblog12

#3 in the Summer 2012 Blogging Challenge (two posts each week)

Riding a bike
Do I get training wheels?
They say that once you learn something well, it is like riding a bicycle: you can get back on anytime and have no real trouble. In my experience, this seems to be true so far in life. I go years between bike rides with no problem. I return to the mountains and hike 10 mile and 2500' as if I did it last week.

This fall I will test out this theory in a big, scary way. I will return to classroom for the first time sine June 2003! I am not leaving the principalship, I am merely (!) adding teaching to my duties. I am going to teach 6th Grade Social Studies at Wolcott Elementary School. Doing this will free up the 5/6 LA/SS teacher to do some intense intervention work with struggling readers, and it will let me be a teaching principal.

The way I figure it, teaching is like riding a bicycle; I should have no problem getting back in the classroom after nine years. I learned tons in my eight years teaching. Since then, I have learned tons more about teaching and education in general. I know that kids need engaging curriculum, choices to help motivate, high expectations, authentic assessments to show what they a really learning, great options for sharing their work, true standards-based grading, and a technology infused experience since it really is the 21st Century.

Of course, in 2003, Powerpoint was exciting classroom technology. I used Microsoft Publisher, too. I even made my own page of links so that the students wouldn't have to spend time searching irrelevant sites (other lessons covered a little of how to judge sites).

In 2003, I think that I'd heard of standards-based grading. I gave zeros, though. I figured that if the kids wanted to, they would do the work. It was their responsibility to be "enrolled" as Ben Zander would say. I taught, they learned. Or did they?

Back then, I had high expectations, for most kids. Were my goals high enough for all kids? Did I even set reasonable expectations for kids? Oy.

I'd planned on posting student work to my website (I really did have one), but district policy forbade any interaction of student and Internet other than searching. Oh.

So, as I prepare my class to begin in the fall, I will have no problem right? I will just get back on the bicycle of teaching and ride away, right?

After all, teaching is just like riding a bicycle, right?


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