How I Use Google Reader


Here is a short, simple video I created to explain how I use Google Reader for my professional life and with my students.

If you're not familiar with Google Reader, it is a wonderful tool for navigating the immense amount of information on the Internet and for keeping up with your students' online contributions.

More resources:

Digital Tools Wiki--RSS: A Tool for Teachers
Google Reader in Plain English (video)
Using Diigo with students
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6 Reasons I Surround Myself with People Smarter Than I Am


When I entered public school for the first time in 4th grade after attending private school since Kindergarten, I was almost immediately placed in a "TAG" (Talented and Gifted) program. From that time forward I was always told that I was 'smart.' I took accelerated classes, and even attended an alternative school my senior year because school didn't seem challenging enough for me. Now, I was not THE smartest student in my school by far. In fact, I was at the bottom of the 'smart pool,' but I knew I was smart nonetheless.

I started my freshman year at Oberlin College and was completely humbled. I had never been surrounded by so many intelligent, forward thinking and inquisitive people my own age. Suddenly I wasn't part of a 'smart pool' because everyone was smart. In fact, I was exposed to ideas and points of view I had never considered in high school. I was pushed to explore these new ideas and ponder how these new points of view played into my own beliefs at the time.

This is the same experience I have had in building my PLN as an educator. While once I was the only one I knew who read ASCD books for fun, now I am humbled and amazed by the intelligence and diversity on Twitter that pushes me to rethink my own ideals and beliefs and exposes me to new ideas.

I don't purposefully surround myself with smarter people, I find that I gravitate toward them.  Here are 6 reasons why:

1) Face it, I'm not a genius.
Sometimes I need someone who's smarter than me to explain a complicated concept.

2) If no one ever challenges my ideas, how will I know what I truly believe?
Through conversation with a diverse group of intelligent people I learn more about myself.

3) Smart people give smart feedback.
When I need real feedback it helps to have smart people around.

4) When I realize that I have no idea what someone is talking about, it motivates me to learn something new.
I don't like being left out of the conversation!

5) I don't have to know everything because, chances are, someone else knows the answer.
With the diverse, intelligent and eager to help PLN I have on Twitter I'm guaranteed to find an answer.

6) It's important to feel humbled from time to time.
If we aren't ever forced to learn something new or never realize that we're not the smarty pants we thought we were we will never have the chance to grow.

There are implications for education in all of this.  As teachers, we often group students into homogeneous groups by ability.  Schools often track students by ability. If my experience has any value, this is the worst thing we can do for our students.  Not to say that working with small groups who share an academic need is out of the question, but students can learn from being surrounded by students who think differently than they do or have different strengths.

Teachers also need to have the opportunity to be surrounded by colleagues who challenge their ideas and expose them to new ones.

What do you think?

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The #140 Character Conference


I was honored yesterday to take part in a panel discussion at the #140 Character Conference with Lisa Nielson (@InnovativeEdu) and Kevin Jarrett (@kjarrett), moderated by Aparna Vashisht (@Parentella) and focused around teaching Social Media to students.

The talk was part of a conference put on by Jeff Pulver (@jeffpulver) to celebrate connections made through social media and the real-time internet and explore the possibilities these tools hold for the future as well as the "State of Now." Watch a great interview with Jeff here.

It was powerful to listen to talks based around how the real-time internet will change how we interact with our physical surroundings as well as talks on news gathering and the voting system as well as Chris Lehmann's (@chrislehmann) powerful School 2.0 talk (haven't seen it? Shame on you. Watch it here.) I also enjoyed MC Hammer's interview (he is seriously legit, no joke!) and the panel discussion with the founders of both Foursquare (@dens) and Gowalla (@jw)--competing companies that offer a similar service. There was also a spirited talk by Chris Weingarten (@1000TimesYes) that you can watch here.  Warning. Lots of F-Bombs.

What struck me was how many of the panelists and speakers kept referring to using Twitter to make personal connections.  Many of the attendees at the #140 Character Conference are business people, marketers, members of the media (newspapers, radio, et al.), etc... and are trying to find ways to connect with their clients, audience or customers in a personal way.

We, as educators, it seems are way ahead of the business world in how we use Twitter to make real, meaningful connections.  The education panels themselves are proof enough of this. I had never met anyone on the 2 panels face to face (except Kevin, my edcamp Philly co-conspirator) but I have known them for a year on Twitter.  The connections we had made over the last year through Twitter made it seem as though we were long time friends.  We wasted no time laughing, cracking jokes and holding meaningful discussions about education and technology.

Here is our short but sweet panel discussion on Real Time Communication and Education.

Once they are up, I will embed the second education panel of Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby), Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), moderated by Kyle Pace (@kylepace). It was quite passionate!

Thanks to for segmenting the videos for easy viewing!

You can also see a great talk by a teacher who used Twitter to teach his students Animal Farm by George Orwell on their site here.

Read On

The Times Are A-Changing


Every day I seem to come across another story of a school district, a school or a teacher on the brink of calamity. Whether it be the sweeping 'reforms' in New Jersey, the Renaissance School Initiative in my own Philadelphia or budget cuts in Chicago , a disgruntled teacher in Florida or a Newsweek article blasting teachers, it seems everyone in education (or those with no hand in it) have something to say or do about education.

It's scary as hell.

The day before Spring Break my district announced that all 14 of its schools slated for complete overhauls were being restructured in some way. Mine will become a charter school next year, which means that all of the staff will have to apply for a new job.

But it's not about us.

I sincerely hope that the new management coming in can do more for our students than we every could. I sincerely hope that they keep our students and don't try to weed them out as many charters do.  I hope that our students are given the chance to explore their own interests and are challenged beyond The Test. I hope their new teachers will listen to them, teach them how to listen and build a community in the classroom. I hope they will be given the opportunity to use 21st Century tools in authentic and meaningful ways.

I won't be there to see it.  Neither will many of my colleagues.

As a stipulation of the Renaissance School Initiative, all Renaissance Schools will run up to 22 days in July (with students) an extra hour a day as well as up to two Saturdays a month. If I wanted to work at  KIPP school, I would already be there.

They also are not in market, it seems, for a Computer teacher.

What's sad is that many teachers will be either leaving the district, retiring early or being forced to choose schools off a list just to stay employed.  Many don't want to leave the union and many have worked at the school for 20+ years and find it silly to try to work somewhere else for 2-3 years until retirement.

The other sad thing? Many of these teachers have been forced over the past few years to teach formulaic lessons or scripted programs. When they do apply to work elsewhere,  this will not help them get a job. It has also, for many, made them lose sight of why they got into teaching in the first place.

These kinds of overhauls are happening all over the country, though perhaps with different names or different models (i.e. the Rhode Island teacher layoffs).  It seems to be the fad these days to point the finger at the teachers (and teachers unions) for all of the problems in education. Easy enough. It's far simpler to replace a teaching staff than fix a broken system (one that often lets incompetent teachers stay in the classroom).

Who would honestly WANT to be a teacher these days?

I do.

I know, however, what I am willing to accept, what I refuse to accept, what kind of school I want to work in, and what I am not willing to 'take' when it comes to being treated as a professional. I know this because I know what conditions I need to best serve my students.

When it comes down to it, it's not about us.

It's about the kids.

Which is why I get up every morning.

Sorry, Superintendent Ackerman.

Sorry, Jerry Jordan.

You are Bantha fodder in my book.

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