Monday, 22 June 2009

Happy Father's Day

Dear Dad,

Thank you for coming to soccer games in your work clothes; Thank you for wearing the same outfit as me, so mom could take a picture; Thank you for posing for pictures even though you hate having your picture taken; Thank you for helping with math homework; Thank you for consistently correcting my faulty English; Thank you for your support through College and Graduate School; Thank you for job advice; Thank you for baseball games; Thank you for
understanding why I am a Democrat; Thank you for dinners; Thank you for conversations with frosted mug beers; Thank you for Camp; Thank you for your open mind and continued support in all we do.


Your boys, Andy And Adam

Me in the Phillies hat, My brother with Popcorn, Dad at the Vet 1988

My Brother, Dad, Me at Fenway Park 2005

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Friday, 19 June 2009

My Line

Today I stood in line. I arrived at the Suburban Square Apple store and waited for the latest incarnation of the iPhone; the iPhone 3GS. When I arrived, the line was still short and the sun was still slowly rising over the horizon. Most people were having their morning coffee and waking up to their alarms; I was in line at the Apple store. Despite the absurd nature of standing in line at the crack of dawn to acquire a phone that is fairly similar to my previous version, I managed to have a very rewarding experience.

I met a programmer who just designed his first App. The app was a piece of toast in which you could incorporate pictures (It spawned from those people who see the Virgin Mary or her son, Jesus in their toast). Weird right? However, we are also privy to an app that plays fart noises, so this was keeping with the creativity of applications. We shared a good conversation about technology and what was to come for our kids someday. And in the future would there be lines?

I met a father of two who was leaving for vacation to Cape Cod later that evening. He was an Apple store employee as well. He showed me his cool screen cover that was made from moon rock and space plastic designed by NASA. I was impressed. We complained about AT&T, but were hopeful that we would be able to tether and send MMS by September. He was also a line veteran. About a year ago, he stood in line with his kids for a particular video game at midnight. The kids did not like the game.

I met a graphic designer who did not join our conversation until about 6:30 am. He was listening to a podcast and was content with not talking. The earplugs soon came out and he asked us if he was in the correct line. He had pre-registered, so he was in the proper line with us. We talked about the awful driving in Boston and Italy. I only had experiences in Boston, but left my ears open to hear about Italy as well. We also conversed about hacking the iPhone to allow tethering and MMS, however, our programmer friend said no and we pretty much agreed.

At 7:01 am I was hit with a flying Tasty Cake treat. The Apple store crew surfaced from their aesthetically modern cavern and presented the crowd with water and Tasty Cake treats. This made me happy. They returned to the store and the line began to move. The anticipation and excitement had limited the conversation with my line friends to only a few short sentence bursts.

“Think it will take long.”

“What are you doing with the old phone?”

“Want the second half of my Tasty Cake?”

“I can’t believe I was hit with a Tasty Cake!”

It was my turn and as I walked through the doors some of the Apple crewmembers began clapping. I smiled and began to get set up for my new gadget by a guy named Sean. When I gave Sean my e-mail ( he asked if I was a John Lennon fan. I confirmed my fandom and he told me he was writing a book and that one of his characters was based on John Lennon. We traded e-mails and he is sending me the first few pages of his novel. I proceeded to the genius bar, was plugged in and set up in a little under ten minutes. I left the store and shot my first video. It was fun!

After all that you must be wondering what the big deal is. Why did I waste my time? Why not just wait? However, something struck me today as I was standing in line and no, I don’t mean the Tasty Cake.

As I was standing there waiting for the latest must have technological gadget, I experienced a truly vintage moment: the simple nature of human interaction.

As an educator this is my daily routine. I stand in front of students and speak and they listen. On the other hand, I am also trying to find ways to advance technology in the classroom while maintaining the rigor and engagement of my content. And despite all of our advances in technology, programs and applications, it all comes back to human interaction. It is the pulse of life and it slowly being veiled by devices and computer screens. How many of your friends are just still square photo icons? I have many and they talk to me daily.

The time I spent standing in the line was more rewarding than seeing my iPhone 3GS turn on for the first time or even taking my first video. The conversation I encountered was bigger than “copy, cut & paste” or any new application that I could download later today. This is why I stood in line and this is why we need to always remember that despite our advances in technology, the root of it all is one on one human interaction. No machine or application can take its place.

You may not agree with this sentiment and the compass application may be the best part of your day, but take a moment to reflect on your line or any line you have ever been a part of. And next fall when you are pushing all this new technology forward in your classroom, take a minute and put the laptops to sleep, get back to the basics and have a conversation with your students. It will be the best lesson you give all year.

Friday, 12 June 2009

My Graduation Speech: One year later

A year ago toady I was the faculty speaker at commencement for the class of 2008. It was a hot summer evening that drew an immense crowd to the attention of the 50-yard line at Springfield High School. I was very nervous. It was the largest audience I ever had at my attention. My parents were there as well. It was the second time they had the opportunity to hear me speak at a high school graduation. The first time was when I presented the class gift as the class of ’98 class treasurer. We presented a tree. I think it has since died.

Recently, I was reflecting on what I said to the class of 2008. Was it relevant to their lives? Did it make an impact? Or was it simply a subtle message mixed with some funny stories? I hope it was all three. If you are out there and you heard it last spring, let me know, I would love to hear what my speech meant to you. Or if you missed it, I would love to hear what you have to say as well.

Good evening Dr. N., Members of the School Board, Administration, Faculty, Parents, Family members and the Springfield Township High School Class of Two Thousand and Eight. Welcome.

I am honored to be here speaking to you today. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Chris S., Ken R., Barry W., Eric G. and the Dali Lama, I can’t help but wonder how I stumbled into this elite company. Who will ever forget the Dali Lama’s speech in ‘86? What a speech I mean really, to be in the company of Mr. R. and his holiness the Dali Lama, you must be doing something right. And let’s not forget Mr. G’s eloquent Beatles metaphors, Mr. W’s resounding “Ooo-Rah!” and Mr. S’s little blue suitcase. These are the moments you will remember. The little moments that tend to get overshadowed by the chaos and hustle of daily life.

When I first heard rumors that I would be speaking at graduation circulating through the halls of Springfield Township High School, I sort of brushed it off thinking that it would never happen or that my students were just plotting an elaborate joke. Then I won. I won a contest I never entered. That never happens! I’ve won one contest in my life and it involved naming a rabbit at a local department store. The rabbit had two black spots over his eyes so I went with, “The Lone Ranger”. That’s not even a good name. Most likely I was the only entrant in the contest.

Nadine Sheahan came into my room and asked me if I would like to speak at graduation and that it was not mandatory, but that I did win a majority of the popular vote. Unfortunately I did not win the majority of delegates needed to secure the nomination…Whoops. Wrong tangent. I smiled and said I would speak. Playing it off like a cool cucumber. Then she left and I realized that I had to write something. I had to write something good. I had to write something memorable. And according to feedback from most students I had to be funny.

So here is my story to you…

In April of 1990 – while most of you were still writing about your first days on earth in your super small baby journal – I was getting prepared for my tenth birthday party. I was all set to have my birthday party at a near by amusement park; my party and my friends. However this was not the case. My mother informed me that I would be having a combined birthday party with my cousin and our celebration would take place at the local skating rink. To most kids at this age, this would be an upgrade in parties, however, for my disproportionate, husky frame, this was a nightmare.

I arrived at my party to see all of my friends intertwined with my cousin’s friends skating around to the hottest pop music of the time, which most likely is now 80% of ring tones on all of your cell phones. Once I wedged my tree trunk ankles into the little boots on wheels, I decided to stand up as if I was taking my first steps as a child. For most of the party I became a fixture on the ledge that enclosed the skating area. Until, I decided to leave my comfort zone. I decided to release my grip on the ledge and push myself out on to the floor. Eureka! I was skating!

Then I decided to get greedy with my skating and move my left leg. My leg went out and never came back causing me to spread eagle in the middle of the rink. My husky size acid wash jeans ripped right down the backside exposing my superman under-roo’s as my body fell to the left. There I was, a giant heap of child lying on the ground, with my jeans ripped down the back.

The moral of the story is that sometimes in life we are forced to leave the ledge and skate outside our comfort zones; the places that are familiar and safe to us. Some of you will never live in Springfield for twelve months out of the year again. Eventually your parents will turn your room into a guest room or that extra work space they always wanted. The comforts will continue to become increasingly unfamiliar. However, you will find new comforts. You will embrace new friends, new rooms and new opportunities. Leave your comfort zone and embrace the time away. Learn from your new comforts and know you can always come home, even though the artist formerly known as your bedroom may look like a newly renovated condo in Ocean City, New Jersey.

I don’t need to stand up here and tell you that life is full of uncertainties that we all must deal with whether we want to or not. How you deal with these uncertainties is how you build character and establish new opportunities that will lead to life experiences. Some of you will eventually encounter the skating party and figure out how to adjust in an uncomfortable setting. And even though you fall several times at your skating party, get back up and try again. Know that it is okay to fail. Getting it right the first time is not always going to happen. Through failure we gain life lessons that translate into opportunities which yield life experience.

When I left high school I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in high school it is very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine everybody here knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, how many Newsweek articles you had to read for Dr. D., how many minutes you had to speak for Mr. Mac’s Senior Seminar and what tie Mr. E would be wearing on the third Thursday of every month. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

High School is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in a myriad of ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong.

I will leave you with one final story.

In high school, I had the same English teacher for junior and senior year. Her name was Miss Stellfox and she governed the class room with graceful authority. When she walked into the room everyone would know what to do. She spoke softly, but engaged each student with clarified wisdom. It wasn’t until my junior year that I really appreciated language arts.

After my high school graduation I had my picture taken with Miss Stellfox and I still have it perched on my desk. Most of you ask why I don’t have any other pictures on my desk but the one of her and I. The answer is simple. She challenged me to do something different with my life. She challenged me to see the world through a different lens and convey what I witnessed to others. She dared me to visit another country and experience the beauty of immersing myself in another culture. I vowed to head her advice.

I corresponded regularly with Miss Stellfox while in college and after I graduated from college. She was always intrigued by the happenings in my life. The last time I spoke with her I was discussing my plans after graduate school. I was not sure if I wanted to get into teaching or take another path. This was the last time I would talk to Miss Stellfox.

In October of 2003, she was hit by car while crossing the street. It was a tragic event that happened to the wrong person, who was just beginning to enjoy her retired life. I never got to tell Miss Stellfox that I became an English teacher, but I know she is aware of my choice.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy, but simply, enjoy your days. Especially the days you are about to encounter. Enjoy a day that is completely spontaneous and unscripted. When the obvious choice is to drive; walk instead.

Try something you never thought you could accomplish. Yes, if you didn’t get it by now, this is the message I wanted you to soak up after I showed by Skydiving and bungee jumping videos on the first day of class.

Leave your comfort zone. Tomorrow you will all wake up and wonder what to do. There is no bell schedule tomorrow and no where to be. The summer will rapidly be eclipsed by the smell of fall and a new beginning will be under way.

And finally, call your parents. Call them frequently and listen to what they say. Treasure your time together and always answer their questions about technology with guided patience. Trust me, once you leave the house your parents’ tech support is basically gone. Most likely your first phone call from college will involve your parents asking how everything is going and then you will reciprocate the question. However, their answer will be something along the lines of your father hooked the television up to the typewriter but for some reason, he cannot access the inter-highway.

Enjoy this conversation. Enjoy the small things in life. Enjoy your days. And never throw your children a roller skating party.

Thank you

NOTE: Last names have been shortened to protect the innocent.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Are you ready for next fall?

Pop Quiz hot shot…

What are your plans to use technology in your classroom next fall? What is your plan for day one? Does it involve anything that I have blogged about? Does it involve a personality test that groups kids by colors? Does it involve asking students one by one to describe their summer vacation and the question, ‘if you were a car what one would you be?’

If you are already overwhelmed by my brief, yet aggressive, pop quiz, then here are some practical ideas you can implement next year from day one. If you subscribe to this list and try a few, you too, may be known as the “techie teacher” by October.

1. Obtain a Twitter account

Please, just try it before you sigh and move on to number two. I made this number one because I have been turned on to so many great teaching blogs and links to great articles. Twitter can be a very useful collaborative tool among teachers all over the world. Yes, world! I keep up with a teacher in Portugal. And it is very interesting!

Twitter allows you to follow whom you want and block those you don’t want. You can share and collaborate with fellow teachers and even set up a group that will allow your school to tweet together. Twitter does not spam and all that is required of you is a clever username and password. Set up your photo if you want and your ready to tweet away!

I find the best time to use twitter is to pick a few times during the day when you can scour your twitter feed and pick the articles you want, save them and read them later. If you try and stay current all day, you may find yourself in the weeds and overwhelmed by over-tweeting. Don’t try and keep pace, simply tweet at your own convenience.

The idea of twitter can also be used without even setting up an account. The twitter frame work - expressing yourself in 140 characters - can be used to extract main ideas and to summarize a reading. On day one have students go to the board and explain something they did this summer in 140 characters. It serves as a nice day one ice breaker and will probably draw a few laughs.

Go here for Twitter

2. Create a Google Calendar

I find that a Google calendar can be a lifesaver and a great way to integrate other calendars in your school. I personally have one calendar for my personal life, one for my school’s academic calendar, one for technology conferences and our tech coordinator has one for his availability. All these calendars can be viewed on one single page and you can turn different calendars off and on if your June begins to look like a bag of skittles fell on to the page.

The other amazing feature about Google calendar is that you can share and subscribe to other calendars. This allows you to set up calendars in your district and coordinate with each other at all times. I also set up a Google Calendar for each of my classes and embed them on our class Wiki. It is a great way to post assignments and keep parents, guidance counselors and supervisors informed.

Click here for Google Calendar

3. Create a classroom Social Network

This can be done through numerous venues. I have always had the best experience with a Wiki space. It is easy for students to understand and they can easily adapt to the process of editing and sharing on the page. You can make your Wiki space private, however, you can open it up to parents, administrators and grandma, who lives 3000 miles away, but would like to see what her grandson is doing in school.

The Wiki allows you to easily upload assignments, photos and videos. Students can participate in threaded discussion and allows teachers and students to collaborate through e-mail. I find the class wiki to be a great year-to-year resource as well. Everything my students create or that I assign is posted on the wiki. At the end of every school year I go back through and see what we accomplished and how I can make it better next year. Think of your class wiki as the lesson planner you always wanted!

Finally, the Wiki is also a great tool to house student portfolios. I covered this topic last month and find that a student portfolio wiki will allow students to track their progress from year to year and allow them to have access to it. This idea works beyond their high school years as well. They can take their wiki to college with them and continue to add and upgrade their portfolio.

Check out this post here.

Click here for wikispaces

4. Use Animoto!

If there were one tool that I am simply in love with, it would be Animoto. I have covered this site in a previous post and have used it numerous times in my own classroom. It is an application that can be used across all disciplines and will enhance your classroom flare!

I have used it to create movie trailers for all of the books my students will read during the semester. Rather than acquire a video camera and learn how to use editing software, Animoto takes care of it for you! Here is one I created for Hamlet. It took me roughly 5-10 minutes to create.

This is a great icebreaker for day one of a unit! Kids can showcase their prior knowledge and also make predictions about the upcoming literature. Another idea is to have your students create their own Animoto preview for the literature or play they just completed. Then you can showcase their films at the beginning of next year. Tell students their target audience is next year's freshman class and that they have to draw them into reading Hamlet!

Find Animoto here

5. Plan Ahead this summer!

There are lots of tools out there for teachers to use and it can be overwhelming to try them all. At the end of each year I recommend reflecting on your lessons and trying to find a new web 2.0 tools to enhance that particular lesson or unit.

One of the biggest mistakes one can make is to try all these tools out mid unit. This creates chaos and is not healthy for the classroom. If you spend more time trying to tweak the application you are using than provide the content then the point is lost. Try these steps when trying to implement new technologies into your classroom.

1. Become an expert on the application

2. Synthesize the lesson so that the application does not distract from the content

3. Plan out your time and set parameters for equipment usage so that you don’t usurp valuable class time

4. Provide a supplemental handout for students in case they do not understand the new application

As always I look forward to your feedback and would love to hear how you are planning ahead for next year. Please comment with any new ideas you are trying out or any additions to this list.

Happy Summer!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Year Round Learning 2.0

Part I: Year Round Learning 1.0

On Thursday, I was in Borders Book Store searching for a good read for my train ride to Boston. (SIDE NOTE PLUG: I went with Arika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages). I went upstairs to find my book and here is the sign I came across...

While this seems like a very efficient and kind offer from Borders Book Store, I was still troubled by this sign. Why? Let's break it down.

1. The sign is directed at students. "Ask your teacher to email a copy to us" Really! I would love to live in a world where students flock to Borders Book Store, actually have the energy to go upstairs in a book store - send 8 text messages on the way up to the second floor - and get excited about a sign that asks them, the student, to address their teacher about sending them a summer reading list. I know that is a very cynical mind set, but I just don't see #1 on this sign working.

2. The main problem I have with this though is not about student's apathy, it is with the entire book exchange process. Last time I checked we were in some sort of an economic downturn. Families are cutting back on vacations, unnecessary expenditures, etc. That said, why doesn't Borders offer a book exchange program for local schools? Here is my method:

1. Instead of having students provide their reading lists, every school district will e-mail borders a copy. Borders will then set up various kiosks for each local school.

2. Students who read the book last year will have the opportunity to return the book - if they so choose to do so - and get a credit for their next summer reading book.


John is in 9th grade. Last year he read "Things Fall Apart" for his summer reading. This year he needs to read "A Brave New World". He goes to Borders this year and returns "Things Fall Apart". Borders gives John half of his money back for "Things Fall Apart". John finds a used copy of "Brave New World" and buys it at half price.

Kate is going into 9th grade and needs to read "Things Fall Apart" This summer. She goes to Borders and finds a used copy for half price. On the inside cover is the name John.

With emerging technology on the verge of creating devices to replace books, bookstores need to adjust, and make it appealing and practical for students to come in and purchase a book. Promote the content, not the cover!

Part II: Year Round Learning 2.0

School districts need to rethink summer reading and ways to promote learning through the summer. As an English teacher I was always bothered that we were the only department giving out summer assignments. And I realize that it one of the primary components of the English classroom, but why limit reading to one discipline? I also understand that teachers and students need time to “recharge” from a long year, however, recharging, does not mean halting the learning process.

Students and teachers have the opportunity to communicate and learn throughout the summer months. This can be done through many different forums. The process doesn’t require much and should promote learning and engage students when they have plenty of time on their hands.

Here are ways to rethink and promote summer reading or simply "Year Round Learning 2.0"

1. Let's have our students read a broad array of fiction and non fiction throughout the summer.

A. English - Read selected literature given by your teacher

B. History - Read Newsweek or Time every week and post on one article. Or better yet,read the newspaper!

C. Math - Utilize this great forum set up through Drexel University and post one or several math problems a week for your students to complete, post and discuss on the wiki.

D. Art - Go to this site (Every Photo Tells A Story Blog) every week and post a comment or set up your on blog/wiki like this and create a discussion forum where your students post an image and discuss it! Actually, this site can be used for creative writing as well and works well in many English classrooms. It is a great way to get your students free writing and into the composing groove.

E. Gym - Yes, gym! This marks the first time I am covering gym! Have your students not only exercising their mind, but dropping the remote or mouse and get outside to stay in shape throughout the summer! Show them how to use Run Keeper if they have an iPhone or iPod Touch. Or have them track their running throughout the summer by using Google Maps Pedometer.

2. Let's get a GoodReads or Shelfari school account set up and make students accountable by requiring them to post once a week on the literature they are reading. Make this happen!!!

3. Create a summer reading wiki for your class. Link it to Goodreads or Shelfari or simply use it to facilitate discussion over the summer. This makes that first day of class ice breaker seem very unnecessary.

Learning is ubiquitous and it should not just be limited to reading literature; it should be open to all disciplines. If we promote the idea of social networks and getting our students to be independent learners, we will have a much easier transition every September. The world is flat and therefore the classroom should be as well. As the "off - time" of the school year commences, let's really use our time to promote these new technologies and create the year round classroom. It can happen, it will happen and we need it to happen now!

Discussion Forum: How are you getting your students ready for the summer? How do you plan on promoting "Year Round Learning 2.0"?