Monday, 4 November 2013

Mr. Duncan Goes to Twitter (and you should too)

Last Monday, I, along with many other educators, had the unique opportunity to connect with the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan on Twitter. Tom Murray organized the chat via the #edtechchat hashtag. Around 8pm Secretary Duncan made his way into the chat column and the barrage of tweets ensued. For someone trying to break into Twitter, this was probably not the best forum, however; it did show the impact connecting this way can have.

As the chat continued, Secretary Duncan began asking questions using the Q1 - A1 format. Users prefaced their tweets with A1 (based on the question number) and ended each one with the hashtag #edtechchat. Following the chat was nearly impossible in real-time as tweets cruised down the screen in a frenzied manner. Occasionally I tried to retweet a good question or comment someone posted, but overall it was hard to keep pace.

Eventually, I posed a question to Secretary Duncan in which he was kind enough to reply (above photo). Once this happened, I felt pretty cool. I had to explain to several people how we actually connected and that it was legit and that I didn’t actually know Secretary Duncan, but we now shared a brief connection in time. This occurrence also caused me to reflect momentarily on the connections and opportunities that I’ve had since joining Twitter five years ago.

In those five years, I have made great strides in my career. Three years ago I was let go, along with four other teachers and the principal from a charter school in Philadelphia on July 19, 2010. Soon after, I took to my blog, wrote a post announcing my availability for work, and shared it on Twitter. I had comments and suggestions from all over the country. Eventually I connected with Patrick Larkin and started working at Burlington Public Schools a year later as an instructional technology specialist. Two years later I became the Director of Technology for Groton-Dunstable Regional School District. I’m not saying that Twitter is the reason for my all of my recent successes, but getting out there and making and sustaining meaningful connections definitely had a big part in my career path.

I don’t think Twitter is the key ingredient to being a connected educator, nor do I feel it’s required for someone to be a connected educator. My point is that Twitter can be a really great thing and provide many of us with access to opportunities we otherwise may not be privy too. As educators, we should make connections regardless of the medium. EdCamps, conferences (local and national), and learning communities within a district are great ways to connect as well. Jumping into the social media ring will simply heighten those offline connections and broaden the scope of your learning.

If you decide you want to get into Twitter, I will suggest a few steps that I share with anyone who asks me about it.

1. Once you setup your account, encourage a few colleagues to join as well. Develop a “hashtag” for your cohort and share a few things with each other using the hashtag. This will expose you to ways in which you can share, filter, and organize your twitter experience.

2. Download Tweetdeck for Mac or PC. There are a lot of Twitter applications out there, but my preference has always been Tweetdeck. Mobile platforms will be different, but the Twitter app for iPhone is probably the best way to go.

3. Organize. One of the great features about Twitter is that you can tailor it directly to how your liking. Lists are a great way of organizing people (i.e. English Teachers) and what they share online. I’ve created lists and then I can easily browse through those lists whether it’s on the mobile or desktop platforms. Before you tweet, organize!

4. I would suggest limiting your involvement initially in Twitter chats. They can be overkill for even the most experienced user and can sometimes be an echo chamber of pithy platitudes. The key is to organize first and spend a good amount of time listening, lurking, and absorbing what you see. Twitter is a place where you can simply consume, however; it’s always better to share. My suggestion would be to start a small hashtag chat within your school community and then branch out into larger chats like #edchat

5. “Don’t take Twitter too seriously.” This is a great piece of advice from Dean Shareski who has been sharing on Twitter for awhile. Twitter can be a conversation, it can be a resource, and it can be funny. We all need to laugh a little, but must maintain a healthy balance between professionalism and over sharing cat videos. Plus, don’t get caught up with pseudo celebrity Twitter hierarchy of educators. One hundred thousand followers does not always equal credibility. Again, Twitter is most useful when it is organized. Follow people who you have read, connected with in person, or who are simply good at sharing quality information and occasionally funny.

Over the years I’ve learned and gained a lot from connecting on Twitter. It’s a community that allows me the flexibility to ask a question or have a conversation with people all over the world anytime, anywhere. This medium has had an impact on my life, my friends, and my career. The key in all of this is to share what you do and highlight your teaching, your school, and your district whether you are on Twitter or offline with colleagues. My brief connection with Secretary Duncan won't change or reform educational policy across the country, but it reinforces the power of this medium. Secretary Duncan may not enact or change anything based on the Twitter chat, but it shows us all he is listening. That's a powerful connection.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Defining a connected educator

EdCamp Philly 2011
There’s a phrase from a video that describes what Creative Commons is that I commonly use when describing what I aspire a school culture to be.

This phrase defines what a school culture should should be and can be if it’s not quite there yet. It reinforces the importance of working together for a common goal and providing the best strategies for teaching and learning. One of the ways I’m helping bring this phrase to life is by integrating new technologies and applications to connect teachers, students, and community. But, it doesn’t stop at providing hardware and software. It means building bridges within a school community that leverage these technologies and applications at a pace that is comfortable for everyone involved. For some it will be exploring a blog and possibly Twitter, for others it will be attending our Thursday EdTech Genius Bar or a conference. The point to remember is that connected educators are not just the educators you see blogging and tweeting, but also the ones you see developing offline connections.

What I have been witnessing at Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, is a school community anxious to integrate new technologies and design new paradigms for teaching and learning. And, this is happening in part by bringing our teachers together each Thursday for an optional EdTech Genius Bar. Teachers are not simply jumping into the Twitter waterfall in order to be a connected educator, rather they are physically connecting and sharing beyond our Thursday events. Many of our devices this year are just launching due to some shipping issues and setup time, but in the first week of this launch I’ve noticed a general excitement for integrating technology, rethinking lessons, and connecting our students to the world.

One of the big misconceptions is that in order to create a shared culture of learning every staff member must join the social media race. While Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook and MOOCs are all great opportunities to expand access to connections, resources, and opportunities, bringing teachers together offline is priceless.

The offline world is where I, personally, have made some of my strongest connections. Many of these connections started with social media use, but elevated when I made the offline connections. I attended conferences like EduCon in Philadelphia that is hosted yearly by the Science Leadership Academy students and principal, Chris Lehmann. I attended and hosted several EdCamps in the past few years and continued to make and strengthen connections during these events. It’s imperative for educators to connect in some way in both worlds. I am grateful for making connections on Twitter and through my blog. It’s opened many doors for me. I am equally grateful that I attended these conferences and went beyond my computer screen to connect with the educators I’ve met online.

Being a connected educator means making both offline and online connections. No matter your connection medium, it’s important to keep having conversations and sharing what we do with others. It’s important for us to be transparent and share what we do with others regardless if it’s on a blog or offline personal learning communities. I’m not one for labels or titles. Let’s all be careful with how we define a connected educator and keep in mind those who are making powerful connections offline.

Friday, 27 September 2013


There are moments in the course of a career that every educator will remember. Today I had one of those moments. And, although it just happened, I am certain it will resonate for years to come. 

I'll try and capture this story concisely. 

July 1st I started my tenure as the director of technology for Groton-Dunstable Regional School District. My first job was to provide advocacy and support for technology throughout our district. GD is a district that consists of a wonderful, supportive community, progressive, dedicated educators and administration, and students who are bright and kind. Up until my arrival, technology was an afterthought. This is not to say that the tech team was not working hard or dedicated, but simply, there was no voice or leadership for technology in the district. 

My first two initiatives included upgrading the network infrastructure district wide and transitioning our staff from a first class email system to a Google Apps for Edu environment that would include accounts for both teachers and students. I also purchased 600 Chromebooks for students to use across five schools. And this is where the story begins. 

We're currently in the process of organizing 600 Chromebooks into groups and carts for each school to use. Plus, I want to match the serial numbers on each device with a cart. When you enroll chromebooks they enroll but are not grouped (NOTE: there may be a way of automatically enrolling into specific groups, but I had some inconsistencies with auto-enroll). So the solution was to group the chromebooks into 25, enroll them, and then plug them into carts while documenting the serial numbers. A cumbersome process. 

When I arrived at GD high school this morning I got to meet some of the "Tech Task Force" students. The tech task force takes the help desk model I created at Burlington High School and presents it with a different name and schedule. 

I walked in and noticed Ryan scanning the back of Chromebooks. To me, it looked as if he was taking a picture of each devices serial number and bar code. He wasn't. He said...

I actually created a script with python that uses an android API for a bar code scanner that will scan the device's bar code and push it directly to a CSV file.

Of course you did.

He did this on his own, without any demand from us. This was not homework, he will not be tested on it by the state or federal government, and he did not receive a rubric or a grade. Ryan simply saw a problem and developed an efficient solution using a skill set that in many schools is not being taught. And I'm not referring to computer science, but simply time to create, develop, and explore beyond a common curriculum. Ryan saved our tech team a few days worth of work and impressed me beyond anything I expected to see this Friday morning.

Ryan is not common and does not fit into the common core curriculum. Ryan has raced beyond what our federal government deems "the top". Most ETS tests are beneath Ryan. And, while I understand that not all students are like Ryan and the moment I witnessed this morning was very unique, it doesn't create an excuse for rethinking and redesigning our education system. America needs a system that fosters creativity, exploration and discovery, mistakes, and innovation. That's a system that we owe our students.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

My network

I had one of those conversations yesterday that I won’t forget. But first, let me provide some context to this story. While I was teaching the help desk course last fall at Burlington High School, I had a student ask his Guidance Counselor if he could work on one of the iMac machines that had XCODE installed on it during 5th period every Thursday. I agreed and took on Gilad as an independent study.

Every Thursday Gilad quietly entered the help desk room and opened XCODE. Our interaction was limited, but over his shoulder I could see he was doing work far beyond my knowledge base. Gilad entered the same way every Thursday for four months. Around January, he asked me if we had a developer account with Apple. We did. I set him up with Bob Cunha (BPS Director of Technology) and Bob got him set up, his device registered and explained the process of app submission.

In a matter of a few months Gilad had taken time out of his study hall and developed a voice recording and submission application that will eventually be used by the BHS Guidance Department for setting up appointments with students.

A few months later, Gilad approached me during lunch and asked if I knew of any programming opportunities or internships for the summer. I said I would check back with him and started seeking out my network. I contacted two friends at Google in Cambridge first. Unfortunately they did not have anything at the time. Plus, most of their deadlines had already past. I continued to search until I remembered my brief consulting work I did with MobileAware in early 2012. I contacted my friend, and MobileAware CEO, Armin Gebauer to see if he had any openings for internships. He mentioned that they had just created an iOS development team. I connected Armin with Gilad and they eventually set up an interview. Gilad soon accepted the internship and has been working there for the past few weeks.

Yesterday, I decided to check in with Gilad to see how he was doing. Here is the transcript of our brief conversation:

And this is why yesterday was a good day for me. I was able to establish a connection for a student and help him find a learning environment that not only challenges him, but connects him with professionals who can mentor and inspire him. And that, I feel, is part of being a good teacher and connected educator.

I’m not writing this post to boast. I simply phoned up a connection and made a match. The piece of this that caused me to pause and reflect is how the connection was made. In many circles I hear the first step to being a connected educator is Twitter. It’s imperative that we, as educators, sign up for Twitter and dive head first into an oncoming wave. Respectfully, I have to disagree with this sentiment (which is a generalization for the most part). While Twitter has its merits, it will never match personal connections.

I connected with Armin by accident. I just happened to sit next to him and his wife one night out for dinner. Being two extroverts, Armin and I began discussing our work and it led to me getting hired as a consultant with MobileAware. When my tenure ended at MobileAware, I continued to connect with Armin. I connected with Gilad through his Guidance Counselor. And finally I connected Armin with Gilad.

I’m not trying to argue the merits of Twitter, but simply offer a different path for new teachers looking to test the waters of social media. There are days when I can’t quite grasp the credibility of Twitter voices: the blind re-tweeting, the pseudo celebrity aura, the echo chamber, the hierarchy, the “let’s change the etymology of the word cheating (and every other word in order to show what a progressive, disruptor I am” persona. It’s deafening. And quite frankly, if I were mentoring a new teacher, I’d tell them to hold off on Twitter.

Consider making personal, in person connections in lieu of Twitter. And, when you’re ready, embrace Twitter develop a way to filter your stream and vet your following for credibility. Spend a lot of time listening, processing, and actually reading what’s being shared. And finally, don’t get caught up in the noise. I encourage Twitter use amongst educators, but balk at the idea of it being necessary for all new and current teachers. It’s simply a tool. A tool that I’ve embraced criticized and used to share many of these posts.

Before we rush our new teachers or students into the world of Twitter, let’s take a moment to forge a personal, meaningful connection with them.  Establish credibility and take time to listen and engage. In doing so you may just help find that student or teacher find their passion.

Friday, 12 July 2013

My Fenway moment

I had an awesome Tuesday. In fact, I accomplished two things in one night that I consider to fall in the epic moment category. I had the opportunity to see Paul McCartney play at Fenway Park. Yeah, I know. And, if you haven’t already guessed, I am going to present a correlation between this moment and current technologies, both in education and our daily lives.

But first, a little narrative...

My brother and his wife convinced me late Saturday night that I must attend and that I would regret not going. They had the opportunity to see Paul at Fenway in 2009 and recalled that it was an experience of epic proportions. I didn’t take much convincing. The next day I purchased a ticket. I will never reveal the price. Ever.

When I arrived at the show, I followed the signs to my section, B6. I walked down an old, steel staircase that was probably an original piece in the Fenway construction. At the end of the staircase was an opening. In the opening I could see the Fenway Green and subtle sunlight peeking through in the foreground. As I got closer to the door I realised that I was underneath the left field foul pole. And to the right of it was the Green Monster. Undoubtedly the most famous left field in all of baseball.

I walked through the door and placed my left hand on the Green Monster facade. I was touching history. So many great moments happened around that great wall of baseball. And I was touching it. I continued down to the field and stood at the foot of the Green Monster and looked up at its intimidating height. I slapped my hand against it to hear it echo. In this echo you could hear over one hundred years of heartache and triumph.

But I wasn’t here to see a baseball field; I was here to see a Beatle. Sir Paul.

I arrived at my seat and waited for the show to begin. My seat was roughly in the same spot that a left fielder
would play in the bottom of the ninth, one out, man on third. As I turned and looked at my surroundings, I again realized how lucky I was and how few have gotten to enjoy this vantage point. The house music stopped and soon after Paul was on stage. The roar of Fenway launched into a frenzy that could only be rivaled by a David Ortiz home run. And amidst the cheering and repressed Beatlemania, I noticed something. Everyone had their phone out and raised in the air, including myself.  

As Paul finished, “Eight days a Week” I noticed that the phones in the air persisted. I snapped a few more pictures, but eventually put my phone away. As I did this, a few things came to mind. Have we gotten to the point that we attend events simply for others to see? Do we really ever experience an event if we are only half there, while the other half manages broadcasting on social media? Can I really say that I saw Paul McCartney if I watched 75% of it through my iPhone screen?

As these questions traversed through my mind, I briefly reflected on modern experiences. Who am I here for, myself, or my audience? While I agree that sharing what we do is, as Dean Shareski put it, “our moral imperative” and a great way of connecting people to experiences,  I find it hard to really experience a moment, a presenter, or, as Louis CK pointed out, Jesus coming back to tell people everything while I’m playing the role of broadcast journalist.

“Nobody takes in life unless it comes through this(referencing his phone)”  
-Louis CK, On Conan O’Brien

So is the above statement true? Are we missing out on life, nature, and people while immersed in the world of social media, real-time reporting, and on demand conversations? Similarly, are some of our students missing out on learning important skill sets or the experience of getting lost in a book because they are seeing it all through a digital lens? Would I have been able to compose such a detailed recollection of my epic Tuesday night had I been glued to my phone’s screen? Or, am I doubling my experience by engaging my mind in two worlds at once?

This is the conversation I would like to evolve, and that needs to happen about technology in the classroom. Let’s move the rhetoric away from which device is better and how kids can use social media to change the world, to how can we leverage new and emerging technologies to enhance and amplify student learning while experiencing, absorbing and processing the ride. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

My transition

Today is my last official day at Burlington High School. On Monday, I will take over as Director of Technology for Groton-Dunstable Regional School District on Monday. While I am excited and grateful for new challenges and opportunities, I’m finding it hard to imagine Burlington in my rearview mirror.

For those of you who don’t know the story, I lost my job a few years ago due to Charter schools having the ability to cut four teachers and a principal in one day (July 19th to be exact) and replace us promptly with Teach for America interns. Before I had time to sulk, I wrote a post on this blog announcing I was available to work. Anywhere. I sent it through Twitter soon after and by the end of the day I received comments, direct messages, and replies to my search. It was then that I realized the potential of a network and how this connected group was there for me during a very difficult time. I realized that although distance separates many of us, a social network like Twitter, can easily bring us close together during difficult times and when we just simply want to share our experience.

Eventually, I made a connection with Patrick Larkin who, at the time, was the principal of Burlington High School and Eric Conti, the Superintendent of BPS. I connected with Patrick via Twitter and eventually at Educon and Tech and Learning Forum in Burlington. To make a long story short, I packed up my house, my dog, and all I had, and shipped up to Boston. I interviewed for the Instructional Technology Specialist position and soon after accepted the job.

My first days at Burlington were tough. Making that type of transition was difficult, but I soon found comforts in my new home. And, I had plenty of work to do upon my arrival.

I spent the summer of 2011 getting acquainted with the tech team at Burlington. Together with Dennis Villano, Bob Cunha, Jose DeSousa, and Patrick, we began developing a launch strategy for one thousand iPads that would be given to all BHS students in August. We created EdCamp Tuesdays and invited all of our teachers as well as teachers from around the state to join us for open, optional professional development. We organized and presented the first MA Digital Publication Collaborative that brought together teachers from around the New England Area to curate, organize and share digital curriculum. We developed a student help desk course. And Dennis and I planned the first BPSCON which brought together the entire district for three days in August that was only rivaled by ISTE in options and size. For the BPS EdTech team it was a summer of firsts and a summer that helped put our district on the map.

Looking back, the BPS EdTech team accomplished so much two years since I arrived. I feel lucky to have been a part of such a progressive group of administrators and teachers. The hardest part of my transition will missing out on those conversations every morning in the “war room”. I’ll miss the dynamic teachers at Burlington who jumped on board with our tech plans and showed the world how technology can impact a classroom. But most of all, I’ll miss the students I’ve had the privilege to teach. I’ll miss their insight on current events and their energy for learning. I know, it sounds cheesy and cliche, but I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot from them and hopefully I was able to impart some wisdom to them.

During my time at Burlington I realized that change happens quickly. Whether it’s technology or the human element, change in the 21st century is inevitable and quick. There is no escaping it. However, it's imperative to remain grounded and dedicated to initiatives and goals before moving on to the next thing. This is one of the most important things I learned while at Burlington. Apple reminds us of this in their latest ad campaign.

“...we spend a lot of time on a few great things.until every idea we touch enhances each life it touches.”

This says it all. Our EdTech team at Burlington Public Schools didn’t seek out to reform education, remix it or even transform it. We simply wanted to give our students and teachers the best opportunity to thrive in a world that is constantly evolving and demanding change. We made selfless decisions with the students in mind above everything else. And in the end we endured criticisms and compliments. We spent time on a few great things and, in the end gave our students and teachers an opportunity to show the world what educational technology can be.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

I'm proud

photo-2One of the elements I enjoy most about being a teacher is the element of surprise. I'm referring to that moment when a student, or group of students really amazes you. You mentor these students, give them your best as a teacher day in and day out without any required thanks, and occasionally this student or students  unintentionally returns the favor in the form of intrinsic motivation. They're driven because they find purpose in what they are learning or doing. This couldn't be more evident than with my help desk students who are organizing and running EdCampxEDU.

This is the first, to my knowledge, EdCamp designed, organized and carried out entirely by students. While I have been an advisor to these students, I have remained on the periphery of this project. Initially, I met with students who were interested in organizing this event and gave them the run down on what the format was and how an EdCamp functioned. Having organized three ntcamps (an edcamp format for new teachers) and created and run EdCamp Tuesdays at Burlington High School along with Dennis Villano, I knew what it took to make an EdCamp work. It's a daunting task for any team of organizers.

 The EdCampxEDU organizers have stepped up to the challenge. This week I observed as the team started receiving prizes from various vendors to give out on June 1st, I watched as they planned the opening address, and prepped the final details of planning. Oh, and when the organization team is not planning EdCampxEDU, they are at track or baseball practice, attending a full schedule of classes, or getting ready for work at his or her part time job. Some even managed to fit in prom last Friday.

This experience will impact them more than any SAT exam, AP Test or MCAS test. This experience provides students with the opportunity to elicit skill sets and apply them to a purposeful scenario. It's project based and challenge based learning at its best. It meets the needs of many common core standards and is something that will stand out on any college application or resume. This team wil get to say...

 "I designed, organized and carried out an education conference".

 "I managed a budget and networked with vendors."

 "I used social media for advertising and web 2.0 tools for marketing and promotion."

 I am proud of these students.

If you would like to register for EdCampxEDU or sponsor our event, please visit this link

Monday, 6 May 2013

The best technology integration is a conversation: An EdCamp reflection

One of the hallmarks of an EdCamp is the ability to choose your own adventure. The model allows everyone to participate and have a voice. Nothing is mandated. And, No one is tweeting that they are ‘giddy’ about seeing “Insert so called Twitter Celebrity”. There are no over-priced keynote speakers and you’re not getting hounded by vendors. Instead, everyone is giddy (I promise, last time) to learn, to share, and to listen.

And, before I go further, I understand that the critic would argue that there is no research to prove an EdCamp as an effective model of professional development. However, leave it alone. Participants leave an EdCamp feeling good, refreshed, and eager to get back to work on Monday. That is all the data you need.

One of the misnomers with an EdCamp is that it is a tech conference, or rather, that it is driven by sessions geared toward education technology. This is false. While an EdCamp incorporates a fair amount of technology for promoting and sharing, the sessions really don’t require any technology. If you took a moment to observe the surroundings at EdCamp Boston on Saturday, you would have noticed lots of conversations. Sure, there were some people looking at a screen, but more often than not that screen time was for notes or to share.

In fact, the best technology integration at an EdCamp is a the ability to share and to listen. In short, a conversation. This is why the EdCamp model thrives and continues to grow globally. Not because everyone is on Twitter or understands how to use an iPad, rather that everyone is excited to listen, process, and share. This is why EdCamps matter. This is why the EdCamp model works and will sustain for many years to come. This is why participants leave excited to get to work on Monday after giving up a gorgeous, Spring Saturday in Boston to learn inside.  And this is why more schools should be thinking about going one-to-many with conversations before considering any piece of hardware. It’s the best technology integration you could give your students and teachers.

Thank you to the EdCamp Boston organizers for hosting another engaging event on Saturday and thank you to anyone who has taken on the role of an EdCamp organizer. Your efforts are appreciated by many.