Monday, October 20, 2014

An Invitation to MozFest, London!

 "Arrive with an idea, leave with a community." 
MozFest London, 2014

I'm headed to London in a few days to take part in MozFest! A gracious invite from the folks at US-Ignite and Mozilla will send me there for 5 days to mash.

This is a great opportunity on so many levels… 

  • expand my work to promote high school students to collaborate more openly with colleges and businesses
  • create programming and web development opportunities for students
  • innovative approaches to school and learning
  • … and to explore innovative learning spaces 

Architecturally, Ravensbourne, where MozFest is held, looks like an inspiring place. It'll be great to see first hand and continue my research on creating learning spaces. 

And, of course, it's a great chance to expand my own knowledge in many ways. There are some incredible people and projects brewing it appears.

I'm very grateful to the people at US-Ignite and Mozilla for sending me over.

Looking forward to it all.

We win.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Connecting Students with Experts… Programming class and Tech Jam at Burlington, VT

I'm privileged to be mentoring a new Programming class at Burlington High School this year.

The focus I drafted up… explore and create using multiple programming languages (JavaScript, HTML, Python, Java), creative engineering with physical computing (MakeyMakey, Arduino, Raspberry Pi), build team work and collaboration skills, build toward personal project choice, collaborate on how to spend our class budget, find professional mentors, and create connections with industry professionals. Seemed like a good recipe! 

We started out with some introductory work in JavaScript and HTML and students came up with some great work… inventive approaches to the challenges given to them. Right from the get go we pushed collaboration and troubleshooting.

Shortly thereafter we dove into MakeyMakey boards and the great engineering work students did stemming from one simple design challenge, "figure out how it works, and do something creative." The projects students did was a blast to take part in.

We've just shifted to Arduino and Raspberry Pi teams in the class and students have already dove into their own research to see what's possible. Troubleshooting and teamwork is in high gear.

I think bringing in outside expertise into the classroom so students can interact with professionals in the field is essential practice. In this case, a former student from my days back at South Burlington, Nick Giard, has signed on to help mentor students as the class builds. We've also created new connections with other local programmers from businesses and colleges as well and are making plans to bringing them in online and for visits in person. As part of this we got...

An offer we couldn't refuse… participate in Vermont Tech Jam, 2014!

As part of making connections, Peter Drescher at the Agency of Education heard about our work and extended an invitation to the students in the new programming class to present and be part of a great event called Vermont Tech Jam at Memorial Auditorium in Burlington, VT. Tech Jam showcases great presentations, Vermont businesses, and also an entire floor of student innovation from Vermont schools. Robotics, engineering, solar, programmers… a smorgasbord of mind and hand (MIT motto) creation.

I'm excited that Burlington students will present what they've created at the event and that they'll have a chance to mingle with other innovative students, and with professionals, and get to see what these innovative businesses are doing in our State. 

We've already had discussions in class promoting students to research the event, do prep work to see what these great businesses are up to,  polish up some introduction skills, and pushed the idea of bringing some business cards to help make connections, and develop an online presence to showcase their creative work and interests. Who knows where these connections might lead for them personally and for our class.

The work students have done in this programming class and the interests it's sparking / revealing at BHS has already helped spur on conversations with administration about building an apps development class, programming club (coder dojo), and building a robust maker space for multiple classes to use and and building it's creative spirit into many classes. We're off and running.

Building opportunities for students to meet and mingle with professionals and experts, build communication and collaborative skills, explore their community, State, and the world… creating connections, finding mentors, and exploring interests… great threads for schools to pursue. 

We win, AP

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why use an LMS in k-12 education?

I read an article a few weeks ago called Beyond the LMS, (Learning Management System) by Audrey Watters.

In a nutshell, Watters doesn't care much for an LMS. 

I can't say that I disagree with anything she states in the article.

Much of Watters work centers on the collegiate experience, post secondary education, something she states openly and often.

So… does an LMS have value in secondary education?

I've seen that it can have benefits, yes.


There's no way around it, there are management trials for teachers in k-12 education. Attendance, assessment - formative and summative, comments and the like, reports, grading and narrative comments. There's a cumbersome paperwork flow to it all. Having that workflow viewable and workable in one place helps.

Many States and schools have Common Core and arrays of other assessments, - proficiency based, graduate expectations, etc to process as well. An LMS is helpful on these fronts. Standards can be imported so teachers don't have to replicate all that data.

An LMS that syncs with SMS (school management systems - attendance, grades, transcripts, report cards, etc) can also save teachers from replicating data input. That's a big time saver, especially when you work with a lot of students.

It helps students as well. Centering that workflow in some ways has advantages. Take more than 5 courses in a semester that all use multiple web sites and you'll see what I mean.

The real salt though is...

Enhancing teaching and learning

Chris Lehmann's article called The Seductive Allure of Ed-Tech Reform says what I'm thinking here well.

"Educational technology doesn’t make it cheaper to teach the kids. It will transform what we do as teachers and as learners. And certainly there are moments where technology can build us a far better textbook than we ever had. But just as the textbook wasn’t enough, neither is the computer. Technology can should and will cause our profession to evolve, but the promise of technology should never be that a computer can replace a teacher, but rather how it can enhance what teachers and students can do and learn together."

The best LMS implementations I've found center on expanding pedagogical practices and learning opportunities. They help teachers move teaching and mentorship practices therein forward. They help promote collaboration and discussion groups. They present a scaffolding for students and adults to learn skills. As I mentioned above, they can serve as a platform to push grading practices and discussions therein along. It's important to stir such conversations in schools, else they go on business as usual focusing on retention.

Here's one I keep coming back to though, over and over again, and the one I'll elaborate on the most.


I've found that 'creating transparency' is necessary in k-12 education. Getting insight into what 'run-time' looks like in a class is important for students, parents, teachers, and yes… administrators. I've found it can be a very healthy practice for all involved… I'll say it… especially for those folks who's classrooms are, well, not that healthy.

If it's a goal to get parents involved in something other than viewing report cards, one portal via an LMS can help.

An LMS can help bring a higher level of transparency into the work students are doing and being asked to do in classrooms. Students, teaching peers, administration, and parents get a runtime view into what was previously a closed environment, a citadel that was only open for one formal evaluation and a couple parent teacher conferences. It's a much needed window into environments that are not so innovative or engaging. There's a sad truth to that… but it's a truth nonetheless. An LMS initiative can motivate some.

Transparency extends to many levels
In the best LMS implementations I've found, teachers are given permission to see the work of their teaching peers within their department, and into others departments as well. Increased transparency can help teachers learn from peers. Giving teachers the time and encouragement to pursue such goals is also key. I've helped many schools address some frustrations on and about PD by adjusting their schedules. That's fodder for another post though.

Also in the best implementations, teachers are given the opportunity to see student work in similar and other disciplines. Viewing a 'grade' in a transcript ultimately doesn't tell you much after all, right. Seeing a collection of work can save teachers form having to, essentially, reassess every student in each class from scratch. This level of transparency can help promote discussions  in schools on what 'proficiency based learning' actually could be.

Students too
If the LMS is run well philosophically, students should be able to see, view and learn from their peers. Communication, discussion groups, peer review, etc.

'Real publishing' is not LMS Fodder

'A Teenagers Look at Woodstock.'  Photo 2 of 19. Media gallery, USA Today.

As Watters points out, and I agree completely, students should have the challenge to publish meaningful work to the web, to build those skills, and to develop their own online footprint.

So many schools simply stop at or within the LMS. No discussions extend toward real, meaningful project or personal publishing… of the development of published personal voice.

My work with students in the rLab at Burr and Burton, publishing real projects to the web was immensely valuable for all involved, and for others abroad who found value in our work. We did a lot of development work in wikis, blogs, and collaborative Google docs behind the scenes… and then published as a class and individually in their own blogs and sites of their choice.

Just do it… because it's worthwhile

For some students, publishing to the real web, the live Internet has no meaning. It's daunting. It's challenging. But for all those reasons I think it's a worthwhile challenge to pursue.

Is a personal blog / digital footprint to the web 'the new resume' as some tout? Likely so, I think, in many circles.

I do like the question appearing on many college applications now asking students something to the effect of 'show us what you've created.' That's a far richer angle than simply looking at your SAT scores, class rank and how many AP classes you night have under your belt.

As Vermont heads into the 'Flexible Pathways' initiative, Act 77, a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) for every student… and many other opportunities (dual - enrollment, etc), this presents another opportunity for discussions on 'digital citizenship' to evolve. Meaningful work, collaborative threads, networking socially, and building skills in areas of interests. I feel 'real' student publishing… the challenge to publish project work, writing, and develop their voice confidently and thoughtfully should be pursued… beyond working within an LMS.

Beware 'Portfolio' Shtick

What is a 'personal learning plan?' What is a 'portfolio?' What has value?

I've never met an employer or a college for that matter that looks at a comprehensive portfolio of student work in grades 9-12. Never. I think driving students toward that end, developing a 'comprehensive portfolio' of their work and selling that goal, is dishonest and mostly ends up being centered on busy work.


"Sometimes you want these basic course functions to be simple and easy so you can get to the real work of teaching and learning."


An LMS can help shift teaching practice toward more collaborative, constructivist goals. It can help create movement.

Encouraging students to publish engaging and meaningful projects and personal websites to the open, interactive web and all the skill development and great discussions possible therein should also be a goal.

I reviewed all these thoughts with a good friend recently. We stumbled briefly around the idea that maybe an LMS is just poorly titled. Maybe…

  • 'Learning Development Space'
  • 'Learning Space'
  • or maybe 'Sandbox'

would be better. It was a short conversation. No matter what it's called, schools need to create better philosophical goals for using an LMS, and also build in real publishing opportunities.

My thanks to Audrey Watters for another thought provoking post.

I'm still thinking about it all. Will be for some time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thinking Spring Differently

Feet up, and writing.
'Think Spring,' my old friend Jim Carter used to say when the high school baseball season drew close. Well, thinking Spring is a bit different for me this year.

Spring... and, well, Winter for that matter for the last 23 years have always contained a steady diet of training and mentoring players, and building high school programs in the great sport of baseball

So... I'm officially retiring from high school baseball as a head coach. I didn't coach this season, and won't return to the helm. It does still feel a bit odd after all these years to write that. 

It's actually my second high school baseball season off from the sport as last Spring I was on sabbatical. It's my first Spring "officially" retired.

I'm proud of the work we did at Burr and Burton in my six seasons there. And of last years' team too. 

Last year's team at Burr and Burton (where I used to coach and teach), was piloted very well by Tony Cirelli. It was a Senior heavy group and very skilled. The character of that team, and Tony's experience, were two of the many reasons I felt good about leaving on that sabbatical opportunity. The team was very successful and worked it's way to the finals, the programs third trip in the last four years.

BBA Playoff Pre-Game, 2010
I got to work with so many great kids and families over my six years there. Great coaches too like Chris Kunz, Chuck King, Ed Lewicki, Doug Crosier, and Tim Oliver. Players, coaches, parents and spectators have a lot of great stories to tell from it all.

My thanks to Kathi Bierwirth, Athletic Director at Burr and Burton, for her support, lobbying and patience. Baseball is a passionate sport for me, and I did have to ruffle some feathers along the way to increase commitments from the school and the town toward creating safe and quality playing facilities... and getting commitments to maintain them. Kathi was often 'the good cop' when I occasionally had to be the persistent and relentless one to move things forward.

Infield renovation at the Rec, 2009
In those six years we won the most games in school history over a six year period (so I'm told) and a league sportsmanship award. The latter is something I'm most proud of. We played the game well and respectfully year after year according to our competition, fans, and umpires. And those two trips to the finals in 2010 and 2011 were great too ; )

We made some dramatic improvements to the program via an indoor batting cage, l-screens, indoor pitching mounds, and training and playing equipment. We rebuilt the 'sand pit,' as the field used to be called, into a great playing facility. We ran six excellent (and fun) Summer baseball camps. We ran many, many lessons and coaching clinics. 

The youth leagues in town, through a ton of excellent community development have continued to build. Revamped little league facilities, a concession stand, tournament hosting... and most recently the 'chicken coop' dugouts were replaced at the large field and a rolling batting hatch was purchased too. BP, fortunately, will never be the same ; )

'Trench Gate' Recovery Team, 2011
With school, town, and community support there are still some great improvements to be make. There's some steady community support that's grown and much talent in the system to play competitive baseball for many years.

It was great fun to take a leadership role in it all. Of course my family, especially my wife Janice, was incredibly supportive and always involved. There's a great challenge in education, especially in teaching and coaching... the danger of spending more time with other people's kids than you do with your own. My family has always relished the opportunity to be involved in helping to build programs I've coached in. It was truly a family endeavor.

CVU Championship, 2003
As for building programs, it's the second time around. The first was a 15 year journey at Champlain Valley Union High School. With the help of many, we were able to build the CVU program to be consistently competitive, and rebuild it's development infrastructure and playing facility. I had the privilege to coach CVU to it's first baseball championship in 2003, and they've won two since under coach Tim Albertson's excellent leadership. It's been fun to watch. Tim's been very gracious over the years in recognizing the role my family and I played in program development there and I'm very thankful for it.

I'll miss being a head coach in many, many ways.

I won't miss the endless fundraising it takes to build excellent indoor and outdoor facilities. I won't miss drying out two or three buckets of baseballs in the living room under a fan on mats 15 or 20 times a season. I won't miss the back stress of throwing hundreds of rounds of BP, hitting infield sessions, or grinding on field work in each season. I actually won't miss school bus rides on those on long trips either ; )

There were a lot of web projects along the way too. The VT Metro Baseball League Website was my first, and also the first High School sports league website in the United States. It was built as an educational project for students to get real publishing experience while I worked at South Burlington School District. The site featured league stats by team (many schools actually sent in faxes back then), schedules, All-Star teams and game highlights. The site, when I moved on from the project in 2005, had informed and entertained well over 100,000 visitors. Not much by today's standards, but quite a few given the web back in the day. The CVU Baseball page became the second team sports site in Vermont (Steve Ferreira, former Essex high school coach, beat me to the punch there while I was working on the Metro League site). 

Soon thereafter I created a website for the VBCA. I rebuilt the VBCA site a few years after and passed it on to Bruce Bosley, the new Executive Director, who's done great work with it. 

All the baseball web projects were geared to help increase communication, give kids real publishing opportunities, and publicize our great sport, teams, and communities. I've been told by many folks along the way that those projects helped inspire them to create websites to do the same.

I'll be officially closing up the 643DP Foundation which I started back in 2002 to raise money to improve these two programs I worked in and others around the State as well.

My role in the Vermont Baseball Coaches Association will switch to an advisory role on the board for special projects and such. Clinics, All-Star games, Junior Showcase, and a solid championship venue are all clicking. The Association was established by many of my mentors in the game. I had the privilege to work with them and with so many of my friends over the years to help move things along. The Association is in good shape to promote baseball in the State for many years.

My thanks to the folks at the Burlington Free Press, Rutland Herald, Bennington Banner, and Manchester Journal who provide coverage for high school baseball and the projects I've worked on over the years. Of course there are other papers around the State, but these papers covered baseball in the regions I coached in. It's a difficult job covering so many teams in the State and it often goes under appreciated.

Free time in the Spring will take some getting used too. But... after two seasons off and plenty of rehabilitation my back is, at long last, almost fully healed. It took 12 years to do what doctors said was impossible. Spring vacations with my family will be, truly, a new experience. Some 30 hours a week reclaimed will be spent with my family and friends, seeing my own children play in games, inventing in education, ... and maybe catching a game or two around the State. Not to mention biking, hiking, traveling, and swimming.

And a note to my friend Peter... no, I won't be umpiring! Ok, maybe ONE game if I work the game with you.

Colchester Cannons Championship, 2011
I'll still resume my makeshift bench coach role with the Colchester Cannons this Summer as time allows. It will be my 10th year working with the great players and families helping out where I can. My friend Jeff Mongeon orchestrates a great show. It's a tremendous family and cast of characters, and it's been a privilege to be a part of it.

I've lent some thought to helping out with programs my son might play for in the future as well if the opportunity is there, if my family agrees and it makes sense.

It's been a great run. I wrap up my head coaching career (JV, Varsity and Summer baseball) at 464-204. Looking over the books I remember every name and every face. I've got many stories. It was truly a rich time in my life. Many thanks to the countless players and great folks who've helped me along the way, too numerous to mention, but always in my heart.

"... and that's the way it is," Tuesday April 22nd, 2014. On behalf of the Provost clan...

We win.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Set Your Action Higher

If things are easy... set your 'action' higher. It might sound better to you and many others when you do.

Common sense is often ignored in education. Strive to hear where things make sense. Sometimes all it takes is listening... especially to students

Sometimes we get used to looking at things one way...

Strive to see things differently. Some good shifts start happening when you do.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Project Ignite in Montpelier, VT

Many thanks to the folks who attended Project Ignite! in Montpelier, VT and to Charlie Wilson and Lucie deLaBruere for organizing the event. 

It was a privilege to be asked to speak to the group and share the rLab story.

Summing up all the layers of the rLab in less than 10 minutes is a challenge. 

Here's the (updated) PDF version of the presentation I gave. This one gives a better overview of how the course was built.

If you'd like to chat more about the rLab... I do all the time and would be happy to help. Some schools I've worked with are interested in adopting the whole construct and some others in incorporating bits and pieces of it into their existing courses. I'd be happy to share whatever pieces you're interested in. In it's glory, the course can be disruptive. That's a good thing. I've always thought rethinking educational practice, especially traditional ones, is healthy... especially for students. 

Examples of what folks have been interested in:

  • core elements of the lab: PBL, Student Proposals, Topic choice
  • PBL lab 'assignments' and the evolution of them
  • Framework for open topic choice
  • inquiry based topic exploration: identifying icons and then project mentors
  • collaboration guidelines outside school walls
  • student proposals to administration
  • having students design their project rubrics
  • disruptive (and sensible) shifts the course can generate
  • strategies I used to mentor all the different project threads over the years. With so many projects in so many diverse areas... I'll tell you I learned a lot.

Many folks also asked about the research I did on my sabbatical. I looked at innovative schools in seven countries primarily on:

  • inquiry based and PBL education
  • rethinking the school schedule
  • creating innovative student classes and / or programs
  • new learning environments
  • school architecture and designing learning spaces
  • innovative adult ( and student) PD programs / models
  • Leadership structures that foster (and prohibit) innovation

I'd be happy to talk about those anytime too. Just drop me a note.

Congratulations to all the Ignite! award winners. It was inspiring to see all the great work on display and hear the shared stories.

Time for some dinner! 

Keep moving forward...


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Guest post on Tarrant Institute of Education

I contribute to a List-Serv called School-IT. It's a great mix of educators in Vermont actively discussing technology. As part of that discussion thread there, I received a note from the Tarrant Institute of Education that they'd like to post a response I wrote

The invitation does remind me that I do have to reserve time to write again. I have many articles in queue that need finishing... School lunch programs, school schedule innovations, professional development in schools, interviews with innovative educators, and leadership traits that foster and inhibit innovation in schools... to name a few.

It's been a busy few months. Lots of innovative projects in motion.