Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Charting course for the Spring...

I've been busy planning for a Spring sabbatical. It's an ambitious jaunt.

Two changes from that original proposal...

1. When I first wrote this proposal, Chris Lehmann chimed in that I should visit Olin College of Engineering. After a quick look see at what Olin was doing, Chris' recommendation rang true. I penciled in a trip to Olin to explore their approach. Since then, I've explored Olin's approach in more detail. I'm hoping to visit... and then revisit the school again later. My questions will evolve, and as the trip goes on I have no doubt I'll soak in more. This is an approach I'll look to take with a few schools on the list if they see this as a worthwhile endeavor.

2. Attending the 2013 TED conference didn't work out. My application to attend was not accepted (it's by invitation only) and as I researched the potential trip to the nth degree... it was lining up to be an incredibly expensive outing. I felt I could leverage the money on this trip better toward spending more time in these great places I'm visiting and a new opportunity also emerged...

I've hooked on with a University of Vermont trip to New Zealand to explore some great schools there. Two weeks, immersive, exploring student learning. Looking forward to it already.

So, I'll be visiting all these great schools...

Here are the major questions I'll be exploring this Spring:

What is 'learning' and 'school'? The schools on my explorative list push the boundaries of typical 'institutional learning and curriculum.' They are doing innovative things. Project based ed, differentiated instruction, internship programs, travel programs, etc. Broad question there... but many of the schools I'll be visiting are challenging students in meaningful ways. How did they build these best practices? How do they maintain them? How do they refine them?

How can the 'the structure of school' be leveraged to foster and promote growth and collaboration? Schools often function in separate casts... Administration, Faculty, Staff, and Students. How do these schools step beyond these common pitfalls and move things forward? 

School Schedule/s: What should / could a school schedule look like? Why should all grade levels (in high school) typically have the same schedule? Internships, advisory, mentoring, courses, by appt, self-paced courses, online courses, there are many different approaches here... it's a long list.

Time in schools: Start time, end time, transitions times, why or why not 'bell based' schedules still exists, mentorships, school lunch, the concept of 'the school day,' and how schools orchestrate 'homework.' How can the 'school schedule' improve to promote learning, health, and connection to family and community... nd help students get some rest too.

Technology in schools: All of the schools on my list, for lack of a better term... use technology well. Learning is the key objective and the tech helps open doors to explore the world. Collaboration, exploration, creativity. How did they / do they approach PD? Some seem to do this formally, and some more organically through pedagogy and mentorship. What are the best practices and why?

Learning models: What are we challenging students to do and is it worthwhile? Who's doing innovative work out there, and why is it working? Internship programs, capstones, projects... another long list of approaches.

Most importantly, I'm hoping to conjure up chats with many great educational leaders, teachers, and students on my travels to ask one simple question...

What's next? 

These schools are innovative. What don't they feel they're doing well, why, and where are they headed next? What's their vision of what 'school' become?
I'll be blogging along the way and parsing all this down into what's working well and why. Ultimately I figure it will evolve into a school model I'd like to develop. 

It's my hope that many of these incredible educators and school leaders I'll visit can chime in on the blog here as I travel and offer up ideas and observations. Who knows what we all might just stir up.

So, my question to you is... are there other places I should visit? Most importantly... am I asking the right questions? What else should / could I be exploring here?

Monday, September 3, 2012

One Seriously Busy Year

Late last Summer, one year ago, I had a pretty tough agenda lined up for the coming year.

1. Teach students full time at Burr and Burton Academy
2. Coach Varsity Baseball. It's a year round commitment. Clinics, lessons, open gym sessions, Summer camp, and fundraising.
3. Help some good friends take a Summer baseball team to Las Vegas for two weeks.
4. Complete a Masters Degree in one year. 30 credits, A to Z.

Good plan. Challenging plan. That's a lot of hours to mix in with family.

The volume of work needed to clean out a house from, well, water and all the damage it can do, stabilize it (as in muck it out), and then start rebuilding... should never be underestimated.

We had some tough family discussions about whether to put off grad school for another year while we recovered.

We decided to push through.

My family pitched in a ton. There were plenty of days when 'dad' wasn't available to travel to events, or to grind through some of the routine day-to-day house work.

That elusive masters degree, finally checked off. Mission accomplished. 

I left this last Summer tired... but very fulfilled.

I've enjoyed teaching grad school classes over the last few years. Having the degree will open up more opportunities on that front.

The year coming up has a very different pace. 

In the Spring I'll be off on a sabbatical to seek out innovative education cooking around the world. Along the way I'll talk it over with some great people. 

I'm looking forward to the adventure, and the travel.

With that sabbatical comes the decision to take a year off from coaching baseball. One full calendar year. It was not an easy decision. Baseball has been in my calendar every year since I was 4 years old.

I needed to take a year off from it though, and the intense time commitment therein to dedicate myself more thoroughly to this sabbatical exploration.

Fun challenges ahead.

My thanks to my family for making this happen, and for the celebration party. It was a celebration for everyone involved. Good food. Good company. Just the ticket.

Keep moving forward...

Monday, July 2, 2012

World of Warcraft Tinkering

Playing WOW in the household, well, it didnt' take long for my son to notice. He became a 'guide on the side' of sorts, offering advice, observations, helping to cast spells and such.

I decided to turn the character over to to him and watch how he learned. The results?

He's elevated the character from level 14 to 22 in about 5 hours over two days. Thus far, there have been two issues which he needed help with...

Thus far I've helped him twice:

1. Blowing up the Orc towers in Blackrock Valley... required a reboot of the game for the explosives to properly appear in his pack.

2. He started experimenting on how to get a steed after level 20. He tried many experiments and visited about three places. I encouraged him to ask another resident in StormWind, someone with experience (a higher level) in a public place. I looked on while it happened, and... problem solved.

After having little to no experience online, save some hours of Minecraft, Eb's already a natural at this game.

His learning curve progressed VERY quickly as he learned to navigate the map, the inventory and training.

Eb just called me just about an hour ago to report a new finding. The armor and things the character wears takes damage as we fight. He figured this out, and how to repair the damage. He was quite proud of the discovery we hadn't discussed.

The game itself is intuitive... and so is his approach to the game.

Now... it's easy to see benefits here...

Problem solving
Resource management

The next phase in the game may take some reading. Neither one of us know much about skills in the game such as herbalism, mining or the like. Discussing this with him, I ask a lot of the questions and we bounce ideas around. What's the value? Why do it? When? Where? Training? Likely a better and shorter path to understanding via reading a bit or collaborating with another character online. Eb already informed me that was his plan though, "because asking others about mounts was so easy."

It's been pretty cool to watch him navigate this landscape and learn.

He just called me from the other room. He's found an 'Auction House,' where he can sell and buy things. He's already posting up things for sale after discovering it five minutes ago.

So add an understanding of commerce and markets to the mix.


It's also easy to see the potential for distraction. Hours... can disappear in this game. I can easily see where it'd be a lot more appealing to play it than grind through a conventional homework assignment.

There begins a great debate about games in education.

And i think it's a very healthy debate to engage students.

Using computers to be creative, to explore, to challenge your thinking is a mission we've always taken on in the Lab at Burr and Burton and in the graduate courses I mentor.

I'm lending serious thought again as I did a few years ago to creating a course using WOW and some other virtual worlds. Who knows where this might just lead.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

WOW Jangin'

Back in the day I slayed Kobolds in the early days of Dungeons and Dragons.

And now, enter World of Warcraft.

I've really had no interest in playing it thus far. A grad school course at Marlboro pushed me in.

This is far removed from the role playing, dice days of charts, graphs, and books.

The biggest challenge thus far? Orienteering around, maps, towns. It's easy to get lost.

I've worked my way up to level 10 in two days... about 6 hours total.

There's an online class meeting tonight at 8pm too. Going to be interesting to see what and how folks are headed into this game educationally.

Level 11...


Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Catching up after the school year is still a work in progress. After finishing up...

Narrative reports for 82 students
Teaching classes
Closing up a Varsity baseball season
Two grad school classes and a culminating Capstone project
High school championship weekend
Junior (baseball) showcase

To boot, I capitalized on an opportunity to travel to Las Vegas with the Colchester Cannons baseball team for 9 days. I had a great time on the trip but it was exhausting.

The stickler? The hotel in Vegas had terrible (and expensive) internet access. The only alternative was to switching into 'offline' mode. I was able to get a significant amount of Capstone work done. Now I'm catching up on the Virtual Worlds (online) class.

Next up? World of Warcraft.

I've avoided this game for years simply for lack of time. I've played it once waaaaay back in the day with a friend for about an hour and not since.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm curious to turn this experience and SL into a virtual class at our school.


Currently I'm downloading the entire WOW game, even with our internet connection speed, it's still taken 12 hours with likely three more to go.

I've appreciated the flexibility of the two grad school class instructors to catch up. Without the flexibility I'd have had to drop both classes.

So, I'm anxious to catch up. I've got the rest of this week and all of next week before I run baseball camp on the week of the 9th. Then it's straight on through until the Capstone is over.

2gbs to go on the WOW install...


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Conjuring, and exploring in a virtual world

I've been creating spaces in this Virtual Worlds class as of late. A new floating platform, a house (minimalist), and themed... as you can see in the picture. 

The design had some challenges. Conjuring it properly on the platform, moving objects, shifting contents, walls, crafting missing in pieces and the like. Shift some colors and textures to blend. Add a bat signal, a jet, and a car... and see what happens to your thinking.

Creating spaces like this conjures many thoughts on architectural and conceptual design work personally and what you could do with students. I've found again that SL is a great engine for 3D, spatial, and aesthetic design. It adds in many artistic elements that would be harder to replicate in something like SketchUp. Folks can build a variety of skills troubleshooting and incorporating scripts into objects and scenes. Objects can be conjured from scratch or can be obtained for free and then edited.

Then there's threads to explore like discussions on identity and avatars, social grouping, government, commerce, sociology, philosophy...

Of course, there's the darker side of SL, the ones that draw heavy criticism. Adult playgrounds, alternative lifestyles and the like. I tend to think or frame such things with a 'common sense' sort of approach. Other virtual environments or game, IM chat, Facebook, or face to face conversations can all have their dark side too... that's the way I tend to think about it. Exploring tools for a job and / or an exploration of creativity and imagination, creating social awareness using these tools... leveraging the potential here for some benefit. That seems the best approach.

Along the way in this virtual class the instructor, Jane Wilde, has me tending some SIM management tasks. It's a venue I haven't pursued yet in SL and it's been interesting to see the nuances behind the curtain of running a collaborative, creative virtual space. I've been looking at some posts on such topics and how people are finding and recommending to manage a SIM. Like many threads on the web, there's no end to the amount of reading you could do on the subject.

I've also been mentoring some folks in class who are less familiar with SL. Iv'e been sharing resources, helping troubleshoot, and also tossing out some landmarks (locations to visit) to show folks what's possible here educationally and creatively.

The class is off next to World of Warcraft (WOW) next. About five years ago we conjured the idea in the Lab of creating a WOW thread. Topics we discussed then included discussions in class on Virtual Worlds, avatar identity and connection, escapism, 3D and creative design, commerce, government, social grouping, character, fantasy vs reality, and moral and ethical issues...

I'm still thinking about how this could fit into or guide a new direction with courses in high school... and that's what I've been thinking about the most I guess. I've actually been wondering more and more lately why I haven't dove into these subjects with a class yet?


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Virtual Worlds Class 2

Met up with folks online in the Virtual Worlds class this am. Quite a few folks are new to SL and it's fun to show them the ropes, some tricks, and some new places.

I've been thinking for some time now that I should start up a Virtual Worlds class at school...

Perhaps it's time to revisit that idea again.

3D modeling, design, identity, tech skill, troubleshooting, communication.

Got me thinking...

The spice of good exploring...

Conjuring new ideas...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds

Jumping rooftops again in SL...

Ramping up a class called Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds at Marlboro College.

This marks my third of three trimesters at Marlboro, the Capstone...and it's going to be a busy one. Teaching four classes, coaching a Varsity sport (baseball), and conjuring on through a Masters degree program have kept me busy. Going to be a busy couple of months!

The first section of this Virtual class has folks exploring Second Life (SL). I dove into SL back in '06. By SL accounts, that puts me out as an old timer! Over the last two years I haven't been in SL much at all. As I've prowled around a bit again, the SL world has changed a lot... mesh avatars, new scripting... 'SL time,' as folks say in world, moves very fast.

I'll be working in the course with a great group of folks and will be posting some updates and reflections here as I go.

Jumping rooftops again in SL...


Sunday, April 22, 2012


If at first you don't succeed...

I've received notice that I've landed a sabbatical! It's a humbling honor to receive such news. The sabbatical allows me to take a paid semester off with some travel money... an incredible opportunity provided by some visionary thinkers, Barry and Wendy Rowland, who support our school.

The plan will take me to many locations in the world to look at some of the best practices in education. I'll look to chat with visionary leaders at these institutions and explore their visions of school climate and culture... the future of what 'school' can be. This adventure will take me to many places throughout the United States, to Germany, Italy, Canada. Here are a few on my list to visit:

Boston Arts Academy, MA
Urban Academy, NY
iSchool, NY
Calhoun School, NY
Science Leadership Academy, PA
Olin College of Engineering, MA
MIT Media Lab, MA
Harvard TIE program, MA
High Tech High, CA
High School for Recording Arts, MN
University of Oregon, OR
University of Regina, Canada

Three schools in Germany and Reggio Emilia, Italy and...

The Educon and the TED Conference.

There's a long list of people I hope to chat with as well. More on that later!

The work in the semester sabbatical will certainly run over... perhaps for a lifetime ; )

What are the best practices out there? How are the folks in these places redefining 'school?' What are these innovative places in education doing now and where are they headed? Refitting our concepts of what education could be... is going to be a fun place explore in this fashion.

I've got a head start... the data from 21 Tech Research classes over seven years where we've looked at how we could refit education based on student needs. I've read boatloads on the subject, and have countless interactions with folks from other conferences and chats to build upon and draw from too.

The semester long sabbatical will take place next school year. My hope is to stir up many conversations online and in person before, during, and after.

It'll be a wild ride... and I'm looking forward to the journey and all the collaboration.

Who knows where it all might lead.

Planning is underway. 


Monday, February 6, 2012

The Next Step

Was parsing through listserv discussions on State Tech Plans... and saw a post on Twitter from Tony Baldasaro (who I had the privilege to meet at Educon)...

Which led me to this post...

Which led me to this slideshow...

We're on to something in the rLab. Students taking on their own immersive, explorative projects and linking their work into...

  • design
  • research
  • public speaking
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • technology skills: video, audio, web, design, communication...
  • developing a PLN

All under the emphasis of 'create.'

Day to day, students take on a wide variety of subject here. In one class alone...

  • Aviation mechanics
  • Anesthesiology 
  • Domestic Feline Behavior
  • Java Programming
  • Social Media
  • Tennis racquet construction and restringing
  • Robotics
  • Nutrition and Health
  • Welding
  • Small business
  • Network Security
  • Heads up displays in goggles and helmets
  • iPod construction
  • 3D design: Sculptris, Unity3D, UDK, CryEngine

It's a vibrant and chaotic mix daily. And I've felt for many years now it's just the beginning of what's possible.

We setup a framework in the Lab to help students explore and leverage all our tools and resources we can find into motion. Again, the emphasis is on creation, communication, and collaboration.

Even in the description of what students do here... things blend together. Spiral curriculum, ADDIE, constructivism, blended learning, project-based education, cognitive load theory... whatever you'd like to call it. It's a bit of it all... and more.

Where we're struggling... these projects could easily more immersive, internship style. Especially for juniors and seniors. Students crave more time here. Projects could also easily be combined with other subjects... cross curricular style. Develop our presentations with deeper ties to historical backgrounds, writing skills, art design, mathematics...

I could easily see this developing into teams of students, with teams of mentors, working on immersive projects... in a facility built around creative capacity and not compartmentalized classes.

It'd involve rethinking traditional departments and class structures... more like an appointment structure rather than a 'master schedule.' Reworking school lunch... now there's a great project to tackle. Team work. Diverse hours. Heavy collaboration. And fun. A community learning center.

Exploring and making knowledge. Connecting it. Into motion and passion.

How long will it take to get there?

Good question.

It takes flexibility.

Tech plans in the main... I'd like to read one that devised a structure as bold as what I described above.

It takes a sense of adventure. There are a lot of folks to learn from who are already doing work on these fronts. From... and with.

Got a lot of this bouncing in my head.

Ready to try ; )

Tuesday, January 31, 2012



I tried to plow through new work from students and offer meaningful comments...

It's not working...

My mind is not working tonight...

Decided to 'take a break' and write something meaningful on this blog tonight...

A conference reflection... a post for students to read for tomorrow...

It's not working... I give up...

I'll give it another shot tomorrow...

Watch a movie... have some tea... let the mind go...

Get some extra, and much needed, sleep.

Yah... I can follow my own advice too.

Ok... this is actually turning out to be something meaningful. ; )

Monday, January 30, 2012

Exploring effort and self-motiviation

Here are a few quotes from a post by Seth Godin called Self Directed Effort is the Best Kind that speaks volumes about the trials of education.
"There's an entire system organized around the idea that we're too weak to deliver effort without external rewards and punishment. If you only grow on demand, you're selling yourself short. If you're only as good as your current boss/trainer/sergeant, you've given over the most important thing you have to someone else."

"The thing I care the most about: what do you do when no one is looking, what do you make when it's not an immediate part of your job... how many push ups do you do, just because you can?"

What makes you tick?

What's holding you back?