Friday, December 30, 2011


One of my favorite Holiday activities is to simply sit and look over the ornaments on the tree...

... and let my mind wander...

Working in education these many years, you start defining 'years' by the academic calendar. When I think back to January of last year...

I attended the Educon Conference at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia. The students, adults, and especially it's leader I think, are gems in education. The facility is nothing special, but it's home to a vibrant, dynamic group carving out some great paths in learning. I found the atmosphere and the dynamic of the folks at SLA, the will to shift things, to try new things very refreshing. It's my hope to return this coming year to Educon with some of the same crew and hopefully a few more folks. Btw, Good Dog Bar and Restaurant... highly recommended.

The Spring semester, January through June, brought on year four in the four-year evaluation cycle where I teach, Formal Review. Many folks observed me and my practices in the classroom. I'm happy to say the challenges were met again with great reviews and that some at the school are looking deeper into, using a few buzzwords, differentiated instruction, project-based education, and social media opportunities from our work here. It also got me working more closely with some folks, sharing ideas more often... something I'd like to see a schedule change to encourage more deeply ala SLA... listed later on here or like the one at Urban Academy in NYC.

The rLab (where I teach) continued to light some folks up and for others who struggled with it's project work and philosophical challenges, it continued to open up some new, fresh thinking for folks on how they learn. I'm proud of the scope... and ready for it to evolve. Something I'll be lending considerable thought to over the remainder of this year and Summer.

Two students in the Lab breathed new life into a discussion a few years earlier on establishing a new Social Networking course at school. The work continued through the semester and was ultimately accepted to begin in the Fall of 2011.

Another high school baseball season cranked up and before we knew it we were on to Graduation, another class of students flew by. As the school year wound down, the Summer schedule was filling up.

After graduation the baseball team appeared in it's second straight State Finals, a 7-1 loss to Mississquoi High School. I've had more than a few losses in my coaching career. This one, due to the circumstances we played under, an extremely tight strike zone that defined will of the game itself stripping away competitive balance, and the aftermath of some folks reactions... in retrospect, it was one of my least favorite games I've ever participated in as a player or a coach. The dynamics of the game and the aftermath put a damper on the season for a few weeks for me and only after a few weeks was I able to separate myself and view the accomplishment and the growth in the right light. I recapped some decisions I'd made with friends, something I tend to do more after adversity and losses, and regained confidence in many decisions I'd made. The baseball program continues to grow, become more and more respected in character and athletically becoming more consistently competitive. Just what we were looking for. A fellow for a local paper here wrote a great summary of our season.

Shortly after graduation, our family took a trip with the Colchester Cannons to South Dakota. I was asked by my friend Jeff Mongeon to reprise my old role with the team as bench coach. Janice would co-orchestrate meals on the road and 'Team Mom' duties with another great parent on the trip, no easy task for 18 players, 4 coaches, and our spirited bus driver, our friend Bob Wheel (great name for a bus driver, I know) as we motored cross country. Eb would reprise his role of bat boy and Grace would venture into videography on the trip. An offer we couldn't refuse. The trip was loaded with good people, good competitive baseball, and loads of fun. Just the ticket.

A few days after returning we ran another baseball camp for about 30 kids, the fifth consecutive camp I believe.

As the Summer started to wind down, I was asked to continue my role as bench coach with the Cannons as they entered the State Finals. The team went on to win the VT State Legion Championship in a thrilling and exhausting two-game final vs Bennington. I was unable to head off to Regionals with the Cannons though, I was off to teach a grad school class in Mexico.

A few days later I flew off to Monterrey, Mexico to teach a graduate course to a great group at Colegio Americano for Southern New Hampshire University (I know, an interesting combination, but I love teaching for them and their great Director, Dr. Vanessa Zerillo). Great company, food, and some great challenges laid out about pedagogy, and the future of education.

About 24 hours after returning from Monterrey I headed out to the Constructing Modern Knowledge conference in Manchester, NH. Sitting in the opening social event for the conference, the Minor League AA All-Star Game was surreal some 20 hours removed from the trip to Mexico. The conference itself is the brain child of Gary Stager. I've followed Gary Stager's work for many years and it was great to eat dinner with him and his crew and mingle ideas. There are too many great names to mention here of the participants, but the conference in a nutshell was not simply about listening to folks, rather it's to work with them. I loved it. We toured the MIT Media Lab, a desire of mine for many years, and created with some truly great folks.

My sons 9-10 year old team won the State title, advancing to the Regional Tournament in Massachusetts... a busy flurry of activity all mixed into the docket. I was fortunate enough to mix in helping at some practices, helping some kids adjust to the high caliber pitching they'd face in Regionals. Eb played very well, overcoming a few minor injuries and his first hitting slump of his young career. He emerged from it with three hits in the last two games though much to his delight. I'm very proud of the way Eb played personally, demonstrating great character and poise through the whole season, representing his community, team, and himself very well.

As the Summer wound down I decided, at long last, to enroll in Grad School. Marlboro Graduate Center offered the best program for teaching full-time, one that offered me the change to do face-to-face work and online combined. As I ramped into a few quick days of prep for the school year and from a very busy travel schedule over the Summer... and to start Grad School...

Hurricane Irene landed.

In a crazy flurry of activity, mucking the finished basement out, parsing through things, throwing out much, and rebuilding... I decided to stick with the commitment to attend grad school. Many fine folks and relief efforts helped us out and we're very, very grateful for all the work and contributions. Asa a family we ventured out and helped many others around the neighborhood. There were many casualties here, all material... pictures, comic books, books, furniture, electronics, and sadly... my guitar. Parsing through water damaged things, photos, demolition and reconstruction all proved very time consuming and exhausting. My friend Dan summarized it all eloquently when he said "it's been a long time since I've been this kind of tired." We'd been moving slowly to weed some stuff out and make some cosmetic changes but Hurricane Irene pushed the whole thing into a very high gear. Not the way we'd preferred to do it... but so it goes. Julie and Lee Oliva, Doug and Lynn Rawson, Pete and Sue Cotrell, Merideth Deibold, The Boucher's, Todd Ameden, The Klecowski's, many students and the Teachers Association and coordinated relief efforts from BBA, Rita Morgan, Paula Mattison, Peter Mull, Jim and Claudia Raposa, Nancy Strain and Rob Hunter, and last but not least my friend Chris Kunz for his lengthy work (and patience) to help us rebuild... it would have been far more difficult without all of you helping. We're more streamlined, and rebuilt better than before... and we're lucky to be in such good shape. My thoughts often venture to folks who lost everything in the wake of the Hurricane and it's my hope people will continue to help folks in need.

As we moved into the Fall, Janice landed an Aide job at the local Elementary school. She's already talking about moving forward into education and pursuing getting certified to teach. Mixing in the new job with the flood recovery was a challenge for her as well.

Grace had a great field hockey season this Fall. She'll be 14 soon... for those of you reading this who've been around these 14 years, yah, it sounds weird to me too ; )

The new Social Networking course is off to a good start. Guest speakers connecting their experiences and skills to real life, student designed and explorative mojo. The course, as expected, is challenging the concept of the traditional school schedule with many students yearning for more in-depth internship time. We'll see where it all leads, where it can spur innovation and what it can grow into.

A new school year started and grad school ticked with the first trimester closing just before the holidays.

The work in grad school has continued much of the feelings I had last years and over the Summer... I'm craving innovative projects and movement.

Time... does seem to be the enemy of growth in education. Layering on initiatives rather than restructuring often leads people to feel too busy, too rushed to innovate and try new things. Years pass by. Innovative ideas get shelved for more of the same... and it all gets busier.

After all the trips... I'm yearning for more. I'm looking forward to the challenges grad school offers and the connections. I yearn to travel again, and seek out some of the people and institutions that are shifting education. It's my hope to see where I can lead those findings locally or across the State through conferences, grad school or professional development courses, and through Vita-Learn ( I signed in to move from the Board to be Vice-President, moving on to President some time in the Fall of 2012). As I travel and study more I'm finding that many of the ideas I've actively worked on, lobbied for, or proposed for many years to be in practice elsewhere. It's refreshing in a away and actually a bit discouraging too.

Bringing light to a 1-1 computing initiative at BBA here remains one large and looming challenge. With many schools around us embracing the growth and learning opportunities that stem from equity of access to creative and collaborative tools, well, I think it's well past time to get such a program underway. An equitable computing initiative will spur on creative opportunities, the chance to look at what a school schedule could be, internships, online learning opportunities, and hopefully... well, we'll see ; )

Since Irene landed along with the school year, and grad school I've traveled less this Fall than in any year of my life. Social media though helped me keep in touch.

The Holidays bring another tradition I've enjoyed for many years... I'm always humbled by former students who stop in on Holiday breaks or send on notes to catch up. It's great to hear their stories of adventure and exploration. I catch up with many over dinner, lunch, or some snacks at cafes here. Many friendships that will last far, far into the future I'm sure. Good camaraderie and stories... the spice of life.

My friend Peter Wright ended his baseball coaching career after more than 25 years (for the time being)... something I'm both happy and sad about for him. True to his spirit, Pete will be helping out the program at St. J rather than refitting his role as head coach and he's also volunteered to continue to help out in the Coaches Association... we already voted him in unanimously whether he wanted to or not ; )

The year also brought new munchkins for my friends Jason and Christina Therrien, and Brian Chandler and his wife I have yet to meet. It's great to hear them talk about the new kiddos and all their adventures, and I couldn't be happier for them.

There are many folks I didn't mention... friends, high school and college grads, new jobs, new adventures, travels about the world... all exceptional to hear and a privilege to be a part of.

So... it's been a year full of motion, challenges, adventures, good camaraderie, good tinkering and thinking. I rekindled my mind to many projects, opened many new doors of opportunity, and we'll see where it all leads this year.

Happy Holidays! Engage, AP

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Education Revisited: Homework

We've started our Education Revisited exploration in the Lab where I teach. We landed on the topic of 'homework.' The thread is posted on our class blog.

I'd encourage more adults to have conversations with students about it ; )

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Schools often add things. Rarely though does adding something translate into removing or replacing previous agendas.

It leads to burnout. 

Resources, especially the energy of people, become drained when it's not balanced. I've used the picture above in presentations many times when I talk about this phenomenon of 'layering' in schools.

It takes leadership to curb this trend... and it takes monitoring by each person. It takes open communication on all fronts.

The breakdown in communication often leads to problems with overload, where layer after layer is piled on.

Schools are not particularly good at change. All too often they're not to good at communication, the open kind, the ones that foster discussion and feedback either.

Change is important and necessary. So is removing old agendas, broken programs, or directions to make way for the new.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Library... Fabrication Lab

Saw this article come across about refitting / retooling a more traditional library scheme.

The idea we had of a fabrication facility about five years ago... 

Refitting and retooling some traditions... creating new opportunities...

Very exciting to theorize and dream about...

More exciting to get on to doing.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Music and movies in class?

Once we have our opening discussions in class, we play music or a movie in the background.

Here's how.

The class often chooses, or I do, music or movies. Most often we choose to play music in the background while we do group project work. We choose movies during individual project work.

Here's why.

I've always thought it's relaxing for many students. It's a degree of civility in a classroom... treating it less like school and more like a home environment, a learning environment. We started down this path seven years ago now and never looked back. After all, we don't often go home to do work and sit in uncomfortable furniture, under bright fluorescent lights, deprive ourselves of all food and water, have no complimentary music or the like, and then expect we'll do our best... do we? We seem to do this in school though, and all too often I think. I've always felt, if we put some effort into making school look, well, less like 'school,' less like an industrialized environment it'd be more civil... more inspirational. 

Most often folks don't understand why we serve up movies on the classroom. First off, I ask people to focus on their work, and not on the movie. The movies, with low volume, play in the background. We'll spike the volume when we take a break for some great scenes... the Balrog on the bridge... that sort of stuff. Of course, much like a window, there are times you look up when something great is happening, or you just need a break. Bit like real life ; )

Further, we pick movies we can learn from, ones that inspire people. Creative stuff. The ones that bring dreams to life and have great messages. Inspiration... is a good thing.

Third, it threads nicely into discussions and practices on learning to work in a different environment and to manage distractions. Many folks are used to listening to music when they work. Often times this is heavily frowned upon in school. Never really had anyone give me a good reason why. I've often said 'admitting you're easily distracted is the first step to recovery.' Do you need to reposition yourself in the room? Adjust the volume? I think it's safe to say that anyone who's worked out of the school environment has had to learn to deal with distractions and figure out how they work their best.

Fourth, Almost all of the movies we choose carry great appendices... great documentary footage about how they are made. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as an example, in the Extended Editions, carry heaps of material about crafting, problem solving, hard work, creativity, and fun. Far better to play it than just discuss it. It's too cumbersome in length to play and just watch... so, we play it while we work, stopping here and there when something great comes up.

We thread in clips too that we find about films, like this one, a look inside the new shooting of The Hobbit in 3D. New material that comes out revealing creativity, problem solving, skill development, and dedication... craft.

For some, it is distracting out of the gate, no doubt. Many have never experienced a classroom environment like we have here. I'm guessing many though will never experience a work environment like they have in a traditional school model. That statement... could lead to a lot of writing ; )

This speech by Rogier van der Heide, speaks volumes to why it makes sense to change the concept of the classroom, from the colors used, to the lighting.

I'd encourage you, if you've never done it to give it a try. Turn down some bright fluorescent lights, create an environment, and coax folks to learn from the experience. Never know what might turn up. It's worked great here.

What's next? Our work here continues to challenge the concepts of a 'master schedule' and the potential of internships. Many other schools, of course, have headed down such paths already. Again... discussions for another post.

cross posted at:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Layers: Tools and Skills

I just read Jeff Utecht's new post called Technology: More than a tool, a new skill.

Utecht provides some great examples of how viewing technology as simply tools promotes this kind of substitutive use... quill, pencil, pen, word processor. Of course there's some tool based learning. The focus though, as Utecht lays out, should be on skills and learning.

So why don't we do this more often? What prevents us from focusing more on tools rather than discussing the skills and learning? 

When we talk about using technology in schools, in classes... that's where things seem to get messy. Fire up discussions on 1-1 computing, social media or the like, and people get defensive. It's a problem with many layers. I'll start with one thought here and post others in the coming weeks. 

Here's the first, a discussion thread that pops up often: Pedagogy. I'm guessing you've heard this before. 

'So and so is a great teacher. We're not going to tell them they have to use technology.' 

Some teachers are comfortable with technology and some not so much. That's as deep as many conversations go... when we simply talk about the tools themselves.

Here's some criteria for 'learning' I've laid out in quite a few presentations, a map of sorts I use in teaching and how help steer our Lab.

I'd like to think great teachers teach individuals rather than a seat in a class of curriculum. To be clear, bad teaching, exists with and without technology.

If the scope of learning has value in the slide above, then I'd pose that technology use can help explore the threads there in very diverse and creative ways. It does not need to dominate... it can provide opportunities. Especially on the creative front.

It can be student centric. A teacher doesn't have to be an expert at video editing to incorporate video into classes. They could allow students who are comfortable in that medium the chance to create work that way though. Ask a student to submit work to you in any form they choose. I told a friend recently... who has basically no computer skill...
Focus on content. Allow students to design creatively. Tell them they can use audio, video, visual presentations... and see what happens. Encourage them to help each other with their technical problems. Make sure their work is not tool centric, rather that they focus on content. See what happens.
It's messy learning. It explores failure, learning how to fail, and reinventing ideas. This approach challenges pedagogy and the idea of the teacher centric, stand and deliver model classroom. My friend told me the flexibility opened up doors in his classroom he'd never thought of. The work was far more creative that he'd hoped and he learned a great deal more about the students individually. He focused on content. His students focused on creativity. We discussed Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, where students land, challenging them to create, make the experience individualized...

Of course there are other ways to lead / mentor this, varying degrees, considerations technically, but it's an example of creativity and approach.

Here's a great quote I love from Gary Stager that eloquently summarizes thoughts on pedagogy:
"Less us, more them."
I like the simplicity of it Stager's words there. It's a great motto to have I think as you explore work with students.

I'll add thoughts to other layers in the puzzle soon.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

MAT 610... Pedagogy Thinkin'

Q: "How would you describe your pedagogy / your ideas about teaching now? What to you take from the big 4 theories."

Behaviorist: I do analyze response and stimulus. I see how people react to questions and class discussions. I play movies and music in class while we work, observe behavior, and help students analyze ‘ideal’ and productive work environments, how to learn, and learning style.

Cognitivist: Helping students explore how they think and process (Gardner... multiple intelligences). Self-designed projects and evaluation of method, self-managed workflow, project management, challenges to conventional thinking of 'school' vs education, thought process, and capacity of / for growth.

Connectivism: Connecting things into broader learning and life. How technology effects you: past, present, and future. Creating a diverse learning community to refine and expand knowledge.

Constructivist: Creating (large emphasis on creating) knowledge. "Learning is messy." We learn as much from the explorative process, exploration and failure. Self designed project, trials and triumphs, research, presentation, and duration of each project itself.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs

 It's an odd feeling...

when people you've admired for so long... pass away.

You never really get used to it.

I took the time to watch some of Apple's latest tech update earlier today... about 330pm and I remember seeing an empty chair in the front row... and how that struck me as odd... especially in such a small auditorium. I remember wondering if Jobs would show up at this product announcement or if he'd keep a low profile.

My mind wanders...

Over these many years I've owned quite an array of Apple gear.

My first venture was a Mac SE/30. I spent hour upon hour on that small monochrome screen. Inventing. Crafting music. Exploring digital design. I had to toss that SE/30 away last week... another victim consumed in the flood. The computer gave me an opportunity to change my life.

My mind just wandered over to the thought that earlier today I was pondering iPhones for my daughter, her first cell phone, and for our family contract upgrades. Another Apple device.

I remember how I laughed when I watched Jobs introduce the iPhone.

I remember my reaction when I saw that commercial back in 1984, with Anya Major running in... directed by Ridley Scott... the sledgehammer...

The web is bustling with stories on Jobs death, his creativity, his design, attention to detail, business sense, and incredible drive. Many of them are well written. Many are striking visually... especially the ones at Wired and BoingBoing. And they happened fast. The NY Times, Wired and many others have all crafted various tributes... notes of sympathy from Bill Gates, Sergey Brin... and a host of others. I just sort of watched it all flow and develop on the web. Somewhere along the way, I posted a tribute on the rLab class blog too.

The video Wired posted above... it's some great smithing. A timeline... of innovation and spirit. It speaks to... well, you can decide.

Over these years I've marveled at Jobs creativity... his ability to keep inventing and reinventing products... and himself... a drive to be innovative.

I'll miss his updates and his ability to blend technology, art, and functionality... into simplicity.

And I'll miss watching how much he seemed to enjoy it all.

It's very likely, as far as Apple was pushing ahead these days, that we'll see a few more products that has Jobs signature on it. He's also inspired a whole crew there to carry on at Apple.

When the innovators die though, the true geniuses...

It's an odd feeling...


Monday, September 26, 2011

Design Simplicity... Managing a school web site

I've served as Webmaster for two schools. One school district where I used to work and the other for Burr and Burton Academy, a 9-12 high school where I currently teach.

Refitting the Burr and Burton Academy web site back in 2005 was quite a ride.

As a brand new teacher to the school, I took the job as a stipend position, $1500 per year.

Here's the site I was asked to refit (courtesy of

The goals presented were simple:

  • Give the site a new, fresh, modern look. More 'brochure like,' and 'less web like.'
  • Be able to build and manage the site while teaching full-time (and coaching). The site would need to be designed with distributed publishing responsibilities (daily announcements, cafeteria updates, etc). Basically, train others to update their areas.
  • Bring the school 'online,' so to speak, with news feeds and subscription based daily announcements (RSS). 
  • Make the site supportable: Commercial product, documented, web compliant templates.
  • Make the site visible in other countries and on different browsers.
  • Of course, do all this within a budget... which didn't exist.
  • Build the site for a year and then turn it over to someone else.

Porting the new site to web compliant standards across continents was a guiding factor for the site. I chose DreamWeaver to develop the website and a web compliant template and menu system from Project 7. The two snap-ins added up to about $70 dollars. So... I got underway. 

Freddie Templeton and Brian Gawlik helped with content, discussions on color schemes and artwork. Meetings to consolidate data and simplify, web smithing, test runs, installing Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer in various languages.

Streamlining peoples expectations on what a school website could/should be, streamlining content, designing and building it all... hindsight, the $1500 stipend turned out to be about about .70 cents per hour ; )

We struck up a new design. It was bold for back in the day, and ahead of its time. It sported a new contemporary color palate, and simplified menu system.

In our first few presentations, a few folks hated the new design. We worked our way through those meetings, made modifications based on their feedback, and then the Headmaster decided we were ready to roll it out to the Faculty.

To get folks ready for the new look, I showed showed the web movements that Duke, Harvard, and MIT were making toward simple, bold designs and then showed the Faculty our new site.

Here's the outcome of our refit (courtesy of WebArchive.Org).

Seeing the trends that other institutions were on, nobody complained!

At least not at first ; )

Mission accomplished! The Less 'web like' and more 'brochure like' site was set in motion.

Reports came in that the site was much easier to navigate with 'centers' for different groups. Parents, Alumni, etc and many loved the new design which highlighted many photos of students and learning on campus.

Web design is fickle though... and fast moving. Mobile platforms were exploding and making design more complex, especially across continents. Along the way I added more features as inexpensive solution became available:

  • A free Google search box to search the web site.
  • Setup a blog for posting Daily Announcements that people could subscribe to and could be updated (distributed publishing because I teach full-time).
  • Added a news feed from a blog of 'Current Events' to the home page (setup a blog, sync to FeedBurner, add widget on the home page. This... before Google bought FeedBurner and streamlined the process ; ). 
  • Snapped in Google Analytics (gave us a great, and free, data report on usage across the globe). It surprised a good many people just how heavily the web site was used.
  • Added online donations via PayPal for the Advancement Office. Pretty simple... and significantly cheaper than building your own e-commerce system.
  • I chose to put up a ton of student photos on the site into albums of events. For just over a year I made photo albums in DreamWeaver and posted them to the site. Page views of the 'School Photos' page skyrocketed. We received requests to put up even more photos on the site. This proved VERY cumbersome as building them in DreamWeaver took some time. As far as I can tell, we were the first school I could find to publish so many photos. Many schools contacted me to find out how we were doing it. As demands for more photos increased yet again, I needed a solution I could manage in the time I had. I switched publishing photos over to Picasa... and never looked back. Picasa made it easy to update and I trained the school photographer (again, distributed publishing responsibility) to create and update the albums. To this day, the photo section of the BBA site remains thee most heavily visited part of the BBA web site.
I ended up running the site in a part-time fashion for nearly three years rather than one. 

The refit site had served it's purpose. It set a new look, consolidated the web structure and navigation. It also educated many on what type of content should be on school websites and what should not. It educated many on what it took to update and maintain and focused people on streamlining those practices.

With another refit on the horizon, it was a good time to jump out of the Webmaster role in the Spring of 2008. It was getting too cumbersome to maintain in the part-time role and discussions stirred up to refit the site to a new design... again a time consuming project. 

A new refit would also increase demands for porting the site to mobile platforms (cell phones, netbooks, tablet computers, etc). During those three years I ran the site, I used to setup a computer, port the computer to different languages, wade through translations, and see if the content held to form in other languages. It was a fun process for a while ; )

I also used to test the site on two different smart phones for compatibility. DreamWeaver hadn't quite caught up to that development curve yet. A more sophisticated CMS system could handle all that and it would also be easier for others to maintain in-house as the school had no other experienced web developers.

Based on those variables, we chose a CMS company, FinalSite, and Freddie rekindled her role as Web Master. A new, more sharply contrasted design was chosen and snapped in.

The new system is significantly more pricey, especially from the $1500 per year stipend days and about $100 bucks in web templates... But it's more easily managed in-house, more web compliant, and in a CMS system for porting for the into the future.

Where the future will lead? Blogs are becoming a great option for academic institutions. Many colleges and schools are heading the blog path in some very bold, fun designs. 

Web design companies will face new challenges as these blog engines (WordPress and Blogger in particular) continue to become more robust... and basically free. Moving into a blog format though will continue to challenge schools to refine what they want on the web and assign a value to it. Such trials are good practice though and sorely needed in education I think.

Small school, with a relatively simple site? Keep it simple. Blogs are quickly becoming an excellent option.

I just saw Harvard and Duke went through another refit... and I really like the design work at Grad School at Marlboro College are cooking. I've always been a fan of minimalist design.

In hindsight... running the site for three years was a labor of love. I learned a great deal about the school, it's history, how decisions were made, many personalities, and it's evolving organizational structure. It helped me work with classes I taught and to advise projects on basic on through robust web design... And I'm glad my days as school Webmaster are over, especially while I teach full-time and coach!

Thanks for tuning in, AP

Saturday, September 24, 2011

MAT610 Second class opening questions

Sept. 24, 2011
Opening exercise

Q: What is meant by knowledge?
I think of knowledge as skills, perspective, and understanding that you can gain.

Q: How do you know if you know something?
I ask my wife. Just kidding ; )
I can recall the information or apply the skill or process I need to solve something.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Reflective post for MAT610: Educational Technology: using the blog label (tag) mat610...

"Post your writing from our first class (your initial thoughts on what learning is and how you learn) as your first post. You will use your blog to reflect on learning and technology throughout the class."

Well... after my surreal start to Grad School, here are my first notes from the two exercises we did. Not bad all things considered. I've written far worse ; )

What is learning?
I’d define learning as, paraphrasing a line from Star Trek, ‘... to boldly go where you’ve never gone before.’

Keep evolving intellectually and emotionally.

The ability to seek out new boundaries, challenging ones self to explore new things, engage and process new perspectives.

How do you I personally learn?

I love to try things, get my hands into it, and play (constructivist style). I love to chat with people and mash over ideas. I’m a social person and learn a great deal from conversing with people. I’m a reader, more so a blog and article hound, but love to discuss what I read with other people. I’m a self-motivated learner. I am constantly seeking out new things: food, places, music, perspectives, theories, and technology. I’m rarely overwhelmed, rather, I’ve developed some skills through the years to break things down into small pieces and have a personal philosophy... ‘keep moving forward.’

Friday, September 16, 2011

Grad School week one...

I decided to attend grad school after these many years about two weeks before...

Hurricane Irene landed.

Vermont... got rocked by Hurricane Irene. The resulting structural and financial damage we took at our household gave me pause if I should even attempt such a venture like full-time grad school this year, especially while I teach and coach. After waiting for many years for one reason or another, I made the decision to dive in and attend orientation last weekend.

It seemed to get more strange from there.

Once I arrived at orientation I discovered that, in the flurry of activity over the last few weeks, I spaced that that classes actually STARTED that Friday night, and continued for most of the day Saturday.

Five hours of sleep in... about two weeks... mentally fatigued... no place to stay... virtually no money with me... I'd have to cancel a slew of appointments... 9 hours of classes...

Set course and engage.

Quick kudos to Joe Heslin and Kathy Urffer. Joe hooked me up with a place to stay Friday night, which turned out to be a room in Kathy's house.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any more strange... late that Friday night the stomach flu landed on me. After an unsteady 2-3 hours of sleepI set a steady diet of ginger ale and a nap in the 'chill room' in between classes to charge up a bit and before you could translate the Oxford dictionary into Latin... I was headed home.

Driving back through Vermont and seeing all the flood damage, completely exhausted, stomach flu nagging, traces of nine hours of classes playing bumper cars in my head... I figured the best remedy was to crank The Doors to help me keep awake.

It worked.

Made it home safe and sound and set promptly into 15 hours of sleep. Followed up with a bowl of cereal and then five more hours of sleep.

The classes themselves on the opening weekend... I had a great time. Despite the weird medley to start, it was great to meet everyone and engage in some good conversation. I like the flow of the place, the class crew, the course leaders, and the folks working there. It's got a good feel to it.

Not the best way to start grad school but... I'm in at long last.

I'm going to use this blog to post some reflective work on the whole experience and for some of the classes along the way.

To make these threads easier to find, I'll use the gradschool label (tag) for these posts and likely some others more specific to the classes themselves.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Adam Bellow's presentation at #140edu

Here's Adam Bellow's presentation from #140edu... 140 slides in 15 minutes...

Yes, you read that correctly!

It a fun rant challenging schools and individuals on how they are using technology...

... and how they're not.

Many, many schools are not discussing 'if' anymore...

They are discussing how...

Drifting thought on a new course...

After a Summer full of traveling and working, playing, and learning with great folks... I'm at the lake today. Thunderstorms in the distance, some light rain on a strangely glassy lake... and I find myself sitting, reading, and sort of letting my mind wander.

My mind wandered over to the new course I'll be teaching this coming year... designed by students... Social Networking: A Senior Seminar...

I've been pondering this new and exciting endeavor off and on over this last Spring and Summer... loosely drafting ideas... frameworks...

for an innovative course...

Here's a video I stumbled on today (via one of my rss feeds) that got me thinking on this today...

There are so many possibilities...

We'll see where it all leads...

And how much fun some messy learning and exploration can be.

Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reflective thought, recharging, and to keep moving forward...

I did some traveling this Summer and got tangled up with some great folks.

Just what I needed.

Last week I reprised my role as a mentor to a technology course for Southern New Hampshire University, this time for a group in Monterrey Mexico. This came fresh off the heels of an 18-day trip out West with the Colchester Cannons baseball team to South Dakota, and a conference just 24 hours later to Constructing Modern Knowledge in Manchester ( #cmk11 by Twitter hashtag), New Hampshire. Being on the road since June 10 has it's challenges... and it's something I discovered that I missed. Some serious changes of scenery and some new experiences is just what I needed.

Colegio Euroamericano de Monterrey was the name of the school in Mexico where I was headed, the last class in a three-year journey for 25 ladies toward a Masters Degree.

I know... sympathy violins galore right... teach a grad course, a celebratory course no less, in Mexico, great food, 25 ladies...

After meeting my gracious hosts Mena and her husband Lalo at the airport, and a good nights sleep, I arrived at Colegio Euroamericano Monday am.

The news when I arrived was not good: A mother and daughter, Elisa's respectively, had suffered a tragedy. The eldest of the two, Elisa Sr, had suffered a debilitating stroke just a couple days before I arrived. An elderly woman, weeks away from completing her last class in a Masters track, it was hurtful news to the spirited group. I had a chance to meet the daughter, Elisa, as she came into the course looking for avenues to continue her work. It was easy to see how exhausted she was and I assured her that the course here, the day-to-day operations should be the furthest thing from her mind. I'd do whatever I could to help her make up work, whatever the college wanted to finish the work with her and hopefully her mother online at a later date after things had settled down. I assured Elisa that a path would emerge with Vanessa (the programs director), and I encouraged her to be with her mother, to stop in only if she felt she wanted to, and to get some rest. After some heartfelt words of encouragement for Elisa, she left to see her mother and we headed into some quick introductions to the class and got underway.

We started off with a quick story about how I ended up here for this class. Then I framed up that each person would explore their own themes here, something relevant to their teaching. We'd use the group knowledge to explore, my help and resources, and explore paths to learn what we needed to accomplish our goals along the way. We'd discuss/explore/reflect on a collaborative blog that we'd build together, one where each person was an editor. Along the way we'd look at teaching... the philosophy of promoting and practicing explorative learning and our roles within it, explore a heap of resources, get introduced to creative thinkers, inspiring stories, and ideas.

We kicked off with the Reggio Emilia approach and the 'Story of Laura and the Watch,' one of my favorites about how we can work with children. I've studied the work in Reggio Emilia for years now, first exposed to it by Gary Stager back in the day. I had the chance to revisit this approach again at #CMK11, run by Gary, a few weeks ago in Manchester, NH. There I was able to hear the tale of Reggio Emila first hand at the conference from one of my idols in education, Lella Gandini. I recapped how I've often felt that Lella Gandini might have forgotten more about working with children than I know. I recapped the tale from the conference, meeting Ms Gandini, the approach, the role of the teacher, the documentation, and the heartfelt and spirited projects that emerged from the kids in Italy with the group. I tied it in with a framework of how this course might go and my role in it to help.

The challenge I laid out in this Masters class, as I do in my classes in the rLab, is to explore something personally meaningful. The idea of many explorative projects going on in the room at the same time, the teacher as a facilitator, a mentor to many rather than 'directly' leading or scripting instruction, especially in a step-by-step fashion seemed daunting to some... and that's the fun of it I think.

Then I introduced the class blog, a creation I'd put a lot of work into, nearly 10 minutes ; )  ... a basic template on Blogger, one introductory post (what you see now is very different than where we started), and just two links on the side to open, collabroative google docs: one for folks to enter class themes they'd be interested in exploring and the other to discuss personal themes. I told them they'd all be signed in as authors and full editors to the blog and we'd see where it went (and it went on many, many turns). After we dove into the first round of those collaborative project ideas and edits, we took a quick group slant on:

Scripted vs Explorative Learning:

The great challenge for some I explained is how they will balance personal frustration vs learning. As I said in class and in the Grad Course Blog, there have been a few days where I've thought of using a laptop as a frisbee. It takes patience and craft to branch out and explore.

Learning how to learn, how to problem solve, how to seek answers, how to read what is on the screen and deduct what the next possible step might be, and, as I've said many times, to 'develop the courage to click' are all skills that take a fresh perspective, some courage, and willingness to learn. I explained:

Many of us older folk, and unfortunately even younger ones, come from an era of 'scripted learning.' Things are prepared for us, step-by-step. We are asked to follow directions, to provide the required feedback, prepare the specified content in a specific format for a grade. As a result, we get great at following directions.

The great challenge in this rapidly changing era is to revisit how we can learn and how to use these tools for their creative capacity... something far beyond just reading, research, and writing.

Here are two comments from my post earlier on #CMK11 that are so fitting:

Brian C. Smith said...

Adam, I think you've captured the essence that is CMK. Don't worry about what you don't know, dive in and do it. This is such an important lesson for our students and most importantly, we the teachers.

Susan Margolis said...

CMK turns out to be one of those rare, recurring events that actually evolves. It's structured to allow for both philosophical grounding in the experience of children as learners and as a working conference that 'lifts' a teacher out of the 'responsibility role' inherent in any formal school. After an intense year, it was amazing to have four days to ask questions of my own and to meet with curious people and speakers who are drawn to learning.

A couple of quick notes: 

1. I always include snacks in classes I work with in the rLab or with adults... and here it was a slightly different, palate adventure. Spicy mixes of nuts and chips, with 'fixin's to drizzle on like hot sauce and pepper flakes, fresh jicama and shredded cucumber... in any fashion people felt like tossing together. Being a spicy food fan... I loved it! I can say, I've never put hot sauce and pepper flakes on chips, especially early in the morning... and find I'm craving it right now actually... ; )  It spurred me on to rethinking the snacks I have and offer up in the Lab...

2. I play music (and movies) in classes in the background in the rLab and did so in Monterrey too. I pulled the group together to hear one piece by a guitar hero of mine named Tommy Emmanuel, a piece called 'The Band Intro - Blue Moon.' I used the piece to discuss developing skill, adding parts and complexity as you go, and evolving the work into something else, something beautiful and rich... and to have some fun along the way. Emmanuel, I said, didn't start out playing this way. He had to learn his craft, much like a young musician would... a powerful reminder to those who readily state how they 'are not good with technology.'

Much like some of my students in the rLab and folks at #CMK11 , the first couple days were challenging. Some were frustrated at the explorative nature of the work, the lack of unified direction... but slowly, many began to see a plan, a theme, a joy of exploring diverse and self-directed work, and an emerging discussion of how to learn, the power in collaborating with peers, and strategies we discussed to seek answers. Near the end of the second day... things really started to take off. 

I also provided the explanation that you may jump groups as often or as little as you'd like and many folks did just that, taking on a collection of projects. As we're exposed to new things, new interests develop.

I also explained that on the final day each person would be asked to explain and show examples, narrative style to the group the scope of their journey for the week, to recap what they learned. It would be a conversation with the group... so we didn't have to waste time crafting up polished, scripted presentations.

Each day I posted a recap on our work, on the resources we explored, what we uncovered, and some thoughts for the next day. Those recaps can be viewed here:

As we explored... Folks started to have fun. Many people started working through breaks and through lunch. Many would come into class the next morning with tales of how they conquered certain things in the evening. We were building momentum. 

To recap some of the projects that went on... folks took on blog creation for classes they teach, explored wikis, and web site creation. They explored Google Docs, Picasa, presentations and forms online... many to build skills to frame up their final capstone projects. Some took on Photoshop... a series of editing and photo enhancement projects. Some took on movie editing, via iMovie, and a series of explorations on the Reggio Emilia scope of documenting student work, creative student project ideas, and shooting and editing their own creations for classes, students, family... there were many threads. Again... each person chose their own path... and was subjected to the collective energy of the group.

Many of these folks had little to absolutely no experience in any of these mediums, and many had very little tech skill but a curiosity to... go. Over the days the projects kept evolving. Our bloggers evolved to explore mashup style sites where the integrated calendars, group editing, student leaders, including and posting video, Twitter feeds and hashtags searches, photo feeds... and all the group approaches to accounts and management. The Photoshop and video editors went from basic intros to spirited editing, project ideas with students, and some good personal projects and experiments. Many sought out ways to mash all these things all together for explorative, collaborative projects on the web with students and with peers. A big think tank that generated a lot of energy.

As a group: 

We explored Twitter... new to most of them and saw how backchannel conversations can add depth and how, with some effort, you can find some great learning resources. I showed them who I subscribe to as a start. 

We entered discussions on El Sistema, the hopeful project created by Jose Antonio Abreu. We entered a spirited discussion on the TED talk by Sugata Mitra and the many philosophical issues it tows. We explored some great posts by Chris Lehmann and a speech by Benjamin Zander, OpenCourseWare, iTunes U, podcasting and many web resources to promote folks to dive into personal passions. 

I provided folks with as many resources as I could: Art sites, leads to great tutorials, projects, new tools, other innovative ed approaches, schools, conferences, project based learning examples, Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT, The High-Low Tech Group, Gary's extensive list of CMK resources... especially on programming and exploring integrating computers with creative capacity: Lilypad Arduino and Arduino, Logo, Scratch, Pico Cricket, GoGo Boards, 3D printing... to name just a few.

Along the way, the class blog evolved, changing many times in appearance and depth of content. 

The final presentations, conversational style (so we didn't waste a bunch of time crafting polished presentations) were excellent. As a final, I asked that within the next few days, people draft a short, narrative summary of sorts on the class blog, an original post that spoke of their journey.

And folks absorbed it all within the scope of their projects and interests. Each person explored something relevant to their needs and curiosities, and I think opened some new doors. My hope is that the work inspired them to stay fresh, to take chances with kids, to learn together, and not to limit kids by what they may not know personally.

It was a great week. Great people, food, discussions, travels, and explorations.


As I stated earlier... I needed to recharge this Summer.

Here's what these travels this Summer did for me.

I've always taken risks in the jobs I've had, especially as a tech coordinator and as a teacher in the classroom. In the rLab, moving 20+ completely independent projects each semester is pretty common. It's a labor of love. With the project exploration we take in sweeping explorations of how technology is changing the world: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Here's a summary on our work. It's a direct challenge to conventional scripted learning... and for some it's not easy. Some students struggle mightily stepping away from being led down specific paths each day and choosing their own. I get concerned that it's such a struggle for some but am privileged to take a part in it... to rekindle that desire and approach to learn for themselves and seek out their goals.

The rLab spurs on many proposals for change on campus. Along with these ideas to loosen up conventional infrastructure, and (still lobbying) for 1-1 computing.... we're exploring new ground in schedule changes to promote flexibility, internships... to name just a few (many others are buried in the blog). The path of innovation in the rLab has challenged status quo.

There begins the challenge... the taxing nature of it. Creating new programs, lobbying for change, for flexibility... takes endless energy. Changes can be a slow, laborious maze often taking years to bring to fruition.

Over the last couple years... I've been worn down. Stalled initiatives, recurring discussions, meetings... Then education in the State and the Country... Act 60, and 68 (in Vermont), NCLB, calls for standardization, heavier assessments, standardized tests, Race to the Top, curriculum with more specified and scripted outcomes, commercialization, even answering a grievance over an innovative internship program back in the day... I found had slowed my resolve. I'm a voracious reader and over the last two years the articles and blog posts on education reform, countless numbers of them bitching but offering little to no solutions... along with the battles to innovate, and also the death of a good friend and colleague... all of it left me feeling drained.

I began to wonder if... for lack of a better term... if this was, well... 'it.' What should / could I do to promote more growth and creative opportunities? Along the way, some of my peers have encouraged me to finally go into administration. Should I? Where was 'my' future in education? Where was the future headed in education? Should I head toward another school? Another program? Perhaps even another country? Perhaps even another career?

What #CMK11 did... it reminded me that I'm not crazy.

I saw the flow of what I do in the Lab and in Grad classes I steer and practices I defend readily successfully practiced by many folks who I've gathered countless resources from over the years. My project at CMK? I wanted/needed to soak it all in, to watch how the mentors worked, and what the group got out of it... essentially to prove to myself that I wasn't nuts! I worked with some folks to put some of it into a documentary of sorts to do just that. I'm not sure how successful our scattered video edits were... but we did our best to document the courage to learn, explore, and create. It also revealed to me that I'm ready to sharpen my video editing skills ; )

Seeing what went on at CMK has encouraged me to dig deeper, to take more risks, to mentor more... and less actually when appropriate, and to refine my work in the lab and with peers as a mentor even further. It also inspired me to... 'take off my teacher hat and put on my learner hat' again as Gary put it. I needed to spend more time refreshing myself and taking on new challenges. The conference opened many new doors for me with connections, thoughts on the future, and to many innovative resources. The entire journey this Summer from helping take a great baseball team West, to the time at CMK, and casting this Grad Course helped me refresh... and I'm hungry for more.

I'm not nuts. I was just stagnant... and a bit bored.

Sharing lunch with Derrick Pitts and John Stetson, cupcakes with a large group at a round table with Marvin Minsky, and dinner with Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager was tremendous. I met Mitch Resnick and toured, uh... spontaneously so, the MIT Media Lab. I met and tinkered with Brian Smith, Artemis Papert, Brian Silverman, Lella Gandini, and author Jonothan Kozol... and of course the many, many spirited folks at the conference. All of it... recharged me.

The journey caused me to revisit some programs like the MIT Media Lab. I've been raking in information from the Reggio Emilia approach since returning from CMK, revisiting methodologies to foster growth in learning. It reminded me that I've been at this work for a long, long time. It reminded me that I haven't marketed myself as well as I should to open up more avenues to discuss it and learn with these folks.. not just from these folks. I love the conference scene, especially these new threads like Educon and CMK. I need to do more presenting again on the stories I have, the rLab, and my thoughts on education and learning. I need to meet new folks and make new connections again.

It opened me up again to the future... and where I might head rather than be concerned about how I might... or should get there.

I need to refine my approach on how I share our work here in the rLab and in these courses. I need to keep exploring, and see where it leads me into the future, what opportunities and friendships it opens up into the future. I'm ready to explore new adventures and opportunities.

Since I've been back these couple days, I've done those practical things like pay a few bills, do some laundry, and I've read a lot in a hammock (a relaxing Summer ritual of mine). I've looked over the reflections on the class site from Monterrey. I've seen that Will Richardson has moved to Tumblr and taken off on some great writing again. I've read read some great posts on TeachPaperless, read up on a new blog by Shelly Blake-Plock, and caught up on the posts by Chris Lehmann.

And I feel refreshed.

My sincere thanks and gratitude to the folks I've mentioned here in this long, long tale: The great folks in the Grad Class in Monterrey, the folks at #CMK11, and to those I've cited here that I've gathered inspiration from and who's materials I've shared.

I've already canceled my loosely knit plans to head to Germany next Summer in hopes to revisit the great folks in Monterrey and to explore more of Mexico. I'll seek out new opportunities to present at conferences, continue to blog and reflect... and explore the work of the great folks I've stumbled across this Summer... and stay in touch. I plan on heading back to Educon, to CMK and to sharpen my proposal further for a semester-long sabbatical... and to get into, at long last, my own Masters program. The extended degree will open new doors for me to teach and who knows what else. In this coming year hoping to meet more of the folks I've learned so much from on the web and in person. I hope to continue to develop these new friendships, start new ones, swap stories... and see where it leads me and my desire share and learn.

'Keep moving forward' is the motto I've used for years at the top of my class blog... if I ask my students to practice it readily... I'd better get busy doing it too.

Thanks for tuning in, Adam