Sunday, October 26, 2014

#mozfest 2014 event comes to a close...

Conf photo albums, check the ones for MozFest 2014
Great pics by Tracy, @PixelVixenUK
and Paul, @Paul_Clarke
I had a great time at #mozfest 2014 in London.

Once again, many thanks to the folks volunteering, providing services, and running the event. Of course, a special thank you to US-Ignite and Mozilla for bringing me over to mash.

To the attendees… what a privilege to meet so many talented and inspiring people.

The event closes, but… I'm inspired, bringing back heaps of resources, and have so many ideas to develop and refine.

There's so much here at #mozfest brewing for adults and students that's relevant and important to discuss, create and develop. The pic on the left were the major themes from the conference. Here's the full session list within those themes revealing the salt. 

Conferences like this can be tough. There are so many things that have value. There were so many themes that presented opportunities to learn, build, and share. I chose to skim and draw from many. It would have been very easy to stay in one place and fully immerse myself in something in one track. Perhaps next time.

the endless food and drinks were great too ; )

So was the free Flame phone with the new FireFoxOS… and with OS choice (I chose the developers distro). Turning students loose on this will be a lot of fun.

So was strolling around London. I truly wish I could stay for a another week (or two) to explore.

As people on the web expands from 2 billion to 5 billion people… shaping the web we want… what does that look like. Lots to think about. 

I'll write more about my takeaways here. I've got a lot to process… but will do so in a couple days. I'm totally exhausted. Going to grab some food, and then about 10 hours of sleep.

We win...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

First full day of #mozfest London

… rocked. We win…

Completely wiped out.

(blog set to est, not london time… whatever…)

Friday, October 24, 2014

London… a quick update

I've covered some territory in London thus far in 36 hours.

Parliament and Big Ben…
Buckingham Palace…
Westminster Abbey…
Red Dragon Pub
London Eye…

Walking many miles felt great after getting off the plane and all the seat based work I did over the few days leading up to the trip.

I'll toss in some thoughts on these places later, but I keep laughing at one quote I heard about Winston Churchill on why he refused to be buried at Westminster Abbey… "too many people there I won't get along with."

The Abbey, like Notre Dame in Paris, is an architectural marvel. Especially the ceiling, which gets more elaborate as you walk toward the top section of the floor plan. At @garystager 's recommendation I took a London Walks guided tour. Much cheaper to get into the Abbey this way, and humorous stories. 

Seeing the burial place of George Frederic Handel and Charles Dickens was quite cool as well… among many others.

Martin Luther King is recognized amongst others on the front facade… another one of the many things about the Abbey I didn't know. Well worth the trip.

#MozFest (that's a link to the Twitter search for the conf hashtag, and here's one to the conf website) 's out at Ravensbourne by the O2. Modern, spacious, and loaded with collaborative workspace.

Mozilla is putting on quite a show. 

I've already met so many people doing some great work. It's a thrill to be here and take part in it all.

The next few days are filled with work sessions and mashing ideas. I like the conference format here… very organic and people are encouraged to bounce around a lot. 

One local gave me a great tip for dinner, Bermondsey St for dinner. I chose one of their picks for Italian food called Zucca… and it was absolutely delicious, and sans extravagant prices. There were a lot of restaurants on the street there… tempting to go back and try another.

Night time at the London Eye...
London by night is a spectacle. I walked up to the eye after catching a cab...

… and I had an amazing chat with a cab driver about their job, the 35 mile expanse of London, and their approach to it all. I'll write more on that too later as well ; )

Off to bed. Early day tomorrow and lots of of creative ideas to explore.

We win...

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

School Schedule...

I've been working with another group of schools on shifting their school schedules to open up PD, learning and innovation.

So many schools have been gridlocked, waiting to make large sweeping changes that, frankly, they never have time to develop… so things stay much the same. One school I worked with recently has discussed changes for 5 years… committees, sub committees, task forces… and not one single change. That's a recipe for apathy and frustration. It's great to see how small changes can really get things moving in some of these schools.

The book on all this is making progress. Tick tock, right? ; )

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.