December 2011


It is time for the annual year in review on the 21k12 blog.  Over the past year I have posted just over 150 times, which is down a tad from 165 posts in 2010, but is meeting my goal of averaging 3 posts a week and 12-15 a month.

In page views, I am happy to share that my 70,000+ page views in 2011, compared to 29,200 in 2010 and about 16,000 in 2009, represents a second consecutive year of doubling my readership.   It would seem unlikely that I will be able to see a third year of doubling, but it does prompt me to set a not entirely unreasonable goal of 100,000 page views in 2012!

2011 also saw my first ever 7,000+ month, June, and my first ever 10,000+ month, October.  Both records were entirely due to the success of my top two posts/pages of the year, a page about Graduation Speeches I posted in May (2700+ at present), and an October post about the New York Times article on Waldorf education and technology on Waldorf education (3300+ at present).

For each of these two cases, I executed a deliberate, and seemingly successful, strategy to attract visitors: two alternate, even opposite strategies.   For the first, Graduation Speeches, my strategy was entirely focused on drawing search engine referrals.   As May approached, I had a flash remembering all the many times I have confronted the need to prepare an upcoming graduation address as a school-principal, and my impulse at those times to seek inspiration from examples from other principals.   Accordingly, I googled “graduation speeches by school principals,” but found only very few useful search results.   So what occurred to me last spring, realizing I had a set of a dozen of my own past graduation speeches, was that I could provide this service for other principals, posting my talks and organizing them under one umbrella page, which I then seeded with a slew of searchable terms (see the post to see what I mean).  It seemed to work– not only did the umbrella page capture nearly 3000 views, but seven of the speeches linked to from that page each received more than 400 views.  (The most popular of the 12 graduation talks was Struggle to Grow and Learn: Remarks to Middle School Students at Promotion).  What I wish I knew was whether any of these many visitors found any value in what I shared, or even drew upon any of them for their talks– but I have no idea.

For the post about a NYT front page article on technology at a Waldorf school, I took an almost opposite strategy, seeking to be “first out of the gate”  in posting my reaction to the article that morning, and then using Twitter as best I could to “push it” to become viral.  After tweeting it out myself, I then spent part of the day watching Twitter as others tweeted out links to the article and tweeting replies that I had posted a reaction– and then seeing many of those tweeters tweet out my post to their followers.   That day I received 820 views of just that post (my previous one-day record for all views being about 500), and the next day, 709.  I realize “viral” is a highly relative concept, but in my little corner of the blogosphere, this represented by far my greatest “viral” success.

Now the list: Top Ten Posts from 2011 here at 21k12:

  1. Deeply Disappointed: Responding to the New York Times article on Waldorf education and technology (3342)
  2. Graduation Speeches (2740)
  3. The Flipped Classroom Advances: Developments in Reverse Learning and Instruction (2216) (more…)

 A little holiday treat from TO-FU: these 100 seconds will remind and reinforce you of what you already know if you seek to greater creativity in your life.  Some of my favorites:

  • make lists
  • try free writing
  • get away from the computer (!)
  • quit beating yourself up
  • be open
  • collaborate
  • practice, practice, practice
  • don’t give up
  • allow yourself to make mistakes
  • Got an idea: write it down [or blog it!]

And to my amazing educational colleagues here at St. Gregory, and to my incredible on-line PLN,  I dedicate this– my most favorite suggestion:

  • surround yourself with creative people

ISAS teachers, Independent School Association of the Southwest, are invited and encouraged to attend this year’s biennial Teacher’s Conference, Teaching Matters.   This is an outstanding conference, remarkable for its national caliber speakers presenting at our regional event.   The opportunity to learn and be inspired, challenged, informed and perhaps transformed by thought-leaders like Michael Horn, Jane McGonigal, Heidi Hayes Jacob, Pat Bassett, and David Eagleman is not to be missed and may have a life and career length impact.  Be sure to view the slides above, all 7 of them, to see the quality of the program.

But don’t just come and listen: Come and Engage!  A group of us at ISAS are making a special effort to welcome and encourage attendees to become fuller participants via the engaging power of social media.   Become yourself a “voice” by the use of Web 2.0 tools.   We are hoping that teachers and educators in attendance will attend, laptops and smart phones in hand, and connect, comment, and contribute to the intellectual discourse by the use of facebook, twitter, and blogging.   Those of you who have experienced conference attendance in what I think of as the “third dimension” know already how stimulating and growth oriented it is to participate via Social Media, and those of you who have not– this is the ideal time to start.

I extend this invitation in my capacity as Program and Professional Development Chair for the ISAS Southwest Association.    (Please note my full disclosure that this and other forthcoming blog posts about the ISAS conference are less than entirely independent, but potentially biased by my leadership role in the association. )   I will be attending the conference myself, as one among several “official bloggers” for the event and as an introducer for one of the speakers.

Most of all, however, it is my intent as blogger and professional development chair to add value for this conference by enhancing its success and the engagement of its attendees by encouraging others to blog and tweet.   (more…)

As I wrote about last year, I am greatly enthusiastic about the opportunity Open Computer testing plays in assessing our students in their development of 21st century skills.     I think it is a really exciting way to take assessment into 21st century information environments, and to situate students in much more real-world situations as we prepare them for the contemporary world of work.

The above slideshow displays what I think is a very well designed “Open computer/open internet” exam, and Dr. Scott Morris has added on every slide his annotations of how he expects students to use the internet in answering these questions, and how these questions, with those resources, demand more of his students, particularly the higher order thinking skills of critical thinking and analytic reasoning, and a deeper understanding of the course material. (If the slides are too small for the print to be legible, click on the full screen link at the bottom right).

As I frequently discuss with Dr. Morris, with whom I have prepared this post and with whom I am co-presenting on this topic at the NAIS Annual Conference in March, our rationale is that our students are preparing to work in professional environments where they must tackle and resolve complex problems, and we know that in nearly every envisionable such environment, they will have laptops or other mobile, web-connected, digital tools to address those problems.   Let’s assess their  understanding in situations parallel to those for which we are preparing them.

But it is not just a matter of situating them in real-world environments, but that with open computer testing, the format of exams, (and yes, as much as I am a huge fan of PBL, exhibitions, and portfolios, call me retrograde but I still think there is a place and a role for exams in the range of assessment tools we use,) but the format of exams changes in really meaningful ways. (more…)

A few times a year I enjoy sharing here on the blog student perspectives about our educational programs and initiatives here at St. Gregory, lifting them from our award winning student newspaper, the Gregorian Chant. 

Although I write more often here about our 1:1 laptop and related technology initiatives, our leadership and innovation educational advances, and our enhanced attention to 21st century skills, our new faculty-student “advisory” is certainly one of our very most important enterprises of the past two years.   Before last fall (2010), the school functioned with only a small “homeroom” arrangement, but now students and teachers meet twice weekly for 20 minutes for what we intend to be a rich, relationship-building, social and reflective, service-oriented, character enhancing, advisory time.  

In the most recent student paper, one of our sophomore students, Leah M., reported on the program in what is now its second year.  I am delighted by the report, and am happy to share it here.

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STG advisory making progress toward goals

There is one “class” at St. Gregory where students are not only permitted, but also encouraged, to relax, kick back, chat with friends, and reflect.  The implementation of advisory has opened the door to a learning experience that is free from pressure and evaluation.  Let’s see how advisories are doing, what positives they have brought to our school, and what might still need tweaking.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays of every week, students from each grade meet with one another and one or two faculty members to participate in advisory.  Advisory did exist years ago at St. Gregory in a different form, primarily for the purpose of beginning the day and taking attendance, and it eventually morphed into homeroom.  Advisory at St. Gregory began anew last year with a transformed agenda, and is continuing through this 2011-2012 school year.  Some of the goals set forth by the administration when advisory began were to have a forum in which students could comfortably articulate their feelings and get feedback from peers and teachers, to encourage students to improve stress management skills, to allow students to work towards better communication with others, and to serve generally as a support system.

When asked if she was pleased with the progress of advisory, Ms. Heintz replied that she is “happy with the direction it is going,” although she admitted that it has not yet met the administration’s expectations.  Ms. Heintz added that she believes “it can mean more to the students over time and be a better resource.”  However, this does not mean that advisory has not evolved and changed since the launch of it last year.  The faculty listened to complaints and opinions about the initial practice of every advisory discussing the same topic once a week, and has instead moved towards having each advisory take charge of its own time.  Along with this alteration, this year there has also been more sibling advisory interaction. (more…)

A recurrent theme on this blog is advocating learning by doing in the 21st century, and I argue that we should be seizing the opportunities new technologies present to facilitate our students in shifting their focus from consumption to creation, from receiving information to producing knowledge and applying it to become themselves active innovators.

We have been working throughout our curriculum to promote this idea– see the way that our AP Gov’t class has written their own textbooks or created their own political campaigns complete with TV ads and websites as examples.   Our Design Built Tech Innovation class, often celebrated here on the blog, is a highlight of our efforts in this direction.

In the TED talk above, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld explains that we need in our schools a  “Fab Lab — a low-cost lab that lets people build things they need using digital and analog tools. It’s a simple idea with powerful results.”

We’ve won the digital revolution; let’s look after the digital revolution to what comes next.

I’ve never understood the boundary between computer science and physical science… Computer science is one of the worst things ever to happen either to computers or science.

I started a new class, How To Make Almost Anything.   Students were not there [in this class] to do research, they were there because they wanted to make stuff.

Just year after year — and I finally realized the students were showing the killer app of personal fabrication is products for a market of one person. You don’t need this for what you can get in Wal-Mart; you need this for what makes you unique.

[paraphrase] When we opened FabLabs, we found a pattern: Empowerment begins, and then Education follows, serious, hands on education, Problem-Solving follows, and in turn Businesses grow around this problem-solving, and eventually there is Invention: real invention happening in these labs.

So, we’re just at the edge of this digital revolution in fabrication, where the output of computation programs the physical world. So, together, these two projects answer questions I hadn’t asked carefully. The class at MIT shows the killer app for personal fabrication in the developed world is technology for a market of one: personal expression in technology that touches a passion unlike anything I’ve seen in technology for a very long time.   And the killer app for the rest of the planet is the instrumentation and the fabrication divide: people locally developing solutions to local problems.

With this as inspiration, we at St. Gregory are pushing ahead to develop further our own version “Fab Lab” in Dennis Conner’s Physics classroom.   Already it is an astounding place, filled with terrific tools and resources for construction, measurement, and analysis.   Students are building solar energy stations, trebuchet catapults, and much, much more in this FabLab.  But we are not done: there is more to do.

Next on our list is the installation of a 3D printer, ordered recently from MakerBot and which will be ready to go for students next month. (more…)

About a month ago, I posted here a lengthy piece sharing my learning about the ETS iSkills test/assessment.  In that post, which includes nearly 80 slides explaining the test in great detail and which was based on a webinar I “attended” and  on my followup interviews with an ETS program director, I reported that I found the test intriguing conceptually, but I was unsure about its quality in practical implementation.     Surely many of us believe that “digital fluency” or proficiency in using digital tools to effectively access, analyze, organize and communicate information is of incredible importance for students and professionals, so the test’s goals are worthy.

Recently, our new Librarian and Director of Information Literacy, Laura Lee Calverley, managed a pilot if the iSkills with seven of our students who volunteered to participate.  This is her report about our pilot of the test, which, on balance, she found disappointing.  We don’t expect to move ahead with using it in a broader way anytime soon. 

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The iSkills assessment measures digital fluency, testing with a range of activities designed to simulate real-world, information literacy dependant scenarios.  We were very excited to run our own pilot of the iSkills test with a small group of students here at St Gregory, where technology is so much a part of our school.

Our experience with the test was somewhat mixed.  Ordering and purchasing was simple, but we had some frustrating issues with setup.  The web-based exam is currently only available on PC computers with Internet Explorer, a browser that we do not use or support on school computers.  Since our computer labs and library computers are all Macs, setting up PCs for testing also added a lot of extra hassle.  (more…)

The TEDx talk above is a treat, presented by two faculty members of the d. school (Design) at Stanford, one of them, Scott Witthoft, an alumnus of our school, St. Gregory, and a great example of what we mean when we say we “create innovators.”  Scott Doorley is his colleague; their titles are co-directors of the Environment Collaborative .

The talk is engaging and visually enriched by the slides; it should be said that it is not particularly detailed, comprehensive, or sophisticated. It serves as a lovely prompt to think more carefully about what we want furniture to do for us, and their specific topic, though not deeply explored, is what we want furniture to do in classrooms to promote creativity.

Some key quotes:

We think about tables a lot,  not for what they are but for what they do.

What role do you want a table to play in a creative learning environment or experience?

We think of creative spaces as spaces where people make things, like a Fab Lab, or any places where an idea gets embodied or advanced:  Where do the ideas lead students? What are their next steps?  A critical aspect of designing that table or that experience is leaving room to evolve. (more…)

Several of my great enthusiasms come together in the the video above and below from the School at Columbia and their outstanding, superb Tools-at-Schools project.   Don Buckley, the School’s Director of Innovation, seems a prime driver here.   For me, watching the videos is a wonderful learning experience; I was able to learn more about the design process (so crucial to innovation),  visualize quality PBL in action, and at the same time gain new understanding of how school furniture can be updated to better enhance innovative learning environments.

Several elements stand out:

1. The program gives students real-world tasks connected to their own experience and relevant to their lives, tasks to which they themselves can bring their own expertise. (more…)

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