In the previous post, I shared our three day program we are presenting this week to our students in Digital Citizenship.   This post shares our Managing Digital Distraction session, which I developed with the close collaboration of our Tech Director, Andrei Henriksen, and the advice of a group of students we convened.

Our goals for this session have included:

  • providing our students more information about the problems and issues of digital distraction and problematic “multi-tasking;”
  • developing in our students more self-awareness and metacognition about their own issues of digital distraction;
  • asking them to get closer to the emotional experience of disrespect digital distraction causes;
  • and providing tools and techniques for better management of digital distraction.

Our session, which is fully laid out in the slides, opened with my explanation about the challenges all of us, adults and kids, are facing in this day and age of digital tools and distractions.   I also acknowledged the issues  around multi-tasking are complex and hotly debated in many circles, but that we believe students should work hard to be more informed about the costs of multi-tasking and tools/techniques to alleviate those costs and be effective learners.

We began with a five minute session intended to help students experience the feeling of the effect of digital distraction.  Working with a partner, we asked them to take turns trying to talk to someone and get their support about an upsetting situation (“I’m so mad at my parents; they don’t understand me”) while their partner focuses attention exclusively on a digital device, texting, for instance.   (more…)

At St. Gregory this year, about half a dozen of our teachers are piloting a new program called Schoology, which functions simultaneously as a learning management system for teachers and a social network platform for students and teachers.  Inside it, teachers can post their syllabus and assignments, and, if they choose, track student attendance, maintain a gradebook, and much more. On the site, teachers can provide students resources and links, and organize materials into folders for better organization.

As Peter Smith writes in a helpful overview at EdSocialmedia, teachers can also “Quick Post Lesson Assessments:  Schoology gives the ability to create quick online quizzes, which I plan to use as post lesson assessments. These quizzes will be less than four questions and will give me a quick snapshot of how many students understood the material that day and how well I did as a teacher.”   Furthermore, the analytics sections of Schoology offers teachers “a great analytics tool which allows the teacher to know when and how often students access virtually anything in my course. This is a great way to hold students accountable who need the extra help but are reluctant to access it.”

More importantly, Schoology provides students a better tool to manage their various courses, keep track of assignments, and benefit from the calendar functions, which they can use as a planner for all courses operating within schoology.  Now, certainly many other LMS (learning management systems) offer all this, but what schoology adds is a social network element with a look and feel very similar to facebook, making it more intuitive and natural for regular facebook users.   Students can use a vehicle they are so familiar with, facebook style posting, commenting, threading and linking, and do so with their classes to enhance their learning. (more…)

St. Gregory is in our second year as a 1:1 laptop school (grades six to twelve), and as Head I have avoided promulgating a single, school wide, technology use policy for every grade or classroom.  Instead, I have encouraged and urged teachers to work with their students to develop the appropriate plan and policy to their program and classroom culture.  
This is one among many exemplary such, teacher designed, classroom technology policies.  It might well not be right for every teacher and every classroom, and neither Dr. Berry, its author, nor I would suggest it could or should be.    
Dr. Michelle Berry:  The Vision for Empowering Use of Technology in (APGOV, APUSH, Advanced Seminars):
Dr. Berry believes ardently in the power of information and technology to empower student as citizens, people, and learners.  This means that as a member of Dr. Berry’s class, you will be expected to use technology in a variety of ways in and out of the classroom.   She also believes that History class is a learning community whose success rests solely on the collaborative energy and purpose of the group as a whole (much like communities beyond St. Gregory).  If all members of this community (as often as possible) put their highest intentions toward furthering not just their own personal intellectual and social growth but that of their colleagues as well, then this class will be an effective, successful, empowered, and empowering learning community.

Having said that, there are  a few principles that members of this learning community must agree to abide by:

1) Each student must use technology resources for the purposes for which they are intended. In the classroom, this means using technology resources for the purposes of conducting and fostering the  educational and research activities of the class.  Out of the classroom, this means using technology to further enhance your own intellectual, ethical, and academic growth. (more…)

Credit goes to my fine student videographer, Derek Jobst ’13

We know that content memorization must no longer the goal of our learning programs; what our goal must be is that students can make the most sense of the voluminous and fast-accelerating quantity of information which will forever be at their fingertips, and about which they must be able to think critically, to select, to evaluate, to apply, and to amend as they tackle challenging problems.

So why shouldn’t our school-tests evaluate our students ability to do exactly this?  Why not structure tests appropriately, and then invite and welcome (and require) our students to use their computers on their tests? Isn’t this real world, and real life, preparation?

Radical maybe, but it is happening.   In Denmark, for instance.

At five to nine, the room falls silent. CD-roms and exam papers are handed out together. This is the Danish language exam. One of the teachers stands in front of the class and explains the rules. She tells the candidates they can use the internet to answer any of the four questions. They can access any site they like, even Facebook, but they cannot message each other or email anyone outside the classroom.

The teachers also think the nature of the questions make it harder to cheat in exams. Students are no longer required to regurgitate facts and figures. Instead the emphasis is on their ability to sift through and analyse information. (more…)

21 presentations, 2 minutes each: the Wings Smackdown this morning at St. Gregory, with teachers sharing tools and resources and techniques being used in their classrooms or at school regularly.

A partial list:

Sr. Rabinowitz:  Students in 6th and 7th grade Spanish maintain a blog (via wordpress) where they respond to assigned questions by speaking their answers, en espanol, into their webcam, recording them onto either youtube or, and posting to their wordpress blog for the teacher to review.

Ms. Heald:  Students in middle school drama prepare a “this I believe” statement by listening to those of others on this site, and submitting their own for inclusion (this is one of our students’ published essays.

Ms. Mulloy:   Student work is posted to web-pages which Ms. Mulloy organizes using delicious bookmarking; she also finds useful the bookmarks provided on delicious by the author of our summer reading book on Reinventing PBL.

Ms. Berry:  Students are using glogster edu to prepare digital posterboards to share and reflect upon their learning.

Ms. Kuluski: Students are completing their homework, and submitting it, online using

Ms. Bancroft: Students in sixth grade English are working in groups to create a wiki of their favorite recommended reading, edit each others work, and comment on these reviews, learning digital citizenship and collaborative editing techniques even as they write book reviews and articulate their ideas about literature, in groups.  They are also studying other online book review sites for modeling and inspiration.

Ms. Clashman: Students are learning French geography, culture, and vocabulary by househunting in France, selecting a dream home, and then furnishing it from French Ikea.

Mr. Herzog: Students are completing warmups as his class begins by completing answers on google forms, and he is able to monitor the results as they are posted and immediately identify the gaps.

Mr. Connor: Students are using a social network style, facebook-like, Ning site for their class communications and conversations.

Ms. Bodden: Students are using google docs in a myriad of ways in her class.

Dr. Morris:  Students can access podcasts of Chemistry lectures he has prepared to review or to cover topics they might have missed.

Ms. Faircloth:  Students love the virtual heart transplant surgeries they do on this site. (more…)

21k12 is dedicated to celebrating, and reflecting upon, 21st century learning, everywhere and at St. Gregory.   Our new 1:1 laptop program,Wings, has launched, and our student newspaper, The Gregorian Chant, published this piece on the top of the front page, by freshman student Jafe Arnold.

For the 2010-2011 school year, St. Gregory has launched a new laptop integration program. The hope is to technologically advance students and faculty into an education experience that is exciting, promotes learning, and is engaging to students.  According to Mr. Martin’s blog, 21k12, the essential goal of the program is to “exploit the power of digital technology to collaborate, communicate, and create on-line– and develop exactly the critical skills necessary for success in our new global economy”. (more…)

Last week, St. Gregory hosted its Upper School Curriculum Night; I attended many classes, and viewed many wonderful examples of outstanding, innovative, technologically integrated lessons informed by contemporary best practices happening at our school.

Some notes about what I observed.

In AP Chemistry, Dr. Scott Morris offers a full set of lectures by podcast, available for all students (they are public) who might have missed a class, or needs to review difficult material.

In St. Greg’s brand new Design/Build Tech Innovation class, Mr. Dennis Connor explained that this course was designed in an unconventional manner.   Rather than beginning with the educational content or skills outcome, and building a course to get there, the Science teachers who designed this course set out to provide a rich, project based learning experience for our students.

In this class, students are collaborating; they are identifying projects they want to accomplish and researching how to do so, developing their research skills togo with this.   The teacher explains they need real science knowledge to make their projects fly, and need use math in many steps along the way.   This is a pass-fail course; it not about grades, but it is about a real-world experience.   Projects vary widely; some students  are building medieval trebuchets and some are designing apps for iphones.  “I push them, and push hard, to ensure their projects are educationally valuable.” (more…)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Someone tweeted today: “when is the last time you were in a K-12 classroom that was not your own?”–with the clear implication that this happens far too rarely in our work as educators.  I agree; I don’t think I visited another school’s classroom in action in the entire decade I was a teacher, and only rarely visited another classroom in my own school.

This morning I visited Empire High School in Vail, AZ; it has received some acclaim for the quality of their 1-1 laptop implementation, even in the New York Times. Our visit this morning was lovely in the warm way we were welcomed and toured; it was unfortunate that a monsoon storm last night had crashed their system, and, we were told, they had the worst internet outage in the past five years this same morning we were visiting!

So unfortunately, our classroom visits were a bit compromised.  Classes we saw were engaged, but not online; one senior English class had underway a remarkably participatory conversation about the meaning of existentialism in Camus’ Stranger.   A Spanish class was devoted to showing students techniques for creating virtual flash-cards; (more…)

My remarks at New Parent Night

Welcome to St. Gregory; we are so glad you are joining our school community.    You have come at a very exciting time, both in the history of our school and in an important moment in our national conversation about K-12 education.   This is a time of great change and energy in thinking about what and how our students need to learn in our fast-changing world.

A great example of how our school is changing and aligning itself with contemporary best practices is our new Wings program: 1:1 laptops at St. Gregory, by which every student has a laptop (netbook) and uses it every day.   This is a key step in the development of our educational program where our students exploit the power of digital technology to collaborate, communicate, and create on-line– and develop exactly the critical skills necessary for success in our new global economy.

Our teachers are fully embracing, with good enthusiasm and great attitudes, these developments and this new era in learning.    What is more, they are learning too.  One of the most exciting aspects of this new era of technology integration in learning is the way our teachers are, each and every day, learning in their classrooms and growing in their skills.  (more…)

As I look ahead to the coming year, I realize I have too many goals and plans,—but I cannot restrain myself, there are so many important, exciting, and meaningful things to do in going forward as a school community. The following list is primarily a list of educational program and school community goals; I am still developing an important parallel list of important institutional, organizational, and financial goals.

Our two major educational advances for the year are WINGS, our 1:1 laptop/netbooks program, and our new Advisory Program.

  • Wings: 1:1 Laptops is big, and a big project; by way of laptops/netbooks being in the hands of each and every student each and every day, I am sure we will become a more productive, more dynamic, and more engaging learning environment.

  • As for the advisory program, in many ways this is just a very natural, incremental, comfortable next step from the homerooms and other forms of very good rapport and relationships St. Gregory has always forged with students. (more…)

My opening remarks to the St. Gregory student body, the morning of the first day of school.

Welcome to 2010-11!

A popular saying urges us to remember that there are only two things we really need to flourish in life: roots and wings.

I like the saying;   it provides a lovely metaphor simplifying the many strands of what what flourishing requires into two simple metaphors:   Roots and wings, a sense of connectedness to our community,and a sense of freedom and empowerment to go out confidently into the world and accomplish our goals.

I worry about false dichotomies—I resist people trying to trap me into making choices I don’t want to have to make.    There is a book I love that calls upon parents and schools to ensure children and students spend more time in nature and argues that kids are so much healthier when they spend more time outside and in direct contact with the earth, the sky, the water.   Get dirty and be happier and healthier. It surprises some people when I say I love and endorse this notion, because sometimes they think I only want kids to spend more time on computers.   I don’t.  I do think computers are great for learning and growing,  but I also believe fervently that it is so important for us all, kids and adults, to spend more time outside.

We must resist the narrowing effects of Either/Or Thinking, and embrace the Both/And.

And so it is with Wings AND Roots.  I think people sometimes think that because I want to see more computers in learning, they are believing I want less face to face time, less interaction among peers and between students and teachers.  But I want both, and I don’t want to be cornered into a false dichotomy.

Fittingly, and charmingly, Wings and Roots correspond precisely to the two big changes we are making this year, laptops and advisory—because we all need stronger wings and deeper roots. (more…)