Tearing Down Walls

using social media to expand the classroom community

2014 iPad Summit Reflections: Pursuing New Literacies

This past week PDS Director of Technology, Matt Scully, and I had the opportunity to participate and present at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston.  We were honored to have the chance to present the PD Digital Citizenship Compass and related teacher and parent resources.  You can get a better sense of our process and products in this previous post.  Our presentation slides can be accessed here.

If you have not been to or heard of the iPad Summit, it is a nice mix of vision sessions and workshops. While the title seems to focus on a particular tech tool, the focus is on effective tech integration.  There was a small group of PDS teachers at this conference, which provided valuable ideas and training for them in implementing our “One to World” initiative.

We all had the good fortune of hearing a keynote speech by, Heidi Hayes Jacobs.  She spoke of curriculum development on digital, media, global literacies. Heidi is one of a growing chorus of voices over the last few years calling for new curriculum pieces for our students-curriculum that advances “21st Century Skills” including creativity, collaboration, and communication (online and multi-media).  The message was illustrative of curriculum work that has been ongoing since our last self-study (2009) and will be advanced by our most recent self-study completed this year.

I also had the good fortune to sit on a panel that was discussing iPad integration in middle and high schools.  One of the main topics for discussion was the value of using the iPad as a tool in schools.  Some in the audience wanted to know if the goal was raising test scores.  PDS, like other independent schools, is mission driven and not test driven.  Of course we DO want our students to be prepared and perform well on standard measures of “traditional” skills of critical thinking and problems solving in reading, writing, and mathematics, but we are also driven to pursue literacy in these new areas of emphasis.  At PDS we are leveraging this tool primarily for communication, collaboration, creativity-not raising test scores. 


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2014 SAIS Annual Conference Reflections

This past week I had the chance to attend and present at the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.  Independent schools in the south are blessed with a robust professional organization that provides a quality annual conference, choice professional development opportunities, and accreditation.  I saw a couple of great presentations that are worth mention.

Is Mindfulness Right for Your School?, by Patrick Cook-Deegan and Lee Hark (Durham Academy)
Key takeaways-Patrick (consultant) is a great resource for school programming and curriculum on mindfulness.  The techniques show great promise for helping students with attention and emotional regulation.  Lee Hark, seasoned independent school vet, vouched for the potential of the programming.

Designing the Future of Learning: Personalized Prototypes, by Bryan Setser and Payton Hobbs (Ravenscroft)
Exciting work by Ravenscroft on digital portfolios.  Ravenscroft leveraged the experience of Bryan (consultant) of 2Revolutions and the power of design thinking to develop their process and products.

Keynote: Who Owns Water? by Michael and David Hanson (Pace Academy grads)
Inspiring address by two Pace Academy grads who speak to the passion for learning and leveraging their independent school education for social good.  The two have combined journalism, photography, and adventure skills into some impressive projects to effect change:

Who Owns Water? (documentary on water wars in the South)

Breaking Through Concrete (book on urban farming movement)

Of course, there were other quality presentations, but these resonated with me.  Additionally, it was a chance to say goodbye to Steve Robinson and thank him for his wonderful leadership of the Association.  Many thanks to the conference organizers and sponsors!

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Connected Educator Month: My “Digital Roots” Story

So…it is Connected Educator Month.  If you are not familiar with the programming (or don’t want to click the link), this may help:

Originally developed by the U.S. Department of Education and its partners as part of the Connected Educators initiative, CEM offers highly distributed, diverse, and engaging activities to educators at all levels. Based on its success in 2012 and 2013, the initiative is poised to reach even more educators in 2014, through expanded partnerships and enhanced programming.

Having been a “connected educator” for going on 7 years, it got me thinking about my “digital roots.”  I was fortunate enough to be a part of a Powerful Learning Practice cohort during the 2008-2009 school year.   PLP had similar goals to CEM since its inception (and has been a key collaborator with CEM):

The goals of CEM include:

  • Getting more educators proficient with social media to improve their practice
  • Deepening and sustaining learning among those already enjoying connection’s benefits
  • Helping schools credential/integrate connected learning into their formal professional development efforts
  • Stimulating and supporting innovation in the field

I was introduced to twitter by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson.  I was mentored in class and personal blogging by Darren Kuropatwa.  There were many, many other educators I meet along the way in our PLP international cohort NING and the Independent School Educators NING (ISENING).  I must give a nod to the very talented teacher, Meredith Stewart, who challenged my initial reluctance to embrace the tools with students and modeled what “best practices” might look like for me.  Once I started dabbling in social media tools with my students and presenting on them locally, I met Sarah Hanawald.  Sarah invited me to present at NAIS with the legendary indy school blogger Peter Gow, ISENING guru Demetri Orlando, tech Jedi Jason Ramsden, and Edtechtalk moderator Vinnie Vrotny.  Finally, I have to acknowledge the support and encouragement of my own Director of Technology, Matt Scully, who always helped me experiment with new tools.  I can honestly say that this core network (along with many other connected educators in my Personal Learning Network or PLN) helped me with each of the four goals listed above-and I am became a better educator and educational leader along the way.  For Connected Educators Month 2012, a colleague and I made this 90 second pitch on why you should become a connected educator:

So, what is your “digital roots” story? Whether you write it as a comment below or at your own blog, Connected Educators Month is a good time to tell your story…and tweet it using hashtag #ce14 so other newbies can understand the power of a PLN!

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Digital Citizenship-More Resources & Upcoming Presentations

In my last post, I discussed the process and products related to our new digital citizenship initiative at Providence Day School.  In the last month, we have made a new web-based version of our digital citizenship teacher/parent iBook resource guide for non-Apple users.  You can access the website here, and please note each of the chapters on the seven points of the PD Digital Citizenship Compass can be accessed in the upper left corner of the site by clicking “menu.”

Matt Scully (PDS Director of Technology) and I will be presenting on “Creating a Culture of Positive Digital Citizenship” at the Southern Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference in Atlanta on October 20th. We will also present “A Novel Approach to Enculturation of our Digital Natives” at the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston on November 13th.  Additionally, we will host the Twitter chat #isedchat on the topic of digital citizenship November 13th at 9pm. We hope to see you in person or in the twitterverse!

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Digital Citizenship-Process and Products

In my last post, I unveiled a graphic, the PD Digital Citizenship Compass, which is a visual guide for our community members to “navigate” the world wide web.  In this post, I would like to give you some sense of how we arrived at this poster which now adorns the wall in every classroom and common space:

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PDSDigitalCompass (full size pdf)

As our school witnessed the influx of smart phones and moved through two years of piloting 1:1 classes (iPad), we became more and more aware of issues created by near universal web access during and after school hours.  Last year, we engaged our parents in a “town hall” meeting process monthly through a program called Parenting in the Digital Age (created by our Technology Director, Matt Scully).  We found parents eager to learn more about the impact of social media on their children’s digital footprints.  Along the way, we keep notes and explored resources like digitalcitizenship.net .  I was especially impressed by clear definitions of the 9 elements of digital citizenship and the concept of “REPs” presented at the site:

Respect Your Self/Respect Others
Educate Your Self/Connect with Others
Protect Your Self/Protect Others

This lends itself nicely to saying, digital citizenship is about protecting your “REP” online!

A wonderful site, but a meaty list of 9 elements and their definitions seemed too much information for students, teachers, or parents to hold in their heads.  We looked to develop simpler, common language that could be remember as “nuggets of wisdom”-like the sayings your grandparents and parents have passed on to you.

We assembled a group of deans, assistant heads, technology staff, and our librarian to develop this language and a process to vet in within our community.  We developed a list of 7 precepts (pictured on the poster above) and then ran the list by focus groups of students in lower, middle and upper school as well as teachers and parents.  In the end, we developed a tool we hope will help be a catalyst for conversations and lessons on digital citizenship.

Additionally, we developed an iBook format teacher and parent resource guide to supplement the posters.  Teachers received a copy two weeks in advance of the return of students this school year.  As we launch this year’s Parenting in the Digital Age sessions, we will distribute the book to our parent community and offer one session a month for 7 months-one for each point (and chapter in book) on the compass.

As mobile devices become ubiquitous in our schools, we cannot shy away from these topics.  At PDS, we are confronting the issues of digital citizenship head-on and trying to engage our entire community.

*Matt and I will be presenting on this process and product at the 2014 SAIS Annual Conference in Atlanta October 20th.

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Digital Citizenship

In my last post, I wrote about the “challenging challenges” independent schools are grappling with in regards to academic programming.  Independent schools have always been mission-driven and are now working through the idea that college prep is not enough.  One of those topics that is a challenging challenge for all schools in the 21st Century is digital citizenship.

With a quick search, you will find no shortage of resources on the topic.  In some cases, governments (Australia) have tackled the task of delivering curriculum and resources.  In other cases, non-profits (namely Common Sense Media) have tackled this task.
As our school transitioned to 1:1 (we prefer and have adopted Alan November’s “One-to-World” proposal) iPad mini tablets in grades 4-12 over the last two years, we have tackled the issues of digital citizenship head on with a new curricular and co-curricular initiative.
According to www.digitalcitizenship.net , digital citizenship can be defined as “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.”  Just because our “digital natives” are often more familiar with digital tools doesn’t mean they know “appropriate and responsible” behaviors.  A large part of the problem, in my mind, is our lack of common or shared expectations.
In order to help students avoid negative consequences of online use, many schools have developed a set of rules (contract) for use-an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for students to sign.  While such an approach seems to “cover the bases” in terms of due diligence or legal liability, it puts students in a “gotcha” situation with teachers and administrators.  Essentially, the student promises to obey the rules in said signed document and when caught, will accept the punishment.  Human nature says the student will hide unsanctioned use behaviors and/or lie when caught.
The PD Digital Compass (graphic below-click to enlarge) and related resource guide is meant to take a different approach to the traditional AUP.  These seven precepts were developed by our community to be common language within our community.  Constant use of this language with our students by teachers and parents should help shift culture from one of reactive punishment for infractions to proactive guidance about positive use.

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PDSDigitalCompass (full size pdf)

The seven precepts are:
1. Be present.
2. Nothing is private
3. There is no delete
4. Credit others
5. Manners matter
6. Be real
7. Protect yourself

Notice that this language is not specific to any technology or app on the iPad.  This is by design-we want language that focuses on desired behaviors, not the tech tools. You do not have to be” tech savvy” to give this advice!  As the graphic on your new classroom poster suggests, these precepts are meant to help function as a “moral compass” for our students as they operate in the virtual world.  The goal is not to scare our students, rather, to inform and guide them.
Why? Because we want students who internalize sound advice and smart practices instead of memorizing rules. Enculturation is the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values. At PDS we have embarked on creating a culture of positive digital citizenship by developing common language and practices for all grades.  Parents, teachers and peers are all agents of this enculturation process.  It is imperative that everyone in our community understands and uses the language on the classroom poster-it cannot just be another decoration on the wall!

In my next post I’ll explain how our technology director, Matt Scully, and I, created a process to get to this poster and the other product-an iBook digital citizenship teacher resource guide.


*Article that was our inspiration for our One-to-World program.

*Lesson plan that was our inspiration for our own custom digital compass:


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Challenging Changes

I had the good fortune of attending a gathering of academic heads from some of the best independent schools in the country in Chicago this past April.  This is a yearly gathering where we can share challenges and kick around solutions.  Here is the short list of “challenging changes” that independent schools are grappling with in 2014:


I was most intrigued by the “tension between what we have to be and want to be.”  This line summed up almost every issue discussed.  For example, if a school wants to pursue interdisciplinary work in the Upper School, it will have to meet the constraints of the NCAA Clearinghouse and the Carnegie Unit.  We (indy schools) have to provide excellent college preparation (often meaning great AP programs), but we want to be mission driven instead of test driven.  In the Information Age, numerous voices (like Tony Wagner and Yong Zhao) keep telling us college prep is not enough!

So, here is the challenge for (public and private) administrators: How do we stay true to our mission, encourage innovation, AND provide excellent college-prep programs?  Some schools have adopted new mission statements that focus on innovation so the institution does not rest on tradition.  This I would call revolution.  Others cling to tradition, but “chip away at the edges” with new courses, programs, or in-house institutes allow for thoughtful exploration.  This I would call evolution.

What do we owe our current students as we prepare them for the third and fourth decades (time flies!) of the 21st Century?  Will your school go for revolution or evolution?

For our students sake we surely can’t sit still…


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Does anybody blog anymore?

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with a consultant recently, and we were fondly recalling our days in a Powerful Learning Practice cohort in what (seems to me) was the early days of this massive edtech online community (2008-ish).  The subject of blogging came up and he remarked, “does anybody blog anymore” with a chuckle.   If you do a quick Google search, you can see there are many posts about the topic-writing or reading blogs.  I wonder if the rise of Twitter and its concise verse has discouraged folks from wading through more dense blogs?

I know this past year has been a struggle for me to continue this discipline on a regular basis.  I’ve taken on a new role (Asst. Head for Academics) at my school  and travelled more for work in 12 months (Costa Rica, China, and at least three major US cities)  than I have in the last five years.  While I usually take an intentional hiatus from twitter and blogging each summer (read this brief post as to why I recommend it), this is probably the first year since 2009 that the entire year was punctuated by breaks from social media.

Have I run out of things to say? I don’t think so.  Look, I don’t pretend that I do have some special wisdom the thousands of other ed bloggers do not.  I developed blogging as a discipline for some very specific reasons (see this brief post on why I blog).  This site has been a wonderful digital portfolio for me-if you have an interest how I learned to integrate iPads or blogs into my classroom, check out the tags or categories to the right.  I think I’ve just put the demands of learning a new role over taking the time to blog (and reflect) instead.  Now that I’ve “lived a year in the cycle,” I think I’m game to start typing again…

There are some great topics being debated in the educational community (esp. independent schools) right now like digital citizenship, 21st Century Skills, design thinking, beyond college prep…how are you working through those issues? What would you add to the list?





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China Reflections-School Visit Two

In my last post, I gave my impressions of a visit to a public boarding school in a major city in China.  If you don’t want to follow the link and read more, know it seemed a very traditional school with large classrooms set up for stand-and-deliver teaching and test prep.

After visiting that school, our group was fortunate to tour a large (4,000 students!) private boarding school in the same city.  Even though there were more students enrolled in the school, individual class sizes were roughly half those we saw in the public boarding school.

Right away we could notice a difference.  Instead of being ushered into one featured classroom, we were separated into groups of three and invited into different classrooms.  In my room, two students used Power Point slides to detail their adventures during an exchange week in North Carolina.  A few other students did Power Point presentations on Chinese cultures and traditions for us.  The room was filled with laughter most of the class period.  We were obviously not seeing a typical class day for these kids, but overall it was a very different feel from the previous school.  I even got an opportunity to spend about 15 minutes in a small group Q & A with part of the class.

My new buddies

My new buddies

The rooms were very similar in both school-hard floors, old desks and chairs, and no central heat or air conditioning.  It is apparent that millions were spend on the facilities, but student/teacher comfort was not part of the overall plan!  This is a stark contrast to the recent trend in American schools to design “innovative” comfortable class spaces.

After classes we were once again ushered into a roundtable discussion with school leaders about education in our two countries.  These are my notes, as I understood points made by the school principle via a translator:
-The school seeks to master traditional education and institute reforms-moving from more passive learning to more active learning, respecting personalities of students in order to motivate them better, encouraging more creativity, and social responsibility (helping others).
-The school has an “international program” which pulls out about 50 students from the 1,000 kids in a grade after grade 9 (the end of Chinese middle school grades) in order to prepare for US colleges.
-The school is looking for US partners to bring in more “authentic” courses.

In hindsight, this school seems dedicated to some of the same ideals and types of education we seek to provide at our private day school here in the USA!

If you have read both posts, please do NOT think I am proposing private schools in China are better than public schools in China.  In fact, I am told that public schools (government sponsored) tend to be the better schools in China-but they are slaved to Gaokao prep (college entrance exam).  I simply offer these reflections to show the tension in Chinese education right now between the traditional Chinese college prep route and a more (creative) Western-influenced version of education.  Is this really that different than tensions in our own country?



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China Reflections-School Visit One

In my last post, I explained why Chinese schools seek to emulate ours and why is there this incredible market for Chinese kids to attend school in the USA.  For this post, I wanted to share some observations from visiting four different schools in China in March.  Please understand our host schools were most gracious, and treated us as foreign dignitaries.  Rather than hold individual schools under a microscope and run the risk of offending anyone there, I am presenting more general observations.

I got to tour four types of schools in major (10 million plus citizens) cities; public-boarding, public-day, private-boarding, and private day.  Please understand these are my impressions-not trends based on extensive research.  Rather than discuss differences between these four types of schools, I would rather focus on differences between US and Chinese experiences.

My first stop was a public, boarding school. Yes, public boarding-a strange concept for Americans.  My understanding is parents there faced such an rough commute (in a city of 10 million plus) and wanted their kids to focus on academics, so they boarded them in a great school during the week and welcomed them home on weekends.


The class held 48 uniformed students.  It was similar to any traditional classroom you might see in the US, including the ceiling-mounted projector and whiteboard.  We were all ushered into the back of the classroom, and witnessed a well-rehearsed English lesson.  The teacher asked for answers and the students gave a sing-song response.  The students were engaged, and knew the answers well enough to answer enthusiastically in unison.  Correct answers were showered with applause.  The curriculum came from a workbook (and even had a cassette tape to go with it), and the students were lead through exercises in order that included worksheets.  After class, we all went outside to watch a group exercise session.


Our hosts arranged an educator’s roundtable discussion of US and Chinese systems.  The principal of the school explained, through a translator, that they must teach to the test, National Higher Education Entrance Examination, aka, the Gaokao.  He said the new curriculum had been through eight reforms, and there is now a focus on innovative approaches over just practical knowledge.  He also lauded the value of daily exercise and seemed proud that the students had free time daily after 5:30 pm.  Finally, he mentioned that students had electives on Friday.

I was blown away by the most impressive academic complex which housed about 2,000 kids and 500 educators.  If you have visions of dirty, old schools in a developing country, this would blow your mind.

Next time, impressions from a private boarding school…



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