Sunday, April 10, 2016

I can admit when I make a mistake.

I'm a Facebook user. I love to look back at my memories from years past. Today one popped up and it was about a project I did in a school district. The year the project occurred was 2009 and I'm not sure the project had any educational benefits.

I think it's important for any educator to look back at lessons that they've done or projects and judge their value. If we as a Educators are lifelong learners, what we knew yesterday is not the same as what we know today. It is possible that what we taught was not a meaningful learning experience.

Here is a learning experience that after further review I feel as if it had very little educational value. I'm pointing the finger (index finger) at myself. In defense of this activity I was working in a rather low functioning special education classroom with students who were emerging readers and had more challenges than many other students their age.

I created an "I spy" learning adventure. We borrowed brown trays from the cafeteria. We borrowed many objects from the art room and we included numbers, letters, blocks, pencils, pens, paperclips and a multitude of other objects. Some of the objects were just distractors. Other objects were somewhat educational. For example: The number eight, in this picture, was used to be an object so that other people could find it on a webpage. One's ability to identify a number is relatively important and slightly involves math.

Did this lesson fit the New York state standards for math or art? I'm sure I could find a way for it to somehow fit into the state standards. Regardless, I just feel that this activity has very little educational merit. On the blooms taxonomy I would say that this is very low level. It is just identifying and recall. I won't even talk about how this lesson would be impossible to differentiate for a person with a visual impairment. (By the way, assistive technology is on of my niches and an issue very important to me).

I have a little rule. If you can Google the answer it's probably on the lower level of Blooms' taxonomy. The upper level of Blooms has to do with activities like design, create and teach. These upper level actives are not used today enough in modern K-12 education.

My whole point of this blog post is not to criticize my past teaching and learning. It is more to be an example of having a growth mindset and being reflective. I think it's important for every educator to look at what they've done in the past and see if it was good. Was what you did last year something you should do again this year? Maybe, there is something that you've done every year that was, upon further reflection, of little educational value. If it is of little educational value, and we know teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less, is it possible that some of these "legacy activities" are taking away valuable learning time that could be used for more educationally significant activities. Even the artist sets aside the brush, takes a step back and asked his/her self "what needs to be done next and was what I did previously something I should keep doing." In many ways, teachers are artists.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Good is hard and Teacher’s Aides Make Classrooms Better

Good is hard and Teacher’s Aides Make Classrooms Better

I've been try to contribute to my blog every week. It has not been working, which is to say I missed a couple entries and have actually fallen off to every other week. This is not to say I don't write a lot. I do write quite a bit.

The trouble I'm having right now is the depth of my writing. To write something that matters, has a bite to it or offers some kind of insight is difficult. Blogs have evolved from online diaries to respected journalism resources. Scholarly writing takes cognitive work. I feel I am creative but sometimes I find it difficult for me to say original stuff. I'm sure others feel this way.

Thoughts about the worthiness of technology integration and there multiple matrices fictitiously categorizing a teacher’s use of digital resources has me ruminating. I'm working on conjuring up a blog post focusing on these thoughts. I'm not there yet.

Today I worked in a friend's school. Katie MacFarland, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Canandaigua schools, cross contracted to have me provide professional development. The training was very low level and the paraprofessionals who work in the school rarely have professional development focused on their learning. I also think it is safe to say that there were many hesitant technology users in both groups I worked with.

I was hesitant as well. It is Good Friday and in Canandaigua's case the last day of work before vacation. These educators were not attending my workshop voluntarily but they were getting paid. These situations, although not ideal, happen and I know my colleagues throughout experience similar situations.

This was a great day. There were ups and downs. One of the downs occurred when I said "is it possible that you accidentally deleted your Google Doc." Instantaneously, a sheepish look came across this young ladies face while simultaneously pointing the finger at her friend who was helping her." I defused with zen-like comments about togetherness uttered in dulcet tones. The ups for today were all the smiling faces who thanked me and said they learned a lot.

I had a teacher's aide in my alternative education classroom. Darla Havens made my class better and I'm not sure I could have done it without her. I probably appreciate her more than she knows. Many teacher's aides have the same kind-hearted, compassion, and eager to please attitude as Darla Havens. Never forget about your teacher's aides or paraprofessionals. And if you are a teacher's aide or paraprofessional we appreciate you. You make our good classrooms better. Thank you.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What is Twitter?

I'm still shocked at the amount of educators who do not use Twitter to learn. It seems like some teachers actively avoid Twitter because, I think, they are afraid that it will suck up their time, which we all know is already extremely limited. Twitter has helped me learn, helped promote what I do and has helped to inspire me to keep learning. If you don't know what Twitter is there is a part of me that wants to say "that's ok." There is another part of me that wants to recommend that you find a real estate agent to help you move from under the rock that you live.
Twitter is a micro-blogging site that allows users to converse with large or small audiences with a text message-type blurb in a 140 characters or fewer.  Messages or “tweets” can be sent via text message, from a regular computer or a mobile device, any mobile phone.  There are also a bunch of third-party Twitter applications that allow users to create time-delayed tweets, organize tweets into search-able columns by topic or rank tweets by popularity worldwide. People can also discover what is trending, or popular on Twitter, by checking out "moments."
The experience on Twitter really depends on how many people “follow” you and your tweets and who you follow.  Some people find that the people that they follow have nothing but negative things to say.  Others say that they find out information from Twitter that either mainstream media has not cover yet or will not cover because mainstream outlets do not find it important.  
Still others use Twitter as a tool for social justice and helping to cause positive change in the world by communicating ideas and beliefs that benefit people.  During the massive and destructive earthquake in Haiti, a plane from the program Doctors without Borders was attempting to land in Port-au-Prince.  The plane, filled with critical life-saving supplies, was unable to land due to the U.S. Air Force having taken over the airport.  People from all over the world started tweeting to the U.S. Air Force’s Twitter feed and an hour later the plane was able to land.  At one point the U.S. Air Force tweeted back and said they were working on it.
What can Twitter do for students?  Like any type of communication tool, Twitter can be used for negative as well as positive.  One negative use was reported by KNWA, which is a Television Channel from North Western Arkansas.  Three teenage girls were “picked up” for bullying a fellow teen on Twitter. The student who was bullied did not return to school for 3 days because her self-esteem had been so damaged.  
Other students had their self-esteem affected in a positive way.  Oscar Lozoria, a shy 14-year-old student from East Los Angeles, said that after tweeting in his high school social studies class, his fellow students no longer made fun of him.  Oscar goes on to say that he is respected by his peers for his thoughts that his classmates see in the form of tweets.  Oscar said that, “They see me as somebody now, like an equal.”
No matter how you view Twitter, it is important to know about.  Whether you are sending out tweets about how many pancakes you ate for breakfast or are receiving tweets from authors who have written books you are reading in class, this type of communication is something to be aware of and is not going away anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Google Cardboard: ​Is There Something Wrong?

I must admit, that I really like the idea of Google Cardboard. It allows students, teachers and/or researchers all to experience physical objects in semi-virtual reality that was previously impossible. Google Cardboard, and virtual reality like it, are spectacular. But to me, something feels wrong about it. I'm having a hard time identifying what it is.

The SAMR model was created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura. The "S" in SAMR stands for substitution and the "R" stands for redefinition. More on SAMR can be found here. The whole SAMR model, as a visionary tool, is to create a conversation. Teachers should ask themselves if what they are doing with technology is important or an improvement to the learning? Where does their classroom technology use fit with SAMR? According to Kathy Schrock, teachers need both. They need to consider both Bloom's taxonomy as well as SAMR to have a true impact on learning in the classroom. I wholeheartedly agree.

So where does the Google Cardboard project fit? I feel that Google Cardboard is "Substitution" in SAMR and on the lower level of Bloom's. The reason I say this is when students use Google Cardboard they are passively viewing information. Sure, they're moving their heads around in semi-virtual reality, but their interaction with the information is very "surface level." At best Google Cardboard could be considered "augmentation" on the SAMR model.

Is there a way to "ratchet up" Google Cardboard? Are there ways to make Google Cardboard reach for the upper levels of SAMR and Bloom's taxonomy? Yes. Of course. What if the students were the creators of the content? For example, if students created their own virtual reenactment of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry that would be high SAMR and high Bloom's. What if students made their own Google Cardboard viewing device? What if students designed, collaborated, and used technical writing to print their very own viewer using a 3D printer? These are all ways to "make it better."

To me there are a few things wrong with students using Google Cardboard just for the cool factor. First, I'd never want a principal to enter a classroom and say "well, they're using technology" when observing a teacher's classroom and check that off on their evaluation. It's critical for administrators to know that there are important things that teachers can do with technology that require students to think, problem-solving and be resilient.

Just because a student is engaged with content does not mean it's good for education. Google Cardboard, if used as a viewer of content, is just another way for the teacher to disseminate information to the students. In many ways this is no different than the "sage on the stage" mentality of a teacher led lesson. Just another disguise for the "formal authority" teaching style, which is the teaching style that causes my own to children to feel demeaned at school.

Please don’t use Google Cardboard as an excuse to not take students on field trips.  Students should experience their local museum, arboretum, factory, aquarium or even an amusement park on “physics day.”  Often, these are the things that make school memorable.  When I ask my own children what they did in school, when they go on a field trip, which is not often any more, they always have a lot to say.  On a typical day, I get the same answer most parents of teenagers get, “nothing.”

Lastly, the use of Google Cardboard is such an engaging technology that at some level it seems like students are basically "electronically blindfolded." Students are unable to collaborate and communicate with other students in class. Also, while students are using Google Cardboard and engaged with content they are also being extremely compliant. I would hate for Google Cardboard to be used as a classroom management tool so that students will behave "properly."

I’m not saying don’t use Google Cardboard.  What I am saying is teachers should probably use it sparingly and they should question their classroom practice regardless if one of the “flavors of the month” just happens to be Google Cardboard.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Students Learn the Basics of Computer Programming

“Why does he keep saying that?,” was what one of the boys whispered to his friend in the elementary library.  He had, what I would call, beige hair, and an inquisitive look on his face.  His partner had an amazing ability to use the computer mouse. To him, the computer mouse was a part of his hand.  I think the first boy was talking about the fact that Wendy Sprague and I kept saying over and over “if you work hard you can actually get smarter.”  After a brief introduction and an explanation of their first learning adventure, all four students used computer programming to get the solution.  Some students were able to complete the learning adventure faster than others, even though learning is not a race. We all learn at different rates of speed.  Whatever you do, please don’t tell them they were learning.

Wendy is a librarian at the Cuba Rushford school district.  She has embraced computer programming and robotics in her schools.  The learning of new things does not come easy to everyone and I think it is safe to say that might be true of Wendy as well.  Wendy is a great example of a life-long learner and a follower of the research headed up by Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University.  Dr. Dweck has done scientific research to prove that if people work hard and believe that hard work pays off they can make themselves smarter.  If you work hard, are focused on your task and repeat the task to solidify your learning the actual weight of one’s brain gets heavier.  This weight change occurs due to the increased number of neurons, or thinking connections, created in your brain by learning.  It is important for students to get a good night sleep because the neurons are solidified during sleep.  The book called Mindset by Carol Dweck discusses her brain research and is a great resource for anyone. It may even change the way you think about intelligence.

It is only natural for, what some might believe as, unconventional learning to occur in the library. With the easy access to information online, no longer can the library just be a place where information is archived and stored.  Libraries are more.  They are where information is gathered to test theories, find new facts, invent products to help people and publish things of all kind, not just books or things involving text.

Fifth grade students at Cuba Rushford used the computer programming language called Scratch, which can be found at  This open-sources coding language consists of “drag and drop” blocks so no “hard coding” or syntax is used.  Scratch is free and can be used on any computer. Instead of students making sure they capitalized using “camelCode” or that they used a semicolon instead of a colon, they could put there mind work totally on the logic. Lots of logic goes into computer programming.
Students seemed to enjoy computer programming and I can’t wait till I can go back to Cuba Rushford to do some more teaching and learning with Wendy and her students.  Programming is extremely fun, engaging and it teaches a lot of important skills that can help in any classroom.  I wonder what the kids have been inventing since we last met?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Good Prompt is Worth a Thousand Words

My friend and student of Seymour Papert, Gary Stager, would always say that a “good prompt is worth a thousand words.” What exactly does that mean? There is a lot that goes into this statement. Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez discuss three rules for this in their book. For this blog post I will be using “learning adventure,” and “prompt” interchangeably.

The first rule of thumb is brevity. Prompts, which Gary calls “learning adventures” (a term I borrowed from him), must be short. They can fit on a small piece of paper, be written on a board in one sentence or delivered as a tweet. All the best questions are short.

The second rule of thumb is ambiguity. The learning adventure should be state in an open-ended way so that students can solve the prompt in different ways. The prompt should be crafted in a way so students can come up with different solutions, possibly an answer never thought of by the teacher. This helps students understand that there is often times more than one way to solve a problem.

The third rule of thumb is immunity to assessment. The learning is judged not by a test but rather by to learning adventure being completed. If a student is developing a video game, the reward is completing it, having someone else play it and tweaking the game so it is better. The motivation is caused by these rewards -- not by a B+, A, or the threat of a “F.” I know some teachers who understand that “failure is learning,”

A good prompt is also something that can’t be “Googled.” When the ubiquity of cellphones in students’ pockets occurred, some educators were concerned about students being able to Google or now, I guess, ask Siri the answer to questions on tests. Using the above rules “Googling for an answer” is just not possible.

Recently, I had a chance to be a “Maker in Residence” at a local school for a day. The school was Pioneer High School and I was located in the library. The tool I was using is called Cubelets and I gave student “learning adventures” that they were to solve. This occurred during the Hour of Code week and here is a previous blog post about the experience.

The hardest part of this teaching style, that Seymour Papert calls “constructionism," is thinking up the prompts. It takes a lot of creativity, knowledge of the tool and cognitive energy to think up learning adventures. Plus, we really want students to come up with their own learning adventures. Students coming up with their own learning adventures and playing promotes curiosity and wonder. Problem-solving, failure and working through failure, curiosity and wonder are really the only ways our world's problems will ever be solved.

While in Pioneer, working with Stephanie Hogan, I jotted some learning adventures down. Some I had asked before and some I had not. Here they are and in no particular order. All of these learning adventures involve Cubelets. The Cubelets are individual blocks and each one of them have a separate function. Some blocks are the battery. Some are wheels and others are sensors. The prompts below are written slightly in an order of easy to hard.

Make a flashlight.

1) Make a light house.

2) Using tape and a pencil, make a vehicle that draws a circle.

3) Make a flashlight that gets brighter when a sensor is covered.

4) Make a vehicle that when the light shines on itself it moves forward.

5) Can you make a vehicle that refuses to drive itself off of the table?

6) Can you make a light alarm?

7) Can you make a strobe light?

8) Make a vehicle that is controlled by your cell phone.

9) Make a vehicle that is attracted or follows a light.

10) Can you make a sound that either increases or decreases when light shines on it?

11) Can you make the Cubelets dance?

12) Can you make a vehicle that refuses to run into walls?

The above are just some ideas specifically for Cubelets, and if you have ideas of your own, please submit them as comments. All the above fit the “Invent to Learn” rules of thumb for a good prompt. The above rules of thumb are not just for Cubelets or any kind of making in general. Most questions asked in school should follow the above rules of thumb.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

#hourofcode in Pioneer’s High School Library

#hourofcode in Pioneer’s High School Library This rail-thin, young man, Eric, was in the library and it seemed like he did not have that much to do. His jeans were well worn, and his hat had some kind of tractor on it. The name of the tractor escapes me but after my question the student was engaged. This young man pulled out his cell phone and turned the flashlight function on. “That’s not what I asked,” I said. “Can you make a flashlight?” I asked again, pointing to the Cubelets blocks lying askew on the library table. Eric sat down, his right leg bouncing with nervous energy, and went to work. Although there are very little directions on how to use Cubelets, Eric had the flashlight figured out within 15 seconds. He was then asked a different question, which built on previously learned knowledge and continued to challenge him. I asked him if he could build a lighthouse.

Stephanie Hogan, the high school librarian at Pioneer Senior High School, invited me into her learning space to work with students. At Pioneer they have an explicit class called Problem-Solving. This class is for students who are interested in design and engineering and they were the first and only formal class to come to the library to work on the Cubelets. These students were given progressively harder challenges. They divided up into two groups at times. Sometimes the groups merged to find a solution, but the interaction between these students was congenial, risk-taking (for high schoolers) and expressive.

My "Maker in Resident" time in Pioneer's library happened the week of Dec. 7-12. This week is the Hour of Code week, which coincided with the Computer Science and Technology consortium’s Computer Education Week. To this day, just about 200 million students have experienced the “hour of code” according to When started the hour of code week three years ago, only 1 in 10 schools taught some kind of computer programming or coding. Now that number is 1 in 4. The rest of the day in the library, either random students had heard the word that something “fun” was happening in the library, or students were just coming down to socialize. The students who heard that something fun was happening approached me hesitantly but after they were challenged they dug right in. Other students who came down to socialize were curious as they watched me or fellow students “play” with the Cubelets blocks. Sometimes, I’d just ask a random student a question. Some of them would bite and some would not.

All different types of learners were involved. There was a circumstance when a special education student had the right answer and not until I pointed at the student or said “you are not listening to all of your colleagues” was this student’s correct solutions listened to and acted upon. This is a sad reality that no one really wants to see but if students are not put into these position there never is a “teachable moment.”

Even though I had a student skip class, use his teacher’s hall pass and come down to the library, all in all the day was extremely successful. Stephanie should be commended for all her work. She applied for a grant at her local Walmart and she won. With the money she ordered a class set of Cubelets, because she feels that libraries are not just for storing information but are also, places where information is created, invented, published and learned. On this day, students invented and learned in a collaborative and hands-on way.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Open Source Software that Changed a Girl’s Life

My friend Kaylyn, a student at the Olean City School District, is just like every other 12-year-old girl. She says things like “that’s the bomb” and “Wait till my mom sees this.” Kaylyn says “awesome“ a lot and she loves to draw. Specifically, she loves to draw hearts. She also has the best handwriting I’ve ever seen from any 12-year-old. But there is something you should know about Kaylyn. She does not have use of her arms and legs. This causes her life to be different.

Unable to use her arms and legs creates difficulty for her getting around school independently. She also has difficulty doing assignments, because typically there is much handwriting involved.
In September of this school year, since the Olean City School District subscribes to the Cattaraugus Allegheny BOCES Model Schools services, I went in to observe Kaylyn. This was an informal observation and I was just there to make suggestions. I was hoping these suggestions could possibly make Kaylyn’s life better.   When I initially visited Kaylyn I had absolutely no suggestions whatsoever. I had nothing. I was disappointed. I was unsatisfied with not coming up with anything but I continued work on it. Later, In October, I had an epiphany. I had used a software called eViacam and recorded a video of myself using it. YouTube Video of Rick Using eViacam eViacam is a free open source software that anyone can download to their computer but it seems to only be available for the Windows operating system (  I’m working on a Mac solution.  How does eViacam work? Well it uses the built-in camera or an external camera and ”locks onto your eyes and nose,” which allows you to operate the mouse with your head movement.

On November 18, 2015 I was one of the first people to witness Kaylyn not having to write her name on a piece of schoolwork using her teeth. This day brought goose bumps to all the educators who were in the room. This piece of software was a game changer for Kaylyn. She was now able to do more work [lg2] independently. If you think about it, that’s really what we want from all of our students. We want them to grow up and be lifelong learners, contributing members to society and independent.

A special thank you goes out to Marcie Richmond, Olean’s Special Education Director, Amy Buckner, Kaylyn’s Support Aide and all of Olean’s Tech Department. 
Kaylyn is a special girl and not because she can’t use her arms and legs. She is special because of her resilience, her stick-to-itiveness, and her ability to persevere. Kaylan is just like every other girl and that’s the way it should be. If she wants to dot her “I’s” with a heart or pass a note to another student in class when she should be paying attention, we as educators should do everything in our power to make that happen.   I’m so glad to have met Kaylyn and extremely thrilled to call her my friend.