Monday, December 31, 2012

Classroom Worklflow Preparations

It appears fairly certain that the middle school where I teach will be shifting to a 1:1 Ipad environment in early February, 2013. To take as much advantage as I can of the potential of the new devices, this shift requires some rethinking of how my classroom workflow will be organized.

Currently all homework is accessible via our class website and if the assignment is not via a Google Form, a paper copy of the assignment is distributed. Going forward, I plan to place any non-Form assignments in PDF format in a shared Google Drive folder with view only permissions. This will allow for the ability to annotate/do the assignment using the Notability Ipad app and then send it to me via a shared student folder on Google Drive. The Ipads will not be going home with the students so those that do not have access to the Notability app from home will likely still have to hand in a paper copy of their work, (until a suitable "PDF annotation in-a-PC environment" solution can be determined). Any Google Forms homework will continue to be accessed though our class website.

I am currently planning on having my students use Evernote and/or Skitch for their class notebooks. I tested the feasibility of this method during the holiday break and it seems promising. I was happy with the seamless connection between the Skitch and Evernote apps and how easy it was to put any work created in Skitch in a specific Evernote notebook. The ability to draw in Skitch will help with any work/notes that require diagrams or symbols that would be hard to type. I plan to use the Show Me app or the Explain Everything app in the place of individual student whiteboards. Apple TV or the Reflector app will be used to mirror and display this student work to the entire class in near-real time.

I know it is impossible to anticipate everything that can be improved, from a workflow standpoint, with the IPads but hopefully this will be a reasonably manageable and productive change. Am I missing anything?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

They won't have to ask that question

This post may be a bit scattered but that is how my thoughts have been since I learned of the terrible news from Newtown, CT Friday afternoon.

Teachers know the rhythms of a school day and how a school is set up. We can understand in a more direct sense what it might have felt like for those who survived and perished on Friday. They understand how closely in our hearts we hold the children we teach... that they have become our children too. The feelings I have when I visualize what occurred in Sandy Hook elementary school are powerful and difficult to shake. My heart goes out to those in Newtown that have to deal with these feelings and the reality of losing a loved one more directly.

I have no profound solutions to share regarding the tragedy. I have read the Twitter snippets that cite the virtual elimination of these types of tragedies in the UK and Australia after weapons bans were instituted. I guess, you could probably place me more on the overhaul of our mental health system side of the ledger however. If you have ever had the experience of watching a loved one struggle with mental health issues, of having to see them wait days in the ER for a placement in an inpatient unit to receive acute care, and then experience how hard it is to procure and maintain adequate outpatient care, you know what a sham our mental health system is in this country. And how secret that fact is. There are troubled souls out there among us and the more we can sweep it under the rug, the better. Of course until it comes bubbling up. Maybe the UK and Australia also provide significantly better health care services for their citizens. I don't profess to know or have any answers.

School is in session tomorrow. Hopefully by then I will feel more ready to be with my students. I will be positive, keep to the usual classroom routines for much needed structure, and be more aware of how they are feeling. Depending on what questions come up, we may talk about probability and statistics and how safe they are in school, the number and type of safety precautions that are taken, how much their teachers care for them.  But some of the illusion of security that I felt I provided my students when they are in my charge has been taken from me, from all of us, by this tragedy. And right now, it is not such a great feeling.

Seventh graders possess an interesting combination of naivety and "street smarts" - for lack of a better term. They are beginning to understand that things that grown-ups tell them or plan may not be fully accurate or foolproof but still want to, need to, believe that we can protect them. This past week at our school we had an unplanned fire drill and a planned Code Blue/lockdown drill. Both went without incident. And after each one, the usual questions came, especially from the children who have watched way too many action movies designed for adults. Mr.Vitale, what would happen if a fire started in the hallway first? Mr.Vitale, what would happen if someone pulled the fire alarm but was waiting for us in the hallway? Mr. Vitale, what would happen if someone came into our school with a gun and shot their way into our room? Very sadly, they won't have to ask that one tomorrow.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reflection App vs Apple TV

I have mentioned in a previous post how pleased I was with the use of the Smart Notebook Ipad app and the Reflection mirroring software. This week, I wanted to try using the Apple TV mirroring software via Airplay as a comparison for the mirroring of my Notebook lessons.

I used the Apple TV mirroring software exclusively in my class for the past three days. Independent of the other great features that Apple TV comes with, the experience I had with the mirroring of my Ipad was quite positive. The wireless connection when using Reflection often drops out, about once per day or so, which is tolerable as long as the connection can be quickly restored, but is annoying. I had no loss of wireless connectivity for the three day period when using Apple TV.

The Notebook Ipad app worked just as well with the Apple TV. There were a couple of instances where something that I wrote on the Ipad did not show up on the mirrored image but after erasing it and starting over, it appeared. I am not sure if it was the Notebook app or the communication with the Apple TV. It was a very minor glitch.

In addition, I happily discovered that if you run something on the Ipad that has audio associated with it while it is mirrored with Apple TV, the audio runs through the speakers of the device you are mirroring to, not the IPad speakers. Quite a nice feature.

The Airplay software with the Apple TV, has the ability to issue temporary passwords for screen sharing with other IPad users without affecting the primary password. This will be quite useful when having students show their work to the class. The Reflection app does not currently have this ability which means you would have to share the primary password with any student for their work to be displayed.

The last positive feature. The Reflection app requires a laptop to be the middle man in the mirroring process. (Ipad to laptop to projector). Using Apple TV, does not require this, so your laptop is free to be used for other tasks.

If you are lucky to have access to both mirroring applications, my suggestion is to use Apple TV for Ipad mirroring.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tough month for continuity

In some ways, November is my least favorite month to teach. With Halloween just having ended, Election Day, Veteran's Day, Parent Conference Day, and Thanksgiving break, the schedule becomes very fractured. At the same time, the mathematics becomes more challenging. This is not the best of combinations.

I find that the month of November is when a teacher gets a feel for how difficult it will be for the rest of the year in each class. It takes a good deal of effort to keep things together and the class cohesive during this time. And even with the best of efforts, results are often mixed or worse.

For now, three of my four classes seem like they will hold together pretty well. For that I am grateful. However, it makes my frustration level with the other class even higher. This is where I need to really focus on the positive parts of the job and the fact that 75% of my classes feel as they are going well. If I can do this, it will give me a better chance of getting over mu frustrations and successfully improving things in the class not working as well.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Smart Notebook Ipad app

I have written about the use of the Reflection app mirroring software previously. At the time I was attempting to use the Smart Notebook IPad app with the mirroring software and running into difficulties with proper display of Notebook files and writing on the files using the IPad. It got to the point where I gave up and went back to using the Notebook files from my laptop.

The Smart Notebook app was updated about two weeks ago and the bugs I had encountered have been fixed. If you have many of your lessons on Smart Notebook files, I can now heartily endorse their use with the Reflection mirroring software and an IPad. My files are stored in a Dropbox account and can be loaded directly from there into the Notebook App. Through the use of the Reflection mirroring app, I am now able to walk around the room, change and/or write on any pages from any location in my room, and have my students write their work on the Ipad which is nearly simultaneously projected on the board. While the actual editing and file creation features of the Notebook App are limited, (I make all changes and edits on a Laptop before class), from a display and presentation standpoint, this setup is pretty nifty.

During the past two weeks, it has made a very positive impact in the way my students and I can interact during lesson time and has allowed me to monitor their progress during lessons significantly better. The students enjoy showing and projecting their work to the rest of the class as well. I am fairly sure other mirroring software will allow this setup to work as well. It is much more enjoyable to be free to move about the classroom during lesson presentation rather than be stationed at the front of the room.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Gafe Summit

It has been much too long since I last posted. It is my intention to post more frequently but often times I just feel so tired by the end of the school day and weekends lately have been filled with lesson planning and family things that required my attention.

However, I do want to reflect on my experience this past weekend at the Google Apps for Education Summit that was held at Burlington High School. The majority of the sessions that I attended were quite well done. All presentation materials were made available to us via online links with many links embedded in those presentations. Links upon links. But despite the overwhelming amount of information presented and available in those links, it is an invaluable resource. I was also quite impressed with the experience and expertise of the presenters and how far a distance many of them came to share what they knew. My PLN expanded by several people this weekend.

My favorite part of the weekend was the two morning keynote addresses, the first was given by Jaime Casap on technology, its speed of change, impact, and relevancy on how children learn things now. His story of how his daughter was going to learn to play the ukelele using a You Tube video rather than a more traditional approach was both funny and eye-opening at the same time.

The second address by Dan Russell was on the topic of what constitutes literacy in the digital age and the concept of informacy. It was top notch! Dan is a search expert at Google. I had the pleasure of taking his power search MOOC this summer so I was already aware of his abilities. His address was even better than I had anticipated. It was thought provoking, humorous, enjoyable, informative, and illuminating all at once. My approach to searching/researching for information will be forever changed and more importantly, how I guide and prepare my students on how, where, and what to look for when they search for information will be much improved and more relevant.

My normal routine of weekend lesson planning was significantly disrupted. However it is worth feeling a bit unsteady and tired as the evening winds down and the school week approaches because of the positive experiences, excellent information, and quality work and people I was exposed to.

Now all I have to do is figure out ways to use and apply all that I learned about this weekend.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rest and focus

I let things that really are not that important get to me a bit this week. And I also feel somewhat rundown. The two things are closely connected.

It really does not matter that the MCAS scores released to staff this week, (the Massachusetts version of high stakes tests), could have been better. It does not really matter that during the presentation of the MCAS results at our staff meeting, only partial results were shown which obscured/ignored some of the good results the group I teach with had registered. It really does not matter that a new teacher evaluation system is being put in place next year, one that will include a component of test scores, (the student growth profile). It really does not matter that it is quite unclear what percentage those growth profiles will count in that new assessment. It really does not matter, however unfair, that the majority of teachers I work with do not have test results that can be applied to their assessments and that many academic research studies have clearly shown that student growth profiles are not valid indicators of teacher quality. And it does not really matter that the State has decreed that with these new assessments, each school has to fit their teacher assessments to a bell curve distribution, significantly limiting the percentages of teachers who can be declared exemplary or proficient, despite the fact that virtually all of us have been declared as such in previous evaluations for our entire teaching careers.

What matters are my students. What matters is the look on their faces this week as we continue to get to know each other and experiment with some back and forth banter during classroom learning. What matters is how hard they worked, (this Friday afternoon), at translating verbal phrases to variable expressions, a skill that will help them so much with solving word problems, (but pretty dry stuff). All the issues cited in the paragraph above do not amount to a hill of beans compared to my students. I need to remember that always.

It is easy to get sidetracked with "adult" issues. I need to ensure that I get more rest during the week. Rest will help me retain my focus on what is most important about my job as a teacher.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Full Swing

The school year is in full swing now as October nears, the sunlight dwindles, and the shadows lengthen. There is plenty of correcting, grade entering, and lesson planning to do this weekend but I am finding out that if I do not carve out some time to write a blog post, I never get to it.

In the interest of Staying Positive, this is a good time to cite some of the good things that have occurred during the first few weeks of the school year. I am of course still getting to know my new students, but it has been a nice start so far and they seem to be comfortable with my approach. I have enjoyed our classroom interactions so far.

The use of Google Forms, (an example of a homework assignment), with homework assignments has been a big help in improving my formative assessments of the level of understanding for each of my classes. The student homework submissions populate a spreadsheet that can be easily scanned before the next day's class to see what, if any, problems and misconceptions need to be addressed. Students, especially 7th graders, are not very good at asking for help. Getting a quick scan of their work rather than relying on student questions or educated guesswork on my part has been great. I have found that their misunderstandings are not always what I anticipate they might be and that they vary more from class to class than I had thought they would. This has been an important revelation for me. I also quickly discovered that, while it is easy to check student answers in a spreadsheet format, checking their work is not easy in a spreadsheet. After the first week, I had to ask that my students hand in their work the next class day so I can check for individual misunderstandings. Also, there are some math homework assignments that simply do not lend themselves to Google Forms and they have to be done more "old school". While this means, that there are still some papers that I deal with, my paper usage has been cut by at least 2/3. Much easier to manage which helps me be more productive.

I am quite pleased and excited with the usage of our class web site. The amount and quality of the questions regarding homework or class related issues has been much improved at this point in comparison to the previous two years of the web site's existence. And students have answered their own classmates questions a few times which is something I really encourage and am happy to see developing. To some degree, the utility of the web site is up to how the students end up using it. So far the trend indicates to me that my group of new students will be exploring ways to make the site the nerve center of our class when we are not in school.

All in all, plenty of positives to focus on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Today was the first day that I used the Reflection app mirroring software available for a PC in conjunction with my the Airplay feature on the Ipad. While there were a few glitches, largely due to some as yet undetermined issues with the Smart Notebook Ipad app, my experience was very positive.

The feature/implication I like the best is that with the use of Reflection, you are not tethered to any particular part of the classroom. Whatever content that is displayed on the screen of your IPad, is projected to the whole class and can be changed easily without needing to have anything pointing towards the front of the room. It allowed me to gain a much better perspective of my classroom and the level of my student engagement during the lesson. I was able to move about freely, essentially feeling like I was much more a part of the class. It was a good feeling.

I am excited about the potential this new piece of technology offers. If you use IPads in your classroom, I highly recommend looking into this technology solution.

Friday, September 7, 2012

First Impressions

The first four days of classes are in the "books". During the summer, it is easy to forget how tired you can feel by the end of the teaching week. For this week at least, it is a "good" tired feeling.

I am still talking too much. But I continue to be working on loosening the reins some and I feel good about making progress in not being center stage all the time. The classroom environment for each of my classes and homeroom is promising. I have been pleased with the class participation and respect my students have been showing each other. There is a bit of timidness with some of them - the fear of getting a wrong answer. In one of my classes today, it was difficult to get volunteers to show their work on the board. I assured that class that it is okay to get an incorrect answer and that was one of the ways we would learn together. More work will be needed to encourage them to take a chance on themselves.

One big improvement for my first week has been the utilization of Google Forms for homework assignments. I have been able to use the spreadsheet information from the assignments to more efficiently assess any trouble areas that are present. And I can do it in near real-time. It is taking quite a bit more time setting up the assignments than in years past and I will not be able to use this format for all assignments, but the potential for me to use homework in a much more productive way is exciting to me. Hopefully it will be beneficial for many of my students as well.

I am looking forward to a chance to rest a bit and completing some lesson planning this weekend so I can be ready for a new action-filled week. They will be keeping me on my toes. And that is a good thing.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Staying Positive Throughout

While looking at my Twitter feed last evening, Michael Pershan, @mpershan, sent a link to a video that I could not get out of my head all day today. Staying positive throughout the school year can be difficult. So when you have one of those days when the lesson bombs, events that were largely out of your control conspire to make it a lousy day, or you are just plain run down a bit towards the end of the week, be mindful of the refrain of this tune from The Hold Steady.

Have a great school year!

(and if you are a math teacher and not following @mpershan's work, you should!)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Almost Here

It is Sunday evening and classes for me start Tuesday. Hard to believe that this will be my eighth year of teaching. For any newer teachers out there reading this, while the daily routines involved with teaching fortunately become easier, the job itself remains a constant challenge. And while I may not admit this by Spring, I think that challenge is one of the things I enjoy most about the profession. There so many different ways my students keep me on my toes. And with my own children chronologically grown up, (do they ever really grow up?), teaching and interacting with middle school students keeps me feeling relevant.

Each group of students is different and brings their unique spirit and set of challenges to you every day. Sure, there are similarities in behaviors that many display, but every year so far, they have manifested themselves in different and interesting ways. And there are always at least 10 of my students that approach math problems differently than I have encountered before. I learn so much from my students different perspectives and questions.

So the nervous and excited anticipation builds with little in the way of sleep likely for the next couple of nights. I do miss the days of forecasting the weather, (a meteorologist will always have the weather bug in him/her I guess), but the adventures and interactions that I know I will have with my students this year is no match for that. Bring it on kids, I am ready for another year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Productive Day

My organizational and first week planning began in earnest today. I have revamped my procedures and policies and had put the finishing touches on those documents for presentation to my new students on the first day, just as I have done every year before. Even with the changes, it just did not feel right this year.

And then from a Twitter link, I read this post about first day plans. In particular the emphasis on the 100% sure "NOT going over rules and procedures" part caught my eye. Shortly after, another link on my Twitter feed lead me to this. How awesome were all these first day ideas!

That is what did not feel right. If I started with procedures and policies like I have always done, things would not feel different to me. I do not have a lengthy list of policies but it takes enough class time each year that anything mathematical that I planned either ended up being rushed or not completed. That was no way to start.

My class time on the first day this year will be somewhat limited so the great ideas that I read about today are not quite practical for me. But with the freedom from the burden of my usual plan, I can come up with something that will fit nicely. The important parts of the procedures and policies can be woven into class time during the first week. This will allow me to start with something math-related, right from the very beginning. And the message will be delivered that mathematics will be the topic every day. And my new students hopefully won't be bored from the start. A very productive day indeed.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Comfort in Numbers

Once I start waking up in the middle of the night with worries about school, I know the start of a new school year is not too far away. (Sept 4th is first day with children for me). While I am not happy for others that have this affliction, I was comforted to discover today that there are many other teachers that this happens to as well. Another unexpected benefit of developing a PLN through Twitter it seems.

There was a blog post regarding beginning nervousness which was helpful for me to read this morning. Then there were at least a half dozen other references to the "dreams" beginning on individual Twitter feeds that I read during the day. Many teachers in the East face the beginning of school soon too it seems.

For me, I think the worries start because of the excitement and uncertainty of the unknown of a whole new set of students. How will things unfold? Will my plans for teaching this year work? What new version of adolescent behaviors will crop up this year? Can I handle them effectively? My most common dream is to wake up in a panic thinking it is the first day of school and I am late and have not planned a thing.

So, I was sorry to hear that so many other teachers are having their sleep disturbed as the beginning of the new year approaches. But it was comforting to know that I was not alone.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Adding Value

I have been here before.

One of my careers before becoming a teacher was that of a meteorologist with a specialty in weather forecasting. I worked for a private weather service. Most of the clients we forecast for were electric and gas utilities who needed very specific information regarding temperature, wind, and dew points, and municipalities who needed specific information about the timing of weather events that impacted travel, especially during the winter season.

When I started out in the mid 1980's even though in some ways, our competition was free, (the National Weather Service), numerical models were not that accurate and it was fairly easy for a forecast to be considerably more accurate than the typical NWS forecast. By the early 1990's, the advances in computer power and accuracy of numerical models made it much more difficult for our forecasts to consistently beat the NWS forecasts. This meant, that my company could only charge about 50% of what it charged when I started. So we had to have twice as many clients just to keep steady state. The trend of improved accuracy of computer guidance continued through the 1990's and to keep pace, we had to take on ever more clients and automate more of our tasks, pretty much to stay even. The job became more of a monitor to check when a computer model forecast was going bad rather than that of an actual weather forecaster. The value that we added in terms of customer service and specially designed forecast formats kept us in business but became harder to truly deliver on because of the increased client base. The premiums we could charge to an individual client continued to decrease, a race to the bottom if you will.

I feel that in many ways, what the private weather forecasting industry faced in the late 1980's and 1990's, the public schools are going to be faced with now. We have some advantages over the private forecasting industry - our competition will not be free for one and a teacher has the ability to add significantly more value than a private weather forecaster had.

That is the rub though. We as teachers have the ability to add more value but it is not clear to me if we will take that opportunity. I do know that if we do not become more responsive to our students needs to learn and create through the use of technology that they already use at home, are not increasingly receptive to communicate with parents and students in "off" hours through the use of e-mail and other social media, and instead focus more on the preparation for and what the results of standardized tests are, it will be harder to justify the need for many of us. It is a fools errand to be preoccupied with standardized test results to the exclusion of the development of inquisitive and creative learners. I know this runs counter to the trend of Race To The Top requirements of attaching valued added test scores to teacher evaluations. But with each year of test data that becomes available, the private testing companies that are already chomping at the bit to enter the public school market in a big way, will have better and better data to use to improve their adaptive learning modules. From a standardized test score perspective, this would effectively be able to close the gap between the value a teacher adds and what a computer learning module could "teach" a child. Without the demonstrated impact we as teachers had at fostering creative and inquisitive learners, there would not need to be such a large teaching force. Those that remained would be reduced more to tutoring, data monitors really, rather than teachers

Of course, we as teachers can do much better. But we have to start in earnest and soon so the case can be made for our worth; our addition of significant value. Over the next several years, the financial pressures on municipalities to reduce their outlays are going to increase exponentially, especially with the municipal pension obligations coming due that most communities have no real way of paying for. And those private testing companies are counting on us to come up short.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Taking Shape

August 1st has come and the planning for the upcoming school year is starting to take shape. Next year, all students in my school will have a school g-mail account. This has helped me decide on some of the technology tools that will be used. I have decided that I will integrate the use of Socrative and Google Forms into the class routine as much as possible to help with getting feedback from a much greater cross-section of my classes. While, I do not think it will be possible to be fully paperless, my plan is to go as paperless as possible and use Google Docs and Google Forms for classwork and homework whenever practical and possible.

During the summer, my district has been sponsoring EdTech Tuesdays, (#edcampsummer), based on the edcamp model. As I decide in what ways I will alter my teaching style and incorporate more technology into the classroom, I have found the topics introduced and interaction with other teachers at these gatherings very helpful. One of the most useful observations shared with me was from two high school teachers from my district. They told me that along the path of increased use of technology in their classrooms this past school year, there were many days of failure. I needed to hear that and on days when my plans bomb, will remember their observations to help me keep the faith.

There is plenty of work to be accomplished on the lesson planning front. To give the year a better flow, I need to give much more thought than I have in previous years on the sequencing of individual lessons in each unit. Specific technology tools and Apps to be used in the lessons will have to wait until I have a better idea on the sequencing. I also need to restructure my class website a bit to make it more useful and accessed by my students. It will be a busy month of preparations.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Those who can do.....

We all know how that familiar idiom ends. It is terrible to admit, but when I was not a teacher, I was guilty of saying it, and probably at some level believed it. Why my teacher friends at the time tolerated my use of the idiom and did not slug me is unclear.

After only my first few weeks of teaching, I fully understood how false the idiom is. Of all the jobs I have worked at over the years, there is not one that I have had that was as all consuming and physically and mentally draining as that of a classroom teacher. That is not the main point of this post. Teachers reading already know challenging the profession of teaching is and how ignorant the idiom is.

My concern is what our education policymakers actually believe. They certainly pay lip service to the notion of how demanding the profession of teacher is and publicly are respectful of the job of a teacher. But deep down, if they believed what they say in public, I do not feel that we would have the culture of mistrust that exists between teachers and policymakers in our current system. There would not be the excessive standardized testing mandated by whichever acronym-laden education policy is in place. There would not be the notion that the test scores from those standardized exams could or should be used to determine the effectiveness and evaluation of individual teachers.

Why are the Khan Academy videos so well received? Sal Khan is not trained as a teacher, does not use a script and admits "I don't know what I am going to say half the time". Is it possible that it is so widely acclaimed because his work verifies a deep-seated belief that people that have never taught hold? I am embarrassed to admit that I once sort of believed it. Those who can do..... "see Martha.... Sal Khan did it! And he did not need to be trained or any of that nonsense!"

The second half of the idiom - .....those who can't teach - may be more deeply felt among the general populace and our policymakers than we as teachers might be able to imagine. I surely hope I am incorrect.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Initial Impressions of the Finland Phenomenon

Robert Compton's documentary about the school system in Finland was originally released in late March of 2011. I had not had the chance to see it until yesterday when Dr. Eric Conti, our superintendent, posted the film on the district web site in four parts. (The link is to the first part, just click on Next at the bottom of each page to get to parts 2-4).

The documentary is well worth watching. It demonstrated what is possible in an education system that is based on trust. Embedded in that culture of trust is the respect that is accorded by its citizens to the profession of teacher in Finland. Teaching is a desirable profession and many of the top students in their universities choose to teach. There is little in the way of testing or homework in Finland. The teachers are rarely observed by their administrators. Yet they are ranked as the top education system in the world.. Standards are rigorous but teachers are trusted to do their job and teach and students are trusted to do their job and learn. It was evident in the documentary how relaxed the students were, both in and out of school. But the classroom environment was not one of disarray at all. It was one of mutual respect between teacher and student, collaboration between students and between teachers, and the task of learning was paramount in all that they did. Active engagement of students was the norm and much of their learning was project based and cross curricular, (especially in the elementary and middle school level).

The approach in Finland is in stark contrast to the path our country is currently on. The new Common Core standards have been presented as comprehensive and rigorous. As opposed to the positive feedback loop that Finland has developed with their culture of trust, our series of numerous and lengthy state mandated high stakes tests which supposedly assess what a student has learned and through the magic of growth scores also what their teacher has taught them is clearly a culture of distrust which breeds competition, (Race to the Top?), rather than collaboration.

There is definitely a much better way to go in public education than the path the United States is currently on. The Finland Phenomenon documentary showed one of those much better examples very well.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Initial Twitterings

So it has been five days since I started using Twitter. Even though it is quite early in the game, I thought it would be good to share some of my initial feelings and discoveries.

To begin with, I have been amazed when someone follows me, especially when it is someone that follows me first, I have never met them, and they live far away! It is an affirming feeling. I had read several articles and blog posts over the past year or two talking about the importance of Twitter for educators, its' opportunity for learning and growth, and the power of a PLN. My experience these first few days indicate that those articles and blog posts I read were on the mark and not oversold one bit!

These past few days I have learned about one educators take on the reasons teachers are not using technology and the varied discussions around this post. I have read about the appalling class sizes allowed in the new Detroit schools contract. There was a great article about a research study that showed gains in understanding and standardized achievement in project-based classes in mathematics. These are just three of several articles I discovered through the use of links via Tweets, things you, (the collective you), wanted to share.

I have been a frequent web site and blog post reader but never had posted comments on anything. There is something about the Twitter experience of sharing that has already nudged me further. I have already posted comments on three different articles! I will try not to let the comment posting thing get out of hand as I do not want to be thought of as "that" guy.

But what I have liked just as much is the information discovered that was not solely education related. There was a neat flashmob video of Ode to Joy. There was the story about the Aaron's last wish $500 pizza tip which I learned about through Twitter links well before it was being carried on There were very nice personal pictures of the first rainfall from the summertime Arizona monsoon. (For me, weather pictures will never get old!). These are just a few of many rich examples of stories and connections that were shared and resonated with me, independent of education.

All of this was discovered by only following 30 Twitterers, (as my list is still small), and most of this information was not duplicated in what I thought was my pretty well rounded RSS reader feed. I will have to figure out how to set up lists and how to favorite things so I can organize my Twitter stream as my following list grows. And I should probably look into an app like Tweetdeck to help me organize things. Because I can tell that Twitter will be something important in my learning and growing as an educator and a person. My main problem will be figuring out how to time manage this new feature in my life. (and I have not even delved too much into the #mathchat Twitter feed yet!).

This is a bit corny but I want to say thanks to everyone for sharing so much. I hope to be able to return the favor by being interesting and sharing what I may come across too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


So here I am with my first blog post. I had been lurking, (and learning), on the sidelines for a year or so coming up with excuses of why not to start a blog or to be on twitter myself. The excuse that resonated with me the strongest was that with my position as a teacher, it was too risky for me to have a public face. How nonsensical when you think about it. I am responsible and smart enough to know what is appropriate to publish publicly. Then this post by George Couros at The Principal of Change was enough to give me the final nudge. So I now have a twitter account, @fjvitale, and a blog to share my thoughts.

That would be small potatoes if it were the only change to accomplish. 

I am fortunate to work in a school district that values and gives me access to excellent technological tools. A few years ago, the math teachers in my school were given access to Smartboards and Smart Notebook software. I eagerly incorporated this technology into my teaching on nearly a daily basis. It was a step up in the way I could display and deliver my lessons. In truth, it only improved the way I delivered those lessons. 

Towards the end of this past academic year, each teacher at my school was given an Ipad2 and a new laptop. For the next school year each room will also have access to an Apple TV set-up. The high school in my district successfully implemented a 1-1 Ipad2 program this past academic year and there appears a good chance that a 1-1 Ipad2 program will soon be implemented in my school as well. Exciting but somewhat overwhelming news. How can I incorporate all this new stuff in my classroom?

While "lurking and learning" I admit to having been somewhat skeptical of the overall benefits of a 1-1 environment, especially at the middle school level. But one Saturday morning in early May, an experience with my grandson, Emanuele, then two and a half, changed my thinking in an instant. He asked his grandmother, who was in another room at the time, if he could play one of his favorite games, Memory!, on her Ipad. She said yes, figuring he would wait until she came back into the living room where he was. Instead, Emanuele went directly to her Ipad and very quickly and deftly opened it, selected the game icon, navigated the choices he wanted, and got started before she walked into the living room. I watched him do all this in amazement! He had no previous instructions on how to do this - he had just watched his grandmother start the game a few times. It hit me like a 2 by 4 across the head. This is the world he will grow up in! These will be the tools he learns with and will use to learn! This is the world my students already live in and these are the tools that largely they will use to learn now and in the future.

Being May and well into the "difficult behavior" period of adolescents, I then thought about the common refrains I was feeling regarding my students lack of attention, lack of motivation, and lack of memory. How could they seemingly have forgotten much of what we had "covered" during the year as we were heading towards our state mandated standardized test! And I realized they were just plain BORED! And had been for quite awhile. The way I was teaching them had little relevance or meaning. In truth, they had been pretty tolerant of my "delivery" methods during the school year and, for the most part, were trying to overcome those methods the best that they could.

So armed with my new technological tools, the technological tools they possess and bring to school each day, and the knowledge that I have a lot of modifications to make in the way I teach, it has been a busy summer of thoughts of change and learning. It will not be easy for me. I am much more comfortable being the deliverer. But I will change my teaching - significantly. The situation and my responsibility as a teacher requires it.

One of the ways I will use this blog is to share some of the ups and downs of this transition. It may make for some interesting reading. 

In addition, from time to time, I may post on topics that are not directly related to education. Hope you come back once in awhile to see how things are going.