The Civility and Civics Of Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia. I argue with anyone who says it is bad, and I’ve even created a document to help teachers use Wikipedia effectively with their students.

There is something special about this giant collective work and the community that has helped create it. I often think about the authors and editors and how they arrived at the decision to give up their time to share their knowledge.

This morning @Braddo tweeted a link to a post on Big Think about Wikipedia and its community. Here is a quote from the transcript.

… I think it would be wonderful to make as part of the curriculum from, say, sixth grade onward part of your task and what you’ll be graded on is to edit and make the case for your edits to an article on a service like Wikipedia and then we’ll have new ranks of people being supervised by teachers who are working on the articles and on the product and that maybe even will apprentice to the norms by which you have an argument over what is true and what isn’t. And maybe some of them will choose to continue on as Wikipedians even after the assignment is over.

 I have proposed authoring or editing Wikipedia articles as school projects many times. I’m guessing this is not such an innovative concept now that Wikipedia is 14 years old. What I like about this proposal is the last bit.

So to me if I think of an advanced civics class, it’s great to learn that there are three branches of government and X vote overrides a veto, but having the civics of a collective hallucination like Wikipedia also be part of the curriculum I think would be valuable.

We would be teaching Civics for citizens of an online world. 

So go take a look, and scroll past the write-up to the comments, where one reader offers advice for teachers willing to take on the challenge.

A New Professional Development Opportunity

An Online Course for Teachers

PBL for Teachers. That’s the name of a new online course I have developed that will begin officially on January 12, 2015. Delivered via Schoology and facilitated by both Bea Leiderman and Zoe Parrish, this course will cover why we advocate for engaging, project-based approaches in our classrooms, the eight essential elements of a project-based lesson, assessing projects and twenty-first century skills, how technology adds value to learning, developing driving questions and entry events, and the role inquiry plays in deeper learning experiences such as projects. 

The course is designed to move about one section per week, and requires the participant to read, watch a number of videos, and participate in a few online discussions with peers. The culminating part of the project is the design of a PBL experience for students, which can be your G21 project for this year. If you deliver the project after its been submitted as part of this course, you can also submit a short reflection on the project and receive additional recertification points.


Regular participation in the course and completion of Parts 1-8 will receive 25 points as an “educational project.” Completion of the project with students and submission of the reflection adds an additional 15 points for a total of 40. Please note that each time you apply for re-certification for your teaching license, only one educational project may be submitted for credit. If you already have conducted a project in this category, you will not be able to apply these points towards re-certification.

How do I sign up?

The attached PDF outlines the 8 parts of the course and an online enrollment code. Simply sign into Schoology, click on “Courses” at the top and click “Join.” Paste in the enrollment code and you’re in! 

What are Bea’s and Zoe’s role in this course?

As course facilitators, they will be available to answer questions via email or iChat. In addition, they will be the ones monitoring course discussions and assessments. They will also be the ones providing feedback on project ideas and project submissions. For the project reflections, I will be reviewing those and certifying that all work is complete in concert with building principals.

Does this count as my technology integration course?


Anything else I need to know?

This opportunity is open to all teachers. Because there is a significant number of videos included in the course, access to broadband Internet is required to watch the videos. You may, however, watch the videos from school to access this content.

This opportunity presently is only open to teachers in Goochland County, Virginia.

Deeper Learning Has Legs

It is easy for educators to sit in a faculty meeting or professional development session seemingly paying attention and nodding along to what they hear while secretly vowing to wait until this new fad passes by. Deeper Learning, however, deserves true commitment from all of us.

A recent study by the American Institutes of Research (AIR) shows that students in schools that adopt and successfully implement Deeper Learning initiatives graduate on time more often. They also had higher rates of acceptance to competitive 4-year higher ed institutions. You can read more about it at the KQED Mind/Shift blog.

I’m sure you have heard Dr. Geyer and Dr. Hendron discuss Deeper Learning. It is a central goal of our iPad 1:1 initiative, as well as our G21 project-based model. Deeper Learning aims to reinforce academic rigor by creating an environment where students apply the content standards they learn across academic fields to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills. This new study provides evidence that our G21 initiative should be implemented across the board, not just with Honors or AP students, which is a common tendency.

The model is often critiqued as a framework that only works for high-achieving learners. The Hewlett Foundation commissioned this study to test whether the model works for all learners, choosing schools with a high proportion of low-income and English-language learners who often face more barriers to achievement. AIR investigators were also careful to choose schools that did not have a selective admissions process that might skew the student population toward high-achieving learners.

What? You “don’t have time for fluffy, fun projects with kids” because you “need to cover the standards before the test” and “snow days will get in the way” if you give this a try? Remembering that covering the standards is the bare minimum and knowing a bunch of facts without knowing how to USE them will not make these kids very successful in the future.

If our mission is to unlock the potential of ALL learners, we need to give Deeper Learning a fair shake and allow ALL students, regardless of the classes on their schedule, the chance to develop skills more important than test-taking will ever be. 

Building Your Nation State

Yesterday I arrived at my house to find my children hooting with laughter as they scrolled down a list of fake country names created by my daughter’s classmates. How often do kids stay up late working on an assignment that is so entertaining?

Of course, making up amusing names does not sound like an assignment that requires too much content knowledge or critical thinking.

But that’s not what this is about. My daughter’s Civics teacher has registered his classes on the NationStates website for a year-long project. Making up a name was just the first step. Each student had to select a form of government, primary industry, religion, wildlife, level of militarization, legislative system, etc. Based on their choices, students’ countries are rated on multiple scales. Some are quite humorous. For example, the fishing industry is rated on a “Nemo depletion scale” and the ranking on how many people believe in God is measured in “Dawkins.” My daughter and her 8th grade peers will get the Nemo reference, but might have to run a search to find out who Richard Dawkins is. I could not stop giggling over this one in particular.

Once the students establish their countries, design flags, and generally have lots of fun making up currencies, languages, city names, and everything else, they start making choices that change their country. Basically, the kids become all three branches of government rolled into a single person. Last night, my daughter had to decide whether voting should be compulsory. She was given three quotes from three different people spread out a wide swath of the political spectrum. We discussed each quote and what the implications were. I reminded her of items we have read or heard in the news, and I hope she made a thoughtful choice.

While this website was created as a promotional tool for a novel, it does provide an incredible non-traditional educational opportunity. Rather than reading about the functions of government in a textbook, students are wielding incredible power over their fictional countries and populations. As the website says, students have total control. They can “…care for its people. Or deliberately oppress them. It is up to you.”

I am as excited about my daughter’s country developing over the course of the year as she is. I would love to see what kids in Goochland do with this website, too.


iPad Stands and Document Cameras – Student Made!

In Lisa Brown’s 5th grade math class students have been busy measuring, drilling, hammering, and building!

We gave her students a challenge to build a stand for the iPads that could act as a document camera stand for teachers. Teachers can purchase document cameras online for around $100, and we knew we could find a way to build a cheaper model that teachers could use in conjunction with their iPads.

First, students were given a design challenge packet that detailed the project requirements. Then students had to draw four different models with their group, and pick their favorite model. Students had to give us an exact list of materials (with dimensions included). Students used materials from our children’s engineering lab to build prototypes from recycled materials. One group even created a digital prototype using Minecraft! Students were then provided with the materials on their list, and began to build! Mrs. Brown taught the students how to safely hammer nails, drill holes in wood and PVC, and how to use liquid nails (the teachers took care of any sawing).

The class came up with three very different models. We evaluated the models for cost effectiveness and replication feasibility. We found we could build all models for under $12, and we selected the model that would be the easiest to replicate for other teachers.

Our next step will be to ask teachers if they would like our class to build a document camera stand for their classroom!

This project combined children’s engineering, STEM minded activities, 21st century skills, and real world products!

Data-driven Games?

Over the weekend I traveled to an event in Florida and got to talk to Marcelo Stavale Molina very briefly at the end of a session. He is a Brazilian educator and his students do quite  lot with Scratch (link to his Scratch page). He described a game for visually-impaired players developed by 7th graders that I can’t wait to try out. So, I’ve been thinking about the role of programming in problem-solving and creativity all day.

I was skipping from one web page to another earlier today and found this FlowingData website. One of their recent entries links to a very detailed analysis of the frequency of letters in specific positions in words. Since I like playing word games like Scrabble and WordWrap, I had an idea. What if the points awarded by a digital version of Scrabble took into account more than what letters you used? What if we could apply this dataset to a scoring scheme so the value of the letter varied based on the difficulty of placing that letter at the beginning, middle, or end of a word? Imagine assigning a multiplier that either rewarded  you for an uncommon placement, or penalized you for a very common one.

If nothing else, this would be a great example of math in real life. Any takers for this G21 project?

Presenting your Learning

When I recently visited Randolph Elementary School, I visited a lesson “in action” where students were presenting information they had mastered (presumably for review purposes). This is a very strong instructional approach, and I was pleased to see the students had used video to capture their instructions for their peers on how to solve math problems.

student presentation

During the visit highlighted above, a student had made a mistake in the video, and then told everyone about the mistake and the “correct” way to solve the problem. This reflection on the recorded performance was another excellent sign of strong learning.

Earlier this spring, I began looking at our G21 Framework and areas for improvement. One of the things I wanted to “remove” was the necessity of any expert in the room to fill out the planning form. While it made for a nice sleek form, I wanted to put more of what it takes to develop a good project-based experience for students into the form itself. It would make for a more complex form, but hopefully too would provide teachers a scaffold on which to present an awesome learning experience.

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, my new proposal for G21 adopts the Buck Institute for Education model for project-based learning. The format is more complete at helping teachers plan for the project-based experience. One of the things it encourages, too, is student presentation. While I am not certain that every PBL needs a presentation, and there will be times where the resource of time may prevent a formal presentation, it does not dilute the effectiveness of presenting as an instructional activity. Since 2008 when we started G21, we have used “teaching others” and “communication” as two of our core 12 twenty-first century skills. But we need to remember that these skills do not need to wait for a “G21″ to be utilized in our designs for instruction.

I look forward to sharing more in my blog throughout the summer about G21 3.0. On August 7, for our Mission Possible: Operation Engagement professional development day, Bea and I will be offering sessions on the new framework. For now all I will say is consider the new format “smaller” but “more potent!”

More Than Names and Dates

It is that time of the year when kids are walking down the hall talking about Standards of Learning tests, how they did, and how much they hate this or that.

When I was in high school, I hated history. I remember slogging through an American History class where we had to memorize the dates and names of Civil War battles. It was one of the few tests I failed and didn’t care. I just wanted to move on to a different topic. In college, I signed up for the required History of Western Civilization with nothing short of dread. I walked in the fist day and sat close to the door, ready to bolt as soon as I could. Instead, I ended the semester seriously considering changing my major to History. I have to thank Dena Goodman for making history a fun story, for letting me take a peek at amazing stuff at Hill Memorial Library, and for talking me out of majoring in history.

Of course, since I mentioned the Encyclopédie, you can guess we talked a lot about the French Revolution. That was fun: the scandals, the riots, the atrocities, the fashion, the music, the plays, the poetry… We talked about dates a bit, but those were so minor compared to the big personalities and juicy gossip. It was an incredible time in history, and back then it was not history. It was life.

What if we covered history the way CNN, MSNBC, and Fox cover current events? Clearly those three have people who willingly listen and read. What if students produced news segments about the French Revolution and the decades that led to it to create a collection that could run like an hour’s worth of CNN programming? I think we could pull it off. Of course, we’d have to take insane liberties with some dates since not everything would have happened at the same time…

Head chef at Versailles shares his favorite appetizer recipes

The rich and famous entertain: a visit to Madame de Pompadour

Rameau’s inspiration for his latest chart-topping tunes

An interview Voltaire and Rousseau: their opinions on Shakespeare, constitutional monarchies, and religion

Commercial break – Marie Antoinette’s Cake Bakery

I’m sure the kids could come up with many more ideas by following their own interests. It would be a great way to cover all the content and let each student shine by focusing on what they find most interesting. Once the collection is done, it would become an excellent digital resource for everyone to reference when it is time to review.

Any takers at GHS for next year? I’d love to be a part of this.

Thinking About Citizen Science

I’m currently working on a children’s book about ladybugs, and after collecting video of a larva eating an aphid this weekend, I was trying to find out if ladybug larvae have teeth. In my searching, I ran across something I had heard about before, but forgotten: The Lost Ladybug Project. This, combined with an article sent to me by a friend earlier in the month, made me think this and other citizen science projects could be resources for a really interesting G21 Project next year.

What if kids with iPads went outside a few minutes once or twice a week, or even volunteered time during recess, to document the biodiveristy of the playground? Teachers could create a classroom account on Project Noah and other similar websites. Using LeafSnap, students could learn to tell the difference between oak trees, or even more relevant, between poison oak and ivy. Instead of ordering a butterfly kit from a school supply catalog, students could find their own caterpillars, watch them grow, and document the process.

I have not searched my blog, but I think I’ve written almost exactly the same paragraph above at least once before. This is something I value. It is something important to me. I believe in using the technology kids enjoy to help us better understand and save the ecosystems that keep us alive. I also believe it is important that kids see things outside of books, in real life, to connect school to the outside world.

Note: The ladybug larva is not the cutest bug out there, and watching it eat is not everyone’s cup of tea. I have it here if you would like to see it.

Virtual Career Fair

Over the last two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to team up with a great group of teachers at Byrd Elementary School to help students learn about various career fields.   The school counselor, Mrs. Albert, initially developed this project.  She collaborated with the 4th grade team (Ms. Singh and Mrs. Johnston) to integrate the project across the curriculum.  Students spent time during guidance lessons to learn about their strengths in the multiple intelligences and to research career fields of interest.  Then teachers supported the students in writing class to further research careers of interest, and to create scripts for the final piece of the project.  The scripts included information about students’ current interests, a potential future career, and what the students need to do to prepare to work in the chosen field.

Finally, students used Voki to create messages to their future selves.  On the Voki site students created an avatar, and then recorded a reading of the script they wrote in writing class (using Google Docs).



You can read more about this project on a page Mrs. Albert created.  You can also view the virtual career fair.


It was obvious during this project that the students were engaged and enjoying learning!

Byrd Elementary School Spring Farmers Market

Spring Farmers Market – Byrd Elementary School April 22nd Byrd Elementary School will host a Spring Farmers Market on Tuesday, April 22nd from 5:30 – 7:00 pm. The Spring Farmers Market will be held in the multi-purpose room at Byrd Elementary School. Items such as plants, flower pots, wreaths, bird houses, jewelry, and other homemade goodies will be for sale. There will be lots of good food to eat too! Get your dinner from the potato bar or have a hot dog or turkey, ham, or roast beef sandwich. There will also be lots of tasty desserts on sale! The students at Byrd will be donating all money earned to CHaRa – Construction Health and Relief Acts. CHaRa assists schools in Africa by purchasing desks, providing clean water, and supporting the food program for a school. Please plan now to attend this special event! Byrd Elementary is “Growing Great Citizens Locally and Globally.”

Geometry Bug Books

For our G21 project this year, the students in my geometry pre-AP classes created insects and other creatures using geometric shapes. They were very creative in naming and describing their creations.

We have collected pictures and descriptions to create a book for each class. The students used a template to produce a page for the book, and I have assembled them as ePub files. Here they are for you to download.

Day 2, Block 4

Day 2, Block 3

Day 2, Block 1


Instructions: From a portable device, click on the link and download the file. Your device should prompt you with instructions to follow in order to view the file. Enjoy!

MediaMaster Server Tutorial

The Math Department at GHS will be working on G21 projects over the next couple of months. Students will be working on iPads to create tutorials for their peers. Rather than using cords to move files from iPads to computers for editing and sharing, we are going to use MediaMaster Server on teacher laptops.

MediaMaster Server is an app that uses WebDAV for transferring documents between devices with very little setup. Here is the tutorial I made for the Math Department.

We’ve come a long way. The last time I blogged about WebDAV in December of 2011, the tutorial I linked to looked a bit scary. Now anyone can do it. So go for it.

On Change

One doesn’t have to go too far away to hear conversations about change, especially in the field of education. Change often comes with new leadership, that’s a given, but change in our field has been actively discussed, really, since Dewey’s writings in the earlier half of the twentieth century. Since I’ve been involved in the field, beginning fifteen years ago, I’ve seen large scale discussions of change too. I’ve heard ideas on teachers covering global awareness, twenty-first century skills, workplace readiness, and producing a tech-savvy graduating class. The inequities across class, race, and wealth also have a place among discussions in the education field, including on how best to eliminate disparities and how to give every student a full opportunity to reach their potential.

I got into this field for a number of reasons, none of which are terribly important. But the reason I’ve grown passionate within the field is the opportunity I’m afforded to make things better. I recently heard a discussion around “paradigm change in the classroom,” and my ears perked. This type of change is what really engages me.

Almost any source will tell you that the role of change agent—if in fact it’s a person or group—is a tough one. People are resistant to change, at least if they’re comfortable in their current state of equalibrium. While my title or my role is often tagged with something to do with technology, I primarily see myself as a change agent. We come in different varieties, but I have tried to focus upon being the patient type, omnipresent to help. I recently came across a phrase which I think summarized my position fairly well: a continuous, gentle push.

If we’re going to talk about a paradigm shift in our classrooms (here, or anywhere, really), we have to have a clear vision of what that means. It’s not enough to run away from a school, screaming “whatever is going on in there now stinks, and we have to change it to something else… anything!” At least not in a district/division like Goochland, which by many measures, is doing a lot of the right things for our kids, both in- and outside the classroom.

Our new strategic plan attempts to define what our priorities for improvement will be over the next 5-6 years. And there’s a lot in there that deals with instruction. If we look into the fine details, there’s got to be something lurking within that deals with a paradigm change in classrooms. I see phrases like “deeper learning,” “engagement,” and “personalization” that might be candidates. I know I’ve used my role on our instructional leadership team, and as an instructional technologist, to advocate for where I think we should be headed. By no mistake, my own thinking has been articulated in our strategic plan, congruently, I might add, by my colleagues who crafted each word in consultation with many stakeholders.

As we articulated together all of the dreamy ideas we had about where our schools should be in six years, a phrase emerged that really captured the essence of this vision for classroom instruction. And by definition, the task ahead is to move toward that vision. That’s the classroom paradigm change or shift before us. I’m confident in the six years ahead we’ll be well on our way.

If I were choosing a label, I’d call it “Personalized Inquiry-based Learning,” and if you need an abbreviation or acronym to remember that, it’d be PIbL. I’m a big fan of project-based approaches for learning, as well as those we might categorize as constructionist (the preferred term by Dr. Seymour Papert, who adapted his own theory after Piaget’s concept of constructivism). The sentiments, at least on the surface, are similar but involve the idea that we learn best through the creation of knowledge. The way this happens? Through experiences. The key then is to design experiences where kids can learn through the process of creation. The classic terminology might be “create lessons where kids can learn.” But lessons are rigid, formally-designed experiences, neatly abstracted like the storyboard for a sitcom. Don’t worry, if the lesson is boring, it will be over in just 28 more minutes. The key to the constructionist approach, I believe, is that we’re asking kids to many times create and sometimes innovate. And to do that, we have to have their engagement in the experience. They have to want to be doing and constructing, it has to be enticing. I could extend this thinking by positing that these experiences should be personalized for our students, so that they can apply their own interests, strengths, and needs for growth into the learning process.

The formal design of inquiry-based instruction does not necessarily follow one model. Our G21 program was designed to introduce to everyone of our teachers and students a method of learning that focused effort on the development of one or more of twelve twenty-first century skills in the production of a product or performance. Roughly speaking, it was a framework for product-created learning experiences. It’s cousin, if you will, is Project-Based Learning. Projects many times involve a product, but can be slightly more complex in planning. Another “relative” in instructional design, problem-based learning forces students to confront a problem, where they apply already acquired and new knowledge to solve the problem, often in the context of a small group. The commonality between all of these frameworks is the role of inquiry, or putting the student in the role of actively questioning what they need to know, applied to a simple problem, or a complex project. The very nature of having to figure something out, like a puzzle for instance, has a somewhat engaging aspect to it. The key, I believe, is supporting this interest that leads to engagement is a school-wide climate that encourages the type of open-ended thinking that so often is required in inquiry-based learning experiences. I know that the climate of standardized testing has done quite the opposite for many students. Some education pundits posit that standardized testing has killed creativity and problem-solving in schools, focusing everyone on finding the right answer from a choice list of four to five.

So, I could ramble on. But my point is this: we’re headed in a direction to try and change what teaching and learning looks like in our county, centered around experiences that personalize learning, with inquiry-based approaches. It does not mean that everything we’ve done is old and will be thrown away. We’ll start with our best exemplars for teaching, and replace others. For some classrooms, the changes might be more radical than in others. It’s safe to say that inquiry and personalization are not foreign to our teachers. What’s important to realize for everyone is that this change will be gradual.

For one, we’re taking the challenge of offering ubiquitous computing opportunities to students slowly at a pace that we can handle technically. We can do a lot of preparation for getting the technology, but in all honesty, we’ve been preparing for this for many years. The real transformation can’t really happen until teachers and students both have ready and regular, reliable access to learning tools and resources.

Technology will help in some ways with student engagement. The research I’ve looked at suggests that many districts see positive correlations to 1:1 programs in the first several years with attendance rates, graduation rates, and a reduction of discipline issues. But engagement is not the whole story.

Technology is, as I describe in our upcoming instructional newsletter, Explorations in Learning, a bicycle for the mind. In the case of our iPad 1:1 program, the omnipresent iPad in kids’s hands means they can look up a fact or answer a factual question any time of the school day. They have a multiplicity of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and online fact books at the ready. It is obvious, then, that technology supports a classroom paradigm grounded in inquiry.

Yet, technology’s greatest contribution to the ideas behind “PIbL” is the economy it provides in creating new knowledge. This was Papert’s point in his book The Children’s Machine, that a computer made the experience of creation, in a digital or virtual realm, so much more economical than some of the same things you could do with real physical objects in the world.

In my visits with schools and district leaders with one-to-one programs, I see those who have loaded their devices with drill and practice games. I’ve seen all sorts of digital textbooks. These resources are clearly grounded in the state standards and have little to do with a new classroom paradigm. We can do that, but I’d like us to aim beyond. I have no doubt that as we continue our program, we will standardize on a learning management system where teachers can present the requisite content. Students will have access to this content and be able to interact with it in ways that go beyond the textbooks and worksheets that still remain a tried and true staple of learning in schools today. But the changes we’d like to see in pedagogy will take time. If we move too fast, the process of change is too uncomfortable. If we move too slowly, we won’t see a return in our investments in expenditures on technology and new resources, not to mention training. But time and time again those who have already gone through ubiquitous computing programs report that staggering the roll-out of technology, and proceeding with constant, ongoing professional development is the key to doing it right.

At the end of the day, someone is liable to ask “Why?” What needs changing, and for what reasons? Why should there be a classroom paradigm change?

I can articulate a few reasons, none of which are particularly new or novel.

  1. Students show less engagement in the school system the longer they’re in school. (Dr. Geyer discusses this in an upcoming article he wrote for Explorations in Learning.)
  2. Both employers and tests for college entrance are moving more towards a model where students have to be able to demonstrate understanding and apply knowledge, not just recall knowledge.
  3. Our charge with technology goes way beyond making sure students can turn things on and cover basic operations. Today, we want kids who often come to us with those skills to be able to solve problems with these tools, responsibly. School is the place to develop skills in communication, collaboration, and inventive thinking with these tools. Workplace readiness metrics tell us these are among the skills in most high deficit by previous high school and college graduated students.
  4. As educators and as citizens in our communities we share a moral imperative to do what’s best for our country’s next generation. In part, this means we apply what we know about school success, lifelong success, the neuroscience behind learning, and what the individual needs and aspirations of our students are to our educational system. This includes bringing equity of opportunity to all students, using data to track progress and course-correct instruction, and divorce ourselves of the education model that was originally conceived to prepare a workforce for the industrial age.

To get where we’re going, I believe we need to:

  1. Share our vision about what our school division can be, at its best. We’ll be formally sharing this with our staff on February 14, in the afternoon with all of our teachers beginning at 1:45 PM;
  2. Work towards developing every one of our employees of their role, our mission, and our vision, as communicated in the plan;
  3. Plan, align, and execute a continuous professional development program that leverages our instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, towards building capacity to improve our ability with instruction, focusing on personalizing it for every student. We believe this improvement will come from inquiry-based approaches.
  4. Provide the tools and resources that support inquiry-based instruction models;
  5. Re-fashion our concept of curriculum to become a rich and organized, digital collection of resources for learning. This will only be possible after we have experience and exposure in our efforts towards deeper learning, as teachers firmly in the role as facilitators.

Thank for you taking the time to read this. No doubt, this is a draft of my current thinking on the ideas behind change. I won’t be doing the work alone, but in concert with our other district leaders who also bring a wealth of experience and ideas to the execution of our strategic plan. The fact that so many of our teachers have already welcomed the change I describe is a testament to my certainty that together, we can succeed at maximizing the potential of every student. Change may be a challenge, but hard fun is the best kind of engagement towards our commitment to education.

“Grading” Digital Citizenship

Seeing technology as a distraction rather than a learning tool is ridiculously common. I see teachers struggle with this predicament and I feel an obligation to change their minds. When ball point pens were invented, some schools banned them because… well… I don’t know why. This is something my mother told me about years ago. Ball point pens were new technology and maybe kids would draw mustaches on pictures in textbooks with them. Who knows?

Of course. My job depends on teachers using technology. I have to defend my job. I also have to defend the future of the digital citizens these teachers are shaping.

Technology in schools is not a passing fad. We have transitioned from typewriters and radio, through film strips, television, desktops, laptops, tablets. What’s next? Who knows, and who really cares? We have to adapt or retire, I say. If you disagree, read a bit of Marshal McLuhan’s writings obsolescence and adaptation (Wikipedia link). Technology changes society, and education is an integral part of society. Therefore, education MUST change as technology changes if it is to be relevant.

It all sounds very nice in theory, but we don’t live in theory. We must put this into practice. We must use technology in teaching.

I doubt there is a silver bullet that will eliminate every single incident of misbehavior when using technology. We work with children, and it is perfectly natural for children to get distracted, to push their limits, and to misbehave sometimes. What we can do is guide students in order to minimize misbehavior and help them grow to be good digital citizens. We must set expectations and remind students of those expectations often.

A great way to keep digital citizenship in every students’ mind is to include it as a component in grading rubrics. Grades should reflect academic growth, so any part of a grade that is not related to required learning objectives should be small enough not to be punitive. If a teacher is planning a project worth 100 points, a small portion of that (5-10 points) can be set aside for digital citizenship. Rather than telling students what NOT to do, tell them what will earn the full amount of points:

  • time on task (distraction)
  • responsible use of technology (vandalism)
  • use of appropriate sources (media literacy)
  • collaborative effort (disrespectful or bullying behavior)

Having these on a rubric lets students know that you are serious. It will also prevent a teacher from reacting too harshly and shying away from technology in the future.


Shiver Me G21 Timbers

How do you know your students really understand what they have read? Of course, you ask ten multiple choice questions and award kids points on some expensive system, right?

Not in Ms. Thomas’s class.

Ms. Thomas and her students read Treasure Island as part of their G21 project. They looked at all different aspects of the book: Geography, weather, technology, social structure of the crew, historical context of the events in the book… The students created costumes, models, posters, a new site, and other interesting artifacts based on what they read and discussed in class.

Ms. Thomas has been compiling much of what the students did in a website. It is still a work in progress, but you can visit and explore Treasure Island.

GES Hosts a World Faire

I received an invitation some time ago to attend a World Faire at Goochland Elementary School. This was one of several outstanding G21 projects I looked forward to seeing come to life this year.

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Students organized country stations around the cafeteria with interactive components designed for the iPad, for learning about each country. The most popular interaction, of course, was the food students made that came from around the world.

While the technology inclusion was cool, the most outstanding take-away for me from this well-organized event was the ownership students had of the content associated with each country. Students were enthusiastic about knowing the culture and customs of each country and were eager to share it with their peers and visitors. I had the fortune today to tour the fair with my colleagues Bruce Watson, Pete Gretz, Steve Geyer, and James Lane.

GES students and teachers: awesome job!

Six Years Into G21

Last week, at the VSTE annual conference, I attended a session about project-based Language Arts classrooms. During the Q&A at the end of the session, I mentioned our G21 framework and a project from a teacher at GMS. The teacher next to me listened, and when I finished, she said, “Oh, you guys copied our idea!”

My first reaction was to be offended. We launched our G21 initiative in the fall of 2008. We blogged about it, met with teachers, did a lot of persuading. By the spring semester, John Hendron and I were busy presenting at conferences about our framework and what we were seeing in classrooms. By the end of the year, we had incredible projects to share. By 2010, Henrico launched its own initiative. More recently, Isle of Wight put together its i-sle21 program. I know there are other “(insert your word or letter)21″ initiatives out there that have emerged as we refined our ideas over the past six years.

My second reaction was to think, “Well, this is so good nobody can fathom that a small county like Goochland actually did this!”

I am not sure which school division the teacher represented. I don’t know that it really matters. Who came first, second, or third is not as important as how much of a difference these ideas are making in the lives of students, in Goochland and other counties. I’ll file this under “Fair Use” and  hope the teacher who spoke to me is letting her students really grow and learn in her classroom.

Byrd Farmers’ Market – a HUGE success!

Last Tuesday night the parking lot was packed with cars and the Byrd Elementary School multi-purpose room was bursting with vendors and consumers!  For months Byrd students, teachers, and staff have been preparing for the first Byrd Farmers’ Market.  It was one of the most incredible events I have been a part of this year!


The Farmers’ Market was a result of our school wide G21 project, which “grew” out of our school theme, “Growing great citizens locally and globally.”  Individual students submitted applications to participate as  vendors at the Farmers’ Market.  Classrooms also produced products to sell at booths.  There were over thirty booths selling everything (including, but not limited to) savory foods, baked goods, fresh eggs, Christmas ornaments, jewelry, herbs, starter plants, decorations, crafts, play-dough, accessories, candles, dog treats, and bird feeders.


All proceeds were donated to a local organization that our schools have partnered with for some time, the Goochland Food Pantry.  Byrd raised over $2,200 for this organization in one night!


Byrd students and staff even surprised attendees with a flash mob dance, which was coordinated by Ms. Watts (our music teacher) and Ms. Beatty (5th grade teacher).

BES Farmers Market Flash Mob Dance from Zoe Parrish on Vimeo.


These pictures don’t even begin to capture the energy of the event, so make sure you come to visit us to purchase goodies for a good cause at the next farmers’ market!  Stay tuned for information on the next market, which is slated to take place in the spring!


For more information on the farmers’ market please visit the blogs below!

Mrs. Hawk’s Blog

Mrs. Albert’s Blog

Mrs. Harper’s Blog

Zoo Project with GMS grade 6

I had a great time discovering what 6th graders were learning about in class today — animals and habitats. Students were on their way with creating a virtual zoo. This G21 projects will challenge students to build an appropriate dwelling for animals based on their needs. Ms. Kass’s students are also learning how to build 3D structures using Google Sketchup with the help of Ms. Cantor. They’re demonstrate their understanding through the creation of a 3D model.


I was impressed with every student’s engagement with the beginning lesson today. I can’t wait to see the students’ zoo dwellings when they are done! If you haven’t ever played with Sketchup, you can download it free on a home computer from here. While it is a tool used by professional architects, it’s easy enough to get started for tinkering too!

Minecraft and Spatial Thinking

How long has SketchUp been around? My earliest blog post referencing SketchUp is from December 20, 2008, but I know it had been around for a long time before that. I enjoy working in SketchUp, and I have encouraged teachers to use it many times. I always warned teachers and students there would be a steep learning curve and an adjustment to working in three dimensions. Today, however, something clicked.

This morning I was working with students in Mrs. Kass’s Science class on creating zoo enclosures for endangered species. As I did last week in Ms. Curfman’s class, I started our SketchUp project by helping the students build a house. This is a great introduction to all the most commonly-used tools. In the past, I would have to spend a long time discussing what students were seeing on their screens, learning to use the orbit tool, zooming, etc. In Ms. Curfman’s and Mrs. Kass’s classes, the kids jumped right in and started working. Nobody was confused. Nobody ended up looking at their house from underground, trying to figure out how to get back to the top.


As the class was wrapping up and students were putting their computers away, one girl said to another, “It is like Minecraft, but you build with lines instead of blocks.”

There you have it. These kids can navigate virtual 3D spaces effortlessly. It is what they do in their spare time. If we make the most of this spatial thinking ability (see why it is important), if we apply it to creativity and problem-solving, I think we are going to see some interesting things.


A Colleague Shares Expertise

I was privileged to have Bea Cantor, GCPS ITRT, virtually visit a class I am teaching on assessment and student growth. A group of 12 teachers from the Metro Richmond area interacted with Bea via video chat regarding the G21 model and, specifically, how it encourages measurement of what VCU’s James McMillan calls “21st Century Disposition.” I think McMillan’s term much better captures what we (educators) mean when we refer to 21st century skills. It’s the attitude, beliefs and values that comprise a student’s personality and character.

Bea was exceptional. Those of us familiar with her work would expect no less. Her ability to articulate the conceptual model of G21 and, more importantly, engaging, project-based instruction left a profound mark on my students.

Bea Cantor explains her work with teachers in designing and implementing project-based lessons to Richmond-area teachers.

But what I most want to share was just how evident it was to me, hearing somewhat objectively the questions and answers, that our G21 model reflects the tenants of great instruction and great assessment. It’s a framework custom-designed to speak to these oft-referenced 21st century skills, or “dispositions,” encouraging teachers to emphasize problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity through a student-centered, self-reflective process.

I’ve been sold on Hendron’s model for a while now. This just put a few more blocks in the foundation.

Many thanks, Bea!



The Essentials of a Good Project

As we gear up for G21 planning this school year, I wanted to share some ideas on project-based learning.

The first ideas come from an article authored by the Buck Institute. The article calls for us to have essential ingredients for a successful project. These include a few I’d wager deserve special attention:

  • A “Need to Know” – you take the time with kids to assess what they need to know given the scenario of your project. After students identify what they need to know, a list is made and research may take place before work on the product begins.
  • A “Driving Question” – what’s the theme behind the project? This question should summarize the point behind the project – what new things will be learned – what over-arching question will be answered?
  • Student “Voice and Choice” – the more personalized the projects can become the better – so giving students creative freedom with projects is important for maintaining engagement and interest.
  • Feedback and Revision – some projects aren’t easily “closed.” When available, time can be used to provide peer and expert feedback on student work, and students can revise their work. This may involve new discovery or new ideas that come about through the creative process. Feedback need not be a formal exercise; informal feedback can be provided through partners, small group teams, and even you the teacher!

Their project design rubric is a great tool for assessing the best practices of project-based learning. Things to be sure and look for:

  • alignment with core content and standards,
  • incorporation of twenty-first century skills, including collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, and communication;
  • opportunities for inquiry – asking questions and the discovery of answers (and new questions). This can be combined with the twenty-first century skill of research;
  • having a driving question or theme to the project;
  • public audience – giving a real-world opportunity to expose student learning and the products of their learning.

I’d be interested in hearing through comments or email your thoughts about the Buck Institute’s “flavor” of PBL compared to what we’ve traditionally focused upon with G21.