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.

Embracing an Active Learning Modality

@bealeiderman recently shared this article with me. “It’s a good article, it’s easy to understand, and gets at a point I know we’ve tried to make in the past.” Okay, I’ve read it.

What Project-Based Learning Is (and what it isn’t)…

As teachers learned this past semester in our online course on PBL, there is a difference between learning “through the project” and one that’s added at the end, served as “dessert.” What I liked about this article were the examples educator Azul Terronez uses in his classroom.

(As an aside, the comments are worth reading from this article, too, and raise important distinctions about what’s “new” and “old” about a “true” PBL approach. What I couldn’t help but recognized, however, is how engaging Terronez’s activities sound. That’s distinctive. When you want to do some of those things yourself, it goes beyond sugar-coating activities to be fun. Through these types of activities students can find real passion.)

PBL and Cross-Curricular Connections

A few weeks ago I interviewed Ms. Kass and Ms. Krickovic to highlight what was going on in their classrooms. Both teachers told me about projects that let students publish their work based on research using Schoology as a platform for discussion and collaboration among students.

There are many overlapping aspects to these two projects, and now that the teachers have had the opportunity to reflect upon the results, they are making plans to make this a cross-curricular project next year.


As Captain Picard Might Say…

When I tweet, I feel like I’m talking to myself and my words will simply come back to me in perpetuity as Timehop entries. Yesterday, my name was mentioned in a tweet and I got notifications about it all afternoon.


Dr. Gretz picked up that quote when I was discussing Phillip Schlechty’s levels of engagement. What I was saying to my audience was that assuming students are engaged because the classroom is quiet and everyone looks busy is not a good idea. Until you see what the outcome of the work is, you can’t know whether the kids were engaged or not. It is not just about observing the behavior. When students are truly engaged, they care about doing the best they can, not just meeting the minimum requirements set forth in a rubric. If students are constantly asking if the paragraph they wrote is “long enough” and you keep sending them back to their desk, they might be busy, but they are not engaged.

I’ve been pointing to Schlechty’s work for a while when talking to teachers in Goochland because, while we might know what engagement is, he puts it into words that can help teachers reflect upon their practice.

I believe engagement is made up of two separate components.  The first is the relationship between the teacher and the students. If you want your students to be engaged, you have to know them and you have to get along with them. You don’t have to be their friend, but you cannot lead students in learning if you have an adversarial relationship with them. The relationship between the teacher and the students is the main ingredient in the mix that makes up the classroom environment, and a toxic environment discourages collegiality and collaboration, which are so important to learning.

The second component in engagement is thoughtful and carefully planned instruction that is accessible and relevant to all the learners in the group. If tasks are too difficult, students will be frustrated, and if tasks are too easy, students will be bored. Allowing for some choice and creative flexibility lets students find the right combination of their own skills and the challenge in the task to be successful. Notice that there are tasks for the students to carry out. Instruction should be an activity in which the students are doing something, not passively listening or watching.

So how do we get here? Stop lecturing. Embrace project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, plan student-centered activities. Need help? Remember I’m just an email away.




More Online PBL Training

These two courses referenced below require advance registration and the two highlighted have not yet had enough folks sign up to make — but perhaps after this advertisement — they will.

If you’re interested, (1) let me know through email you are going to take the course, (2) sign up for a free account on PBLU and you can go to their Classes page to sign up for these free events. With proof of successful completion sent to me (3), I will count one or both of these as your technology class for this school year.

If you’re instead interested in the two future classes (assessing critical thinking, how to include content and competencies) – I will also accept those too.

  • How to Create a Driving Question (February 2 – 9, 2014)
  • How to Manage Student Presentations (February 16 – 23, 2014)

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.

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.

What would our students say?

Pennsylvania’s Teacher of the year Ryan Devlin was recently profiled on the Teaching Channel. He uses a lot of project-based lessons in his high school English classes.

I thought it was cool they captured student perspectives on his teaching. What would our students say about our approaches? What do we want them to say?

GES iPad Exhibition

In Goochland County this year we began an incredible journey to explore the benefits of 1:1 devices in learning.  Our pilot began at Goochland Elementary School, where all 3rd through 5th grade students and teachers were given an iPad.  Everyday I am amazed at what students are learning and producing!  Furthermore, I am in awe of the teachers who plan engaging, well-structured lessons to guide student learning!


We are excited to share what is happening in our  classrooms with the community.  So, last Thursday we held an iPad Learning Exhibition.  It was a wonderful evening to meet and talk a variety of people from the community, including parents and students.


The event was set up like a museum, with posters

containing QR codes linked to videos as our exhibits.  Students star in the videos, and are demonstrating activities that are taking place in classrooms.  The exhibits lined the school hallways.   Also, 4th grade students opened a Jamestown Museum down one of the hallways.  They recently visited Jamestown on a field trip.  On this trip students collected information on various aspects of the colony and Native American village.  Upon returning to school, they recreated an object that represented a researched topic, and linked that topic to a video that shared more of their research (using Aurasma). Students brought their families to the exhibit, and led them through as a docent.  We had additional iPads on hand for those that visited without a student. Our hope is to share with others the deeper learning taking place at GES, which is facilitated by 1:1 devices.  Deeper learning means adopting more project-based and hands-on approaches to instruction, and enhancing curriculum by integrating 21st century skills into learning activities.   In case you missed it, you can visit the exhibition virtually through a site that features a number of the videos showcased last Thursday.  Also, John Hendron, our Supervisor of Instructional Technology and a great instructional leader wrote about the event on his blog.

So much technology in our schools!

As a teacher, do you ever look back at your week and think, “Did all of that really happen?”  Last week was one of those weeks.  It was wonderfully crazy and filled with exciting events and learning opportunities in our schools.   I did not have time to post!  I hope to make up for it this week by squeezing in a couple posts each night to showcase the wonderful things happening in our elementary schools.  In addition to the Byrd Farmers’ Market and the iPad Exhibition at GES, check out some of the instructional activities that took place!


I had the opportunity to spend more time in Ms. Thompson’s classroom with her fabulous 3rd graders!  Students began a unit of study on graphing.  We taught the students to create Google Forms with questions to collect data from classmates.  Forms allow students to create a survey with an online form.  Students posted their online surveys to Edmodo so their students could answer a variety of questions.  Forms collects survey responses in a neatly organized in a spreadsheet.  Furthermore, students can use a feature in the spreadsheet to create a beautiful graph.  Finally, students analyzed their graphs and wrote questions for their classmates that began with question stems such as How many more, Why do you think, What is the difference, and What might explain.


At Byrd Elementary School we used Khan Academy for the first time with students.  4th graders in Ms. Singh’s class used their Google accounts to sign into the program.  We plan to use it as a weekly math remediation tool.  A group of teachers will work together to assign skills to students.  These skills will be differentiated based on students’ individual needs.  Students will work through the tutorials and practice questions to “master” math skills.  Khan Academy is set up to award points and badges to students for completing modules.  The students loved this aspect of the program, and loved working at their own pace!


2nd graders continued to post information in Edmodo to the classroom in South Africa they are going to communicate with throughout the year.  They shared information about the school’s farmers market, Thanksgiving, and Native Americans.


5th graders at Byrd continued to work on their websites (using Google Sites) to share information about protecting the environment.  I will dedicate a post especially to their work as they complete the finishing touches!  Students in Ms. Sprouse’s class at Randolph Elementary School are also using Google Sites to respond to writing prompts.  Each student has their own page on a collaborative class site, built by Ms. Sprouse.


4th graders in Mrs. Demas’s class at Goochland Elementary School began the next leg of their weather and animal adaptations project.  They have tracked weather data for a specific climate zone.  They also researched real animals that live in that particular area.  This week the students created fictional animals that had special adaptations to help them survive in the climate zone they have studied.  Students work on this activity using Google Spreadsheets and Google Docs.


5th graders in Ms. Cosby’s class began a special lesson to investigate sound waves.  This activity integrated inquiry based learning with children’s engineering.  Later this week I will post a follow-up on this activity that will describe how the students used GarageBand to create music.


Students in our App Builders club continue to amaze me!  I look forward to writing about this special group of students.  They are building an app for Goochland Elementary School (using TheAppBuilder) while using the learning modules in Khan Academy to learn Java Script!  Exciting things will come from this group!


The GCPS STEM Advisory Committee met last week.  Planning is taking place for the 2nd Conundrum Day and also 2014 STEM Camp.  We are looking for parents and community members to help advance STEM education opportunities throughout the county.  If you are interested in joining this driven group, then please contact me for more information at