Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mentoring: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

The first few weeks of school have passed and I have been very busy. As I started my 10th year in education, I knew it was going to be busy. I have some new projects starting this year with blogging, I'm organizing #edcampDetroit, doing a weekly tech guide for my district, #ProjectPLN, creating a online student newspaper, working on my Masters in Educational Technology and a few other things. Needless to say, I've been very busy, but not as busy as the new teachers in my department.

My district has a mentoring program. It's not bad. Veteran teaches are paired with rookies and help them with problems they encounter. They are supposed to meet n a regular basis and keep a log so teachers can receive credit for the hours they meet. I met rarely with my mentor teacher when I was a new kid on the block. Most of the time, the meetings were brief and sometimes I would spend my time sharing my lessons or helping with tech issues. I received most of my mentoring from other teachers I sought out for guidance or teachers that seemed to go out of their way to take me under their wing. For them, I'm eternally grateful.

I see myself doing the same thing now. Some of the new teachers have been stressing over the new curriculum, failing technology, crazy students and parents among other things. I feel it is my job to go out of my way and check in on these teachers to make sure they are doing ok. In my department, new teachers are very lucky because many of use veterans go out of our way to make sure they are doing well. In others departments across education, I hear about too many new teachers being left to fend for themselves. I think that is unacceptable. Fifteen or Twenty minutes of my time to listen to a teacher vent is not going to destroy my day. After being surrounded by teenagers all day, sometimes teachers just need to vent to another teacher. We get so wrapped up in our lives as teachers, we forget that we are all a part of an entire school. We are only as strong as are weakest teachers. If we are not there for each other, who will be?

There will never be enough time in the day as they continue to pack students in our rooms, but we need to look out for one another. Dragging these new teachers out of their rooms to join the group for lunch is one of many ways you can truly save a new teacher's sanity. Make some time at the end of the day to see how the new kids are doing in their room. Do you have any extra posters they could use in their room? Drop them off in their room. Leave a flashdrive with some of your best lessons in their mailbox. Small gestures like this can make the difference in a teacher's life.

Let's not forget the veteran teachers. As schools move toward integrating more technology into the classroom, there are going to be some teachers that have a hard time adjusting to the new tech. If you are a tech savvy teacher, look to adopt a teacher that is not as tech friendly. Find some time and show them some quick and easy tricks to make their life a little easier. A small tip once in a while could make a real difference in their classroom and it will make a huge impact on the students as well.

We are all in this together. If your school has a mentor program, try to get involved. If you have a teacher you work with, try and share the love around if possible. Look to veteran teachers who might need some attention with specific tech needs and see how you can help them during the school year. As I watch the Twitter stream more and more, people are starting to realize that teaches cannot wait for government or administrators to solve the problems in education. We need to support each other and make sure we have a great work environment. It might be the districts job to set up mentoring, but it really is the responsibility of every capable teacher out there to look out for other teachers.

Try and help out a teacher next week.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Friday, September 17, 2010

#VMGPS - Knocking Down Walls

Have you ever met some very cool people at a conference and talked about teaching and different lessons you use in class? I think that is something we have all had some experience with at some point. One of the normal ways that those conversations end is with a, "We should connect and do something together. That would be great." More often than not, that connection never takes place. We end up too busy and trying to connect two teachers in a building can be tough, much less connecting teachers in different buildings or time zones. It seems impossible right?

Welcome to #VMGPS! In June, I had a few conversations with the amazing people of Van Meter, Iowa while attending ISTE in Denver. We complimented each other on how awesome we thought the other was and shared some ideas about connecting students from around the country. At the end of the conversation, I told @shannonmmiller that it would be great if we could work together on something in the future. Well, I learned very quickly that you cannot suggest something to Shannon without her going at it like a Van Meter Bulldog. Within a few weeks, she had connected me to @ShawnHyerVM, an English Teacher at Van Meter. @JohnCCarver contacted my Principal and Superintendent to talk about connecting our schools and hopefully say a nice thing about me. :-) I cannot thank all of the people of Van Meter for being so nice and working with me to make a connection with my students. That brings us to the main part of this post.

After months of planning, Skype meetings (I have another with Sean in a couple of hours) and many emails, #VMGPS is finally up and running and I'm super excited. Here is what we have set up so far.

We created Lit Circle Blogs using We created unique logins for each student and placed them in groups named after American Authors. Their first assignment is to write a post about themselves and connect with the other students in their group. Next week, we are going to have the students start discussing short stories. As time progresses, we will move the students to different groups so they will have the chance to meet other students and share new ideas.

I had Back to School Night on Wednesday and I was worried what some of the parents might say about the project. I was very happy to see how excited the parents were. they said their kids were excited about meeting new kids from Iowa and they loved the idea of expanding the horizons of a traditional English class. I've seen the excitement on the faces of my students. It truly makes me feel like a half-way decent teacher when I seem them that excited. ;-) I hope to create a guest log in for you to use to be a fly on the wall of the Lit Circle Blogs. After a couple of weeks, I'm sure I will be anxious to show of the awesomeness taking place.

As the school year moves forward, we are looking forward to discussing larger books (Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Black Boy) and work on Research Papers together. Most things are still in the early planning stages, but I have a good feeling about where this project is going. Do you know that feeling when you have created a lesson at home and you just KNOW that it is going to be awesome? That is what I feel about working with Van Meter.

After most of the year working together, we are planning on our students doing a joint production of Romeo and Juliet. There are still plenty of details to work out, but the kids are pumped! They want to start working on the play right now. The students are seeing the potential of working with new students and learning abut them as they create new ideas and do things no other students have ever done before.

I want to leave you with one last thing, 

This afternoon, I was talking to the students about connecting with the Van Meter students and getting to know them using the blog. They had questions about the blog and we traded ideas about how it was going to work. One girl raised her hand and asked the question that I was hoping would be asked.

"We're allowed to talk to them about non-school stuff right? I mean, I can be Facebook friends and Skype with them right?"

#VMGPS - Knocking Down Walls

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Class Blogging: Take Two

Well, there is nothing like changing the game plan after 1 day of blogging. Ugh. The entire process was successful, but I don't like the way that it looks. When the students are live blogging the class, they are posting it in the comments portion of a dated post I set up. In theory, it was an easy way for kids and parents to access the blog and see what was going on. However, students cannot adjust the format of the post at all. Look at this example,

The "post" has all of the information that was covered in class. However, the information is really hard to sort through. The vocab word is at the top and the homework is at the bottom, but the important class information is jumbled in the middle. It's just too much for parents and students to sift through on a daily basis. I needed to change the game to get the most out of this project before it got away from me.

I decided to switch the class blogging over to I had started using with my students to create Lit Circle Blogs with the students of Van Meter, Iowa. (There will be a blog post about this adventure next week!) I figured that since the kids were already using the site, it only made sense to consolidate the blogging experience. I created three class blogs and added the students names to each blog. They will now be able to create a post themselves and adjust the format to suit their needs. I posted this on my blog,

I have decided to move the class blog to because of the formatting issues. The school website clumps all of the text together which makes it hard to read. The kids are limited to the commenting portion only and that really restricts their ability to post some materials. I also think it might be easier to have all of the blogging in one spot so students and parents do not have go from one site to the other. I only want the best for these students and I learned plenty from just one day of in class blogging. The idea worked well, it just needs to be tweaked. 
Parents - To make the blogging easier for your students and allow them the chance to show some creativity, you will need to log in to  to view the days work. No worried though! I created a simple Login and Password for all Parents. It allows you to view the work posted by the students.

Login - GPSParent
Password - password (This is case sensitive)

I'm sorry for the confusion, but this will be better for the students in the long run. 
- Mr. Provenzano

I created a parent account that allows them to to view the blog. Sadly, it does require them to go an extra step to see the work, but I really think it is best for the students. They can see daily assignments on the Twitter feed I posted on my school site. If they only want to see homework, they can quickly check it out there. If they want to see a little more information they need to go to the blog site and log in.

New ideas are going to encounter some problems along the way. I told this to the parents and the kids when this entire project was announced. I think this is a small hiccup on the way to something great for the students.

After the first class, I asked the first two students what they thought of the process and they said they loved it. One girl actually called it "fun"! That made my day. Despite the annoying formatting problems, it seems like this is going to good for my students.

I will keep everyone posted on how the blogging goes in class. I hope you enjoy the ride and I promise I will fill you in on the great Grosse Pointe/Van Meter Lit Circle Experiment.

 - @TheNerdyTeacher

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Class Blogging Begins...

...tomorrow. My grand experiment to have my students live blog in class begins on Thursday. I've spent the better part of three months planning this idea out and getting all of the tools necessary to set up a Blogger's Cafe in my classroom. I have a two desks, two chairs and two laptops. I have kids that are willing to donate recliners and even one student who has a mini fridge their sister used in college! I have Back to School Night tonight, so I will talk to parents and see if they might be willing to help make the area comfortable. After much planning, this is how I designed my live class blogging.

Blogging Guidelines for Mr. Provenzano's Class

Everyday, 2 students will be in charge of live blogging each class. They will sit on the stage and take notes on the class discussion. Each day will be labeled on the blog and the students will post their coverage of the class in the comment section of the designated post. It is important that each student log in to the school site to ensure they receive credit for their comment.

The schedule of who blogs on each day will be posted in the class and on the website. In the event that someone is absent on their day to blog, the next student on the list will replace them and the sick student will blog on their day back. Besides the class discussion, students will also be in charge of adding the following information to the blog post;

Each student will write down the Word of the Day (WOD) and provide the definition.

Notes written on the board by teachers and students.

Mention any handouts passed out in class.

List any homework given in class.

Note anything that was collected.

Note any special announcements.

Type out any long term project reminders.

Students are encouraged to check the blog each day and add any information that might have been left out or missed by the student bloggers. Student comments will be collected and entered in a raffle to win extra credit points for the semester.

The daily blogging is a place for students and parents to see what is going on in class on a daily basis. Absent students will have a place to see what they have missed for the day. Each class will have a meeting place to comment and discuss the class materials.

This information is posted on my school blog for parents and students to access.

Here are some thoughts on why I set it up this way.  I decided to award points for blogging. I will not be grading the content of the posts. They will receive credit for blogging. At the end of the marking period, all students will receive full credit if they blogged on their day. I see it as a participation grade. There is too much going on to fight the "Why am I doing this if it's not worth points" battle just yet. To get kids to engage in the notes after they are posted, I did offer extra credit chances. I felt like a needed a cookie to get them to the table. Only a small percentage of students will earn extra points and the long term results outweigh the small amount of points being offered.

A student asked about students who might write bad things. I said that anything they write will have their name on it because they are signed into the network. Don't write anything you wouldn't mid your parents or the Principals to see. Anything that is not appropriate will be dealt if it comes up. I'm really not worried about this issue, but I covered it with the kids in case it comes up.

I also explained to students that we are all new to this so we all need to be patient as we figure this out. I feel that was one of the most important parts of the conversation. Tech can be frustrating, be we need to be respectful and patient as we work things out.

There were a handful of questions, but I feel like the students were receptive to the idea and we will see where it takes us. I will write an update in a week with some thoughts on how things are going. If you have any ideas on how to tweak this idea, please leave a comment. I'm always looking for ways to improve my work.

Thanks everyone!

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Proejct PLN: September Issue 1

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Project PLN

Hi! I wanted to write a post to give a little more detail behind Project PLN. I woke up one morning and I was thinking about different ways to bring members of our PLN together. Google Readers can become overwhelming and not everyone uses an RSS Feed. I wanted something that could be accessible, but also easy to manage since school is starting soon. I thought about a digital magazine that would collect different posts from members of our PLN and pass it along once a month. It seemed like it could really work.

I contacted the one person I knew that would be super excited, and Kelly did not disappoint. We quickly used all of the Social Media tools available to construct a monthly magazine from Detroit and Denver. We contacted some of the big shots of the PLN and asked them to contribute the first posts to Project PLN. They were excited and happy to help us. Another reason PLNs are awesome.

Kelly and I have mapped out a rough idea of where we want Project PLN to go, but it really is up to the PLN. We are just organizers of the amazing content each and every one of you create. We want to expose as many people as possible to the great ideas and innovative lessons you share daily. We have designated themes for different issues to help focus the writing, but we are always looking for new topics to use in the later month.

We are going to be using Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media to help spread the word. We will also make Project PLN available in PDF format! This will allow teachers to print off the magazine or attach it to an email and share it with staff at your school. Kelly and I want to make Project PLN accessible to as many people as possible. We want to include the voices of all educators, not just those currently using Twitter or writing blogs. With the help of you, the PLN, we can spread the amazing ideas of #edchat, and ll of the other chats, to teachers all over the world that are not yet connected.

Kelly and I welcome any ideas for Project PLN. You can reach us through our Twitter account, @ProjectPLN, email -, or FaceBook. We are excited to see this grow into something amazing and can't wait to see the ideas that will spring forth from it. Please think about contributing to Project PLN. Your post could be the post that inspires another teacher.


Nick and Kelly
Project PLN

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Teacher Tech Survival List

This post was orignially posted on my school blog, but I thought I would share it here as well. Enjoy.

We have many new teachers in the district this year and I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of great tools that every new teacher should consider when starting their teaching career. Do not feel pressured to use every one of these tools right away. These are just suggestions based on my experience and the experience of many other veteran tech teachers when asked. If you have any questions about any of the tools listed here, please do not hesitate to contact me.

RSS Readers

There is a ton of information on the Internet, it is tough to keep up with your favorite sites. Often you find yourself wasting time to check websites that have not been updated or you miss other sites that are are updated constantly. By creating an RSS Feed, updates to your favorite website can be sent to one spot for you to read. I prefer to use Google Reader. It's easy to use and you can access it from mobile devices. Here is a cool little video that will explain the process of RSS Feeds.

Tube Chop

Here is a great site for teachers that want to show some YouTube videos but might only want to show certain selections. Tubechop is a website that lets you take any YouTube clip and chop it down to size. It is very simple to use and does not take very long. Just select the video you want, select the portion you want to watch and click the chop button. You will be given a link or a code to embed into a website. This site can come in very handy if there is a specific part of a clip you want to show your kids without constantly resetting the video player. This can save you time in the long run. Check this site out.


Livebinders is a great site. It is a great way to keep any or all of the documents you have for a unit or an entire class. I have created a binder for my Graphic Novel Class. It's labeled as Pictorial Literature and it was a way from me to keep an organized binder of all of my new materials I wanted students to have access to. I was able to create individual units on each tab of the virtual binder and cut and paste my documents. Each assignment was clearly labeled and easily accessible for my students. As the Semester went on, I uploaded and linked more work to the binder. Each Binder has a 100MB capacity. I find it hard to believe that people are going to cross the 100MB mark, but you can always create another Binder. The Binders do not have to be teachers only though.

Students can use binders for projects. I hate having to carry around a bunch of different projects that students have created. They were frustrating in paper form and are a different type of frustrating if they are sent to my email or are burned to a disc. I use a Mac (Love it!) and might not be able to check the assignment at home if they used some weird program I don't have. Also, I just don't trust what kids put on their flash drives or email to open it at home. Livebinders allows anyone to create the binder and store on their website. With the ability to upload PDFs, Pictures, videos, etc, the students will be able to create a full presentation that a teacher can check from the comfort of home. For Social Studies teachers, I know you like to use binders for current events and other projects. A virtual binder would be a great way for students to link to current events and other important Social Studies materials that you can check at your leisure. Also, this is a free service, so it will not cost your students, or you, a dime.

I find it is a great way to store all of my documents in a easy to use location without taxing the school's servers. It also allows you to access handouts from the Livebinder that might have been previously saved at school. The Internet provides teachers and students with options, so it's important to try them out.

Drop Box

Drop Box is a service I use and love. I wrote a post about it last year. You should check out this post and see how you can use Cloud Computing in your life. Drop Box Post. If you are not sure what cloud computing is, watch this video to see if Drop Box is for you.

Social Bookmarking

In the old days, when you found an interesting website but did not have the time to read it, you would create a bookmark in your browser and read it later. That worked fine unless you wanted to read that page from a different computer. Social Bookmarking sites, Diigo or, allow you to bookmark sites to be read at a different time and place wherever you have computer access. The title link will take you to a post I did on using Diigo with students. It has made my life a little more organized, which is a huge help as a teacher. Below you see a video explaining Social Bookmarking and using Diigo and are both great bookmarking sites. Try both out and see which you prefer.


I have written multiple posts in the past about the benefits of using Twitter as a teacher. For some reason, it has been slow to catch on with others. I can honestly say that I have learned more from the connections I have made through Twitter than any PD or grad class I have taken. When I have questions, my Twitter teacher buddies will have answers in minutes. You can follow me @TheNerdyTeacher and I would be more than happy to connect you to the teachers I chat with daily.

Why You Should Tweet!
Twitter in the Classroom
Hello Twitter World

There are many more articles and posts out there about Twitter and how it has helped connect teachers from around the world. It is an amazing tool and you should seriously consider using it.


I love using Wallwisher! I wrote a post on using it last year. It is great for peer feedback for projects. Check it out.

Using Wallwisher in class.

Here is a screen cast I had to create for a grad class. Embarrassing, but helpful.

A collection of sites:

Below are a list of sites that I cannot live without. They are blogs and sites written by some very amazing people that will go out of their way to help you. I don't have the space to really list all of the sites I follow, but here are just a few to get your RSS feed going. (New post on using the SMART airliner) (Yup, self promotion)

I hope these sites are just a jumping off point as you continue to explore the wonders of Social Media and how it can make you a better teacher. Give it a Try!

- @TheNerdyTeacher