Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project: Update 7

Subtitled: Are we there yet?

Well, we have finished the first act of the play. It was quite the event. I put in a 14 hour day at school so the kids could decorate the cafeteria and film scene 5. Two hour of filming paid off with an amazing 13 minutes of footage. I'm not being sarcastic at all. I was moved by the motivation and dedication the students showed during the process. They had fun, but got the work done.

One of my favorite parts of the filming on Monday was the fact that kids from my other classes showed up to help. Some moved tables and others helped "block" the scenes while the director was working on other scenes and camera setup. Another student showed up with a bag filled with props and costumes for the extras to wear and he is only in charge of props for a different act. The fact that all of the students are coming together to make sure the entire project is a success.

I've already started to piece together Act 1 and it looks wonderful. My Romeo and Juliet absolutely NAIL their first encounter. They sold the love in their eyes. I was moved by their dedication and acting in general. They are a couple of special kids. Really, all of my students have been pretty kick butt. I've showed some of the rough cuts to the director and cameraman and they like what they put together. I still need add music, (cough, cough @TaylorSwift13, cough, cough) and some transition slides. I hope to finish each act as they get done so I can use my Spring Break to get ready for the rest of the school year and @edcampDetroit

My students Skyped with Van Meter today and we exchanged some more ideas regarding filming and scripts. The kids get very excited to talk to the VM kids. We also had a couple of guests in the room as well. A student teacher in my department and a school board member stopped by to see the fun. When I told the kids that a school board member was coming to watch, they were excited. It is great to have other people stop by the class. It makes the kids feel that the work they are doing goes beyond the classroom. I really encourage all administrators to stop by classrooms and let the kids see you. It does have an impact on the kids.

A student told me they were getting questions from friends in other classes. Word is spreading around the school and the kids are getting excited. For many, they have never had this much attention on a project they have worked on. This raises the bar for them, but they seem to be excited about it. They want to do well and they want to impress everyone else. It really is something I'm proud of.

Still tired, but every day I go to work, I get to see excited students engaged in Shakespeare. As an English teacher, I couldn't be happier. I know the subtitle says, "Are we there yet?", but I know that a large part of me will be very sad to see this unit end. I haven't invested this much energy in a project of this scale since I used to do my Mock Trial of Mark Twain years back. I thought that was work, but compared to The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project, it's a worksheet.

I hope everyone is doing well. There will be some screen shots of the filming and some goofy behind the scenes footage posted on the Epic Romeo and Juliet Wiki. Please feel free to head to the wiki and check out some of the blogs the kids have created. They would love to get comments from you.

Thanks again for all of the support everyone has given me as I take this journey. It has ups and downs, but I couldn't imagine sharing it with anyone else. Have a great week and talk to you soon.

- Nick

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Project PLN - Posts wanted for the April Issue

In case you missed it, here is the March Issue of Project PLN.

The March Issue - The 21st Century Library


For the April issue, we would like to honor April Fool's Day with stories of foolishness. As teachers, we often make mistakes. Not just as new teachers, but as veteran teachers as well. The most important thing we can do with our mistakes is talk about them with others and learn from them. We want to hear about your stories of foolishness and what you learned afterward. Our hope is that by sharing these stories we will let other teachers see that it is OK to make mistakes as long as we strive to improve after everything is all said and done. Also, I think it would be nice to get a good chuckle at the silly things people have done in their classes that seemed like "great ideas", but turned out to be just the opposite.

If you have a great story of personal foolishness, please email them to or send us a tweet @ProjectPLN. We want to continue to share with the world what wonderful teachers do each and every day. We hope you will help us help teachers around the world.

P.S. - Kelly and I are going to share some of our foolishness with all of you in this issue as well, so stay tuned!

Nick and Kelly
Project PLN Co-Editors

Saturday, March 26, 2011

SAT Remix - A Review

Full Disclosure: SAT Remix set me up with a Monthly subscription so I could review their product.

Vocabulary words are something kids seem to have dreaded for decades. Teachers would pass out lists and kids were told to memorize the words for a test. I could spend multiple posts on why that method could be tweaked, but that is for another time. There is no way around the importance of testing as it stands right now, so it is important to find ways to help students learn valuable information they might encounter on tests like ACT and SAT. SAT Remix has found an interesting way reach students and teachers wherever they are to help them learn words they need for the future.

Here is a little info on SAT Remix from their site,

"SAT Remix makes it easy for you to learn and retain more than 300 of the most-missed words on the SAT in a format that fits your life: your phone. Every Sunday through Thursday, SAT Remix will automatically deliver vocab lessons to your phone so you can study anywhere—on the go or on the couch. It's on your time, on your phone, and on your terms.

SAT Remix is the only SAT vocabulary prep program available to any cell phone, and it's perfect for busy students who can't focus when they're tied to a desk on a Saturday afternoon. And don't worry about your parents bugging you to study every day—we've got it covered. Our automatically delivered lessons are a daily reminder."

I was drawn to the fact the word were going to be sent directly to the phone. Sunday - Thursday, my phone rings with a text message with a link to view the word and listen to the definition and a phone number in case I do not have a web enabled phone so I can listen to the word and definition.

The big part of SAT Remix is the emphasis on music as part of the learning process. Alpha Learning is explained on their site, 

"In vocabulary tests, students that listen to lessons set to music tend to score up to 40% higher than students that study from a book. Cramming words by reading or doing flash cards doesn't work, and it's not much fun either. SAT Remix's unique and powerful system has a scientific foundation that makes learning a lot easier and more fun.

Research conducted in the 70s by Bulgarian physician Georgi Lozanov showed that education combined with music puts the student in a relaxed but alert state called the "alpha state," which is ideal for learning. SAT Remix's unique mobile lessons take advantage of this state to help you digest and retain information without breaking a sweat or cracking a book."

The music that that plays along with each word is very nice. I'm not a scientist, but it has a positive impact on me. You can listen to a couple of examples by clicking on the picture below.

Each word is also given in two sentences so students can hear the usage. That is something I think is very important. Students can memorize definitions, but usage is a different beast. I often find that is the toughest part of vocabulary units.

My phone would ring in with a new word at 7pm and I would read it to my wife and ask her what she thought it meant. It was a fun little thing we got into the habit of doing. Luckily our college education paid off and we felt very smart because we know almost every single word. For the ones we did not know we would try and work them into everyday conversation. (Yes, we are nerds) I guess I'm trying to say that SAT Remix was very easy for me to integrate into my daily life. I got the word, I listened to the definition and examples and I could move on. If I wanted to go back and listen to a word, I could just pull it up on the phone.

SAT Remix is a subscription based service. Here is what their current packages looks like,

The one question most people want to know when reading a review is, "Is it worth it?" I think it depends on the package and what you are trying to get out of it. I found the monthly package very nice and have used it for almost 3 months. If you are going to use it for the Summer to help a kid prepare for the SAT, maybe the Three- Month package is a good idea. Want it for just a semester, then go for the Six-Month Package. I think each package is priced correctly for what they are providing. 
What I would like to see in the future:

I have one suggestion for SAT Remix that I think would be wonderfully helpful. I wish I could access all of the words that have been sent to me on my account page. There are times when I'm at the computer and I wouldn't mind listening to those words that have been sent to me without having to forward the text to my email to get the link. By having the words on the user account, a person can access them when they have time at a computer. 

With that access, users could create lists or labels for certain words they are struggling with and want to focus more on. Denoting verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc would be another way to categorize certain words on the user account page. 

Once you have signed up with SAT Remix, there isn't much need to go back to the website. By allowing users to access the words, it would drive traffic to the site which would be good for business. 

Overall, I think SAT Remix is a cool product that can really help those busy students get access to important vocabulary words they need to know for state tests and college entry exams. Try out the one month subscription and see how you like it. I had a blast with it and can't wait to see what they have up their sleeve next.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Epic Romeo and Juliet Update 6

Subtitled: Game Time!

I handed out the finalized scripts to all of the actors, directors, cameramen and any other student that wanted one. The kids were excited to have a legit script to place in their binder. It was funny to see. I wasn't expecting that time of response of a script. I think it made it very real for some of them.

I'm still getting lots of questions about Ms. Swift and the soundtrack. I still have not heard anything. I think it is great that people are still trying to reach out to Ms. Swift and help my students. You all have been amazing. Some very interesting conversations have been started on blogs about the fair use of songs and copyrights. I think I'm more proud of the fact that people are talking about an important topic in education. As educators, we need to push ourselves to talk about these kind of things and set an example for our students. My kids would love to have Ms. Swift's songs for their movie, but are ok if they can't use them. I personally think it is pushing them to look even harder at other musicq they are allowed to use. It might be nice to possibly give an unknown artist a chance. When we post this movie online, who knows who might end up watching it?

I'm tired. I have never been this tired working on a school project. This has been then most tiring experience in my life, but I don't know it until after the school day. I feed of the kid's energy all day and then I'm drained. I can't imagine doing this year to year. This might be an every other year type of project. That makes me a bit sad for students in the next year that will want to do this project, but I will just be too tired. On the other hand, it allows me to think of something even crazier to try.

Maybe I'll have everyone try and get Mr. Bieber involved in my next project. :-P

- Nick

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Open Letter to @TaylorSwift13 - The Final Update

This is the final post regarding Ms. Swift. Since my initial post and the follow up post, I have not heard back from Ms. Swift.

Some people would be angry or annoyed, but I'm not. She has over 5 million followers and people tweet to her every minute.

I'm actually proud of what I have seen these past 20 hours. I had teachers from all over the planet try and connect me to a singer to help my students with a project. Ms. Swifts songs do not make or break the project, but people wanted to help anyway. People continued to reach out to @TaylorSwift13 during the day. People tried connecting with other celebrities to help make the connection. It was truly inspiring.

I told the kids of the effort today and they were amazed. I estimate over 10,000 tweets were sent to her. I'm still a Top Tweet when you search her name on Twitter. My PLN is nothing short of amazing.

I'm sure many of my followers will be happy to hear I will be stopping the mass Tweets. Their columns will be safe from Taylor Tweets. :-)

Thanks to everyone who has helped me during this crazy Twitter adventure. I wish it had ended on a happier not, but it is what it is. If you want to send her a tweet from time to time, that would be nice. I need to get back to helping my kids complete The Epic Romeo and Juliet Project!

I will leave you these important words to live by,

"If you ever drop your keys in a river of molten lava, let em go, because, man, they're gone." -- Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy

- Nick

Open Letter to @TaylorSwift13 - Update

It has been less than 12 hours since the initial Open Letter to Taylor Swift and I wanted to comment on a couple of things.

The biggest item is that I have not heard back from Ms. Swift or any of her people. I look at it as a good thing because I have not heard a yes OR a no. It gives me hope for another day or so.
You guys helped my Tweet become a Top Tweet when you search @TaylorSwift13. That is amazing!

Also, I became a trending topic in Canada!

This really shows me two things. 1. There were no Hockey games anywhere in Canada Tuesday night. 2. Canada has some of the most amazing educators in the world and I'm proud to have them in my PLN.

I received some tweets that suggested I contact the record company and that Ms. Swift does not have the right to let you use the music. She might not, but if I am able to connect with her she might be able to persuade the record execs to let me use the two songs for the student production.

I was also connected with music lawyers and people were tweeting celebrities in the hope the would pass it on to their followers. I'm not sure if any RTed the post, but it was such a nice gesture from people that I do not even know.

Lastly, I want to say that if Ms. Swift never contacts me about the songs I am not going to be mad or tell kids what a terrible person she is. She is currently on tour in Europe and is a very busy young lady. I understood this was a long shot and have been blown away by the support I have received as it is.

This has been an amazing lesson for me. I see how strong the connection of Twitter can be for educators and hope others who saw what happened see it as well. This will also be an important lesson for my kids. It would have been easy to just put the songs in the production and nobody would have known outside a couple of small communities. I wanted to show the kids that it is important to try and connect with artists and get their permission. No matter how this ends, my kids and I are going to have learned a valuable lesson and that is why I'm a teacher.

Thanks again for all of the help PLN. Let's try this one more time today and see if we can reach Ms. Swift.

Open Letter to @TaylorSwift13 - - Please help students for a class project! Please RT!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Open Letter to @TaylorSwift13

This open letter is to Ms. Swift in an effort to get her permission to use a couple of her songs for a student production of Romeo and Juliet.

Dear Ms. Swift,

My name is Nicholas Provenzano and I am a high school English teacher at Grosse Pointe South High School in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI. I started a big project this year with my Freshman English class. They are producing an updated version of Romeo and Juliet with another high school in Van Meter, IA. The goal of the project is to have students dive into Romeo and Juliet by working on different parts of a production. The kids are very excited about the project and have been working very hard for the better part of a month. We are looking to premiere our finished film on April 30th just for the students and parents at both schools. We are not selling tickets or copies of the production, just showing the school the awesome project the kids completed. You can read more about the specifics on the project wiki.

One part of the project is creating the soundtrack to accompany the production. While reviewing the work the students had completed, I noticed that two of your songs appeared regularly on my students' play lists, "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me". When asked by the students to include them in the finished movie I told them I think these are wonderfully written songs that would be perfect for the story they have written, but they are not allowed to use the songs without the artist's permission. They were bummed, but are still working hard to create a great production. However, I'm not one to give up that easy and let my kids down.

This is where I hope you can help. I want to ask for your permission to use your two songs in the student's production of Romeo and Juliet. My kids have been working hard all year and this project is the culmination of months of dedication. I always tell kids that hard work pays off and you are rewarded in the end. I cannot think of anything more fitting that adding these songs to our project. It never hurts to ask and the best way I thought I could get a hold of you was to use my connection with teachers from all over the world to reach out to you in the hopes of a response. I would love to surprise my students and let them know they got permission. I know this is something they would remember for years to come and your approval would be the cherry on top of an already amazing cake.

My goal as a teacher is to try and inspire kids to become passionate about literature and express it in their writing. My students have shown an amazing dedication to this project and I could not be prouder of their effort. Please consider allowing them to use your songs in the production. If you want, I could possibly persuade the directors to give you a walk-on role as a thank you. :-)

Thanks for your time and hope all things are well where you are.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at, @TheNerdyTeacher, or my school Twitter account @MrProvenzano.

Thanks again.

- Nicholas Provenzano
Grosse Pointe South English Teacher

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why should @MACUL support @EdcampDetroit?

I was excited about #MACUL11 because I wad finally getting a chance to meet up with many of the organizers of #edcampDetroit. We had been communicating all year via Twitter, email, GoogleDocs and Skype. We are spread out across the state and this was a great chance to get together and chat. I was also able to talk to others about edcamp as well.

It was nice to talk to others about edcamp and see them excited. Teachers were interested in a conference that was all about sharing. Being surrounded by other passionate educators appealed to them. MACUL is a great place for teachers to come together and share. Edcamps can be the same thing on a smaller scale.

MACUL is all about sharing. Edcamps are all about sharing. These are not competing entities. They should embrace each other as they strive to make education better for students across this state. Edcamps are not tech conferences, but they use tech to spread the word and connect teachers. The edcamp format is something that should be embraced by MACUL and other state organizations that are looking to engage in social media and reach passionate educators.

Edcamps are great because they are attended by some of the most passionate educators. These are educators that have decided to give up their Saturday to come together and share. People attend to grow. When I talked to people at #MACUL11, they all said the same thing. “I love meeting new people”, “The sessions were amazing”, “I’m so energized to start working” and many other similar feelings. Edcamps are designed to focus on those specific feelings. We want educators to attend, engage and collaborate.

By supporting #edcampDetroit, MACUL will be supporting teachers that are looking to connect and share. In this troubled economic educational world Michigan is dealing with, groups need to stand together and help those teachers that want to share. Edcamps are proof that teachers care and want to be better. How could MACUL not want to be part of this movement? 

For more information on #edcampDetroit, check out our site or send us a tweet @EdcampDetroit

Post #MACUL11 Wrap Up

Post MACUL11 Wrap Up

I have had time to think about all of the different things I saw, heard and experienced at #MACUL11 and here are some of my thoughts.


Rushton Hurley (@RushtonH) kicked off the conference with a wonderful Keynote. His talk on “What Technology Has Changed and Hasn’t Changed with Teacher and Learning” was spot on. I also had the chance to sit in on his presentation entitled, “Technology and Staff Morale”. I was really excited about this presentation. Staff Morale has been at an all time low in my building and I feel that it has been pretty rough across the state.  He provided a link to some wonderful resources that educators can use to make life a little easier and stop the isolation many teachers suffer in their building.

I also had the chance to chat with Rushton in the Social Media Café. He is a very nice person. We just talked and shared some ideas and got to thinking about the importance of collaboration and communication. I highly suggest you follow him on Twitter and send him a hello.


I felt there was too much hardware and not enough software at #MACUL11. Now, my district already had committed to Smartboards, so over half of the Vendor area was not useful. However, if you were looking for Hardware to bring to your school district, it was a nice setup.

What I was hoping to see more of where companies designed to reach out to the classroom teacher. There were some that I think are great for the classroom teacher, BrainPop, TechSmith and StrataLogica to name just a few.

Social Media Café:

I was bummed about the Social Media Café. I did not like the location. It was off to the side and just outside the vendor area. It was not near the main traffic of the conference. It would have been better to place it outside of the vendor area next to the restaurant. There was great traffic and tables and chairs. Many people were already hanging out there and connecting. At the opposite end of the Social Media Café, there were long tables and chairs. This was filled with people and their laptops on the first day. It seemed to become a Social Media Café. On the 2nd day of the conference, the tables and chairs were gone.

The times that I was in the SMC, it was pretty dead. I’m not sure why. They SMC had small Ottomans for people to use. I tended to sit on the ground and use the ottoman as a place to set my iPad. It wasn’t a very comfortable way to set up shop, but it was ok for me. For others though, it might not have been an attractive situation. There might be another reason though.

Social Media Use at #MACUL11:

MACUL says that over 4,000 teachers were in attendance. That is awesome. Whenever that many teachers get together, great things are going to happen. However, I watched the Twitter stream and very few people were actively tweeting. I would say less than 10% of the 4,000 attendees were using Twitter or other social media.

When I arrived, I was surprised that nobody had created a check-in for 4square. I happily created one and became Mayor of #MACUL11! I feel that MACUL needs to make a major push to get teachers connected using Social Media. They have started with a Facebook account, Flickr stream, a MACUL Ning and their own Twitter account, but more needs to be done.

My Twitter/PLN presentation was moderately attended (15) and they seemed excited to join Twitter and I hope they stick to it. One of the ways they will is by supporting them. I intend to keep an eye on those Tweeters and keep them engaged after the conference. As an education community that is spread far and wide in this great Mitten, I feel that Social Media is the way to keep teachers connected and sharing. I’m going to try and get as many Michiganders connected using Social Media to help support education in this state.


I think there was a great selection of sessions. I was able to see Michael Kaechele’s presentation “Relate, Collaborate and Create”, Steve Dembo’s “iThink iNeed iPads in the Classroom”, Dan Spencer’s “Learning at Their Own Pace” and Rushton Hurley’s “Technology and Staff Morale”. I wish I could have seen more, but I presented twice so that limits the amount that I could attend. Even in my presentations, I felt like I learned a thing or two from the people that attended.


I loved the conference. There were some things that I think could be improved for next year, but I think that should be the goal of every conference. Conferences should keep growing and building to be the best event of the year.

The connection I got to make at #MACUL11 were amazing. I don’t have the time or space to mention everyone, but you know who you are. I love meeting passionate educators. It gets me excited because I see another person I get to share with and learn from. That is what makes conference great! When it comes down to the meat of it, teachers go to conference to share and learn. My next post is going to address this issue in full.