Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's ok to #EduVent

I've had a very busy weekend and I'm about to have a very busy week. I was checking in on Twitter and I saw a friend of mine stressing out a bit. I sent a DM and a goofy picture and I let them vent. It felt good to listen and just be a sounding board.

Sometimes I think many teachers are afraid to vent, especially on Twitter. So, I had an idea that I shared with my friend and we think it could be really helpful.

Using the hashtag #EduVent, we want educators to feel free to share that they are having a rough day. My hope is that people will reach out when someone uses the #EduVent tag and send them a DM to see how you can help. I think to many people still feel alone even though they are on Twitter.

I hope this tag will connect people in a more personal way and provide support to many of us who need a person to just talk to when nobody else is around.

There are so many positive and caring people in my PLN, I'm really hoping this tag takes off and we can help those who need it.

Update for clarification:

After reading a couple of comments below I realized that most post was not clear. I am not suggesting that everyone just spout off on how terrible their students, principals, etc are being and that is why you are having a bad day or week. That could lead to some repercussions that I would hate to see for any person.

The #EduVent tag is supposed to be a signal for others to contact the person through DM to talk about the issue in private where people can share their feelings however they want. Its meant to be a way for teachers to connect and discuss bigger issues that cannot be discussed on Twitter or other Social Media sites.

I hope this is something that will allow some people to connect and not feel so alone when dealing with problems. The one thing Twitter has shown me over the past year and a half is that I'm not alone and I want others to feel the same.

If you have questions or concerns, please drop me a comment and I'll get back to you.
- @TheNerdyTeacher

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A word from a teacher on his yacht


I wanted to take a quick break from relaxing on my yacht off the coast of Bali to talk about the recent conversations in the media about teachers. My butler Alfred tells me that there is a growing voice that teachers are over compensated for their work. I was shocked to hear this. How shocked? I almost fell of my trained Polo Zebra, that's how shocked I was. Who in their right mind could suggest that teachers are over paid? 

I work very hard for 9 months of the year. My day starts at 8 in the morning and I'm out the door by 3 in the afternoon. Yes, you read that right. Teachers are forced to work until 3! As a high school teacher, I get to have 7 minute breaks every 48 minutes so a new group of kids can come in and fill out bubble testing sheets. It really is a nice way to break up the day.

I'm just glad my weekends are not cluttered with gross amount of paperwork so I can spend time with family and friends in Paris and Prague. I can just slide those bubble tests into a computer and wash my hands of the situation. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have to take work home. That's the kid's job, not mine as a teacher. How can I spend time choosing between an original Picasso or Monet when I need to provide "valuable feedback to ensure student growth"? That is what the tests are for. If the kid gets an A, he's smart. If the kid gets a B, he is smart, just not as smart as the kid who got an A. It's a very simple format that has been used for years. If it's not broke, why fix it?

I was told by my chef, who makes the best lobster bisque from home raised lobsters, that some people do not like the fact that teachers get their summers off. Summers off? Are you kidding me? If you call laying out around the pool in Vegas "Summer off", you are sadly mistaken. I need this time to relax and get ready for the next school year. Do you expect me to take more college classes to become a better teacher? Do you expect me to spend all of my free time going to conferences or revising my lessons in an effort to make them better? Maybe if you paid me like a billionaire instead of a millionaire. My personal masseuse just laughed really hard at that. 

I need to wrap this up because my jet is warming up and fuel is not cheap. As a teacher, I feel I make just enough to scrape by day to day. Cutting my compensation would be crazy! I would have to fire at least half of my gardening staff and most of my personal trainers. Teachers are people who have decided to spend their time educating the future of this country. It's not a fancy job, but we chose it because it was our calling. We get compensated a very fair wage that allows most of us to get by. Reforming education is a noble plan, but attacking teacher compensation doesn't seem like the right way to go. Just think of it this way, what is an education really worth to a child?

Feel free to comment below or send me a tweet at @TheNerdyTeacher. I will try and get back to you in between Tennis lessons with my buddy Pete and golf lessons with Jack.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Time for an upgrade

One of the many things I was looking forward to this year was the possibility of becoming a part-time tech facilitator. I was told a job was going to be posted and I just needed to apply. I had spent countless hours planning all of the different things I was going to do to help the students and staff of my district. I talked with so many great people in my PLN, I was sure I was going to help my district accomplish its goal of being a leader in educational technology. My district was in desperate need of an upgrade and I was excited to be part of the solution.

Well, the budget was hammered out and that position, among others, was lost. I do not want to use this space to rail against the decision to cut the tech positions while the district claims to want to be a leader is educational technology. I've covered that topic before and I do not need to preach to the choir. So, I've decided to build a better position and pitch it to the powers that be. I would appreciate any comments on the make-up of the job I'm proposing.


- This position could be part-time or full time. If it was part time, the person who fills the position would teach two classes in the morning and would fill the tech facilitator responsibilities the second half of the day.
- The tech facilitator would be available to all buildings in the district.

Tech Facilitator Duties:

- Working with all building administrators, including the superintendent, to get them signed up to Twitter. If they are willing to sign up and lead, the teachers will be more willing to do so.

- Setting up blogs for each school for admins to share information with parents, students and staff.

- Creation of building Facebook pages

-Individualized PD

- The TF could be checked out by teachers like a book from a library to help construct lessons that incorporate technology. Teachers could get workshop hours for these 1:1 sessions.

Large PD

- Building Admins could check out the TF to run building wide PD or have them create smaller in-building workshops.

Tech All-Stars

- The TF would work with willing teachers from each building to create a group of Tech All-Stars that would help teachers within their building with tech integration and grade specific help.

- The Tech All-Stars would meet regularly to discuss tools and integration strategies to best help all the buildings in the district.

Tech Blog

- The TF would run a district wide Tech blog that would provide examples of new tools available in the district.

- Screencasts would be created and uploaded based on the needs of the students, staff and parents of the district.

Attending and Presenting at Conferences

- The TF would attend and present at conferences to be up to date on the current trends in technology and pedagogy.


-The TF would work with local businesses to try and bring new tech to the district. Building a relationship with local families and business could help offset major budget cuts.

After School/Weekend Seminars

- The TF would run after school and weekend seminars for parents, students and staff on various tech related items.


- The TF would work with the administration, parents and school board to shape new policy as technology grows and changes.

All of these job duties, and possibly others, would be performed by one person who would also be teaching 1-2 classes as well.

The ultimate goal of this proposal is to create a position that would best use the money available by drastically changing the way PD is offered in my district. In the long run, money will be saved on PD because the TF will be working with more teachers effectively.

Please feel free to comment on anything I have or might have left off. This is going to be my last ditch effort to create some change in my district before I start considering other options. A person can only roll the boulder up the hill so many times right?

Thanks again for all of your support and wish me luck!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

#SchoolDidAGoodThing - A Challenge for change


I have been blessed with the number of responses to my initial #SchoolDidAGoodThing post. I never thought it would bounce around the world the way it did. Responses from Diane Ravitch, Justin Hamilton and amazing educators around the world truly inspired me. I love checking in on the tag to see the few new tweets that have appeared from time to time. However, I'm not satisfied.

The Save Our Schools rally is in DC this weekend where educators from across the country are going to voice their opinion on the current state of education. Sadly, I can't be there and I know there are many others who want to be there as well. So, I have an idea.

What if every single educator tweeted a message to @ArneDuncan and @BarrackObama a positive message of what schools do using #SchoolDidAGoodThing? If we all shared a united voice on how important schools are and how critical it is to have teachers at the table for discussions, they might just start to listen.

There are so many educators that are on Twitter and engaged in blogging, it is possible to make a difference if we can all band together for a common cause. Trying to reach out to the politicians that are making policy is key. If educators rallied behind this tag and spread it across Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and even Myspace, we could make them listen.

The Challenge:

I challenge every single educator that has a Twitter account to tweet the President and Secretary of Education a POSITIVE message of what schools have done using #SchoolDidAGoodThing. If you do not have a Twitter account, sign up and send these tweets in support of the teachers that are taking the time to head out to DC and show the government how serious we are about the education of this nation's children.

There is no reason that we can not get this tag to start trending across the country. You do not have to be an educator to use the hash tag. The more people that we get to send tweets or post comments on Facebook pages, the bigger influence we can have. We have to speak up, and that time is now. Maybe then, politicians will see educators as more than test givers and punching bags.

Please take a minute of your time to share this post with everyone you know that wants to make a positive change in education.

Do you have the time to help make a change?

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Picture from Flickr Creative Commons

Monday, July 25, 2011

Everything I learned about education I learned by watching "Can't Hardly Wait"

I have started and stopped this post multiple times. I just felt I couldn't tell the story I wanted to no matter how many different times I wrote the post. Finally, I figured out what the movie meant and here is my take.

Preston finds out his long time crush, Amanda, is finally single after being dumped by her long-time boyfriend Mike Dexter. Mike broke up with Amanda the night before graduation because he was expecting to hook up with all of the college girls. Preston spends the entire night of graduation waiting for the right moment to tell Amanda that fate has brought them together. Wackiness ensues and Preston attempts to connect with his true love.

Mike Dexter is the symbol of all would be education reformers. He isn't happy with his current girlfriend and his willing to risk it all for a potential windfall in college. There isn't anything wrong with wanting to change girlfriends. Assuming that everything is better than what you currently have is the wrong way to go about it.

Some current ed-reformers are doing the same thing. They are throwing everything away in the hope of improving education as a whole later on even thought there is little to no support for making their decisions. In fact, there is ton of information that shows otherwise.

Near the end of the movie, Mike talks to Trip McNeely. Trip is a college Freshman and was the coolest kid in high school last year. Trip is a shell of the kid he was in high school and lets Mike know that College is not what it is cracked up to be and that he should hold onto Amanda. Trip regrets dumping his girlfriend and wishes she would take him back.

I feel this is what is going on in education. There are many people out there trashing teachers in the name of reform. They have ideas regarding merit pay and assessment based evaluations. Even though there is no track record for success, they are moving forward anyway. In the long run, these people are going to end up like Trip McNeely. They are going to realize the huge mistakes they made and will come back to teachers asking for help. By then, the damage will be done. Mike tries to go back to Amanda at the end of the movie and she rejects him in front of the entire party and Mike is exposed as the fraud he is. This is something I see happening if the Mike Dexter's of the education world do not change their attitude.

Preston is a bit of a sad case. He has pined over a girl his entire life and is only saying something on the very last day of high school. Now, he ends up with the girl because she realized his intentions are pure and he is a really good guy. I think teachers are Preston, but I want to encourage everyone to stop waiting.

Teachers need to speak up now. We cannot wait until the last day and hope that what we really want finally happens. The movie needed a happy ending, but in reality, Amanda doesn't end up with Preston before he jumps on a train out of town. If teachers do not speak up, we will be alone at the train station wondering what might have been.

Use blogs, Twitter, Facebook and any other way you are comfortable to speak up for education. You do not have to be a teacher, principal or involved in education in any way. If you care about students and the education they are receiving, speak up now before it is too late.

Lastly, I want to talk about Kenny Fisher. Kenny Fisher is played by Seth Green and he is the funniest character in the movie. Kenny spends most of the movie trying to lose his virginity by pretending to be someone he is not. It isn't until he starts to act like himself that he finally gets lucky.

Kenny can teach all of us a valuable lesson about being yourself. Too many teachers try to be someone else in the classroom because they think that is the way it is supposed to be done. Being yourself is something we tell students all of the time. Why should teachers be any different. The moment I started to be me in the classroom was the moment I felt comfortable in class. Find yourself and be that person. The students will love it and your life will be much easier.

"Can't Hardly Wait" is a movie for my generation. It is filled with great music and wonderfully 90's fashion. I see the connections to education is this movie because the current state of education is in such upheaval. Important changes have been made that are going to hurt our students and it is important for all educators to speak up. I hope you enjoyed this movie post and I promise I will work on the another in the future.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Ghost in the Wires" by Kevin Mitnick

A review of Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick

It might not come as much of a surprise to you, but I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to technology. I'm always curious about the new gadgets that are coming out and I want to explore what makes them tick and how I can use them at home or in the classroom. Kevin Mitnick was the same way growing up, but he travelled down a different path to what he would call, "Darkside Hacking".

I was able to read Mitnick's new book, "Ghost in the Wires", which chronicles his adventures as "the world's most famous (former) hacker". His story, told with help from William L. Simon, starts with his early beginnings with phone lines in Middle School and his interests in computers and coding. As a teacher, there were some very interesting parts of Mitnick's life that really stood out to me.

I always wonder what drives a person to do the things they do. Does a person commit a crime because they are angry at someone? Do they break the law because they are motivated by money? Mitnick seemed to enjoy hacking because it was a challenge. He was passionate about phones, code and computers and wanted to see what he could and could not do. His very first scam involved forging bus transfers so he could ride the busses around Southern California during the summer while his mom worked. While riding around the bus routes, he met interesting people that turned him on to Ham radios. By his early teens, he received his FCC license to use a Ham radio. Mitnick would go on to use that Ham radio to make free phone calls. He was a gifted young man that I might have loved to have in class. Sadly, many of his actual teachers did not feel the same way.

Mitnick says he was a good student but was always criticized for being disruptive. Looking at what he ended up accomplishing, it is no wonder he was disruptive. The traditional classroom was not the right place for Mitnick and his skills. When he was placed in a computer class, usually reserved for upper class-man with more credits, he quickly realized he knew more than the teacher. At one point, Mitnick frustrates the teacher so much, the teacher throws a telephone across the room! The traditional classroom was not the place for Mitnick and he soon realized it.

Mitnick would continue his hacking lifestyle as he grew older. He would play with phone lines and even create an account using the name "James Bond" and a number that ended with "007". He just kept going back for more to see if he could. However, he would get caught, his mom would get upset and he would promise never to do it again. It was a cycle he would continue for much of his life until he was finally caught and imprisoned long-term.

I loved the story telling in this book. Mitnick does an excellent job re-telling the events of his life in a way that is fun and entertaining. There are times that the coding language that is used can be complex, but he always brings it back to the story. There is also a snarky tone when he writes about the authorities and their attempts to catch him. The underlining part of this book is that Mitnick was just looking for a challenge. He did these things to see if he could. It is no different than a kid on a basketball court seeing how far he can move away from the basket and still make it. Mitnick did the same, but he was able to make his shots from outside the stadium!
I enjoyed reading "Ghost in the Wires". I think that Kevin Mitnick does an excellent job of sharing his crazy adventures in the world of hacking. Even if you are not a lover of all thing technology related, this book will provide many interesting stories you will want to share with your friends.

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker is available August 15, 2011 and I highly encourage you to go out and pick up this book by the world's greatest (former) hacker. You will not be disappointed. If you don't, he just might disconnect your cell phone for the fun of it. :-)

Teachers are advocates

pencil point sculptures a_002

I was in San Francisco this week to speak on a panel at the Annual AP Conference about the importance of teacher advocacy and the role technology can play in it. It was an exciting opportunity to speak to teachers interested in advocacy.

When I started blogging in January of 2010, I never thought I was an advocate. I was just some guy writing about school stuff. I started to focus on technology and commented on current Ed issues, but I never claimed to be an advocate.

After talking with some of the teachers on the panel and people in the audience, I realized we are all advocates. We all have a voice to change our education system.

Technology has allowed educators to connect and share. Being an advocate does not have to be a scary thing. Here are a couple of things you can do to speak up and let your voice be heard.

1) Start a blog

Blogging was a way for me to share my thoughts with the world. I had no idea who was going to be reading, but I knew it was a place to call my own. A place where my opinion will have a place.

A blog can resonate around the world. It allows people to connect with issues from anywhere in the world. If you are interested in speaking up, think of starting your own blog and sharing your voice. Pass it on to others who share your ideas and pass it on to the powers that be (local, state or federal types) to show them you have a voice.

2) Join Twitter

What are you waiting for. Twitter has been instrumental in overthrowing dictatorships around the world. It's connected people with common ideas so their voices would resonate to their government. "We will not stand for this anymore" was shouted to their leaders and change was made.

Twitter allows a person to have a voice. A voice that can he heard by sending your ideas directly to the people who need to listen. Twitter is about making connections with people that share common interests. There are millions of educators out there. Imagine if all of them joined Twitter and sent tweets to President Obama or Secretary Duncan. Twitter, like blogging, allows a person to have a voice.

These are a couple of quick ways to start advocating for education. As the world of education gets cluttered with millionaires telling the country what education should look like, it's important for educators to speak up. Today, more than ever, we need educators to speak up so we can finally be heard.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Picture from Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why I love @Edutopia

I was lucky enough to visit the Edutopia offices during my trip to San Francisco. Now, the initial excitement was being on Skywalker Ranch and seeing the original gold idol from the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones' actual hat and whip. The Star Wars imagery was all over and I took it all in. But, after the tour, the really exciting part took place. I rode in a TIE Fighter. OK, I'm kidding. I went to the Edutopia offices and met with the crew.

I'm sure I bored them to death with various stories, but I was just so excited. I was surrounded by people that were excited about education and they wanted a teacher's opinion on how to reach more teachers. Hell, our own government doesn't even ask for input from teachers. Being in a room with people that cared about education and wanted to know of ways they could help teachers wad a good feeling.

Edutopia first asked me to write about an #edchat I participated back in Feb 2010. It was the first time anyone had ever asked me to write about education. The topic was passion, and it only seems appropriate now. They are passionate about education and I'm passionate about writing on education. It was my first post for them, but it would not be my last. I've started to write more posts about classroom management and I've loved working with Edutopia. Betty Ray has been amazing to write for and Elana Leoni has been wonderful in her help promoting my posts. I feel honored to be blogging cyber shoulder to cyber shoulder with some great teachers.

So, why do I do it? Well, I get to tell people I write for George Lucas and I will always support people who are passionate about teachers and want to help education by listening to actual educators. I encourage you to take a minute and check out the amazing resources that Edutopia provides. You can also find them on Twittter, @Edutopia, and Facebook.

Thanks again to Edutopia for trusting me to write my first post. I look forward to working together for a long while.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

@LivescribeK12 Echo Smartpen is awesome

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Livescribe Echo Smartpen and I'm super excited by what I will be able to do with this amazing tool. 

My first response after I started playing with the Echo was, "I'm pretty sure this pen runs on magic!"
I still believe that. Here are some of the "magical" qualities of the Echo Smartpen:

Paper Replay records what you hear and write and allows the user to replay the audio by using the pen to tap the written words. These saved notes can be uploaded to your computer where key words or sentences can be searched. The notes and recordings can be shared via Facebook, Blogs or I absolutely love the social aspect of the Echo. I want to encourage students to share notes and this is one great way for kids to do it.
Livescribe Connect is awesome because it allows the user to send stuff right from the paper or the Livescribe Desktop. The Google Docs and Evernote integration is genius. It makes sense to do this because this pen screams collaboration. 

- Built in speaker

The speaker is loud and clear. I was surprised at how great everything sounded from the speaker as I listened to myself. Since the pen allows the user to go back and listen to parts over and over again, it will be easy for kids to make sure they heard everything. 

- Calculator 

By using the calculator provided in the notebook that comes with the pen, I was able to do math problems and the pen would display the final total. Little things like that are awesome. I like that it allows the user to keep the pen in hand and take notes without having to stop and use the calculator on the desk. It is a very smart and simple addition.

- Audio Jack

Another simple part of the pen that is wonderfully helpful. I can see students listening to recorded sessions while in study hall or on the way to or from sporting events.

- Piano

Livescribe has some Applications you can purchase for the pen if you choose. The Echo came pre-loaded with a Piano. I was able to select Piano from the menu, draw a piano and play it! I was also able to add a rhythm to play in the background by drawing the letter "R" and tapping it. I could also change the instruments by drawing an "I" and tapping it. I was playing the flute for a bit. I'm not sure of the functional purpose of having a piano on my pen, but the technology behind was very cool. I think it could be the start of some interesting apps down the line. 

The Echo Smartpen comes with the dotted notebook paper, but you can always print more of your own once you run out. I love that feature because you might run out and not have the time to order online to get a new notebook. Having a stack of extra paper will be very helpful. 

- Uses

I cannot wait to get this pen to my school and see all of the different uses I can find for it. One of the first places I'm going to integrate the pen is the special ed department. I often have various aides in my classroom that take notes for students in class. This pen could be a life saver for the aide. The aide could take the notes and record the lecture. By uploading the notes to the computer or sharing them through email, a student can have access to the complete lecture and the notes. This will help support the student after he leaves the classroom. 

I can see this used by students in my class to support the class blogging I do. As some students blog, another student could use the Livescribe Echo Smartpen. They could take it home and upload it to the class blog for the students to see and hear. It would provide another element to support the students in my classroom who might need a little extra help. 

Personally, I like to write out most of my lessons in notebooks before I transfer them over to a planner. With the Livescribe Echo Smartpen, I could buy a couple of notebooks and take notes and comment on what I'm thinking while I write the lessons. I can upload all of the lessons I create to a Google Doc and have a complete record of my lessons and what I was thinking while I wrote them. Too many times I look back at my notes and say, "Why am I doing this here and not here?" The Echo Smartpen could make lesson planning much much easier. 

These are just my initial thoughts after having the pen for about a week. I plan to write much more extensively about the pen once I get it into the classroom and let other teachers and students use them. I can't wait to share student feedback with all of you once they use the pen.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Monday, July 18, 2011

#SchoolDidAGoodThing - Follow Up

I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of days, but life can get crazy sometimes. While I was running around, I did have time to check out the #SchoolDidAGoodThing tag and I was moved by what I saw.

When I wrote my first post suggesting that we start sharing the positive stories, I figured a few of my friends would share a story and that would be the end of it. I have seen tweets that have used the tag from people from all over the world! There have been tweets that have put me on the verge of tears as people shared things about their lives and the impact schools have had on them. I want to share some that I found.

This is just a small cross-section of what has appeared on #SchoolDidAGoodThing. I think what really strikes me is that so many people have been impacted in so many different ways. School can be what we make of it for ourselves, but as educators, we can be the people that make school what it should be for students who might not even know what they need.

Even though the number of tweets using this tag have dropped since the first couple of days, I want to remind people that the hash tag is not going anywhere. I hope more people will use the tag during the school year and I encourage all of you to use this tag to share the good moments that happen in school every day. I plan to revisit the tag often and will continue to share great stories of how #SchoolDidAGoodThing. Will you join me?

 - @TheNerdyTeacher

Friday, July 15, 2011


teacher thanks
Creative Commons Flickr by ishouldbesleepingbut

I read a great article yesterday on the Comics Alliance website. It was about a hash tag created by Gail Simone (@GailSimone) entitled #ComicsDidAGoodThing. She wanted people to share how comics had a positive impact on their life. Comics are often looked upon as a waste of paper or not serious literature. I'm a big fan of comics and think they speak to a group of people that are often pushed to fringe of social groups. I started my Graphic Novel class at my high school because I wanted to reach a different segment of the student body.

I read over 100 tweets from the people that used the #ComicsDidAGoodThing tag. It was hard not to feel for some of the people that sent tweets about the impact of comics in their lives. The power of a story or a connection with characters can have a deeper impact than most people realize.

I started to think. Many people out there think that the education system is a wreck and kids are being let down all over the country. I would like to start a new hash tag. #SchoolDidAGoodThing. I think it would be great if everyone that read this tweeted something awesome school did for you. It could be a program that helped you grow as a person or a teacher that inspired you in some fashion. Almost everyone has a good story about school that they could share and I think now is as good of a time as any to share them with the world.

Please join me in sharing a good story about how #SchoolDidAGoodThing

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Star Wars pancakes
Picture from Flickr CC by are you gonna eat that

A friend of mine directed me to a documentary on George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic company. I'm a huge movie guy and a bigger Lucas fan. I sat down late last night and watched all six parts on YouTube. It was very cool. As I watched, the one thing that was really focused on was the fact that the ILM team was being asked to do things that were "not possible". They were the first to do many things involving technology and film. They never said, "We can't do this", it was always, "How can we make this happen and make it great?"

I look at my approach to teaching the same way. When I encounter an obstacle, I immediately think of ways to accomplish the task. It might be something that has never been done before or it might be using tools in ways people haven't used them for. No matter what the situation, I committed myself to finding a way.

I think people assume that innovation needs to be a life altering invention. It doesn't. Innovation can simply be taking a different approach to an old problem. Using a tool in a different way to make something, like a lesson, more successful. Lucas and his team at ILM did this time and time again.

There was a brief part where the documentary covered the resistance from the old guard of special effects. There were some people that did not like the changes and wanted nothing to do with it. It took some hand-holding, but some of the more resistant people eventually came over and became some of the best in the business. It wasn't said, but the feeling was there that those who refused to adapt were left behind.

This is where we are in education. There are amazing educators that are resistant to change, but could be some of the strongest users of technology in the classroom. They could be the innovators if given the time and proper training. However, there will be those that will be left behind as the rest of us move forward. That is just an inevitable part of innovation and progress.

I highly recommend that you watch the documentary. It's only an hour, but it really shows the determination of a group of passionate people bent on setting the standard for the movie industry.

I think there is a group of educators out there trying to do the same for education and I'm proud to be among them.

If we keep working hard, we can make a difference and set the standard for what education looks like in this country.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Monday, July 11, 2011

What the US Women's Soccer Team taught me about education

Flickr CC - Mr Tickle - Wachoo Wachoo Tribe Congressman

I'm not sure how many people know that  I'm a huge soccer fan. It's the only sport I played growing up. I planned on playing in college until a knee injury ended that dream. That led me to coach some co-ed YMCA teams that really led me to consider teaching. If soccer is on, I'm watching. The World Cup match between the US and Brazil was an epic sporting event that should go down as one of the greatest matches, regardless of gender, of all time.

I've spent a fair amount of time watching the replays and reading recaps about the game. There were just some things that stood out to me that really parallel the current state of education.

To recap, the US had a one goal lead going into the second half. A foul was called on a US player, forcing the team to play with only 10 for the rest of the game, and it led to a Penalty Kick for the Brazilian team. Hope Solo, the US team's goalie came up big with a save on the shot attempt. However, Brazil was awarded another attempt, which the scored on, because a US player (ever so slightly) entered the box before the shot was taken. In extra time (overtime), Brazil scored another goal on a missed offside call. In extra time, the US scored the latest goal in World Cup history to tie the game and send it into Penalty Kicks where the US walked away victorious. Watch this recap to see what I'm talking about.

I feel the current state of education is reflected, in part, by this game. It feels like teachers across this country are down one man in the fight to save education. The pressure for education to save our children is on the shoulders of teachers and we are not a full squad. Our hands have been tied by some controversial decisions by people in charge. No matter how much we protest, the decisions have been made and we have to deal with them.

The US team never gave up in that game against Brazil. They still fought and pressured and played their game because they knew that they still had a chance. I see this every day on Twitter, blogs and Facebook. There are examples of educators fighting the good fight every day. We know that we can make a difference and continue to fight no matter what the score says.

It would be so easy for many of us to give up, hang our heads and let everyone else dictate to us what the game is going to look like, but we refuse. We keep plugging along knowing that our methods are what are going to help our kids. States can keep taking our funding away, but we will keep playing our game.

The US team fought hard knowing they could accomplish anything. It truly is an American ideal that I think teachers are showing more and more under the current conditions in education. As a group, we keep doing more with less. We will continue to do so because we know we will overcome these issues and our methods will see us through the end.

I don't have an analogy for the amazing goal by Abby Wambach. I feel that would be missing the point. Abby's goal was amazing, but it was because the team kept fighting and that team made it possible. I think that is what we, as teachers, need to remember. We know how to play the game and even if we seemed to be out-manned at the moment, we will continue to fight until the bitter end. I just hope we do not have to wait until the 122nd minute.

The US plays France on Wednesday at 11am EST. I hope you turn on the TV and watch these ladies kick some butt.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Awakened: Change Your Mindset To Transform Your Teaching

I recently finished reading Awakened by Angela Watson the other day and I loved it. The back cover explains the book, "Awakened provides simple steps to help you feel peaceful and energized, no matter what's happening around you." This perfectly sums up everything I read.

The book is broken up into three parts:

Part One: Setting The Foundation For A Healthy Mind
Part Two: Breaking Free Of Destructive Habits
Part Three: Cultivating A Positive Frame Of Reference

Part two really stood out to me because I feel there were many examples of things I do on a daily basis as a teacher. Here are a couple of examples,

Habit 3: Replaying and rehearsing conflicts - I go over issues over and over in my head. Some of them might actually be years old. I would replay the situations over and over again looking at what I did or what I could have done differently. I truly have wasted so much time on this practice.

Angela writes about reframing the incident after it occurs. Take away the best from each situation so you do not have to dwell on the negative aspects of events. It seems like a simple solution, but it was nice to read. Instead of focusing on some of the stressful situations I've dealt with over the years, I'm going to focus on what went well and the best way to deal with similar situations next time. Learning from the past is important, but it is bad to dwell on it too much.

Habit 5: Taking things personally - I am very guilty of this habit. When a student chooses not to do their work or a colleague snaps at an idea I present at a meeting, I take it personally. What is wrong with me that made these things happen?

Angela offers 4 steps to evaluate situations to help deal with the self blame. One is simply working on being more self-aware. Sometimes we say or do things that might upset others without even knowing it. By being more self-aware, we can avoid potentially hurting others who might respond by hurting you back.

In total, there are 10 habits Angela writes about and provides excellent ways to deal with them. These destructive habits can eat away at a teacher's positive attitude and motivation. Even the best teachers are guilty of these habits. It doesn't make you a bad teacher, it makes you human. Angela helps teachers further by giving advice in Part three of the book.

In "Cultivating A Positive Frame Of Reference", Angela provides some excellent advice on setting yourself up for success. My favorite tip is "Accept you will never get it ALL right". I wish someone would have told me this when I started teaching. There is so much pressure to be the best teacher out of the gate. I would best myself up over every little mistake or a lesson that did not turn out perfectly. Nobody is perfect, but you don't always hear that when you start teaching.

I still strive for perfection when I create lessons, but I don't beat myself up anymore when I fall short. I know that I put in my best effort and the lesson, project, assignment, etc is the best one I could have created at that time. Angela's book does an amazing job sharing these ideas. Angela also focuses on a few more tips that can make a teacher feel better about the work they do.

"Train yourself to be difficult to offend" is something I've learned to do as a high school teacher. High school boys can say some very mean things when angry and I've learned to let those things go. Angela does an excellent job explaining this important idea for teachers.

"Practice forgiveness when you don't feel like it". Holding a grudge is not something a teacher should do. There are times when it is easier to stay angry and students or co-workers, but forgiveness can help you move on from problems. There have been times I've stayed angry with a class and it just creates a sour environment to learn. Dealing with the problem and forgiving the mistakes of others helps a person move forward.

I really enjoyed reading Angela Watson's book. It was a nice read that let me evaluate my own experiences and think of the different ways I will approach similar situations in the future. If you are interested in picking up a copy of her book, you can go here. You can also follow Angela Watson on Twitter @Angela_Watson or check out her website.

I have an extra autographed copy available to a person who comments or tweets about a time when they let the past get the best of them.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Will blog for tablets...

Creative Commons by: Sean MacEntee

Double Ugh.

I'm hitting wall after wall in regards to funding my tablet experiment.

I'm being pretty flexible with the type of tablet and even the number of tablets (I'm ok with just 30 and my two classes will just share every 6 weeks or switch at the semester.)

Heck, I'm even not stuck on tablets. The Nook Color could be awesome in my classroom. It doesn't have a camera, but I can easily work around that minor issue. The price it is good and it has the same types of apps I would need on traditional tablets. Since this is an English class, a Nook might be a better option.

I've reached out to business to see if something could be worked out, but I've received "Not at this time" and "No money for this type of project" types of answers.

I'm frustrated because I know that this is a great project, but nobody can/will fund it. Money is spent on so many stupid and insignificant projects by federal, state and local government, but when worthwhile projects come along, wallets close. It forces teachers to fight over a limited number of grants in a short period of time. If I have a good idea, like this one, but do not think of it at the right time of grant proposals, like I did for this, I'm out of luck until next year.

I'm going to keep plugging along and I'll probably be missing from Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus as I work on this project.

I'll be out in San Francisco in two weeks speaking on a panel of teachers at the AP Annual Conference, maybe I'll meet some like minded people out there interested in helping me with this project.

I'll keep everyone posted on the project as it evolves. Keep educating the crap out of those kids everyone. They are lucky to have awesome people like you. :-)

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Playlist for The Great Tablet Experiment

Here are the songs I will be listening to while I upload the apps to the tablets I WILL get despite the lack of funding available in my district and my school board's decision to cut vital technology staff.

Better Days - Goo Goo Dolls

Waiting on the World to Change - John Mayer

All These Things I've Done - The Killers

Stand by Me - John Lennon

Good Riddance (Time of your life) - Green Day

These are my motivational songs when things get tough and a tad bit down when dealing with school stuff. I share them with all of you because I'm sure many of you have a similar mix. Keep working hard PLN and know that I will be doing the same.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

P.S. - I feel like "Everything I ever learned about education I learned from watching 'Can't Hardly Wait'" is coming very soon. Stay tuned.

The Great Tablet Experiment FAQs

The Great Tablet Experiment FAQs

I've talked to some people who have wondered why I'm spending my time on this project. Here are some of the most common questions I've received and my responses to them.

- Isn't this just a huge waste of money? 

I don't think this is a huge waste of money. These tablets are not going to be used once and tossed away. They can be used with/without wifi and still provide a wealth of information and content creation tools that far surpass what a traditional textbook can provide. The tablets are not confined to one classroom all day. They are given to students to use for the year. That allows them to be used in different content areas. An Language Arts book would be useful in English class. A tablet can be useful in all classes. Short term, it will be expensive, but in the long run, the tablets will be worth the expense.

- What are you trying to prove?

I'm trying to prove that there are others ways to approach teaching and learning. There is value to the traditional teaching models, but there is room for innovation. Tablets allow for many different and creative ways to present content. I spend time trying to convince educators that there is value in integrating technology into the curriculum. The tablet experiment could provide "real world" experience to the teachers and administrators that could persuade them to look at technology and education in a different light. 

For the students, it will allow them access to technology they might not be able to use otherwise. As we prepare these students for college and the job market, any extra experience with different forms of technology will prove beneficial. Also, the tablets will allow the students more computer access than the average student in my school because of the limited computer lab space. 

- Who do you think is going to pay for this? 

I would love it if some big company swooped in and offered to pay for the entire experiment. I guess that is possible, but not super likely. I've made friends with various tech companies, but I don't think they have the money to spend on this project. 

I would like to see this be a joint venture with my district and local businesses. I feel that community involvement is key in supporting upgrades in technology. The commitment from the community can also sends strong message to the district about the value of technology integration in schools. 

I'm still lacking funding, but I will be talking to my district in a couple of weeks to see what type of funding they could provide and that will help me see what alternative funding I will need to make this tablet experiment happen. 

- Why should your students get the tablets and not others? 

I think all of the students in my building should get tablets. Sadly, that is not possible. Students are assigned classes based on their scheduling needs. Some students get to be in my class and others do not. It's luck of the draw and I think it is fair. I'm sure there will be students who want to transfer into my class to get a tablet, but those issues will be dealt with if/when we need to.

- Is this really going to be good for the students? 

I think it will be great for the students who get to use the tablets and for future students in the district. I have confidence that I will put together a great curriculum that integrates the tablets seamlessly into the classroom. There will be bumps in the road, but the success stories that will come from the tablet use will hopefully encourage enlarger investment from the community and district in the years to come. 

Technology integration is a marathon, not a sprint. Small steps need to be taken to change the minds of teachers, administrators, school board members and community members about the value of tech integration. 

My goal for The Great Table Experiment is to change the perception of these important education stakeholders by trying something new. I have the passion to do it, so I'm going to try. 

I'll keep everyone posted as I make progress. Please keep the questions coming and I'll do my best to address them all. 

If you are interested in helping bring tablets to my classroom, please feel free to contact me at 

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Tablet Based Curriculum Lessons #TGTE

I would need tablets that have a camera, word processing apps and other content creating and sharing apps. I would also like a tablet that could be easily connected to projectors.

For each unit, I will detail how I would do it without tablets and how I would do it with the tablets. Not every lesson in each unit will detailed, just the big ones.

Essay writing refresher

Without Tablet (WOT)
We would spend time in class going over the writing format and students would take notes and work on their topics in their notebook. I would need to schedule lab time once the students were ready to work on their essays. (Important note: No class may use more than 3 computer lab days in a row due to the lack of available labs) Students will work on their essays in theblab and move from seat to seat to peer edit and provide feedback. Once students are ready, they will submit their essays to to be graded and reviewed by the teacher.

With Tablets (WT)
I would review the format of the essay and students would start to work on their rough drafts on the tablets. Students would trade tablets with their peers to edit and critique their work. Students would have more time to work on the writing and have more feedback from the teacher in the pre-writing phase. Student examples can be quickly shown by connecting the tablet to the projector. Students can cut and paste their completed essay to submit it to No lab space would be needed allowing other classes to use computers.

Declaration of Independence and the Student Declaration

We cover the Dec of Ind in class. I love spending time with the it and really looking close at the language.

(WOT) Like all texts we use in class, students are not allowed to make notes in the book. If I want students to do a close reading and annotate , I would need to make many copies.

For this unit, we would read the Dec together and the students would take notes while I annotated the text on the Smartboard.

After discussing the text, students are broken into groups and they work to create a list of student grievances based on my classroom rules and the school rules. Groups would narrow down their issues and create a Student Dec on a poster board to present to class.

(WT) Every student would have a copy of the Dec. It could be uploaded as a PDF file or they could have access to it in App form. By connecting the tablet to the projector, students could see the annotations I made and make then on their tablet. Students could work in groups and then explain their annotations to the class using the projector.

Using Google Docs or corkboard apps, students could create a master list of grievances for everyone to view. These grievances could be divided up amongst groups and students could create various multimedia projects to convince me to change classroom rules. With a camera, students could record video Declarations and share them with the class. With the tablet, the students will have more options for presenting their Decs without needing the computer lab.

The Crucible

(WOT)I would pass out the play and the students would read aloud in class and answer discussion questions posted on Class discussions would center specific scenes and lines from the play. Students would write an essay on the different conflicts in the play.

(WT) I would still do most of the same stuff with tablets, but I would not have to pass out the plays. Students would be able to annotate their texts and share their ideas using corkboard apps or a class wiki. Students would be able to access the discussion boards in class.

In the past, I used to have students write an update of the play and set it in high school. I used to have more time to let the kids create, but the curriculum got full. With tablets, I'm going to have more time to tackle this project.

Breaking up the class into groups, I can have kids update the script and record the re-enacted scenes using the tablets camera. Completed scenes can be uploaded and shared with others.

The Gothic Lit Unit

Students are going to read selections from Poe, Hawthorn, Irving and others.

(WOT) Students will find the stories in their 10 pound text book. The students will read the stories and answer discussion questions. Various assignments include writing an updated Faust legend, creating diary entries for "A Rose for Emily", creating an ad for an Elixir of Youth for "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment". These assignments are completed at home and turned in to the teacher.

(WT) Students would have access to all of the stories on their tablet and will be able to annotate and take notes. These notes and annotations are easily shared with other students.

Instead of traditional print ads, students could create full infomercials for the elixir of life and even infomercials "selling" the themes and symbols of the stories.

Students would also be writing essays and could write on their tablets and pass them around for peer editing.


(WOT) Students will read selections of Walden in their text book and create a poster board that matches pictures and significant quotes from Walden. Posters are presented in class.

(WT) Students would have access to the complete text of Walden on the tablet. Students could annotate on their tablet and share notes and ideas on a corkboard app or class wiki. Students could also connect their tablet to the projector and share their annotations with the class.

With the camera feature, students could create a complete multimedia presentation using various apps. These presentations could be shared with the class and uploaded to a class site for others to see.

Huck Finn

(WOT) Students will receive copies of the book. They will read and answer discussion questions online. Students will take notes and write an essay on Twain's use of satire and his view of slavery and racism.

(WT) Students will have access to the book on their tablet and will be able to annotate it as it is discussed in class.

The big project for the semester will be a mock trial. Huck Finn has been in the news recently for having it's language changed to make it less offensive. Some argue the book is racist and should not be taught in schools. In my courtroom, Twain is going to be charged with writing a racist book meant to inflame the masses. There will be a prosecution and defense team made up of students in class. Each side will be able to call witnesses to testify. Using tablets, students will be able to collaborate on their cases. The trial can be skyped or u-streamed to the public who can act as the jury. Students could use their tablets to Skype with Twain experts and submit testimony without having to leave the classroom.

I would no longer be constrained with the computer lab time limit and students would be able to collaborate all class period.

With tablets, students would be able to dive deep into the text and meaning behind Twain's classic work. This project will end the first semester.

Semester exam

(WOT) Students would sit and take notes to review for the final. We could play a game or two to help with the review.

(WT) Students could create review apps and collaborate in large groups to prepare for the final. With access to all of their annotated  notes in the stories, students will be able to review more in depth.


Students would need to carry around multiple books, notebooks, folders and assignments.

(WT) Students could download multiple apps that will enhance what they are learning in class. Their backpacks will not be as cluttered and heavy. Students will be able to create and work on other projects in various content areas. Tablets will allow them the opportunity to collaborate outside of the classroom.

2nd Semester will include The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, Death of a Salesman, Women's Lit and the Harlem Renaissance. A tablet could work wonders on all of these units.

I would love to have two sets for both sections or American Literature I would be teaching. Certain tablets start off at 400-500 dollars. Just getting the tablets could cost as much as $33,000. Adding various apps could cost another 400-500 dollars.

My goal is to find companies that are willing to sponsor this tablet experiment. If I can show my district that there are people willing to chip in, I think I can get them to chip in for the cost. If I can find companies willing to cover 15-20 thousand, I think my district, and parent groups in the district, could fund the rest.

I'm excited to get started and will be contacting tablet makers to see if I can get bulk pricing to lower the costs.

How can you help?

1. If you are connected to a company that might be willing to sponsor this experiment, please contact me at

2. If you have contacts with tablet makers that would be willing to work with me on this project, please connect us.

3. Spread the word of my tablet experiment. Your tweet or blog post might reach someone who knows someone who knows a guy etc.

I appreciate all of the love and support I have received over the years and I can't wait to share this crazy adventure with all of you.

Have a great weekend everyone!

- Nick