Monday, October 31, 2011

Zombies and Education

Everything that has every scared me about education I learned from Zombies...

I'm not sure what has taken me so long to think of this post, but today seems like the perfect day to write as I sit at the airport. There has been a strange cultural obsession with the living dead in recent years. The Walking Dead, an awesome show on AMC that everyone must watch, is an example of the popularity Zombies seemed to have shambled onto. I feel that Zombies have something to teach the education world and I'm the one to blow its brains open.

The Zombies I am writing about today come from the Romero universe where our walking dead are in fact dead. They are not living people with a terrible disease that causes them to act like cannibals. These are the corpses of the dead that have risen and need their brain destroyed to be put down. A bite will kill you within a day or less and you will rise again. These are important facts to lay out as I make my evaluation.

I guess I need to say who the Zombies are before I go into deep analyzation. I think that the students are the second generation Zombies created by an entire horde of educator Zombies. Let me explain.

Our current system of education is focused on testing. Creating the perfect student is not about a well rounded thinker. It is about a person that can perform basic functions on an exam. The bar is set and students are asked to shamble over. There are educators that have no problem sinking their teeth into these students and turning them into these Zombies. That is way easier that putting up a fight. Bite them and move on.

Not all people that are bitten turn into Zombies. Some are devoured completely. This happens to students every day. Our current system chews up students every day. If they do not fit into the system set up, they struggle and leave. If they cannot conform to the standards established, they do not stand a chance. In the Zombie world, a body or two need to be consumed for the good of the Zombie horde. It happens all of the time. I'm sure it happened today.

Zombies do not think. They do not problem solve. They are not creative. They wander. It is actually very easy to feel sad for these Zombies. It's not their fault they are a Zombie. If given a choice, I'm sure they would not choose to be a Zombie. How can you not feel bad for a students that exits a system not knowing how to be creative or solve problems when they leave a system that has not showed them how?

Zombies are inherently drawn to the living. The desire for life is something they seem to physically crave. They want to devour the life they so desperately wish they had. Is that any different for students? Students are drawn to creativity. They always move toward what they lack or have always wanted. That spark of creativity is something that does draw in students. As any hungry Zombie would, students eat up the chance to be creative.

To kill a Zombie, their brain must be destroyed. This is close to true for our students. If we want to save education, we need to destroy the message that has been drilled into their head about bubble filling and memorization and replace it with critical thinking and problem solving. The entire educational system needs its brain destroyed and filled with the ideas that will save future students from being Zombie food. Killing a Zombie is never an easy thing and changing the educational system will be just as tough.

Like all Zombie movies, there are pockets of resistance. Places of refuge where people are trying to keep going and start new. I see this every day on Twitter. There are pockets around this country that are striving to create more humans and less Zombies. They go about it slightly different ways, but they are fighting. These pockets are far outnumbered, but they continue to fight.

The truly scary part of Zombie movies is always the numbers. A single Zombie does not make for a very good movie. It the hundreds and thousands of Zombies that truly scare an audience. It's the feeling that there is no escape and resistance is pointless. Our current system feels that way. There are times I feel like giving up as I look at the numbers and try to figure out a way for my kids to survive. It seems hopeless.

In that hopelessness, there is always success. No matter how many Zombies there might be, thinking and creativity seem to win in the end. We will lose some good teachers along the way, but it is possible to win this war.

Thanks for taking the time to read this whacky post. I just put this together while waiting at the airport. Forgive the typos. I feel like a Zombie got a piece of my brain this morning.

Dropbox and Shared Classroom Tablets

I've been very lucky to get a class set of iPad2s for my classroom to pilot this year. I have many fun and exciting lessons to try out on the tablets, but my first concern was having students access documents quickly and easily.

I've been a Dropbox user for a few years now and love it. I was never able to access my school documents from home. With Dropbox, I have access to all of my documents from anywhere. With my iPad, I can access, edit and send them without hassle. This is what I want for my students.

I spent a day in the lab having students set up accounts using their school email addresses. I walked them through Dropbox and what it can be used for and how we will be using it for class. Many of the students were interested in the process and even asked if they could use Dropbox for other classes. The thought of not having to constantly email things back and forth was a huge plus to my students. They no longer had to worry about presentations being too large to email. I could see that some of my students are really going to enjoy using Dropbox.

I created a shared file for American Literature and shared it with every student. I will now be able to drop files I want students to access easily from my desktop. When students use the Dropbox app on the iPads, they will be able to log in and access the files. They can edit the files using DocsToGo and drop them into their personalized folders.

If we do group work, students can create group folders and easily share work at their desk and then share the final project with me. With the Apple TV setup in my room, students will be able to open their project and present using the projector without having to leave their desk.

It's taken me a little while to figure out which apps will work best with Dropbox on shared devices. Students will have to remember to log in and log out of the devices, but I'm not too worried about students accessing other students' files. Kids can just log others out without a problem.

The more I play with Dropbox and the other apps that connect to it, the more I like what I see. Although iPads were not designed for collaboration, they are great tools at facilitating collaboration. I cannot wait to share the work my students will be sharing with each other.

I'll keep you posted on the pilot as it develops.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Student Declarations of Independence

My students created their Student Declarations of Independence last week and I wanted to share them with you. I have been doing this project on and off for the past 10 years and it is always fun for me to see what the students think is important in school and their daily life. After reading the Declaration of Independence, I ask students to come up with their own declarations based on certain issues they have with my class, the school or the district. Here is a sample of their work.

Let it be known that we are entitled to certain rights as high school students. Namely, we have the Right to Sanity, Happiness, Physical Well-Being, Expression and Proper Accommodations...

There are times in life when those without authority or any means of assuming authority must stand up for what they believe in. When it impacts the life they will lead, and the path to success in achieving their dreams, they should be permitted to make their opinions heard. In those occasions when an entire group of people agree upon changes that must be made, it should be in the best interest of those with authority over the aforementioned group to put their best effort in to reaching the prospect of the changes deemed necessary...

The students are the majority of the population at Grosse Pointe South. Therefore it is only fair that the student body make most of the decisions, or at least get a say in the matter. Instead we are forced to go to a school where we don’t agree with half of the rules and policies. We, the student body, are taking a stand. The student body is revolting against the school, the board and Mr. Provenzano...

There are times in life when those without authority or any means of assuming authority must stand up for what they believe in. When it impacts the life they will lead, and the path to success in achieving their dreams, they should be permitted to make their opinions heard. In those occasions when an entire group of people agree upon changes that must be made, it should be in the best interest of those with authority over the aforementioned group to put their best effort in to reaching the prospect of the changes deemed necessary. 

We come to this school to learn, not to deal with these oppressive teachers and rules, which crush the basic rights of the children of Grosse Pointe South.  If students are not learning in this school then what is this place for?  Having power over these students, making money on the tyrannical government we call the administration?  Our school is made for the students, not the needs of the teachers or staff.

These are just a few of the Student Declarations created in my three classes. I'm very proud of the work they have done this year. The students have been posting on blogs and writing in class. When the iPads get to class, I'll be very excited to start trying some new things with them. So far, they have not turned a single assignment in using paper. The iPads will really allow me to go deeper with assignments. Stay tuned for more details. 

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tablets and TVs in my room

For some time, I've been talking about my want to get a class set of tablets to try some fun things with my class. Well, after some nudging, begging and soul selling, I will have a class set of iPad2s for my students ready to roll in the next couple of weeks. I will have them in the morning and some very awesome friends in the Science Department using them in the afternoon. I'm very excited about the possibilities for my students as I move forward with this project.  I will be documenting this adventure for the rest of the school year, but I wanted to share one exciting part of the project that has me very excited. 

I read on a blog somewhere (Sad I can't remember.) that it is easy to connect an Apple TV to your projector with a simple converter. With Apple TV set, the iPad2 (With OS5) can mirror what is on the screen. Well, $160 later and I have an Apple TV setup in my classroom.

I did a simple Amazon search for HDMI/VGA converter and found one for $40. Apple TV cost $99 and the rest was for the cords I needed (VGA and HDMI). For that total, I am completely able to move about my room and project whatever I want on the screen. I used it on Friday and the kids were very excited. I was able to move about and discuss the day's topic and write notes on the iPad and have them projected onto the board. 
What is even better, is the fact that any student can jump onto the board if I want them to. When students are working on their iPads in groups or on their own, I can direct any of them to show their work on the board without getting up from their desk. 

I see students working on presentations at their desk and showing their work to the class. Students can annotate a page from a book and share their thoughts with their peers in a seamless transition. No longer will time be wasted as kids access their files on the school computer and talk about their project. Sharing is now a quick and painless process. 

There are some people out there (even in my own school) that think that tablets are just fancy tools that will not really help students learn. I strive to make my classroom a collaborative environment where students can share and learn from each other, not just with me. The iPads will allow for more collaborative projects and sharing in ways students have never experienced. 
I'm excited to share more of what we will be doing in the future. Keep an eye out for some fun projects and crazy commentary. 


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Yes I tweet my students, don't you?

I was talking to a teacher the other day and a student walked by and thanked me for the help on their college essay last night and said they would tweet me later. The other teacher looked at me funny. I explained that I follow and exchange tweets with my students. They were skeptical.

I love tweeting with my students. Most of the time it is school related, but sometimes I chime in on their random thoughts. It's a way to connect with students in an open environment. It's meeting students where they are and giving them access to me outside traditional means. I have my school account, @MrProvenzano, and that is what I use to communicate with students, parents and other district admins. This connection has had a positive impact on my teaching relationship with my students.

Do you tweet your students? What have you noticed since you started?

November #ProjectPLN

November is the #SchoolDidAGoogThing Issue and we want you to share your story. Just about everyone has a story about how their school did something that impacted their life in a meaningful way. We want to share those stories with as many people as possible.

We ask that you take a moment and share that story with educators all over the world. We know this time of year is busy, but these stories can provide inspiration to educators everywhere.

Please consider submitting your story to

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quick Hits #2

Here are some things that have come across my mailbox that I wanted to share with all of you. Take a look and see how you might use these tools or take this ideas for your classroom.

Sister Act's School Challenge Initiative

The marketers of Sister Act have just launched Sister Act's School Challenge Initiative. They are asking teachers from grades 5 through 9 to share their class’ acts of kindness with us by submitting a photo of their class giving back to the community, along with the story behind it, for a chance to win a class field trip to Sister Act on Broadway! You can find all the details here.

Follow the link for more information on Sister Act.

I love the idea of having entire classes get behind good deeds and sharing them with the world.

Don't worry about curriculum for a couple of days and try to do something good as a class.


Acceptly is great tool for students trying to get into college. Their blog offers many great tips for preparing for college interviews and essays. Acceptly looks at the many different parts of a student's profile and gives them advice on how to improve different parts to increase their chances of getting into the school of their choice. As college admissions continues to get more competitive, it's nice to give a student help to improve their chances.

Classroom Makeover

Here is a fun contest where a class can make a music video and win a $75,000 Interactive Classroom Makeover!

Here are the contest rules for submissions.

  • Be in the format of a music video that is either an original song or a parody of an original song that demonstrates or envisions the use of technology in the classroom such as:
    • Your vision of a classroom that is creatively and effectively using technology to enhance learning.
    • How your class uses technology every day to make the learning experience great.
    • How your class used technology to make a class project better.
    • How a class project could have been better with technology.
    • How you plan to use technology in a class project in the future.
  • Feature the teacher submitting the video and at least one student. All students that are in the video must be in the grade or age category for which the video is being submitted.
  • Include "eInstruction" at least once in the lyrics of the song and show the eInstruction® logo.
  • Show an image of one or more of the products below, or show them in use:

  • End by directing viewers to the contest website to vote for the best video.
  • Not exceed 2:30 minutes in length. Due to differences in rendering times for different video formats, entries that are one or two seconds longer than 2:30 may still be accepted.  Video must be in a format that can be uploaded to Shycast’s website, i.e. mpeg (recommended), mov (recommended), qt, avi, mp4, mpe, mpg, or wmv (least recommended) with a Maximum file size of 100 MB 
 The submission deadline is October 25th, but you might be able to put something together in time to with this great prize. 

YouTube Spacelab #SciChat

YouTube has put together a contest for students 14-18 to create an experiment that could be performed in space. The two winning experiments will be performed on the International Space Station live streamed on YouTube.

I love this idea. Giving students a chance to create an experiment and have it performed in space and live around the world is a very cool idea. I'm glad to see YouTube begin to embrace the education side of their audience.

Their Education and Teacher Channels are also nice additions to the YouTube family and I strongly encourage educators to take a look at these channels and see if there is anything there they could use in their classes.

Here is a video from YouTube with more information.

I really think this would be a fun project to your classroom and suggest you give it a try or pass it to the Science teacher in your building/district to see if they want to do something great with their students.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#AdobeEduAwards - 2011 Educator's Choice Awards - Vote Now!

The finalists have been chosen and now it your turn to vote for the winners. There are some pretty amazing lessons int he running for some great prizes and your votes can make all the difference. Log in and vote for your favorite lesson in each category and pass the post along to your friends so they can vote and share. Make sure you vote soon because voting ends October 28th, 200 at 11:59 PST.

Thanks for all of the support you have given to these teachers and other that have been sharing their lessons. Even thought the field has been narrowed to these finalists, there are still many great lessons you can find on the Adobe Education Exchange. Join up and take a look at the cool lessons teachers from all over the country have created and shared on the site. You just might find the perfect lesson for your classroom.

Here are the finalists and the category they are in. Vote for your favorite!
Primary/Secondary Finalists
Digital Arts and Media
Higher Education Finalists
Digital Arts and Media
The Battle to Learn Adobe Flash, Thomas Giannattasio
Take Action!, Erika Veth

Adobe is a sponsor of The Nerdy Teacher

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#ProjectPLN November Issue - #SchoolDidAGoodThing

Back in July, I started a hash tag that picked up some steam. It started after a post I wrote that wanted people to share the good stories of education. I was shocked at the positive responses I received. I had no idea that so many people would pass on my post and share their story. Here is the follow-up post that shares some of the amazing stories shared by others. I really wanted to give more people a chance to tell their story beyond 140 characters and now I have a way to do that.

As one of the founders and co-editors of ProejctPLN, I thought it would be great to dedicate an entire issue to the great things schools have done for everyone. I have seen too many stories of how terrible teachers are or how hurtful the current education system is to children. I want to share the positive stories of what education has done for people. This issue is open to anyone that has ever been to school and had a positive experience they want to share with the world.

Please pass this post on to anyone you think has a story to share. We are going to publish every story we receive. We can never have too many stories of positive educational experiences. Please follow the criteria below to make it easy for us to share you story.

Please include a short bio that includes your name and any other information you want to share (Twitter ID, website, etc.). We welcome pictures to accompany posts, so please send those along.

Email your post as a word document to

Send questions to @ProjectPLN

We look forward to seeing many amazing stories from all over the world.


Nick Provenzano
Project PLN

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Where is the bar for teacher tech know-how?

I was having a conversation with some teacher types about technology use by staff. We were talking about PD and someone suggested we offer more PD on file and email management. A stirring debate started about offering this.

The main question is this, "At what point are teachers, or any professional, expected to know basic computer functions as part of their job?"

Should time and money be spent on showing staff how to create folders? After 10 plus years of computer training offering, should there be certain expectations for computer use and should teachers be held accountable for not learning?

Is a messy desktop akin to a messy classroom?

Exactly where is the bar for teachers and tech know-how? Is it too low?

I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this issue.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review: ClearPlay in the classroom #edchat


One of the biggest problems I encounter as an English teacher is finding appropriate movie versions of books we read in class. Even though the content in the book may have bad language or some violence, I am not allowed to show a movie that depicts the content in the book. I think it is silly, but it is the system I have to work in. If there is a movie I really like, but it has some objectionable material, I have to stand ready to hit the mute button on the remote to block out a certain word or a certain scene. Now there is a device that can do that for me.

ClearPlay is a DVD player that can block all of the nasty stuff a person wants from a movie and make it appropriate for any age level. Here is how it works. A person purchases a ClearPlay DVD player. The player comes with a FilterStik flash drive. The person signs up for a ClearPlay membership ($79.99/year or $7.99/mo) which gives them access to all of the Filters ClearPlay has available. The person downloads the filters for the movie they want and plugs the FilterStik into the DVD player. Once the movie is in, the person can select with filters they want on (Violence, Langauge, Sex, etc) and watch the move.

Below is a video showing ClearPlay in use on The Today Show.


Now, my first thought was cool, but I'm not going to be showing The Matrix in my classroom any time soon. I started to think about some of the movies I might want to show, but could never do it because of certain parts. The one movie that jumped out at me was Dracula. Dracula is part of the Freshmen English Curriculum in my school district. The 90's movie version holds close to the book in many ways and it would be great to show in class if it were not for the graphic nudity and violence. I could never be quick enough on the remote to block the material. So, I downloaded the filters for Dracula, hooked up the ClearPlay DVD player and watched the movie with the selected filters turned on.

About an hour into the movie, I realized I had stopped pay attention to the filtered content. That sounds bad, but it is a huge plus in my book. I didn't really realize what I was missing. There were some scenes where there was a noticeable cut from a violent act, but nothing that really disrupted the flow of the movie. The major edits only really stood out to me because I really liked the movie and had seen in many times. A classroom full of students would have no idea what they missed. 

I see a place for ClearPlay in the classroom for teachers looking to show movies, but edit out the content. I could see showing Stand By Me to my students to explore the theme of coming of age, but I would need to cut some of the language out. I think a school could buy one DVD player and a membership and share the player on a cart. Long term, the value is worth it if you can show more movies to support the curriculum that is being covered in class. 

I recommend that teachers and administrators take a look at ClearPlay and see if they can use it in their building.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

1 Week Left to Submit Your Lesson For The #AdobeEduAwards

There is only one week left to submit your lesson to the #AdobeEduAwards contest. I covered the details of the contest back in August. Since that initial post, there have been so many amazing lessons shared by great teachers. Here are just a few that I have covered and shared with teachers.

Google Earth's Flight Simulator in Social Studies

Photoshop for Kids: Scratch Art

Extreme Home Makeover (Dreamweaver Edition)

Take Action! A New Approach to the Research Paper 

Creature Creation with Photoshop

Movie Poster Parody Project

Ross Boss Projects: Pinball Wizard

Pandora's Box: Cross Curricular Project for HS and 3rd Grade

These are just a few of the wonderful lessons that can be found on the Adobe Education Exchange. Here is the great part. You can join for free and see all of the other lesson that have been submitted by teachers from all over the country. There are lessons for all content areas and grade levels. It is an amazing resources for teachers looking for new and exciting ways to spice up their curriculum.

If you find a lesson that you really like, take a moment and give them a vote. They are competing for some great prizes and I'm sure they would love your vote.

If you have a lesson that utilizes Adobe products, you have until October 14th to submit it to the Adobe Eduction Exchange for your chance to win the awesome prizes. 

Once the finalists are determined, members can vote on their favorite from the top 3 in each of the 4 categories. It really is exciting to see teachers share their lessons and see what other teachers think of them.

I highly encourage all of you look at the amazing lessons that have been shared and vote for your favorite. If you use Adobe in your lessons, I highly encourage you to submit your lessons for a chance to win.

Adobe is a sponsor of The Nerdy Teacher

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pandora's Box: Cross Curricular Project for HS and 3rd Grade #AdobeEduAwards

I've been loving my time scanning the Adobe Education Exchange the past couple of months. I have found some many great lessons that I have passed on to others. Here is another great lesson that involves students from the High School working with students in 3rd Grade.

Matt Cauthron submitted a lesson to the Adobe Education Exchange that had students use, After Effects, Creative Suite Design Premium and Photoshop. He explains the process here,   

1. A version of the myth was edited and distributed as a script by a sophomore student and myself using 

2. High school students visited the two 3rd grade classrooms to read the story and create sketches based on assigned parts of the readings. 

3. Our district visual arts specialist then helped both elementary classrooms create watercolor paintings from the drawings.

4. After the drawings were sent over to the high school, students shot, edited and/or composited their interpretation of the 3rd grader's paintings using Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended. 

5. High school students returned to present their imagery to the elementary students and teachers, discussing their own creative processes and making connections between the visual works. 

6. Several 3rd graders recorded the audio track for the script and submitted them to the high school for narration. 

7. High school teams worked to compile all media assets for the digital book layout and video. 

8. A senior student created the Pandora's Box intro graphic using Adobe After Effects. 

9. The book layouts were uploaded to two different book websites and distributed online to share with the world for print and/or online enjoyment.

Here is a video that was created for the project. 


 Here is a collage the students created.

There is so much to love about this project. The fact that students at the high school get to work with 3rd graders is awesome. The creativity level of this project is off the charts. There are so many different aspects that students get to work on, there is a job for everyone. The finished products are something that can be published online for students to see whenever they want. They can share this project with family all over the world. Students get to be engaged in learning in a way they have never been before. This project has the potential to inspire students at a young age to follow their passion in the arts. I could keep going, but I fear I might run out of space on the internet!

To access more of the completed projects from this lesson, join the Adobe Education Exchange. Once you do that, you can follow this link to the Pandora's Box lesson.

Matt has a chance to win some great prizes because he decided to share is awesome lesson with teachers on the Adobe Education Exchange. You could also be in the running for great prizes. Join the Adobe Education Exchange and submit a lesson. Pass it around to your friends so they can join up and vote for your lesson. Check out my last post for more details. 

Adobe is a sponsor of The Nerdy Teacher