Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The #EduBroAwards - The Premier Education Awards Event of the Millennium

It's that time of year where everyone runs around and appoints the best of the best of the best. Tim, Jeff, Sir Ken and I (The Edu Bros) have decided that if somebody should give awards out for the best of the best of the best in education, it should be us. 

The EduBros are proud to announce "The EduBro Awards"! Please continue reading after you are done applauding. 

We are going to be doing things a bit differently this year. Instead of posting your nominations on Twitter or your own site, we want your nominations in the comment box below. Feel free pimp this post to get others to vote and use the tag #EduBros for all awards and non-awards related tweets. 

We are also going to do something a little different with the categories. Below, we will have some set in stone categories, but we encourage you to create your own. If nine other people nominate people in the category you created, it will make the cut. Another part of the awards is that you MUST nominate yourself for an award. It can be for an award category we created or one you made up yourself. If you can't pay yourself on the back, how can others? 

You can also suggest categories and nominations using #EduBroAwards on Twitter. We will scan these and add them when needed. 

Once all of the nominations are in, a very select panel will vote on the nominations and the awards will be announced on a Google Hangout. 

Here are the award categories:

Best Mustache in Education:

Best 6 foot or taller red headed NASCAR fan:

Best Hug Giver:

Twitter User Most Likely to RT a Post They Didn't Read:

Best Twitter Avatar:

Best Title to a Blog Post:

The Daniel LaRussa "You're The Best Around" Award:


All nominations must be left in the comment field. 

You must identify yourself in the comment. No anonymous comments.

You must nominate yourself for one of the EduBro created awards or one you created.

A user generated award becomes live when it has been used 10 times. 

Nominations end 24hrs after we announce the deadline. 

Rules are subject to change.

This contest is not endorsed by Sir Ken, but as an official EduBro, he unofficially endorses it. 

Good Luck! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

This Is Why I Would Prefer Ideapaint Over an IWB In My Classroom

As an Evernote Education Ambassador, I sometimes get to see products up close and personal. When I was at the Evernote offices in California, I was able to see first-hand how Ideapaint is used. What I saw blew my mind and made me want to cover my classroom with it.

For those that do not know what Ideapaint is, here is a video that explains it in more detail. 

Turning surfaces into whiteboards is such an awesome idea. It is so much better than the IWB in my classroom and here are my reasons why. 

1. Currently, my IWB sits in the front of the room and requires all students to face that way for instruction. It makes me have to stay in the front of the room to use the board. I'm not a fan of that. I like to walk around and interact with my students and the class environment. I feel it gives me a better sense of what is going on in the class. With Ideapaint, any wall can be the focal point of the class. Heck, a student's desk could be the focal point of the discussion as I walked around and wrote notes for the kids. Ideapaint allows the discussion to be anywhere in the classroom. That freedom is so important to a teacher like myself that wants to move around and engage students all over the room. 

2. I'm stuck having my IWB connected to my computer. If my computer is on the fritz, which happens time to time, my IWB is just there. That's it. It sits there in front of my chalkboard and I look out at my kids feeling a bit helpless. With Ideapaint, I could use any surface at any time regardless of my computer. As a tech guy, I love the analog feeling of the walls and sharing ideas on them. It is a great option for teachers that have to deal with network issues in their classroom. 

3. Collaboration is not easy with a IWB in the classroom. Unless the district pays a ton of money to get the IWB that allows multiple users at the same time, it's general function is one person at a time at the front of the room. That is not how I roll in my classroom. My room is designed for collaboration. My lessons are created around teamwork. An IWB is not conducive to this type of environment. Ideapaint would allow my students to collaborate in groups on the walls or their desks. They could all work together seamlessly. This approach could really change the dynamic in my classroom. I want kids to work together easily and Ideapaint would allow them to do so. 

4. Sharing is nice with most IWB software. I can write notes on the provided software and save it as a PDF and then post it on my website or on a shared Evernote notebook. It's doable, but takes a few steps. In an Ideapaint classroom, not only could I post notes on any surface, but my students could write their own notes on walls for other students. Imagine a class dedicated for writing notes for specific chapters or themes in a story all over the classroom. Once the groups are done with their part of the notes, they could go around and take notes on the notes created by students. Over the course of a school day, all of my walls and desks would be covered with student created notes. My students now become the creators of content in a way that a IWB could never provide. By using Evernote, students could just snap photos of the notes and save them into their notebooks. 

5. Every year I come to school and the software needs a new upgrade to work on the IWB. The problem we often face is the update does to work very well on our older computers. What's the point of having the IWB if I can't use all of the features? No updates needed with Ideapaint. As long as I have a clean wall, my students can write , share and collaborate freely in my classroom. 

6. The price of projector bulbs is ridiculous. Seriously, they should not be that expensive. When they do go out, the IWB is useless. You can't do anything without the projector. Not a problem with Ideapaint. I can just go to any wall I want and start writing. Not bulbs required. Heck, if it is a nice day out, I'll turn out the lights and write on the walls using old fashioned sun light. 

7. IWB do not provide much creative space for students. It's a board controlled by the teacher's computer that students are generally kept away from. Kids sit and stare as the teachers used the IWB and take notes. Students should have the space to write down their ideas to share with the class. It should also serve as a creative space for kids to express themselves through poetry, drawings or music lyrics. I'm not talking about Art classes or English classes only, but all classrooms should have this space for kids to express themselves. The more space students have to be creative, the more likely they will feel comfortable enough to relax and learn. 

8. The last one is price. The amount of money it takes to buy, install, provide PD and IT support an IWB is crazy. Ideapaint can cover a classroom at a fraction of the cost. Also, no training is needed to show a teacher how to write on a wall. We have all been doing it since we were kids. Take out a dry erase marker and start sharing!

These are just some of the reasons why I would love to have Ideapaint in my classroom. I hope to paint the back wall of the stage in my room with Ideapaint to create a more collaborative environment for my students. I think the creative space would have a positive impact on all of my students.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where Did We Go Wrong? #Edchat

For those of you who do not know, I have a beautiful baby boy named Leo. He is 18 months old now. Part of the parenting job requires me to watch lots of children's programming. One of the things Leo likes to do is sit on my lap at watch YouTube videos. We scroll through the Sesame Street and watch some videos. My favorite is the one by Jason Mraz called "Outdoors". I recently watched a video by that really got me thinking.

There are tons of videos and segments that promote creativity and the value of being yourself. I see them daily on Sesame Street and other PBS broadcasting. They are fun to watch and always have catchy tunes. There seems to be so much emphasis on doing the right thing and accepting others for who they are. It's such a powerful message or children get while growing up. Then, it stops. 

I'm not sure what happened or where we went wrong, but it seems that spirit of individualism is lost on our students at a certain point in their life. By the time students get to me in high school, there is this awkwardness in them as they try to find the right place to fit in and find themselves. When I do my Transcendentalism Unit, there is this sigh of relief among some of my students when we talk about the value of being yourself and being proud of who you are. 

There are many people out there that talk about the value of being unique, but should that be left up to popular icons? It is sad to think that idea of being an individual is only a valuable thing to be taught in the early years and left at the curb once the kids enter "traditional" schools. 

Maybe the entire system is at fault. Does our current school system promote the individual? 

Where did we go wrong?

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Could Start a School In Evernote's Offices Today #EvernoteLife

I've been reading articles on Learning Spaces the past year. Lots of pictures of cool new designs and floor plans for these new schools. I would read and look at the pictures and nod my head in agreement. For me, it was still theoretical. I needed to see it first hand. This weekend, I had the chance to see innovative learning spaces, but it wasn't at a school.

I spent the day at Evernote's office in California. It was awesome. I got to meet the amazing staff I worked with over the interwebs and CEO Phil Libin (@plibin) stopped by with his awesome Empire Strikes Back coffee mug to chat with all of the ambassadors and to just see how things were going. From start to finish, the entire day was an awesome experience that really got me thinking. I could actually start a school with the set-up Evernote uses in their offices.

The traditional school layout is based around classrooms. Each classroom is designed for one teacher to teach 30 students in a particular content area. Classrooms that have similar classes are located in the same part of the building. All English teachers are in the the North end of the building, Science in the South end and so on. Kids shuffle from one class to the next every 45 minutes or so to get instruction on the next subject. This format seems to have "worked" for decades and there doesn't seem to be any serious push to change it. The way Evernote laid out their offices is the exact opposite and I think it has something to do with their success.

Evernote does not lump departments all together on one floor in cubicles. The layout is open floor where all of the different departments are mixed in together. Designers sit with programmers who are sitting next to sales who are across from PR. The design encourages people to get up and move around and to work with others in different departments easily.

Why is this not done in schools? There has been plenty of talk about cross-curricular needs, yet we section departments off from one another. If students stayed in one part of the building and had access to all of the different departments in one spot, might that encourage stronger bonds between students and teachers? Wouldn't schools see great collaboration between the arts and sciences if they shared a hallway? These are important questions to ask. If schools want collaboration across the curriculum, space needs to be utilized to accomplish it.

I could not find a cubicle in the building. I tried my hardest to find one, but all I found were desks and work spaces. The open format allowed for easier communication from one person to the next. I saw employees working across desks and huddled over drawings without the confining feeling of a cubicle. Cubicles are just the business world's versions of classrooms. Do you know anyone that actually likes working in a cubicle? I didn't think so.

When employees need to work or have a meeting a more private settings, the offices are filled with conference rooms of all sizes. Some are large board room types with the long table, but others are small meeting rooms that sort of resemble the confessional booths from Real World, only a bit bigger and with less crying.

Yes, the conference rooms are named after video games. Each floor is assigned a letter and the video game named rooms are based on that letter. Awesome. Room numbers are so lame. I need to come up with a name for my room and cover the room number with it. I guarantee kids will remember where my room is now.

I think the idea of rooms for meetings when meetings are needed is great. The open space area allows students to work and collaborate when needed. When something a bit more private is needed, presentation planning, student conferences, etc, they can be used. If we really want students to be independent thinkers and learners, we need to provide them the space that encourages this model. The traditional classroom is still geared toward the teacher as the sage on the stage. Even and I move to a more collaborative environment in my classroom, the projector still faces the front of the room and the students still look to me as the hub of information.

The other big things I loved about Evernote's offices was the fact they covered just about every surface with Ideapaint. Ideapaint turns any surface into a dry erase board. Desktops and walls are now a canvas for people to brainstorm and plan.

There were other walls filled with notes from meetings employees used that I cannot share, but there were elements of fun and work everywhere I turned. Ideapaint allowed Evernote to utilize all of their space and not waste paper for simple brainstorming meetings. Many of us still like to write things down to help us through a thought process. Ideapaint is perfect for just that. Best of all, Evernote can take the pictures of the work and save them right into a note. Clean the wall and start all over.

At the end of the day on Fridays, they have a gathering of all employees to share a snack and a drink. In most places, people are out the door, but you can sense the environment is different. Teachers are out the door to their local watering hole the minute the end of the day bell rings on a Friday. Doesn't that same more about the school environment than it does the teachers? If the school environment was better for teaching and learning, would teachers and students hang around to get more done? If schools offered S'Mores like Evernote did when I was there, you might have more people after school willing to help.

The biggest push back I see is from teachers who think our students can't work in such a free flowing environment. To them I say, "Yes, you are right."

However, that's not the students' fault. They do not know any better because we are not preparing them for a world that is starting to look more like Evernote and less like the classroom. If we do our job as educators, our students will not only be successful in these new environments, but they will be innovators and leaders.

I had the best time at Evernote and I can't wait until I get to go back and work with these great people. These are the types of people we need thinking about education reform. If you haven't checked out Evernote, you are missing out!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Epic Evernote Experiment Update for November

Another month has passed and I want to share an update with all of you on how the EEE is going.

My Freshmen just completed their first big project. They needed to create their own project that needed to explain and support one of the themes covered in "Of Mice and Men". The students quickly formed their groups and got to work.

One of the things they did was to create shared notebooks and work on their parts of the projects in the shared notebook. This allowed the students to do their own work, but also see what others were doing and provide feedback.

Some students typed up scripts on their notes while others worked on drawings they would later add to the shared notebook.

Despite the varied projects (Puppet show, rewrite of "Walk this Way", Power Point and others) each group of students were able to use Evernote to organize their project. It was really nice to see the students take to Evernote for that type of planning.

My Sophomores are starting work on their big semester project. They just finished reading various Transcendentalist essays and are now going to work in groups to create the ideal Transcendentalist Society and create an infomercial to "sell" the class on moving there.

My Sophomores are little more mature and organized, so I have a good feeling about how they will be using Evernote to organize and share their ideas. I'm really looking forward to this project and the students will have 2 weeks to finish and present.

The new iOS app for Evernote rolled out the other day and I love it. It has many new features that make using Evernote easier than ever before. Check out this Evernote page for details on all of the new features.

I have happily used my IPEVO document camera to show things to classes, my Doxie Scanner to scan in documents I wanted to share with students and staff, my Boogie Board Rip for quick note-taking and writing to explain a process to a student, my Livescribe has been awesome in recording lessons I want students to access later if needed and I have loved using my Moleskine to sit and jot down my ideas and scan into Evernote later. It is really handy at the edcamps I've been to lately. If you haven't had a chance to use any of these amazing products, please give them a try. They are awesome.

That is it for now. I'm on my way back from Redwood, California where I was able to spend the day at Evernote's office and be blown away. There will be a post on that experience in the coming days.

If you want to start your Evernote journey now, follow this link to sign up!

Monday, November 5, 2012

What's Your "Jurassic Park" Moment? #JPMoment

The other day I decided to put together a play list of some of my favorite movie themes. It turns out it was a "Best of John Williams" play list. While putting it together, I found the Jurassic Park theme song. That song took me back to 8th grade.

In 8th grade, my Dad gave me a book and told me I had to read it. At this point, I had no idea this was going to be a movie or what I was getting into when I picked up the book. It turned out to be one of the coolest stories I had ever read. (Note: I wasn't much of a reader in my younger years, so that doesn't carry the weight that it should for an English teacher.) As the summer approached, my Dad told me that had made the book into a movie. I was beside myself with excitement. My childhood dream of seeing dinosaurs was about to come true. (The only versions I had seen at this point were very cheesy claymation and cartoons (Remember the Dinosaucers?), so this was a big moment.)

My parents allowed me to spend the night at a friends house (first and only time that happened) so that we could go to the midnight showing to see the film. There is a moment in the film that will forever stay with me and I still get chills whenever I see it. When Dr. Grant sees the Brachiosaurus for the first time always blows me away. As a kid, it was a moment where I thought anything was possible. I was seeing dinosaurs. They were there and they were real. That moment was just inspiring to me the more I look at it.

I'm 33 now and have a wonderful son I hope to inspire and fill with the same sense of wonder when I show him Jurassic Park. I look at my lesson plans and think about my approach and how I seem to strive for a "Jurassic Park" moment when creating them. I want my students to have a moment in my classroom. A moment they can walk away with and remember down the road. I'm not saying every lesson has a moment for everyone, but I hope some will have that moment.

A Jurassic Park Moment - A moment when a person is filled with wonder and believes that the impossible is now possible. 

I feel a responsibility as a teacher to try and reach out to students to help them think that anything is possible and the world is still filled with wonder. Is that naive? Am I too idealistic? I hope so. If I'm not, it's probably time to get out of the Nerdy Teacher business.

Do you want to share your "Jurassic Park Moment"? Leave it in the comments.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Share With #ProjectPLN - November Issue on Best Practices

Hello everyone! Project PLN is looking for posts to share with the educational community. We count on you to tell amazing stories that we can place on Project PLN.

For the November Issue, we are looking for some examples of Best Practices regarding Classroom Management, Homework, Parent Contact or really anything that you think is a Best Practice.

These can be older posts that you would like us to submit or something brand new you want to share. You do not have to have your own blog to submit. All educators are welcome to post. We want to encourage all educators to share their thoughts on Project PLN.

Please share your Best Practice with use at Please include a photo, a short bio and any links that you would like people to visit after reading your post.

Please send all posts by Friday November 9 and we will be posting later the next week.

Feel free to share this with all of your friends and neighbors who are excited about education. We really can't wait to see what you have to share!

Nick and Kelly
Co-Editors Project PLN