Are We Authentically Narrating the Story?

A Roberts 770X reel to reel recorder like the one that was used on Christmas Day in my house

I’m writing this the day after Christmas, 2017. Yesterday I reflected on this past year as we gave thanks, ate, and laughed together while donning our familiar Christmas Day customs.

Earlier in the morning, I found an audio recording that my late father made of Christmas Day, 1980. After I pressed play,  I laughed right away when my father spoke right into the microphone and said, “Christmas 1980”, in a less than authentic sounding tone. What happened after that in our house was not quite authentic at first because we knew we were being recorded. He continued to announce what was happening, “Oh there goes the telephone!”  By the time my sister, brother-in-law, and one year old niece arrived, we had completely forgotten about the recording and started acting like our normal selves.

While I listened to the clip, I mentally made note that YES, Christmas WAS as good as I remembered. The Christmas memories made with the Roberts reel to reel tape recorder (pictured above left) are priceless to me today.

While this blog is typically about learning, I’ll try to tie that in now. I am following Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon‘s Change School movement and listen to their Modern Learner’s podcast. Their latest episode deals with the vocabulary that we are using in education and how words we use DO matter. How ARE we narrating our story? Is it authentic? Do we give lip service to progressive ideas about learning but then go back to our old ideas when no one is hearing us anymore?  Are we putting on a show for the recorder (social media)?

Are we encouraging student choice, voice and agency? Or are we “covering the curriculum” instead of encouraging conditions by which students WANT to think critically about solving problems in our world? Granted, it’s hard to work against a system stacked squarely against what educators think is best for kids but actions speak louder than words.

Change cannot happen overnight, but I’d rather everyone at the table be real about what is really happening in our schools. While we yearn for students to exhibit higher order thinking skills and agency in their own learning, we all need to stop creating a false narrative that students will “obtain 21st Century skills” while perpetuating a school system that has largely stayed the same for over 100 years.

As stated on the Change.School website, “Long-term, relevant, sustainable change requires you to thoroughly reimagine what schools are and what they must become, not just tinker on the edges.” Change is hard. It can be done but it cannot be done ALONE. We all need to collaborate and be on the same page to make it happen. Will you join me?What will you do to take the first step? I’ll be pondering this over the next few days in time to make some New Years resolutions.


Lessons Learned: Protect and Reflect

Time to Think and Reflect by Beth Kanter (CC BY 2.0)


It appears it has been a while since I last wrote in this space. Well, truth be told, I wrote a number of posts (most notably about ISTE 2016). In a mishap, I lost those posts and had to restore my *latest* WordPress backup for this block.  Sadly, it took me back to March 2016.

Lesson Learned: Protect (Your Reflections)

If you use WordPress and have never backed up your blog, PLEASE DO!  I found a WordPress plugin called BackupGuard that may help me do this better in the future.

The other comment I will make is that I have started to use this blog as a place of professional reflection. Well, it’s been a while since I have done that as well.  A lot has happened since March 2016 (went to ISTE 2016, helped my mother through a health crisis, started the school year, etc). I find that when I do have time to reflect, I am better able to make decisions and steer my interests and energies. Even though I am doing things I love, I feel like I need to take a step back and reflect on WHY I am doing it and WHERE I am going. Therefore another…

Lesson Learned: Reflect (Wash. Rinse. Repeat)

Fortunately, I learned about George Couros’ #InnovatorsMindset MOOC starting February 27, 2017. If you are interested in learning more, visit his latest blog post.  If you haven’t heard of George Couros, consider this your lucky day. I have followed him on Twitter for a number of years and continue to be amazed by him. The MOOC will address the three questions:

How do you move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”?

How do we start to innovate inside of the box?

What does innovation mean for education, and should every educator be an innovator?

I have been living on the bleeding edge of educational technology for many years. Sometimes in different types of spaces (public education, non-profits, universities, online learning world). I find the public ed space the toughest nut to crack in terms of innovation. I am very much looking forward to this MOOC!  I will probably be using this blog as my sharing space so keep visiting!

Please let me know if you join in the #InnovatorsMindset MOOC after seeing my blog as I will feel my return to it will be even doubly worthwhile!


Free Agent Learners Revisited

Back in 2009, I read an article on The Journal website called, “Students as ‘Free Agent’ Learners“. This line of thinking about how people learn stopped me in my tracks (hence the name of this blog).  If you haven’t read the article, please take the time. It’s good.

In 2009, I was a coordinator of an online language school. I worked with forward thinking school districts and parents who wanted to provide opportunities for their students/children to learn a Less Commonly Taught Language (LCTL) in a dynamic, synchronous, web-based environment.  It’s been almost 7 years since that time and the idea of learning a language this way in public schools is still revolutionary. Revolutionary ideas take a while to gestate, to proliferate out to the masses.

I still think the Free Agent Learner idea is forward thinking. Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, coined the term to describe the trend for students to use technology to take charge of their own educational destinies.

What were some of the major concepts of that article?

Digital Disconnects

From the article, “There continues to be a digital disconnect, shall we say, between the way students are learning and living outside of school and the way they’re interacting with technology inside of school”. The article goes on to describe how students have to power down when going into school. When they come out, they power back up. There is a “disconnect in the way students are viewing technology from the adults in their educational lives”. Has this changed since 2009?  I would say that this has changed in various schools across the nation. However,  I would estimate a large percentage of students would give the same answer today if asked these same questions.

Students saw significant obstacles to using technology such as blocked websites, students banned from using their own devices. Does your school still block websites that students should have access to? Does your school ban cell phones? If so, students would answer the same way as they did in 2009.

In 2009, student technology trends are gaming, downloading music, communications activities (text, IM, e-mail) and social networking.  If these tech trends are still valid in 2016, how are we leveraging them in our classroom? Are students still disconnected when they enter our school doors?

The article concludes with discussing the “free agent learner” concept.

“This free agent learner is one that is technology-enabled, technology-empowered, and technology-engaged to be…an important part of driving their own educational destiny. To some extent they feel…it’s a responsibility. They also feel it’s a right to be able to do that. So technology has enabled this free agent learner. We the opportunity in education to make sure they’re on the right track and to be supportive of their learning experiences.”


Becoming Connected Is Personal and a Challenge. Please Make It FUN!

Wow. We just finished our first Twitter Challenge (#BASDChallenge) in my district and all I have to say is: gamification in professional learning can motivate teachers!

Connecting Is Personal

Becoming a Connected Educator is a highly personal journey. Over the past year,  I have been trying to gather interest in creating PLNs and PLCs in the high schools that I support. I have had a few die hard teachers attend my trainings and participate in Connected Educator Month.  Connecting teachers together can transform your school. But until they experience it for themselves, it is a really abstract concept and frightening.  When I tried to help teacher “set goals” about how PLNs to could help them grow professionally I got mixed stares. It was as if they were thinking, “Ok, this WAS fun! Please don’t ruin it with goals!” I’ve heard PLN spelled out as Personal Learning Network or Professional Learning Network. After working with teachers, I am going to stick with Personal Learning Network.

Teachers Have to Be Learners First

Like Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has often said, teachers have to be learners first in order to recharge and evolve as educators. I have found there is an a-ha moment with Twitter once the person understands the parameters of the tool and THEN connects with other educators.  But until then, baby steps. We need to walk (tweet) before we can run (a Twitter chat).

Make It Fun

My training is normally well received by teachers at my district.  I make all of my trainings to be available online (synchronously or asynchronously) or in person.  I’d say most of the teachers opt for the online training as their lives are so full and busy. The last training was completely online as teachers took part in a 15 Day Twitter Challenge. It was a hit! While we had roughly 40 teachers participate across the district, I would receive inquiries on joining it due to an excited colleague that was participating. Before we started, I informed teachers they would be recognized and have a chance at a prize if they participated in each of the tasks. Some teachers asked if they were still receiving recognition because they couldn’t complete one of the tasks on time. And some teachers even taunted each other on Twitter because THEY wanted to win the prize at the end. I wondered if the gamification would turn teachers off. Well, it looks like the pilot was a success so I am investigating how to gamify my other trainings for next school year.

But I didn’t invent the Twitter Challenge – read about how do your own here!



True Confessions of a Connected (Math) Teacher

I had the opportunity to connect with another Connected Educator, Mark James (@mdjames67), at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference in  2015. He gave a session on using Google Apps with Math. What struck me the most about Mark was not the math instruction techniques or cool tools. I was impressed and extremely interested in the other math teachers he mentioned during the presentation.  One that figured prominently was Dan Meir. Look him up if you don’t follow him. He was a Math teacher, now the Chief Academic Officer of Desmos.

Educators are trying their best to do one main thing: Help Kids Learn™. We each take a different role whether it be that of a classroom teacher, an administrator that keeps the school running smoothly or an educational coach that helps teachers get better at this one thing. We are part of a team.

Connecting to other educators that are doing things differently or better is one of the most important thing a teacher can do. While their classroom is their domain, it is a challenge to maintain the stamina of Help(ing) Kids Learn™ in a vacuum.

Yesterday, Mark came to one of my high schools to talk about how he has made connections through Twitter to inspire and help him through the challenges many teachers face on the front lines in the classroom environment.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 7.51.59 PM

Using Angela Watson’s blog post to guide the presentation (and a really cool demo of Pear Deck!), he walked us through the top 4 reasons why educators do not connect (but how they can overcome them).

  1. I don’t want to spend my free time thinking about school. (But do you have time to think about what made you excited about teaching in the first place?)
  2. I don’t think it’s necessary/I didn’t know I needed a PLN/PLC. (The way to breathe new life into your teaching is to tap into your inner motivation and connect with the things, people, and ideas that matter to you). Yeah, I quoted that from Angela Watson but it was so good that I had to include it.
  3. I don’t have time. (How much time do we spend on things that are time wasters? Why not make your job easier by connecting for a few minutes instead?)
  4. I don’t know how. (No worries, the Twitter Educator community has your back.  If not, Jerry Blumengarten, self-appointed Cybrarian).

Interested in Mark’s talk? 

We have a recording of the first session here. Please check it out but please pardon our sweatshirts and sweatpants as we had PD from home on a snow day!

Interested in getting Connected or learning more about it?

Well, we can help you with this!

  • On March 1 (Liberty High School) and 2 (Freedom High School) I will be hosting Growing Professionally with Twitter workshops. These can be completed online as well.
  • On March 7, we will begin a 15 Day Twitter Challenge (including our own #BASDChallenge Twitter Chat)!
  • On March 8, we will have our first Connected Educator Book Club Meeting. Our first book will be Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age. We’ll set the parameters for the club and the first 8 lucky people will get a book on loan to use during the book club.
For Bethlehem Area School District teachers, please sign up on CPE Tracker for these sessions. If you are from outside the district but are interested, please contact me if any of these topics interest you!

Are You a Robo-Tweeter?

noun_62030_ccAfter some recent sleepless nights, I discovered something. When I hopped on Twitter in the wee hours of the morning to feed my sleep-deprived mind, many people in my PLN (Personal Learning Network) are posting in the middle of the night!  Actually, they are posting A LOT in the middle of the night. Yes, these people live in the USA and are within relative time-zones to me.

Well, actually what’s more likely is that they are using a tool like Hootsuite to robo-tweet.

Robo-tweet, you ask?

Urban Dictionary defines robo-tweet as: “Automatic direct messages (DM’s) used by Twitter users. Often used to send a DM to new followers, or as auto-replies on vacation.” I’m going to broaden the definition here for this blog post. Some Twitter users use programs like Hootsuite to automate their posts to go live at various times. I won’t go so far as to compare robo-tweets to robo-calls, but I think they share some characteristics.

Don’t get me wrong. I like being able to find content 24/7, especially as I lay awake on sleepless nights. But there is something to be said for LIVE TWEETING vs robo-tweeting.  To be honest, I feel like some people’s feeds are mostly content sharing mills.

Part of what makes a PLN valuable is the fact that many people I follow are supposedly curating good content and sharing it with the world. And many do!  I learn every time I go on Twitter. But if we are to become curating factories, scheduling tweets to go out all through the wee hours, will ALL of the posts we share this way worthwhile? And vetted?

In addition, PLN’s should involve in conversations. Are these conversations happening sometime between those robo-tweets? Or are these certain people talking but not really listening? In some cases, I feel like I no longer follow people, but rather, their robot that tweets for them. Ok, I will admit I am making many generalizations, but I think you get my point.

In closing, I’ll cite a blog post by Dr. Joe Mazza about PLN culture a few months back that really got me thinking. His concluding thoughts are

How would others (new, experienced, early adopters) describe the present “culture of our PLN? What are YOU doing to innovate in order to take it to the next level of support, collaboration, personal and professional learning?

I issue this challenge to anyone reading this article. Are you taking your collaboration and learning to the next level? I will be the first to admit that I still require a lot of work in that area. Take a moment to answer and then comment on my post or tweet your answer to me at @ezundel. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

#ISTE2015 Follow-Up: Where the Old is New

Having some chance to digest #ISTE2015 a little bit (and time to enjoy a bit more of the summer!), I thought I’d follow up with my impressions of the conference.

When I returned to my district, two people asked me what I thought of ISTE this year. (And yes, I am a little annoyed that the link now takes you to the ISTE2016 landing page already!)

The first thought that comes to mind when I think of #ISTE2015 is: Where the Old is New (or Finally Relevant)!  I have been to many ISTE conferences (and NECC conferences back in the day should you care to research) and I have found them to traditionally to have rare moments of greatness. But in the end, the emphasis was mostly on computers, not the learning. I would try to find sessions given by Alan November, David Thornburg, David Warlick, Jamie McKenzie and Bernie Dodge. The ideas they put forth are still VERY relevant.  And FINALLY taking hold.

While many sessions were very good this time around, this session was EXTREMELY interesting (and provocative):

I read a lot of Will Richardson‘s stuff these days. His standpoint (from a parent and taxpayer point of view) is that he would be willing to spend money on computers in the classroom if the students could have agency over the learning . BOOM!  The premise of the panel was to debate whether after all of this time, has the introduction to computers to the classroom been worth it?  What has changed since computers were introduced?

I have to admit that not much has changed in educational technology over the years. Sure, the devices have come a long way, but the ideas “worth spreading” are still basically the same and they are FINALLY making it to the masses.  I found myself turning to my colleagues more times than I care to admit and saying, “This isn’t new. We knew this a long time ago.” I must have heard, “it’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning” about 50 times during my four day stay at the PA Convention Center. But I’m convinced, while walking through the minefield they called the exhibitor’s room at the conference, that we are not all there yet.

During the panel I mentioned above, Will Richardson posited, “How would this convention change if the name was changed to, ‘ISLE: International Society for Learning Educators'”? Would we finally all focus on the learning? Would educators as a whole get the idea that it is JUST as important that keep learning?

The “Maker Movement” was in every nook and cranny of #ISTE2015. This is the notion where digital technology meets the classic do-it-yourself world of crafting and small scale construction.  3-D Printers reign supreme and provide the new angle to the familiar world of crafting things. One could argue that 3D printers will be in the homes of tomorrow. And since collaboration has been streamlined with the new technology, one does not have to work all by themselves anymore.

But again, much of this originated from earlier technology and work that has come before.   I immediately thought of Seymour Papert’s collaboration with Lego on Mindstorms. Children learned programming by building their own robots!

All in all, I felt #ISTE2015 was worth my time.I reconnected with several old friends and renewed friendships. I was inspired by the Jack Gallagher’s Keynote about his journey of letting go and letting his child (who has Autism Spectrum Disorder)  take charge of his own learning.

But as much as I enjoyed my time there, I can’t get a quote from Seymour Papert out of my head:

At some point it will be as ridiculous to have a world conference in computers and education as to have a world conference on pencils and education.

Papert. S. (1990, July). Perestroika and Epistemological Politics. Speech presented at the World Conference on Computers in Education. Sydney, Australia.

My #ISTE2015 Learning Plan

PA_Convention_Center_1993_Highsmith via Wikimedia Commons

I’m getting ready to head out to one of my favorite conferences, ISTE. I have to admit, having it so close to home in Philadelphia makes me less stressed about getting around and more able to focus on WHAT and WHO I am going to see!

What helped me get ready quickly was the ISTE Mobile app.  Having the schedule, presenters, sessions and event information in one place made planning my learning so easy!  This use of mobile technology is a great model for schools. Imagine students being able to access content about their school via an app on their smartphone….

Here are some of the sessions I plan on attending. Note, I reserve the right to change my mind at any time! Once I start talking to my colleagues or others in my PLN, I am bound to readjust.  Over many years of attending conferences that afford so much choice at the same time (i.e. “There are so many awesome things to attend, I cannot decide!”), I’ve learned the technique of Divide and Conquer.  To maximize your learning at these events, get together with your colleagues and make a plan to each attend different interesting sessions. Then report what you have learned back to everyone after the event is over!  The sharing feature of Google Docs makes it extremely easy these days!  Anyway, here is my initial list:


I hope to learn some great tips that I will share here later on this blog. Follow me at @ezundel throughout the conference tonight, June 28, through July 1 for my aha moments.

All (well, some of what) I needed to know about Professional Learning I learned from my Mom

110810-N-UB993-034My mother fell last week in her apartment by her most beloved piece of furniture, the couch.  When I went in to check in on her, she was still on the ground, lying on her side. She was awake, blinking, and a little out of sorts but thankfully, not hurt.

When I asked her why she was laying on the ground, she couldn’t really answer me.

The backstory is that she has been living on her own for about ten years since my father passed away. She occupies herself with taking care of her cat, Spunky, and watching old television shows.

So when I saw her laying there, many thoughts went through my head. What if she broke her leg? She can’t possibly live by herself anymore! Do I call an ambulance now? What I didn’t mention was that everyone was in a frenzy about the weather. The dire weather predictions told us that we were going to get a foot of snow with high winds – blizzard conditions. Thankfully, the storm changed at the last minute that night and we received about 3 inches of snow.  But I didn’t know that as my mother deposited herself back onto the couch and told me that she was FINE and that I didn’t need to do anything more for her.

Well, I didn’t take her word for it and I dialed 911. She was taken to the nearby hospital and evaluated. Good news was that she didn’t break anything or have a head injury. But the prognosis was that she needed physical therapy to regain some of her strength from not walking enough in her apartment.

So what does that have to do with Professional Learning?

When you don’t stretch yourself, you can become rusty and atrophied

Sometimes when I speak to staff about learning new technology or skills, I often hear, “I don’t have the time”. While every person’s situation is different, I often wonder,”How can you NOT have the time to nurture yourself and grow?”  After all, I work with educators who encourage students to learn daily!

About a week later, she was admitted to a nursing home to get physical therapy. I had the opportunity to attend one of her first PT sessions with her.

Start small, think big

My mother has definite goals for her physical therapy. She eventually wants to walk with minimal supports (i.e. no wheelchair!) up a flight of stairs!  Without those goals, it would be tough to plan her physical therapy exercises. As educators, we need to set goals for ourselves for our learning.

And just like the physical therapist doesn’t have the patient going up stairs on the first day, we can start small with our learning. There’s no shame in it!

Taking that first step is the hardest

My mother had some trepidation about the exercises in her first session. But she took the chances and tried them!  They become a little easier as she went.

Taking that first step in investing in your professional learning may be a little scary at first. But it is so worth it!

Lean on your coach if you need some support

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful physical therapists at the nursing home. They are trained professionals that know how to diagnose the patients adeptly and accurately. They understand the necessary exercises needed to build up the patient so they may advance to the next level. And they are there to catch my mother if she falls.

If you have a technology or curriculum coach to help you, please make use of them! They are there to help you through the transformation in your classroom. And they are there to catch you if you fall.  If you don’t have a coach available, contact your principal or supervisor to find out who can help you.

Your PLN (Personal Learning Network) is also a source of support. Check out how to start your own PLN here. I encourage every professional on the planet to create their own PLN!

Also, I want to put a plug in for a book about professional learning that a colleague of mine put out just last month!

Leading Professional Learning: Tools to Connect and Empower Teachers by @Thomascmurray and @Jeff_Zoul.

I highly recommend it for anyone interested in making professional learning more meaningful in your school or district.