Fighting through the winter doldrums

Friday 4 – February 15

If you are like me, the winter term months are some of the most challenging as a classroom teacher. The excitement of a new academic year is a distant memory, the hours of daylight are disturbingly low in number and the interruptions (snow days and breaks) to any kind of “flow” in the classroom are too frequent and many to count. During the winter doldrums, I like to read articles/blogs/pieces that are more reflective and inspirational in nature in the hope that they will get me through the cold, dark, lifeless winter and excited for the upcoming warmth and optimism that spring tends to bring. With that sentiment in mind, I offer up a few items that I ran across this past week that got my juices flowing in anticipation of the start of spring and the baseball season.

As always, I hope you enjoy this week’s tidbits. Hang in there, spring is coming!

First Friday Four of 2013

 Happy 2013!

I suspended posting my Friday 4 missive over the winter vacation but am ready to make up for lost time! I did a ton of reading over the break and came across a plethora of interesting sites/pieces that you may or may not have seen on your own. I will resist bombarding you with a huge list all at once and will keep a bunch in the hopper for future Friday 4 editions.

So, here are a few finds to start the new year off with…enjoy!

  • Got sleep? Here is a recent piece from one of my favorite cognitive scientist writer/bloggers, Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham), titled “Are Sleepy Students Learning?” This piece appeared in this winter’s edition of the American Educator magazine and is a good overview of the research on sleep and student performance.
  • I do not quite remember how I stumbled across this next piece, but it is an interesting read for any classroom teacher. The post is about a legendary horse, Clever Hans, who could perform all sorts of mathematical operations…or so it appeared! The take home lesson in the piece is “never underestimate your ability to fool yourself into believing your students understand something when really what they are doing is watching you.”
  • The single best “find” from this past vacation has to be The Learning Pond blog by Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman). I spent several days reading his posts from this fall when he visited over 60 schools looking for ways in which educators were implementing changes to prepare their students for the 21st Century challenges. You can retrace Grant’s journey if you start with this post from right before he departed on his trek across the USA.
  • “The Need for Innovative Leadership” is the title of a thought provoking post from George Couros (@gcouros) that touches on so many of the same topics that Grant discovers on his journey.

As always, please feel free to contact me or leave comments.

Online Learning: What is our role?

Friday 4 – December 7, 2012

We are currently deep in the throes of exploring/discussing/debating the merits of online learning and how it could possibly enhance the experience for our students at Loomis Chaffee. There can be no doubt that the landscape in education is changing; and as a result, we may have to change how we do things in order to remain relevant and be able to compete in an increasingly competitive market. In this edition of the Friday 4, I will share a few of the interesting items I have come across this week that are related to the online education world.

  • The first item is a news piece from the Inside Higher Ed site reporting that Wellesley College is now partnering with edX, the MIT/Harvard entity, to put some of their coursework online as a MOOC. Wellesley joins Wesleyan as the second small liberal arts college to join the growing online education world. Thanks to my Head of School (@SCulbertLC) for passing along the article.
  • An older article “The Myths of Online Learning” from Forbes magazine came across my Twitter stream this past week. That is one of the nice things about Twitter, if you miss something the first time, don’t worry, it will come around again if it is at all valuable.
  • A second item for the week is another article that appeared on the Inside Higher Ed site “Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012.” The article gives an overview of a recent study that focuses on attitudes and practices related to all aspects of online education – including views on the quality of learning outcomes, issues of institutional support, and institutional rewards. You can read the entire report here.
  • A great resource for those looking to read up on the topic of online learning is the Sloan Consortium website. According to their website” “The Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) helps learning organizations continually improve quality, scale, and breadth of their online programs according to their own distinctive missions, so that education will become a part of everyday life, accessible and affordable for anyone, anywhere, at any time, in a wide variety of disciplines.” A great place to start on their site is the eLearn Magazine.

Regardless of your feelings about online learning, I encourage you to check out a few of this week’s links and take some time to think about how online learning might be able to enhance the experience for the students at your school. My initial reaction was probably not very different from many – “No way, not at my school. What we do is special and can not be replicated online.” After a great deal of reading on the topic and MANY discussions with colleagues in person and online, I have come to a very different place in my thinking. I will save my personal thoughts on the subject for a future post.

I welcome thoughts, comments or reactions. Enjoy!


Friday 4 – Nuts, bolts and more for your classroom


Friday 4 – November 9

A recent request that came my way was a desire to see a Friday 4 focused on more practical items that could be immediately employed by teachers or their students in the classroom. I do not think that I have focused an entire Friday 4 on “in the trenches” items before so…here you go!

  • The single best source for me for practical technology-based tools/ideas/resources has to be the blog Freetech4teachers written by Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne). I have included items from Richard before in the Friday 4 and would encourage any and all teachers to add his blog to their google reader. He averages over 100 posts a month covering anything and everything tech related….all for FREE!
  • One of the coolest site I have come across recently (thanks to Richard Byrne!) is the Google Cultural Institute. “The Google Cultural Institute helps preserve and promote culture online. With a team of dedicated engineers, Google is building tools that make it simple to tell the stories of our diverse cultural heritage and make them accessible worldwide.” The site includes video, images and audio files about just about any cultural event since 1850 that you can imagine, from the 1913 Land Act to D-Day to the 1972 GOP convention in Chicago to the Human Genome Project. Whether you are a classroom teachers looking for a way to spark interest in a topic or just want to learn something new, this site is worth checking out.
  • Another fabulous resource for tools and lesson plans is the edtechteacher website. They have a great page at the site dedicated to Technology Tools For Teaching & Learning that will point you to resources to do all sorts of things with your students. A couple of examples from the site include:
  • If you are a frequent reader of the Friday 4, you know that I am a big fan and user of many Google products including Google reader, Drive and G+. What you may not know is that Google has a massive library of free lesson plans for teachers. There was a recent article on the Edudemic website that describes and links to the Google in education site. The site is searchable by discipline, product type and age range.

I hope that this week’s items lead to a new idea, tool or project for your classroom. There is a wealth of information out there to be certain. If you run across a particularly good item, please share your findings in the comments section or send me an e-mail. I want to hear from you!

Friday 4 – Technology: Friend or Foe?

Friday Four – November 2

The theme for this week’s missive comes out of my involvement with a group of colleagues looking at the issue of online learning, my passion for technology and a blog post that came across my Google reader yesterday. The path to this post was certainly not a linear one so you will have to bear with me a little at the outset.

I first read a blog post from Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham) that led me to an article that appeared in the NYT yesterday which then led me back to explore several of the links included in Willingham’s post. The timing was perfect since I had already been thinking about a few items that I wanted to include in a technology related Friday 4. Rather than have you retrace my circuitous path, I will try and consolidate my journey into a cogent set of interesting finds/reads. Additionally, I have included two specific technology related items which, when used appropriately and effectively, can be powerful teaching tools.

  • NYT article from 11/1 “Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say.” This article reports on two recent surveys (NOT the same as a scientific study) that explored the “belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks.”
  • Daniel Willingham posted a nice piece on his blog the same day as the NYT article that was titled “Is Technology Changing how Students Learn?” I really like Willingham’s writing, appreciate his reliance on “good” research and know from interacting with him over Twitter that he is genuinely concerned with getting the research-based information about brain research and learning into the hands of educators.
  • One of the links in Willingham’s post is to an extended piece he wrote for The American Educator, a journal of the American Federation of Teachers in the summer of 2010 on the same topic.
  • If you have some serious time and want to explore the thoughts of an array of world-class scientists, artists, and creative thinkers on the topic of “HOW IS THE INTERNET CHANGING THE WAY YOU THINK?” I would encourage you to check out this link from the The edge’s tagline is “To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”

The final two links for this week’s Friday 4 (I mean 6!) are two technology related resources for teachers.

  • Here is an awesome 40 page guide Google Docs for Teachers written by Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) who runs the website Google Docs (and Google Drive) has to be the single best technology related teaching tool I have incorporated in the classroom in the past several years. A game changer!
  • Prezi is “a communication tool that helps you organize, present, and share your ideas” that I have found to be invaluable whenever I need to create a presentation for a class or a PD session. They recently went through a major upgrade and have made the user interface easier to navigate and use. If you have never seen or created a Prezi, I encourage you to check out some of their publicly available presentations and give it a try. (P.S. It’s free!)

As always, I welcome your comments, suggestions and ideas. Enjoy!

The Power of Peers

In the past week I have been fortunate enough to have three different peers from other schools visit me and my classroom reminding me of the power and value of making connections and fostering collaboration. Last Thursday, Sharon Geyer (@sharongeyer68), from the Pomfret School visited during the Flipped Classroom Open House day to sit in on the microbiology course I teach with a colleague using the flipped model. Today, Mark de Kanter from Westminster School and John Adams (@jwadams25) from the Dublin School visited to see the flipped classroom in action and talk about ways that we are incorporating technology into the curriculum.

The conversations about teaching and the sharing that occurred during each of their visits were, without a doubt, the high points for the days. While I certainly enjoy and value the collaboration and discussions I have on a daily basis with my colleagues at Loomis Chaffee, it is always eye-opening to exchange ideas with colleagues from other schools and different educational settings. I have always benefitted and learned something new when I reach out to fellow teachers and engage in thoughtful conversations about pedagogy and the craft of teaching. Teaching can be an isolating profession if you allow yourself to remain in your “comfort zone” and do not actively seek out new ideas.

As much of a pain in the neck as it can be to take time off and visit a colleague in a different school, I firmly believe that it can be one of the most valuable professional development exercises. Watching a peer in action, asking them about how they structure and run their classrooms and sharing ideas leads to a level of self-reflection that is critical if we are to improve as educators. We frequently ask our students to try new things, take risks and reflect on their own learning. If we are expecting these things from our students, we ought to model the behavior ourselves.

So, if it has been a while since you either invited a colleague into your classroom or visited a colleague in his/her classroom, I encourage you to venture out of your “comfort zone” and engage in some low risk professional development. I promise you that it will be worth your time.

As always, I welcome your comments or feedback.

Friday 4 – Summer Homework


 Friday Four 5/25/2012

We are rapidly approaching the end of the current school year which means that summer vacation is right around the corner. For me, summer is when I have time to work on new ideas for my classes. I do not have papers to correct, meetings to attend or any of the other distractions that make focusing on bigger projects virtually impossible during the school year. I am confident that many of you also use at least part of the summer break to ponder, explore and develop new ideas for your own classrooms. With that spirit in mind, this week’s Friday 4 includes several items that I hope will inspire you to expand your repertoire as a teacher. Once the craziness of the spring subsides and you are in summer “big picture” mode, revisit one of the links from this post and develop a new lesson or update a current one to include a new idea or twist.

Enjoy the remaining days/weeks of your school year and don’t forget to do your homework over the summer. Your students are counting on you!


Friday Four 5/18

Cool Tools for Teachers

As I scanned the list of interesting items that I have run across this week in preparation for this week’s missive, I quickly noticed that quite a few of them included some neat “tools” that people might not know about. Hopefully, you will take the time to try one or all of these and find something that you can use.

The first few items are from one of my favorite bloggers, Richard Byrne, who writes the Free Technology for Teachers blog. I subscribe to his blog in my Google Reader and follow him on Twitter (@rmbyrne) so I run across his gems frequently. If you are not a reader of his blog, I strongly encourage you to check it out.

  • Seven great note-taking tools for teachers is a recent post of Richard’s that describes his favorites.
  • Did you know that you can do a Google search from right within your Google Docs? You can even include a citation or image with the click of your mouse. For students working on papers, this is a fantastic tool that I plan on showing my students right away.
  • Have you ever wanted to have a video conference with a group of students or wanted to invite a guest into your classroom? Sure you could use Skype of create a Google+ hangout, but both require all users to have a Skype account or a Google account. With, you can create a “meeting room” and simple share the URL with up to 5 people who can join your video conference without having to have an account.
  • I ran across a new app for the iPad called Nearpod that might be of interest to those of you who want to incorporate interactive multimedia into your lessons. I have downloaded the app (free) and will be field testing it soon. I will post my thoughts on its use as soon as I get a chance to kick the tires a bit. If I am lucky, I will get my capital request for a set of classroom iPads approved so that some of the Loomis Chaffee teachers can try it out next fall.
I have a few additional blog posts that I found interesting that I will include this week even though it will put me in violation of my self-imposed rule of only sharing four items in any one Friday 4 post.
  • One of the people in my PLN that I enjoy engaging with on Twitter is Brian Bennett (@bennettscience). He is a science teacher who uses a flipped-classroom model and is a leader among the online community of teachers using a flipped classroom. He recently wrote about Redesigning Learning in a Flipped Classroom. His thoughts and the comments on his blog post are a great read for those of you interested in the concept.
  • Here is a link to an article that I liked about the Joy of Not Knowing. What better way to model life long learning than to admit you do not know something and then engage in the process of discovery of new knowledge.

Friday Four 2/17/2012


Friday Four 2/17

I have a rather eclectic assembly of items this week. I looked for  a theme but could not really find one other than “some neat things I ran across in the past week that you might find you can use as a teacher or in your classroom.” Hardly the succinct and pithy title I try and come up with….oh well! Instead of a pithy title, I have 5 items of interest for you this week.

  • Do you have an iPad? Are you a user of any Google apps? This website will give you an overview of the suite of apps that are freely available from Google that can help you maximize your iPad as an educational tool. Here is a related post on the Ed Social Media site that discusses The Advantage of Google Docs in Education.
  • Are you a History teacher looking for short but sweet videos to show or have your students watch about US History or World History? Check out this YouTube Channel from a History teacher, Mr. Hughes, who has created a library of United States History and World History lectures. These lectures are designed for broad based conceptual review for studying for final exams such as the New York State Regents Examination in US History and Government.
  • A nice little RSA Animate video on the cognitive psychology of the divided brain. Good reminders and information for teachers.
  • Studies: Educators Lagging in Teaching Higher-Order Skills from the Education Week website. I would encourage you to download and read the report “Measures of Effective Teaching study” that is referenced in this article from the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation.
  • NPR ran a great series of pieces this past week about STEM education and the workforce that you can enjoy even if you missed them on the radio.

Friday Four – 2/10/2012

Let’s Go Mobile!

This week’s Friday Four is going to focus on the use of mobile devices as teaching tools. Most of our students these days are carrying in their pocket or backpack a computer that is far faster and more powerful than most of us (their teachers) ever got a chance to even use in high school, namely namely their smart phones. Are we taking advantage of this incredible access to technology and access to the world beyond the rooms of our classrooms or are we fighting it tooth and nail? While I have read a great deal on the subject and had my students use their mobile devices some in class, I am certainly not on the cutting edge. In my current job, however, I am in a position to try and make a difference. With that said, I would invite any and all of you to participate in the first Mobiles 4 Learning Conference that we will be co-hosting on Monday, April 23 at The Loomis Chaffee School with Richard Scullin the founder of The goal of the conference is to bring together innovative and creative teachers and leaders who are interested in how we can use mobile devices as powerful teaching tools. There is more information about the conference on the website (link above) and forms to register, or better yet, to submit a presentation proposal. Here are some resources I have recently stumbled upon related to the concept of using mobile devices in the classroom.

  • Post from Richard Byrne, the writer of Free Technology for Teachers blog about his recent experience with cell phones in the classroom. Bunch of links off of this post that are worth exploring on the topic.
  • Tom Barrett is an ed tech blogger who has a section of his blog called “interesting ways” where people can share (crowd sourcing) their ideas about any number of topics. He has several links to interesting ways to use mobile devices in the classroom.
  • One of my favorite places to go when I need a starting point/launching pad for educational resources has to be Jerry Blumengarten’s website He has an entire section devoted to the use of cell phones in the classroom that can be found here.
  • Scott Newcomb writes a blog called “The Mobile Native” that focuses on Learning & Teaching with Mobile Learning Devices. Another great place to poke around if you are interested in trying to incorporate mobile technology in your curriculum.