New Workshop Descriptions: Thoughts?

This past year has been a blur, with 20 Google in Education Summits and dozens of other events. I’ve really honed (and continue to improve) my favorite three sessions:

I still love these sessions (and the seemingly timeless Blog if You Love Learning) and I feel like they are eye-opening to most of the educators I reach. But, it feels like it’s time to put something new into rotation… and I have a few opportunities this summer. Here are three new sessions… I know they’re not on the currently beaten path of Common Core  (or other hot topics), but these are what I have to offer right now – and I hope I might be able to reach educators who could benefit from what I have to share. Meanwhile, I’d love any initial feedback any of you can offer. :)

What’s New from Google in Education

You’ve seen sessions on Google Search, Google Docs, and other free tools for years. Now come learn the latest features (and inspiring ideas) that will benefit you and your students. Google releases “early and often” (with over 120 updates to Google Apps last year), so this session is always new! Discover citations in Google Scholar, news archives in Google News, research tools in Google Docs, multi-media editing “in the cloud” with Google Drive, awesome new mobile apps, and… “even more” – including items newer than this description! This fun high-paced session is delivered in a “play along” format with something for everyone.

Make More of Your Time: Productivity Tools for Educators and Students

Learn simple tips, tricks, and apps for automating tasks. Text Expanders save hours of typing. Clipboard buffers save hours of cutting-and-pasting. Paperless faxes, forms, and signatures save hours printing and scanning (and save trees). Automated rules, filters, canned responses, and prioritizing tools save DAYS dealing with email… and visual voice mail! Collaborative documents, calendars, and to-do lists make teamwork easier… especially with free video conferencing and desktop sharing! These tips and more can benefit any busy educator or student, whatever your roles and responsibilities. Mastering these tools is part of being literate and successful in the today’s high-paced world… and most importantly, they can give you back time for the slower things in life.

Now It’s For You: Open Source in Education

Open Source Software is secure, feature rich, and FREE… perfect for educators and students. Open Source Solutions used to be best for techies and geeks, but recently they have entered the mainstream and *surpassed* expensive proprietary efforts like Windows, Mac OS X, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, Photoshop, iLife, and more. Android Phones and Chromebooks are both Linux at the core. Ubuntu is a beautiful and easy to use operating system. Firefox is a fast, flexible, and secure web-browser (and proudly non-profit). Shotwell and OpenShot replace iPhoto and iMovie. GIMP replaces photoshop… and there are more free tools available to customize (and secure) your computing experience than ever before. Plus, with favorite apps like Google Chrome now available on Linux, it can be the best window into everything “the cloud” has to offer education today, with online and local copies of all your writing, media, and collaborations. (NOTE: This more or less chronicles my past year using an Ultralap 430 running Ubuntu as my main laptop, in conjunction with various Chromebooks and Nexus Android devices… I’m happier with my the tools I’m using, and I saved a ton of money.)

Thanks for taking a look at these, and thanks in advance for any comments or feedback you might be able to leave. :)

Early and often, right? ;)

PS. If you miss me blogging here, you can find me microblogging and social networking at Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

A Focus on Individual Learning and Individual Technology

Here is another exerpt from an email… I felt myself going into “manifsto” mode and thought it might be worth posting here. With full knowledge that this might be considered a controversial (or arrogant) stance, I offer this for your comments. (As I get back into blogging, I need to get back into pushing my comfort limits – and into not caring so much if something I post might rub a potential client the wrong way.) In any case, this captures some of my philosophy regarding where I should focus my time, and where I hope the people I work with will focus their time.

1. Our team is explicitly constructivist (and explicitly focused on social change efforts), so I hope you’ll encourage creating environments in which students construct knowledge by making, doing, creating, sharing, and working together on authentic work that matters to somebody outside the classroom. Don’t be afraid to downplay the importance of standardized tests in the lives of the students… and as a legitimate measure of a school system. To be blunt, I’m (at best) ambivalent about the Common Core Standards. Creating standards for a state of 30 million people was a bad idea – creating standards for a nation of 300 is doubly so (if not 10 times as bad). We encourage focusing on systems that allow individualized learning experiences for students – experiences that tap into students’ passions and are driven by their own inquiry. The Common Core can be an excuse for introducing some of these ideas into a school system if it’s a buzz word with some force behind it (since the common core and constructivist techniques are certainly not incompatible), but in the wrong hands the Common Core can also be an excuse to focus on tests and standardized “scope and sequence” or “pacing guide” style systems. If they want Common Core, give them Common Core with a Constructivist spin. If they don’t focus on Common Core, let it be.

2. Our team believes the most important change we can focus on (with respect to educational technology) is to get an internet connected device into the hands of each student… whether it’s a school provided 1:1 program or a BYOD arrangement, I would work to move them as quickly as possible to having every student carry a personal device to school – and home. This could be an iPod Touch, an iPad, a Nexus 7 (or 10), a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, an Ultrabook running Linux (like I use now), a Windows Netbook, or whatever. That being said, we’re sort of partial to Google’s solutions (and open source solutions) for their price, features, scale-ability  and ease of management – and their tight integration with Google’s cloud services, which are important (whether Google’s or otherwise) for ensuring the device doesn’t matter. Naturally, we’re also partial to Google Apps for Education. In fact, if there were one thing I could teach all teachers today, it would be Google Docs – I think it has the most potential to change (and improve) the way teachers work with each other and their students – and of course, the way students work with each other and the world.

3. …Actually, that’s about it. Focus on meaningful pedagogy, and the devices to amplify the individualized constructivist approach. The rest is just details..

 I look forward to the pushback in the comments below… and perhaps some “amens” to boot. 

BTW, I can feel how rusty I am not only at writing, but at sharing. Onward… :)

What Makes A Good One-Hour Conference Session?

One of my original blogging philosophies (back in 2004 or 2005) was this: if I wrote something for work or school, I would post it to my blog (if it were relevant and worth posting). In my flirting with NaNoWriMo and DigiWriMo this month, I’ve realized that much of my best writing (and most of my writing of any kind) is happening in email. I sometimes write emails that border on minor manifestos, and I’ve kept an eye out for when I sense that happening, and then cut and paste the relevant portions into a document for potential blog posts. Here’s part of a message I wrote to one of the local hosts of an upcoming Google Apps for Education Summit. It captures some of my philosophy on what we’re looking for in a one-hour professional development session at the summits.

In general, we’d like to connect directly with the presenters as much as possible. A key element to the success of these events has been our vetting and managing of the entire program – it is not a conference with random sessions submissions. That being said, we would love your feedback following any local auditions you arrange. Your opinion would be very important to our decisions and direction – we do rely heavily on our hosts for helping to vet the “local talent.”

Also in general, our main criteria is that people leave a session informed and inspired. We focus most on raising awareness, but also want them to leave empowered to take next steps – and we know that a successful hands on experience can be key in making that happen. So we do encourage hands-on sessions, but that can be a “play along” format as easily as a “complete this activity” format. We typically don’t do “how to” sessions, though. Any attempt to do an activity in an hour should be bite sized, and easily differentiated for different skill levels. An ideal session might have a 10 minute interactive overview, choices for a 30 minute hands-on activity, and another 10 minute interactive “wow, look what you can do” demonstration. We also encourage welcome and reflection activities as the bookends to each session. But often a series of “wow look what you can do” moments each followed by “now you try” can be very successful in the hands of the right presenter, especially if supported by moving anecdotes, examples, and inspiring ideas. So we don’t put many requirements on our presenters. Instead, we ask them to share what they are most passionate about sharing – and only invite people we are confident will know how to deliver this magic. :)

There are certainly many other answers to the question of “what makes a good one-hour conference session” but this excerpt addresses one of the answers that has worked for us… and worked for me, both as a participant and an organizer. Naturally, I’d love to hear comments on these thoughts – and on what you think makes a good one-hour conference session – here on the blog. Please participate below. :)

Apply To The Google Teacher Academy UK

Thinking of applying to the Google Teacher Academy? Join or watch a live Hangout on Google+ with past participants… at 12:30 PM Pacific time today. Catch it on your lunch break… or catch the recording after the event.

Google in Education's profile photoGoogle in Education originally shared this post:
Thinking of applying to the Google Teacher Academy?Join or watch a live Hangout on Google+ with past participants this Wednesday 8 February at 20:30 UK time (3:30pm EST). Instructions for joining here (and it will also be recorded). Add +Tia Lendo to your Circles.The GTA is a FREE professional development experience designed to help primary and secondary educators from around the globe get the most from innovative technologies. It will be held in London on April 4, 2012 (with an optional unconference on April 5, 2012). The application deadline is 16 February. +Wendy Gorton +Ian Addison +Danny Silva +Dana Nguyen +Mark Wagner +Becky Evans+Molly Schroeder +Ross Mahon +grainne phelan

Blended Learning Models and Haiku LMS

Instructional Technology Outreach at the Los Angeles County Office of Education (ITO at LACOE) is hosting Blended Learning Models and Haiku LMS, a FREE workshop lead by Chris Bell and myself. We’ll be covering integration with Google Apps and other Web 2.0 tools, and we’ll be discussing best practices (and Leading Edge Certification) for online teachers.

Description: Learn the basics of creating online classes with Haiku LMS. Discover how to seamlessly integrate Haiku with Google Apps, and how to easily embed other Web 2.0 tools into Haiku. Because the instructional model is more important than the technology, further discussion explores various blended learning models – and highlights the simple yet powerful features of Haiku LMS that support successful student centered learning. Ultimately, the less time you need to spend on the technology, the more you can focus on customizing instruction.

Fee: No fee

Target Audience: Classroom Teacher, County Office of Education Staff, District Administrator, Site Administrator, Teacher (Non-Classroom)

Location: LACOE Education Center 288, 9300 Imperial Hwy.
Date and Time: 03/21/2012 09:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Register and More…

 If you’re in the LA area (or willing to travel), we hope to see you there. In the meantime, please share any questions or comments below.

Passion and Professional Development: Three More Anecdotes

Last week I posted Passion and Professional Development: Four Anecdotes, the first part of a chapter I’m writing for a book edited by Mike Lawrence. This post includes three more anecdotes written for the same chapter. Again, I’d be thrilled if some of you find inspiration here – and I’d be grateful for any feedback you can provide.

No Fate But What We Make

One of my favorite stories about the future is the science fiction action-adventure film Terminator 2. As much as it’s an escapist entertainment experience (and as much as it might seem an unlikely subject for an anecdote in a book on education), it was a well done film on many levels, and provided a philosophical life lesson that resonates with me – and with many of the workshop participants I share the story with.

You may or may not be familiar with the story, but I’ll repeat the important parts here to illustrate my point. In the future, John Connor is the leader of a “human resistance” that is ultimately victorious against Skynet, the artificial intelligence behind a “rise of the machines” that nearly annihilates humanity. In a last ditch effort to win the war before it’s begun, Skynet sends a terminator back in time to kill John’s mother, Sarah Connor. The terminator is of course defeated in the story, but Sarah (and later John) have now learned of the dark future that awaits humanity. The story is a neatly wrapped paradox because the human soldier sent back in time to stop the terminator turns out to be John’s father, and there is an overarching theme of predetermination. John can’t stop the war that Skynet brings about… and Skynet can’t stop John from ultimately winning the war.

In the second film, though, another terminiator is sent back in time to kill John himself, and the events that follow reveal to John and Sarah a way to stop the war. In the movie we learn that John sent a message for his mother back in time with his father: “The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” When this is revealed, Sarah has carved “No Fate” into a wooden table as she dreamed. Ultimately, John and Sarah are successful in their efforts to stop “judgement day” and the future war that would annihilate humanity… thus changing the future that they had presumed was inevitable. The movie ends with a wide-open road leading into an unknown future, underscoring the theme of “no fate but what we make.”

In education there is much that seems predetermined and inevitable. I fall victim to deterministic (and pessimistic) thinking often myself when I consider the challenges we face, particularly as educational technologists. There are forces beyond any individual’s control that have effected educational institutions for decades – and will effect them for decades to come. It is easy to believe individual educators are powerless in the face of government policies, public perceptions, and broad social challenges like poverty. But professional development is an opportunity to empower individuals… and effective professional development cannot happen without participants believing they can make a change that makes a difference – that they can make their own fate (and effect the fate of their students) to some degree.

When I welcomed educational leaders from around the world to the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators in San Antonio on March 5, 2010, I included a story about the principal I worked with as a beginning teacher and young technology coordinator. I enjoyed working with Dr. Tom Antal, the principal at Estancia High School at the time, but didn’t fully appreciate what he had done for me (and the school) at the time. He empowered me and the people I worked with to make big changes at the school – to dream up and act upon a bold new vision for technology at the school. What we envisioned had never been done before – and wasn’t inexpensive. But he supported our efforts and we were very successful, well ahead of our time. I recognize now that it was this success (and Tom’s early support). That helped lead me to where I am today.

In fact, I remember when I first mentioned to him I was looking at a full-time educational technology position at the district level. I was surprised (and mildly hurt on some level) that he didn’t try to talk me out of it. Instead, of course, he wished me luck and later let me know that he’d never want to hold me back. Now I understand that much better than I did then, and I’m grateful.

When I told this story to the educational leaders at the Google Teacher Academy, I naturally challenged them to empower the people that worked for them as well. I asked that they support risk taking by giving their people to opportunity to fail “early and often” (as they say in software development). I asked that they “get out of the way” whenever they can, and let them know that simply having their support can make a meaningful difference in the young (and old) educators they work with, especially over a lifetime. Naturally, the same is true in the relationship between teachers and students in the classroom.
And the same is true in professional development. Many workshops leave participants with no sense that the thing they’re learning about will make any difference to them, their colleagues, or their students. This is one reason why so many training opportunities are seen as “drive by professional development” and are ultimately ineffectual. Participants are given a sense of efficacy. Instead they see professional development as something that happens to them, and more than likely they see their curriculum as something that happens to the students.

I ended this anecdote at the Google Teacher Academy by quoting Barack Obama:

We can’t see voters or communities as consumers, as mere recipients or beneficiaries of this change. It’s time for politicians and other leaders to take the next step and see voters, residents, or citizens as producers of this change… our goal must be to help people get a sense of building something larger.

Whatever your views about his politics, it is significant that he wrote these words in 1995, more than a decade before his historic (and largely grass-roots driven) campaign for the presidency. I also shared a rewritten passage in terms I hoped might speak more directly to the educational leaders in the room:

We can’t see teachers or students as consumers, as mere recipients or beneficiaries of this change. It’s time for administrators and educational leaders to take the next step and see teachers, students, and parents as producers of this change… our goal must be to help people get a sense of building something larger.

Ultimately, participants in professional development sessions must see themselves as producers of change… and, ideally, as a part of a larger more meaningful movement. We must empower the educators we work with to believe they too can be change agents – and that there is “no fate but what we make.” I often use this quote, and the Terminator 2 story, as part of a reflection activity where I ask participants how they will use what they have learned during the workshop to change the future for their colleagues and students.

A Caring-Based School

For the past year, I’ve made it my goal to visit as many innovative schools as I can. As a professional developer traveling from school to school and seeing so many that deal with the same problems in the same ways (if they deal with them at all), it’s easy to get lulled into a sense of powerlessness – or into the feeling that you’ve seen everything (or have all the answers). It’s been refreshing to visit the places that are different and that are truly innovating on a regular basis. Some of the places I’ve visited have been private schools or charter schools, but some have been extraordinary schools operating in an otherwise very ordinary public school system.

One of these extraordinary schools was Minarets High School, which serves students in the rural (and economically depressed) central California Chawanakee School District. Despite the economic challenges of the area (and to some degree because of them), the district was able to build something special when they built their new high school. The beautiful new facility certainly forms a unique foundation for a new kind of school, but it’s the strikingly different culture they’ve been allowed to build that makes the real difference.

From early on, the district accepted (and acted on) input from visionary educators like Jon Corripo, now the school’s technology coordinator, and Michael Niehoff, now the school’s principal. By thinking outside the box, they were able to change the school library into a student media lounge, include electric guitars with amplifiers (“marshal stacks”) in the band room, and convert the text book storage room into a green screen studio. This last was possible because they purchased only class sets of traditional paper-bound text books. With the money they saved they also purchased every student a Macbook. The school has given students access to a variety of frequently updated online resources by subscription, in addition to their (already dated) textbooks. They have a “no homework” policy, and project-based learning is the norm at the school, often requiring students to create their own videos and other multi-media artifacts using their laptops (which they are often happy to continue working on after school). The school runs a Google Apps implementation for collaboration, and resources for every class are posted on a public wiki. The teachers even share their cell phone numbers with students and encourage them to text their questions any time of day or night.

All of this is amazing (and very much a work in progress even so), but the real difference in the school became apparent when I started interviewing students. When I asked what made their school different, some of them mentioned the technology – but not many. More of them talked about the way they are encouraged to create their own projects and follow their own passions (Minarets has a unique course catalog too). One girl, though, captured the essence of the difference. When I asked her what made Minarets different from other schools (where she had experienced significant turmoil it turned out), she mentioned none of the things I’d been observing and looking for; instead she replied, “I guess it’s more of a… caring-based school.”


This is evident when Minarets teachers answer students’ text messages. And I saw it in the effort the whole campus made to get another girl’s cell phone back to her after she left it behind in third period. These things respect the world of the student – and stand in stark contrast to the policies at most schools I visit.

I’m not saying that teachers don’t care in other schools – I know they do. But I’ve never heard a student describe another school as a “caring-based” school, and I think it’s no coincidence that this happened at Minarets. I believe the innovative approach they’ve taken to everything from the physical plant to the typical assignments contributes to the culture there – and it’s no secret when a visitor walks that campus that the educators there are passionate about what they do. It’s true of the students too. I saw several of them during a professional development event scheduled during their summer break. They had come in during their vacation to help out, and couldn’t wait for school to start again in September.

This is why I work at what I do – and why I’m writing this chapter. I want more schools like Minarets. I want my boys, Clark and Finn, to go to a school like Minarets. And, ultimately, I want to help participants in my professional development sessions to believe that they can help create more schools like Minarets, that they can create their own “caring-based school.”

What do you want to learn?

Because of my involvement with the Google Teacher Academy, I often have the opportunity to lead professional development sessions for educators interested in using Google’s free tools in educational contexts. I’m always careful to start these sessions with an introduction to the innovative culture Google has fostered, which I think is as good a model for school culture as their tools are valuable tools for educators and students.

Google’s corporate mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” I suggest to workshop participants that our mission as educators might be “to help students access and use the world’s information.” In the spirit of this shared mission, I illustrate some of the elements of Google culture that I think are most important for Educators to learn from – and recreate in their own classrooms.

On their corporate web site, Google shares the following “ten things that Google has found to be true”:

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

Many of these are clearly applicable in education. For instance, students will certainly agree that fast is better than slow. And some of these can be enhanced by re-writing them in terms more relevant to educators.

In my position as an educational technologist and professional developer I’ve found that a reminder to “focus on the student and all else will follow” often serves me (and the participants in my workshops) well.
Educators are no stranger to the idea that “it’s best to do one thing really, really well.” After all, we each specialize in a particular grade or subject area. And I would never expect participants in my workshops to master everything I’m sharing with them. I hope each of them will find (at least) one thing they’ll be passionate about to learn well.

When speaking to educators, I rephrase number four as “democracy in the classroom works.” We’ve all heard educators say “this classroom is not a democracy” and we may have said it ourselves, but students learn best when they are given a say in what – and how – they will learn. The same is equally true for adults in a professional development context, if not more so. As much as possible, I try to give participants in my sessions the opportunity to direct their own learning, and to pursue efforts that are meaningful to them.

As we’re seeing more and more, “students don’t need to be at their desk to need an answer.” Minarets teachers respect this tenet when they encourage students to text them at any time for an answer. I would also argue that this is a good reason to encourage students to use their own mobile devices for learning – both on and off campus. Helping students learn to do this effectively is arming them with powerful life skills that will be relevant and useful in many parts of their lives.

And of course, though I question it some days, I like to believe that “you can teach without doing evil.”

The last four mantras on the list are self-evident in their relationship to education, but number nine has a special significance for me. My time at the Orange County Department of Education (in California) left me with the strong belief that I need to dress in a suit and tie when presenting to educators, but the philosophy that you can “be serious without a suit” has given me the freedom to meet more educators where they are, at least when I’m presenting on Google.

I usually share several other aspects of Google culture following this list as well. The first of these takes a concept that teachers are familiar with and takes it one step further. As educators, we know that a hungry student can’t learn as well as one who is well fed. This is why schools in this country have free and reduced lunch programs (if not breakfasts). But at Google, no Googler (a Google employee) is further than 150 feet away from food. Each of their offices include a number of micro-kitchens (and not so micro kitchens) where Googlers can satisfy their appetites at any time of day or night. Google offices are also build ergonomically, with many Googlers opting to sit on brightly colored exercise balls (in the primary colors of Google’s logo of course), and collaboratively, with everyone (including founders Larry and Sergey) sharing an office space – often with transparent walls. Google is also famous for having volleyball courts, swimming pools, and on-site massages at their offices, not to mention the game rooms where engineers and other employees can blow off steam when they need to figure their way through a problem or get the juices flowing. Imagine if our schools (or our professional development for that matter) subscribed to the same philosophies?

Another element of Google’s offices that I love to see educators get excited about is the ubiquitous white boards – or white board paint that makes entire walls into writable surfaces. The creative doodles and brainstorms that fill the boards have given birth to many of Google’s most innovative products, whimsical ideas, and most memorable (however contraband) images of Google offices. I’m happy to report that on many occasions, after seeing these or hearing about them, educators have returned to their classrooms and libraries to make their own walls writable for students.

The most important Google philosophy I share with educators, though, is Google’s concept of “20% time.” Google doesn’t actually pay terribly well, but the culture I’m describing here is a big draw. More important than the massages and free meals, though, is every employee’s opportunity to determine how they will spend their own 20% time. The idea is that every employee will be expected to work on their job – what they were hired to do – approximately 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, they’ll be encouraged to devise projects to pursue on their own, with the resources of the company at their disposal. Many Google products, including Gmail, Google News, and Google Scholar (not to mentio the Gooogle Teacher Academy) were born out of 20% time, as well as countless other features in a wide variety of tools (just check out Google Labs in Gmail or Google Calendar for me examples).

To me, 20% time sounds a lot senior projects. When I was teaching senior English, my school had recently adopted WestEd’s Senior Project model. As it was implemented at our school, the students worked all year on a project of their own choice, writing a research paper on the topic, serving at least 20 hours as an intern in the field, and completing a final project that they would present to a panel of school staff and members of the public at the end of the year. It was a graduation requirement, and an awesome learning experience for everyone involved. (As a graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as an undergrad, I was no stranger to the idea of senior projects and came to appreciate them as both a student and a teacher.) In my classes, I wound up adopting the practice of giving my seniors most Fridays to work on their projects. In retrospect, I was giving them 20% time.

If I were back in the classroom today (at any grade level), I’d do the exact same thing. I’d tell students that 80% of the time, or four days a week, they’d be working on assignments I’d give them as they worked to master the state standards (which, of course, it would be my job to teach them). But I’d offer them 20% of our class time, or one day a week, to work on a project of their own choice. I’d encourage them to explore their passions and build islands of expertise, with the freedom to try something new without fear of failure. In short, I would ask them, what do you want to learn? And I would support them in their efforts to answer that question.

When I imagine what schools could look like if we started from scratch today (or in the near future), I keep coming back to this question. I think that asking students “what do you want to learn?” should be a fundamental part of educating them at any age. Clearly, it will fall to educators and parents to also expose students to new ideas, but how much more relevant and powerful will the tools, techniques, and traditions we share seem if students discover them in the context of pursuing their own passions?

Happily, many of the participants in sessions where I share this idea have reported returning to their classrooms and putting it into practice – giving their students 20% time. This one change in a classroom makes me feel I’ve made more of a difference for students than many of the tools I share regularly. I hope that other professional developers will also pass on the 20% philosophy – and I hope they’ll apply it to their own sessions as well. At least 20% of a professional development experience should be a self-directed project of the participant’s choosing.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope you got something out of it. And I hope you’ll consider offering me some feedback in the comments below.

Passion and Professional Development: Four Anecdotes

I’m thrilled to involved with a book edited by Mike Lawrence, and I’m currently working on a chapter about “Passion and Professional Development” – a topic I’ve been excited about for some time (more…). For this chapter, I’m collecting several anecdotes and metaphors that I use in my workshops – and that inspire my work as a professional developer.

The following are four short segments I’ve written for the chapter so far, some of which you may’ve heard from me in a workshop (or earlier on this blog) in one form or another. These will be combined with a few similar segments, plus some updated material about effective professional development. I hope to share more of that here soon. Meanwhile, I’d love your feedback on these segments (they’re rough drafts), and I hope they might be helpful to some of you in your own work. :)

A Message From The Future

When I lead professional development for educators, I often begin by sharing an image of The Edge, the guitar player in the Irish rock band U2. I took the picture with my phone at a concert in 2005 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, during the band’s Vertigo Tour. The picture is a bit out of focus and low resolution, but it’s a great close up – and the Edge is back lit from above, like he’s just stepped out of a UFO. I’m really as close as the picture looks; it’s me and my buddy, six feet of air, and the edge. I’m something of a U2 fan, so sharing this image is one way I can connect with the participants right off the bat. They learn a little something about me – something I’m passionate about. But the story I tell with the image is even more important.I like to think Edge is playing the opening riffs to a song called Miracle Drug, which they had released earlier that year. It’s an anthemic rock song, perfect for arena shows, and you wouldn’t know the story behind the song just from listening to it. A little research, though, will reveal that it was written about an Irish kid named Christopher Nolan, who went to school with the band. He was deprived of oxygen for two hours at birth, and as a result developed sever cerebral palsy that left him paraplegic for life. As the story goes, there was no reason to believe he could understand the world around him. But his parents had faith that he could, so they included him in their lives, talked to him, read to him, and taught him at home. When he was 13 a “miracle drug” was developed that gave him limited motion with his neck. They fitted something like a unicorn horn to his head and he learned to type. By 15 he was a published poet, and later became an award winning, globally renown poet and novelist.

There is a line in the song that says “with science and the human heart there is no limit.” To me, that line captures why I’m involved with educational technology. I believe that if we combine the heart of a teacher with the science and technology available today, we raise the limits off of what can be done in the classroom today.
When U2 played “Miracle Drug” live, they would often dedicate it to public servants, such as doctors and nurses (like those that helped Christopher Nolan), and others, including firefighters, police officers, and even educators. On one particular occasion (a Canadian show I was able to hear via recording), Bono introduced the song in another way. As Edge played the beautiful opening riffs to the song, Bono was a bit silly.
“This is the sound Edge’s space ship made when he came down to earth,” he said. Edge is known to be something of a geek, so to fans, this was funny. The crowd loved it and Bono continued, painting a picture of the band meeting for the first time outside Edge’s ship (in the early 70’s presumably)In Bono’s story, Larry Mullen, the drummer said, “Where are you from?”

And Edge said, “The Future.”

Adam Clayton, the bassist, asked, “What’s it like.”

And Edge said, “It’s better.”

As Bono said that, the band launched into the anthemic song about science and the human heart. It’s this same belief that the future is better that drives me in my work as an educational technologist. As I often say, we don’t bring computers into classrooms to connect kids with predators – or make a headache for IT staff. We do it because we believe it will make the future a better place for our students… and our children.

When the context is right, I follow this story up by challenging workshop participants with this welcome activity: if you had a message from the future for the educators of today, what would it be? Their answers are always inspiring.

Pets and Babies

I have a much more personal stake in this future now. My son Clark is about to turn 3 as I write this. His brother Finn just turned 1. When I first showed Clark an iPad (when they first appeared almost a year ago), it wasn’t “magic and revolutionary” to him. He simply fingered the slider on screen to unlock the device, swiped a few times to find the page with his games, and got straight to work having fun. Obviously he’d already been using my iPhone for some time – and he’d already been learning the basics of reading, writing, numbers, shapes, fitness, and more by playing on the device. He’s learning so much, so fast, with the freedom we give him at home, that I have a hard time imagining sending him off to “power-down” at school in a few years, not to mention at pre-school any day now.
But, I’m a big believer in the importance and the mission of public education. I don’t want a world where I feel like Clark’s school experience might be a tragedy in any way. As proud as I was of my public education (and as grateful as I am for my teachers), I don’t want his K-12 experience to be the same as mine. I want Clark’s future to be better… because it can be.

I often share this perspective, and pictures of my boys (in their Google shirts, with their iPhones and iPads) when I lead professional development for educators. This serves to clarify for them my mission and some of the higher purpose behind my work. Also, like the U2 story, it serves as a way to connect with the audience on a personal level. I think they probably feel the same way about their kids. And, as I’ve said for a long time, “pets and babies will teach educators more about technology than I ever will.” I’m always happy for workshop participants to use the new tools they learn to create projects focused on their own kids, their own pets, or their other passions. They are better able to apply the tools professionally, for the benefit of their colleagues and students, once they have had the freedom to learn the tool in a more engaging state of flow as they explore their passions.

Driving a Race Car

Before Clark was born, and before I finished my Ph.D., I thought I might have time for a new hobby once I completed my dissertation. Of course, now I’ve got a three-year old new hobby… and another 1 year old new hobby. But at the time I thought I might try to learn something completely new, something completely outside my comfort zone, and something I’d really always wanted to do since I was a kid. In short, I thought I might pursue a new passion. I thought I might learn to drive a race car.

Now, I never actually took any racing classes (or at least I haven’t yet), but when I was getting excited about it, I let myself start buying books on the subject while I was still working on my dissertation. One book that resonated with me was Speed Secrets by Ross Bentley. It’s a sort of Zen thinking-man’s race car driving book, and as I understand it, that’s reflected in his racing style. Ross Bentley is known for driving smoothly with a graceful economy of motion behind the wheel. Like any good sports book, this one was rich with many metaphors for life. One in particular still speaks to me today, and I often also share it with educators as well.
Ross Bentley suggests that a race car driver doesn’t look at where he is. Frankly, that would be folly in an ordinary car, I think as I look down at my own shoes. But a race car driver doesn’t even look at where he’s going, as you would in an ordinary car. A race car driver looks as many turns down the road as he can, because the way he enters one turn will effect the way he comes out of it into the next turn, and then the way he heads into the next straight away – and thus his laps times. Race car driving is a surprisingly cerebral and premeditated sport. Drivers will literally walk a track and plan what lines they will take in each corner before driving the track slowly, and then building their way up to race speeds.

In education (and in life), we certainly don’t have the luxury of knowing what the track will look like ahead of time, but we can plan several turns down the road (as many as we can see in our mind’s eye). Where we are today in education, and where we are going, are the result of many decisions made long ago. And decisions we make today will effect the course of education in our classrooms, our schools, our communities, our states, our nations, and the world for years to come. I challenge workshop participants to think not only of what they can “use on Monday” (though I always hope they come away with something pragmatic they can implement immediately), but also to think as many turns down the road as they can… to where they want their practice to be in three months, six months, two years, or five years down the road.

When I use this story as a welcome activity, I challenge participants to identify things they can do today to set things in motion that will lead to what they’d like to see in their future as educators – and in the future of their students. I challenge them to think like a race car driver, looking several turns down the road.

Teach Like Wayne Gretzky

Another passion of mine is playing hockey, and when I was much younger another book that captured my imagination was Wayne Gretzky’s autobiography. One passage that made a big impact on me was his surprisingly simple view of the game of hockey. He explained that even though there are twelve skaters on the ice at any given time (including five players and a goalie for each team), the whole game comes down to creating as many two-on-one opportunities as possible. Defense men need to create a two-on-one to move a puck around a fore checking opponent up to their own forwards. The forwards need to create a two-on-one situation to move beyond a defender, and then create a two-on-one against the goalie in order to have the best chance of scoring a goal. This was one of the key strategies behind Gretzky’s brilliance as a play maker.

Several years later, I was a young teacher, already working on an emergency authorization (this was back when California had a shortage of teachers) and attending night classes to complete my credential. One night, while in class, I had something of an epiphany (for a first year teacher of course). I realized that education could be seen in a similarly simple way. Education is all about creating as many one-on-one opportunities as possible. The sort of broadcast learning that normally takes place in classrooms (lectures and similar whole group activities) typically leaves each student with very few opportunities for learning at their own level and their own pace. Occasionally some certain students would raise their hands and get a moment of individual attention, while some of the rest of the class looked on either already knowing the answer, not being prepared for the answer, or simply not being engaged.

More powerful learning seemed to take place at times that were rare in the classroom: a teacher sitting with a single student, one student helping another student, or (even less often) one student working with a peer or expert from outside the classroom. These were times when instruction (or more importantly, learning experiences) could be tailored to challenge individual students without frustrating them too much.

Thanks to my credentialing courses, I learned there were many strategies teachers can use to create more one-on-one opportunities for learning. Many of these have nothing to do with technology. For instance, students can be encouraged to work in small groups or with peer tutors, and teachers (free from the front of the room) can spend that time connecting with individual students as well. This is also the way learning has worked best for millenia, with parents and mentors passing knowledge onto the next generation, and masters sharing with their apprentices.

But I also realized what a great role computers can play in providing students with more one-on-one learning opportunities. In many contexts, a computer could serve as a teacher for an individual student, providing more one-on-one time of a sort, and also freeing up the teacher to work with individual students who need  additional help. Networked computers also made it possible for students to reach out to more peers and experts outside the classroom than ever before possible. Today, tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and collaborative tools like Google Docs expand the possibilities of long distance (even global) one-to-one learning opportunities. And modern search tools, such as Google Books, Scholar, News, and Blogsearch – and newer more visual tools like Qwiki and others – make it possible for students to explore and learn more about their own passions than ever before.

Another thing I learned from Wayne Gretzky’s book was the obvious statement that 100% of all goals scored in hockey result from a shot on net. The corollary is that you must shoot to score. And in the NHL, a typical goalie will face 30 shots in a game and let in perhaps 3 goals. That means the opposing forwards are failing on 90% of their shots. Ultimately, they have to create as many two-on-one opportunities as possible so that they can take many more shots – so that one more of them might go in.

In education, the equivalent to scoring a goal might be helping a student create a new solution, make a new connection, experience a moment of enlightenment, or simply find a sought after answer. Not every one-on-one learning experience will be successful, but we should create as many one-on-one opportunities as possible for our students so that a they might be able to experience a few more of these moments.

The same is true when it comes to professional development. The more we can create one-on-one learning experiences for educators, the more quickly they will be able to advance and improve their practice – and the more quickly they’ll be able to learn new tools that might benefit their colleagues and students. Naturally, one-on-one experiences also make it easier to allow educators to pursue their own strengths and passions as well.

Over the years, simply focusing on creating more one-on-one learning opportunities for the participants in my workshops has allowed a richness of learning in my workshops that I never could have orchestrated from the front of the room. Now when I’m leading a train-the-trainers session, I challenge the professional developers involved to teach like Wayne Gretzky too.

I’m also very excited that Scot McLeod and Chris Lehmann have been able to announce their upcoming book about What school administrators need to know about digital technologies and social media, and I’m particularly excited to have contributed (along with Diana Laufenberg) to a chapter about Online Office Tool Suites (such as Google Docs). I can’t share the material for that chapter here, but I look forward to sharing both books once they’re published. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to reading any comments you might share on these four anecdotes.

Effective Professional Development (Video)

Last month I spoke at the Google Apps EDU Certified Trainer Summit, and the video of my 15 minute session (well, 17 minutes… sorry, all) is now available. You can view the video below or on YouTube, and you can access the slides, notes, and resources from the session in a previous post.

Naturally, I’d love to hear your comments below.

Note: The first half of the talk is background on CUE, The Google Teacher Academy, and CUE’s Google Workshops for Educators. The “effective PD” content starts just after the 9:45 mark if you want to jump ahead. :)

Effective Professional Development

I just finished speaking at the Google Apps EDU Certified Trainer Summit, and I want to share the slide deck along with the resources in a public space… so here we are on the blog. These slides may not stand entirely on their own (and good presentations never do, right?), but many of the links below will lead you to more in depth written explanations of the anecdotes and metaphors I was sharing. I hope you’ll add to these resources by leaving comments and links to your own “effective professional development” resources.

Welcome Activity

Google’s Mission
This is in alignment with our mission as educators.

Computer Using Educators, Inc. (CUE)

CUE Confernce


Google Teacher Academy

Google Workshop for Educators
Live Map:

Google Apps EDU Certified Training Organization

Passion and Professional Development

The Lead Learner Philosophy

The Face-to-Face Philosophy
F2F PD must be better than the podcast.
Webinars need to be better than the podcast.
The podcast needs to be better than the podcast. ;)
Tap the talents, experience, and creative energy of the people in the room.
Make, do, or create together!

The Kindergarten Philosophy
Image Credit:

The “And Life” Philosophy
Image Credit:

A Message From The Future
More: &

Driving a Race Car

Google and Driving a Race Car

Reflection Activity
Image Source:

Go Forth and Do Great Things!
This is an homage to Daryl Stermon, who recently retired from the San Diego County Office of Education. :)

Google Workshop for Administrators in Silicon Valley

CUE runs a series of Google Workshops for Educators based on the Google Teacher Academy, and there has been considerable interest in a workshop focused specifically on school administrators. We are happy to announce that the second Google Workshop for Administrators is now open for registration, this time in Silicon Valley on October 2nd and 3rd. This event is produced in partnership with Google and with the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). Friday’s program includes a tour of the Googleplex in Mountain View and Saturday’s program is hosted at the ACSA offices in Burlingame. More…