Category Archives: Professional Development

Google Teacher Academy Reflections


I spent two days last week at the Google Teacher Academy at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Even though friends who have attended previous academies assured us it would be “life changing,” I had serious reservations about even applying.

First, I’ve been in edtech long enough to know how much money is at stake in this industry and how hard companies work to win us over. I wondered, what business does a multi-national, multi-billion dollar tech company have “certifying” teachers? Aren’t we certified and licensed enough? Aren’t huge corporations exactly who we want to keep out of education? Is this program a type of edtech elitism? Those are valid questions, but I decided to put them aside for now and trust those who went before me.

I’m glad I did. The experience was great and I met many great people.

Of course, the two-day event was packed with learning. We delved into Google Apps and learned a lot of new tips and strategies from CUE’s lead learners. A special thanks goes out to Jim Sill who led our team. Presentations from an impressive lineup of Googlers, including CFO Patrick Pichette and “Education Evangelist” Jaime Casap were also really great. We were also treated to video chats with developers and Googlers sharing some new features.

I could go on forever with tips and tricks we learned. But for me, the real value of the Academy was seeing first hand how Google operates. Google’s focus isn’t education, it’s innovation. As Pichette told us, they have a mandate to innovate. They know that giving employees space and autonomy is the perfect recipe for doing great things. That’s why employees are given 20% time to work on their own projects, and the results are sometimes amazing.

Photo Dec 05, 12 43 09 PM

“Everyone deserves to whistle to work.” – Patrick Pichette, CFO, Google

I think that schools could learn a lot from Google. Instead of over-scheduling, over-testing, and over-teaching, how about a little autonomy, or maybe some 20% time? I think we’d be surprised at what students would learn and create on their own. I applaud the teachers who have already started this with their classes.

Listening to Google employees speak, you can hear that they love their jobs and believe in their work, which is pretty amazing. We should be aiming for the same thing. Our students should be excited about their work and their projects. We just need to get out of the way.


Do you EdCamp?

So there’s a quiet revolution happening in professional development. Teachers across the country (and around the world) are turning professional development on its head and making it what they want. It’s a resistance. A resistance to the top-down, high stakes culture that reduces students to numbers. And if that weren’t bad enough, this culture attempts to essentially do the same thing to teachers by way of mandated, and often meaningless, professional development.*

I’ve said this before, but teaching is a creative endeavor. Not because our students are blank canvases or pieces of unshaped clay, but because we create experiences for our kids. The thing is, creative types like to hang out and learn from other creatives. But when does this happen? When do teachers get an opportunity to learn from other professionals outside their own school or district WITHOUT someone else dictating the topic and schedule?

That’s what EdCamps are all about. I’m not going to go into the history of EdCamps. You can get that from the EdCamp Foundation site. But take this example from EdCampOCLA last year:

An attendee, we’ll call her Em, wanted to learn about Edmodo. She had heard about it before and heard that teachers were using it in their classrooms to provide students with a private online space to interact, submit assignments, and collaborate. So Em took a notecard, wrote “I want to learn more about Edmodo” on it and put it on the session board.  Later at the session, Em got a demonstration and a rich and relaxed discussion from fellow teachers who were using Edmodo. Em left with something she could use in her class the next week.

Now multiply that by the thousands of passionate educators attending EdCamps around the world. Awesome, no?

And don’t think that EdCamps are only about technology. I’ve spoken to some friends who are really excited about sharing what they are doing in their classrooms, would like some guidance on lesson planning, or are just looking forward to meeting other educators.

So if you’re anywhere near Los Angeles, or feel like taking a trip, we’d love to have you at EdCampLA on January 12th. It’s free and I guarantee you’ll have a rich experience. Register at If not, find an EdCamp in your area or start one yourself!


*Of course there are exceptions. Many schools are actively resisting sucking the creativity out of teaching and reducing students to test scores.

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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in EdCamp, Professional Development


Google Teacher Academy, Here I Come

I’m pleased to share that, about a month ago, I was accepted into the Google Teacher Academy to be held in Mountain View, CA at the Googleplex. After submitting applications that included a video component, about 60 of us were chosen from a applicant pool of about 300.

GTA is a two-day intensive workshop during which educators from around the world learn about the latest and greatest from Google and how to use it in education. It’s led by a group of Google Certified Teachers who will guide us through a process that previous attendees describe as terrific experience. I’m really looking forward to learning from the #GTAMTV crew. I’ll report back in December.

If you’re interested in applying, keep an eye on this page, Twitter, and Google+. Announcements of the next GTA seem to come out of the blue, with only a little time before applications are due. And they’re not always at the Googleplex. Others have been held recently in NYC, Seattle, and the London.

Here’s my application video. Make sure to check out the videos from the other applicants. Good stuff.

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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in Google, Professional Development


Another awesome CUE conference

What is it about this time of the school year? It seems that every year as soon as Spring hits everything suddenly has more urgency. I suddenly realize that I’m running out of time to finish or start certain projects. Deadlines seem to speed toward me and it all just seems to pile up.

I’m convinced that CUE folks had exactly this in mind when they first decided to schedule the conference for mid-March. It’s the perfect time of year to give teachers that extra dose of motivation or inspiration to finish out the year.

CUE was awesome again this year. It was my first time as a speaker at the conference and it was a great experience to share my knowledge with attendees. For those keeping track, my session was entitled Imaging Basics Using Free Web Tools. I covered some basic techniques and concepts of imaging tools and how these tools can be used in different curricula. As a professional photographer I use Photoshop a lot. It’s a great tool and has almost limitless potential for creativity. However, it’s very expensive. Enter free web tools.

In the past few years many different web 2.0 tools that focus on image manipulation have sprung up. Lately, some of them have begun to rival Photoshop in terms of basic to moderate manipulation. If you’d like to check them out head over to AVIARY.COM or SUMOPAINT.COM. There are others but those are particularly good.

If you’d like to see my slides from my presentation they can be found at Additional resources can be found at

The sessions I attended were great as usual. Particularly useful was Bill Selak’s Improving Student Learning by Creating an Online Video Library. I have already started making short videos for my students. It’s actually quite interesting how easily video engages them.


Teachers are hungry. Reflections on #EdCampOC

After only a few years being an educator I’ve realized that one of the things that drew me to teaching was not only a love of learning but of sharing. To be honest, I am not very fond of delivering information beyond, “Hey, look! Isn’t that cool?”  The traditional top down model of instruction just doesn’t feel right. There is something powerful about discovery and going deeper, about making those new connections but in a collaborative manner. This isn’t really new. Educators have been saying for decades that the “sage on a stage” model is ineffective. So why is it then that most professional development is structured in this way?

Now I can honestly say that my experiences with PD have not been that bad. But from what I gather after speaking with many other teachers, it’s a scary scary world out there. I mean, are all-day PD workshops on how to use a textbook series really the best use of everyone’s time? And, who wants to sit all day and listen to someone speak anyway? Let’s discuss, debate, and learn together.

Enter EdCamp.

After months of planning by local educators, of which I was one, and community leaders the first EdCamp in California was a success. It’s difficult to describe adequately how invigorating EdCampOC was. But before I make an attempt it’s a good idea to explain what an EdCamp is.

An EdCamp is not a traditional education conference. An EdCamp is an opportunity for teachers from diverse backgrounds to meet up, break out into self selected sessions and learn together. Someone thinks of a topic they are interested in learning about, a note card is thrown up on the board to select a room and time and voila! Instant discussion.  No pre-selected agenda. Just organic conversation about education.

Now, I can spend time describing the day but that can be found elsewhere. Check out Dan Callahan’s post for a great account or see The Orange County Register’s piece on EdCampOC. One thing that cannot go unmentioned was the excellent staff members from The Children’s School in La Jolla, CA and their ingenious idea to bring some of their students to EdCampOC. The TCSLJ students were an articulate bunch of great kids who shared their various learning projects, school experiences, and their Urban Adventures study trips.

There are two primary observations I think are really worth sharing about EdCampOC. First, once the other organizers and I finished the basic setup of the day the event basically took care of itself. In other words, it took little effort to get the attending teachers into rooms to discuss and share. They were clearly hungry for collaboration. Attendees were quick to get to the rooms and often went over the allotted time.

Secondly, I noticed during the day that there was little talk of where everyone taught. I can’t help but think that this is indicative of a shift in education. We’re all educators and we’re an increasingly connected bunch. The traditional model of the self-contained, top-down classroom is on its way out. It doesn’t matter that I teach here and you teach there. We have the same goals and are therefore an enormous asset to each other.

So if you were at EdCampOC, or any other EdCamp, don’t forget the energy of that day. Hold on to it.


Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Insights, Professional Development


What I’m reading

Here’s what I’m reading. If you’ve read this I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks to Jason T. Bedell (JTB Consulting) for the book.

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Posted by on December 5, 2010 in Professional Development


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CUE 2010

I was fortunate enough to attend the CUE 2010 conference in Palm Springs, CA this past weekend (March 4th through 6th). For the unfamiliar, CUE (Computer Using Educators) is a non profit organization whose “goal is to advance student achievement through technology in all disciplines from preschool through college.” Cue is one of the largest organizations of its kind, and the largest in the western U.S. (

Basically, the annual CUE conference is, as one presenter said, “a geek pride fest.” Yup, pretty much. And by all accounts it was a great conference full of networking, learning, and a exchange of great ideas.

Here’s just a snapshot of the sessions I attended and some of what I learned:

Lure of the LabyrinthMath – 6th grade and up

This is a free pre-algebra game developed by MIT folks and looks like a really good resource for reinforcing these skills in an engaging way.

The goal of the game is the rescue your dog. But to do so you must make it through a series of rooms with puzzles that require non-linear thinking for solving. Perhaps the best aspect of Lure of the Labyrinth is the fact that there is little explanation given for the puzzles. Students, and teachers, are required to figure it out for themselves. So not only do the games help with algebraic thinking but they also force students to employ trial and error.

The game is visually engaging and fun. Check it out if you teach Middle School math. Oh, yeah. Did I say it was free?

Mixbook – All areas -Primary (with assistance) and up.

This was a short informational session on a pretty cool site for putting together and publishing books. Similar to services like Snapfish and books through iPhoto, Mixbooks provides a simple way to create attractive books. These tools are great for the classroom and allow students to bring their writing projects past simply printing them out on the room printer. One thing that did seem particularly neat was Mixbook’s providing the ability to embed virtual books, complete with somewhat realistic page flips, into any web site or blog. Check out Mixbook for Educators which includes some collaborative tools for the classroom as well as discounts on printing.

CLRN (CA Learning Resource Network) – Most curricular areas – Teachers/Parents – All grade levels

Wow. Who knew the CA DOE was putting money to such good use? Cutting the story short: CA currently pays teachers to extensively review paid and free online and offline learning software.

We all know the internet is flush with “educational” sites. And a visit to your local computer store can leave any parent overwhelmed by the decision of picking out the right piece of software to meet her/his student’s needs. Many software makers claim that their product is aligned to state standards and will effectively reinforce an advertised skill. The CLRN folks spend the time to actually investigate these claims and post their results on the CLRN site for anyone to use.

Check this site out if you’re searching for a new resource or want to investigate one you already have.

Using Technology to Enrich a Project-Based Learning Curriculum – Middle School through High School – All areas

The folks presenting this piece were from the Napa Valley Public School District home of New Tech High School. NTHS describes Project Based Learning as the “backbone of [its] unique learning environment.

I’m relatively new to teaching so I’m not very familiar with Project-Based Learning. First of all, this isn’t your run of the mill “Let’s do a project and create a poster board” thing. This is basing all instruction around a large project that involves multiple teachers, student led work, and community input and evaluation.

One presenter gave an intriguing example. As her class studied Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, groups created Depression Era newspapers to display at the local library.

As the example above shows, PBL seems to effectively incorporate a wide swath of skills. These were described as the “Six A’s”:

  • Authenticity – connecting classroom instruction to real life issues and challenges.
  • Academic Rigor – learning continues to be standards-based.
  • Active Exploration – students explore, with guidance from the teacher, concepts around the current topic.
  • Adult Connections – there is usually a community involved portion of the project that requires real input from its members.
  • Assessment – teachers still utilize traditional assessment to check for learning.

Without going into too much detail, PBL sounds like a big step toward authentic learning. Check out NTH’s page on Project Based Learning.

Web Literacy – All grades – All areas

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a great speaker who just makes sense. She is a Middle School teacher in Los Angeles and runs .Visit her site for a lot of great resources.

Wolpert-Gawron session on web literacy was excellent and brought up many great points. At the heart of her session was the assertion that reading on the web is different from reading printed material. A readers does not interact with web content in the same way as a book. Therefore, different skills are needed to successfully utilize the web as a source of information.

Skimming, according to Wolpert-Gawron, should be encouraged when reading web content. Obviously, the web is flooded with information and approaching it like one would a book is ineffective. Efficient skimming is a skill adults often employ and the web is a perfect venue in which students can practice.

If you take a look at how much of the internet is organized you’ll notice that it’s already geared toward adult readers. Tabs, pages, and clearly labeled navigation characterize the most often used sites of the web. Wolpert-Gawron points out that adult users often take this intuitive layout for granted and can logically figure out where to find information. But students have not developed this internalized literacy and therefore need to be explicitly taught, and given opportunity to practice,  concepts like looking at the top of the page first for the most important links.

In the same way we don’t simply plop a math book in front of a student and hope she learns, educators need to methodically and explicitly teach web skills, and not just in he computer lab once a week. Teaching these skills will equip students with the basic tools to delve further into internet literacy topics such as evaluating the authenticity of material.

You can view Wolpert-Gawron’s handouts from this session here.

Digital Storytelling – All levels – All areas

What is Digital Storytelling? Basically, Digital Storytelling is a catch-all phrase for student created, linear digital content. Students use digital storytelling to communicate ideas, investigate ideas, and give proof of their learning in ways more engaging than a poster board. Teachers use digital storytelling to check for understanding, differentiate instruction, teach 21st century skills, create life-long memories, and as a motivational tool.

This session was presented by Kristin Haley and Jennie Chonka from the Santee School District in California. Haley and Chonka did a nice job of sharing how they use DS in their classrooms. Relying primarily on the easy-to-use software Pixie 2 and Frames, the teachers have their students create engaging projects that include graphics, photos, audio (often student voice), and animation. Think of Powerpoint presentation except produced by students…and not boring.

Digital Storytelling does not have to actually be telling a story, although it is the perfect venue in which to teach speaking skills. DS can give students the motivation to get through the planning stages of pre-writing and drafting and then give them opportunities to work cooperatively with others. One does not need special software to employ DS in her/his classroom. Many computers already come with software suitable for beginning DS.

Click here for free eBook on Digital Storytelling in the classroom.

Top 10 Web Apps – All levels – All areas

Steve Dembo is big name in EdTech. He’s a Discovery Education superstar and has a lot of great ideas. Here’s a list of his top 10 Web 2.0 apps (in no particular order).

Disclaimer: These are free, public sites. There is no guarantee that the content displayed will be appropriate for children. Always check them out ahead of time. Some sites devote portions of their sites to educational use and block public galleries.

  1. Wordle – Free –  With a little imagination teachers can use this word cloud creating site for great things. Simply copy and paste any text into the site and Wordle automatically creates a word cloud for you with the most often used words showing up largest. Have students C+P their writing to see which words show up, create a Wordle and have students guess the writing (famous speeches, classmates’ writing, etc.). Wordle offers many options for making your word clouds look cool too. Here’s Act 5, Scene 2 of Hamlet in a Wordle:

    Hamlet Wordle

    Act 5, Scene 2 of Hamlet.

  2. Prezi – Free – Powerpoint is so 20th century. Prezi allows users to create dynamic and interesting non-linear presentation. We have all sat through boring presentations of poorly planned Powerpoints that serve little purpose than to keep the speaker on track. If you want to move beyond last century’s presentation model (they’re called slideshows for a reason) check out Prezi. Here’s a good one on Google Search Tricks by Tony Vincent:
  3. Edmodo – Free – Create private online communities for the classroom. This is an awesome site to use while teaching students about online etiquette and safety. Or, you can use Edmodo to communicate with your students in a safe environment. Edmodo offers lots of options for teachers to manage different classes and subjects.
  4. Wallwisher – Free – Wallwisher is a cool little tool for creating a personalized space where users can post notes, links, images, or videos. Have students post definitions to key words, embed math tutorial videos, post anticipatory questions, or just comment. Endless possibilities for the classroom.
  5. Poll Everywhere – Free – Use cellphones in the classroom! (Please don’t fire me). Quickly and easily set up a poll and have students respond in with their phones. Results instantly appear. Great for assessing understanding.
  6. Voicethread – Free – Voicethread allows users to post content and receive text, audio, and video comments. Awesome for collaborating across the globe.
  7. Delicious – Free – Have you ever wished you could get to a bookmark on your work computer from home, or vice versa? Delicious is social bookmarking that allows you to maintain your list of bookmarks online so that they are accessible from any browser. Also use Delicious to share bookmarks with people. This is a powerful networking tool and time saver.
  8. iPadio – Free – No microphone? No computer? No problem. iPadio allows users to create podcasts using any phone. Simply call in and enter your given PIN number and record. Steve Dembo: How about asking students what they learned today and have them say their answer into iPadio then automatically posting audio to your iTunes podcast feed so that parents can listen on the way home from work.
  9. Glogster – Free – Glogster is a fun tool for making visual blogs. Use their tool to lay out any content from the web (including video)  in a visually interesting way. Check out for their education version.
  10. KidBlog – Free  – We should be facilitating blogging by our students. What better way to teach writing, online etiquette, and 21st Century Skills, and collaboration? Use Kidblog to start your class blogging today.

Getting Teachers to Adopt Technology – Rushton Hurley

Hands down, Rushton Hurley was the best speaker at CUE 2010. There was not a better, more dynamic or funnier presenter. His session was geared toward strategies for promoting technology use in the classroom.

In short, he advocates…

Remind teachers of their expertise
Don’t tie everything to standards
What’s gotta stick?
Don’t sit everyone in a lab for training
Do allow regular (and short) sharing time
Let people know that they are in the minority if they are not doing something cool

Don’t spend all money on technology in lab
Showcase what can be done with one or two computers
Learn what’s freely available
Don’t blanket the school with expensive hardware
Use targeted spending to focus purchases.

You can view his session info here.


If you live anywhere remotely near Palm Springs, CA (or if you have generous a generous administration) you have to make it to CUE 2011. You will not be disappointed. Learn what’s happening at the forefront of education. Learn tons and meet great educators.


Posted by on March 14, 2010 in Professional Development


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