Muddling through the blogosphere

May 24, 2013
by blogwalker

NWP Radio – Sharing the Microphone with Student Upstanders

It was my privilege to join NWP’s Paul Oh, Common Sense Media’s Merve Lapus, CWP’s Jayne Marlink, and my Digital ID joyce-frendelyco-curator Natalie Bernasconi for last night’s NWP Radio Talk Show discussion on California’s first-ever Digital Citizenship Month. The highlight for me was sharing the microphone with Valley High School seniors Joyce Joseph and Frendely Vang – two outstanding upstanders, who were willing to participate in the event – even though it was the night before their last day of high school!


Joyce and Frendely are upstanders in all the communities to which they belong.  From sharing their stories on the Upstanders, Not Bystanders VoiceThread to assisting with and participating in the making of the very powerful Teen Dating Violence PSA, these two cross the line on a regular basis to speak out for themselves and for others.

Like many of their classmates, Joyce and Frendely have had their share of challenges, challenges that are all too common in tougher neighborhoods and school communities.  They are both passionate on the importance on converting bystanders to upstanders. They have have made a difference at Valley High School.  They will make a difference as they move on to life after high school. Lucky me for having the opportunity to meet, work with, and co-present with Joyce and Frendely!

November 25, 2012
by blogwalker

Back from NCTE 2012 Convention

I’m back from a 5-day trip to Las Vegas, host site for the 2012 NCTE Annual Convention: Dream, Connect, Ignite. The opportunity to hangout with and learn from NWP and NCTE colleagues more than made up for having to traverse the ultra smoke-filled, incredibly noise-filled casinos that lay between the MGM Grand rooms and convention center.

I arrived in time for Thursday’s NWP Plenary session, where I joined a room full of educators “writing together, writing in the moment.” What better way to start a conference than with Tanya Baker’s words, which came to life each of the five days, that “I am smarter and better because of the many NWP mentors who continue to push me ahead, as a writer and as an educator.”

A few take-aways:


  • Natalie Merchant’s Thursday Night Opener – My first conference take-way will actually go to my niece: Leave Your Sleep– Natalie Merchant’s collection of classic children’s poetry – put to music – which Natalie played for a delighted conference hall of English teachers, as she strolled through the gathering.

    NCTE 2012 Convention


  • Sir Ken Robinson’s Friday Keynote – Being a big fan of Sir Ken’s TED talks, it was a treat to see and hear him live. Three quotes I now carry with me:
    • on empathy (which is usually defined by what it is rather than its absence) “When you don’t have it, unimaginable things can happen.”
    • “Imagination is the heart of human life – from it springs set of competencies. Creativity = applied imagination.”
    • “Our resumes don’t come at birth – we earn them – we create them.”
  • Will Richardson’s (20 minute) Ignite Session – “Networks are the new classrooms…The network is more powerful than the node (e.g., Twitter)… The literacies, skills, dispositions have changed – we have to change too (from analog to digital). Connected teacher network graph by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach makes visible the need for us to stop being teachers and to start being learners. Our students need to see us as learners”
  • Stop the Bullying – Although I am deeply involved in this topic as a stepping stone into positive digital citizenship, I knew with this outstanding panel, I would walk away with new insights and resources.
    • Ferial Pearson – Reminded us of the power of pro-active vs. re-active  – and the value of spending the 1st week of school building community – with the result that students will understand what “respect” looks like.
    • Kevin Hodgson – I know that back at my district, I’ll be pulling from Kevin’s When Bullying Goes Digital Prezi, including his reference to Our Stories Count.
    • Kylene Beers – For all the times I’ve talked with students and staff about the need to “google well,” I can’t believe I haven’t also walked them through the steps for setting up a “Google alert” to notify them instantly when their names pop up in cyberspace. Great tip!
    • Lester Laminack – I can’t help thinking about the impact Lester’s Sticks and Stones Break Bones but Words Can Really Hurt You presentation could have on a faculty or student body as they plan their own anti-bullying campaigns. Such a compelling, gripping story.
    • Chris Crutcher – So sorry I couldn’t stay for Chris’s presentation.


  • Meenoo Rami’s #engchat Tech-to-Go  session – If you haven’t been able to participate in the synchronous Twitter session, the good news is Meenoo is archiving the sessions. Meenoo recommends TweetChat for easy following and adding to #edchat discussions.
  • Chad Sansing and Andrea Zellner’s Hackjam Tech-to-‘Go session – So glad I was able to catch the last 10 minutes of their high-energy presentation, just in time to learn about Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker, a great free tool to “enhance, remix and share web video.”


  • Reports from Cyberspace – It’s definitely worth getting up early on a Sunday morning when the session is co-hosted by Sara Kajder, Troy Hicks, and Bud Hunt!  Here are a few gems from each:
    • Bud – “If you don’t have a rationale for the (tech) tool, don’t use it”
    • Sara – In addition to exploring ways to use a Livescribe pen (to create “pencasts” of notes and audio, which can then be sent on to Evernote), SoundPaper (lets you create “talking labels”), and WeVideo (for book trailers), I’ll definitely be checking out Subtext (currently available as an iPad app, but scheduled to go live to the cloud), described by Sara as the “game changer” for having students collaboratively close read texts.
    • Troy – Five Ways to Destroy Digital Literacy:
      1. count slides, images, links – with a rubric reflecting that
      2. blog without blogging (wikis, docs, wiki) – instead of recognizing and tapping into the power  of connective writing.
      3. criticize “digitalk”  – instead of recogning the benefits of students “code switching” as described by Kristen Turner  – these kids are more digitally aware.
      4. ask only “googleable” questions – For example: Let me google that for you –
      5. always be thinking about the “coolest” website app, or gadget – when instead, you could use Google docs to read, confer, respond with students).

Sunday (ACE workshop)

  • I wish Katherin Garland’s session on Prezi had been filmed.  In the Prezi workshops I’ll be doing back in my district, I will definitely draw on Kathrin’s reminder to “think conceptually” as I attempt to model her simple, elegant creation of a favorite author Prezi.
  • Thanks to Carey Applegate’s session on Storify, I’m now on board with this free tool for telling our stories. Carey posed the question, “How would your story change if you could bring in images, film, etc.?”  Carey’s example illustrates her question:

There is nothing like the power of five days spent with 9,000 English teachers to truly “push me ahead.”  What I learned in Vegas will be reflected in my upcoming workshop.

I’m already looking ahead to next year’s event…in Boston!

July 8, 2012
by blogwalker

Travel to Rwanda on Student-led Virtual Tour

I’ve never been to Rwanda.  Ever since the 100-day genocide – and after watching Hotel Rwanda – I’ve followed news stories, always hoping to better understand how survivors find the resilience to return to “life as normal.”

At last, I am traveling from California to Rwanda….virtually. Thanks to the vision and determination of my amazing National Writing Project colleague and HEN partner Pam Bodnar, I will be able to join her students as they blog about the sights visited and personal insights experienced. I’ve added the Rwanda Trip 2012 blog to my RSS reader and am really looking forward to joining in the conversations and learning from both Pam’s students and Sacramento USD friend Jeremy Pretko’s students, who are also part of the AfriPeace organization.

But how do you prepare high school students to listen to and experience the first-hand accounts of 100 days of death and destruction as neighbor turned against neighbor in an effort to eliminate an entire group of people?  I think back to my college days when on a trip to Munich, Germany, I ventured to the Dachau concentration camp, with little more preparation on the topic of genocide than having read the Diary of Anne Frank as a 7th grader and maybe a page or two about the Holocaust in a college textbook. I was emotionally and physically ill for hours following the tour.

Pam’s students are prepared. Although now in high school, as 8th graders, they studied the Holocaust not only in their U.S. History class, but also as part of Pam’s Peer Mediators Team.  They delved into the events that led up to the exclusion, forced removal, and murder of over 6 million Jews and other “undesirables” during World War II. But they did not study the Holocaust as an isolated event on a timeline that happened “then and there.” Instead they researched connections from “then and there” to “here and now.” Events including the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, as well as the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. They approached events of the past and recent past as a call to social action.  They became “change writers.”

I hope you will join me in following the Rwanda Trip 2012 students in what I already know will be a highlight of the summer and a testimony to the power of youth to make a difference.

May 27, 2012
by blogwalker

Teachers Teaching Teachers – Connected learning for educators

I have a folder in my file cabinet marked Teachers Teaching Teachers. In it are notes I’ve jotted down from various Teachers Teaching Teachers shows – snippets of inspiring quotes from teachers across the nation or sometimes the world, titles to insightful books and  articles, links to thought-provoking websites, and always, always ideas that prompt me to rethink how to empower students as writers and as (digital) citizens.

The notes are not well organized. Some are in notebooks; some on scraps of paper. I wish I had been a little more systematic about including the dates. But in my defense,  more often than not, I’m racing home from the flat lands of Sacramento (where I teach) to the Sierra foothills (where I live) to be online with the TTT group by 6:00 PST, so grabbing a notebook is often secondary to locating my headset or working through connectivity issues.

But so many gems! From the inception of the YouthVoices project (which has included amazing and timely additions, such as Voices from the Gulf project following the BP oil spill) to the recent show on the art and genre of string games, I learn something new from each episode – and log off with an even greater appreciation of this embracing, connected learning community for educators.

This Wednesday TTT celebrates its 300th show, an event made possible by the leadership and commitment of my friend/mentor/National Writing Project colleague Paul Allison. If you’ve not had the pleasure of joining a Teachers Teaching Teachers show, the video below will give you a glimpse into the many ways Paul promotes connected learning for both students and teachers.

Hope to see you in the TTT chat room for Wednesday evening’s 300th episode:-)


April 6, 2012
by blogwalker

Igniting National Poetry Month – 2012 Update

The 2012 National Poetry Month poster, designed by Chin-Yee Lai

“A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start      arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”   Salman Rushdie

It’s April. Time to update last year’s Igniting National Poetry Month post (whoohoo, all the links still work!) with a few new resources:

Addition #1 – 30 Poems You Can Write for National Poetry Month – From Thinkfinity, poetry ideas for each day of the month.

Addition #2 – Celebrate Math, Poetry, and Humor in April – Also from Thinkfinity, here’s an opportunity to bring poetry into your math classes.

Addition #3 – Drop Me Off in Harlem – Faces of the Harlem Renaissance – For a starter, listen to Langston Hughes reading his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”  ArtsEdge’s (Kennedy Center) has assembled an amazing collection of the many voices of the Harlem Renaissance.

Addition #4 – National Poetry MonthRead, Write, Think continues to add to their outstanding collection of poetry lessons and resources.

Addition #5 – #NPM2012 – Let’s Begin Again, AgainNational Writing Project colleague and mentor Bud Hunt (Bud the Teacher) invites teachers to join in his 3rd annual celebration of National poetry month. Each day of the month,  Bud “posts a new picture, and perhaps a sentence or two,” to encourage us to write a poem.

Addition #6 – The Golden Shovel Anthology: Honoring the Continuing Legacy and Influence of Gwendolyn Brooks – Oak Park/River High School teacher Peter Kahn contacted me about this publishing opportunity for students ages 13-18 to submit poetry. The Golden Shovel Poetry Anthology is a poetry anthology that honors former U.S. Poet Laureate, Gwendolyn Brooks, and will include student poems alongside those of professional poets, including Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners and U.S. Poet Laureates. Students may submit ONE poem by May 31st, 2012, in accordance with the poetry style and submission guidelines to be considered for inclusion.

If you have resources to add, please jump in with a comment!

“It’s good to play with words.  It’s good to read and think about poems.”  Bud Hunt

March 18, 2012
by blogwalker
1 Comment

Digital ID Project – An invitation for collaboration

Bringing digital citizenship into the core curriculum

I just returned from a 4-day trip to the fabulous CUE Conference in fabulous Palm Springs, California. In addition to joining some outstanding speakers and sessions (which I’ll blog separately later today), the conference was also the first time my National Writing Project/MERIT colleague Natalie Bernasconi and I were able to co-present our Digital ID project.

We were fortunate to have a wonderful group of teachers and administrators, ranging from elementary through high school, joining us for the session – with a several jumping right in to join the wiki and add to the resources.

The goal of the Digital ID project is to collectively and collaboratively- in one online location – provide students, teachers, and parents with the resources and strategies to make digital citizenship an integral part of the core curriculum – while addressing the legal requirements of current legislation such a AB 307 and the Broadband Data Improvement Act.

Natalie and I warmly invite you to download, tweak, share, and contribute to our growing bank of resources. We especially want to draw your attention to our Digital Citizenship PSA Challenge. We would love to showcase your students’ projects!


February 20, 2012
by blogwalker

Wrapping up MERIT – PD that works!

Next month I wrap up my year-long participation in the MERIT program, by far the best professional development program and PLN experience I’ve had to date – bar none.

The impact of MERIT really hit me last week when I was sharing with a colleague  some gems I took away from last week’s amazing Saturday session with Ramsey Musallam. I started to explain that I met Ramsey while down at Foothill College. She immediately added, “Oh, the MERIT program, right?”  That’s when I realized that throughout the school year, I regularly reference speakers, resources, and ideas gleaned from my MERIT experience.

So why is it that the MERIT program has been so meaningful to me, both in my work (technology integration specialist for a large k-12 school district) and as a life-long learner? Let’s see if I can nail it down in a few bullets:

  • “Earn while you learn” – That was the original name of the MERIT program.  What’s the difference, besides $$$, in being paid or having to pay for PD?  Somehow with a stipend I feel more valued as a contributor to the MERIT community.  I also feel energized, supported, and empowered to spread great resources and best practices back in my district and region.
  • 2 week summer institute – Having a concentrated chunk of hands-on time to learn about new tools while engaging in conversations on how these tools can improve teaching and learning boosts the likelihood of implementing them as part of my teaching toolkit. Two weeks to explore tools and concepts such as: UJam,  Diane Mein’s introduction to geocaching and QR codes,  magic fill and look up options for Google Docs, Meg Ormainsky’s models for well-designed Prezis (that don’t bring on motion sickness), MIT’s Scratch, and so much more!!!
  • Inspiring leadership – Between Rushton Hurley’s ability to motivate a crowd (and not just because of the super cool swag available to those who arrive early for each session;-), his ability to recognize tools that can make a difference to students, and his ever present sense of humor; the outstanding MERIT co-leaders and student assistants; and the Krause Center for Innovation (Gay Krause & Steve McGriff) – I’m pretty sure that 100% of my MERIT colleagues also feel fortunate to be part of the program.
  • Teaming possibilities – Priority is given to teachers applying as a team. Through our involvement in the National Writing Project, my MERIT teammate Natalie Bernasconi and I have known each other for a number of years.  Many times we have said how it would be great to partner on a project.  MERIT transformed that idea into a reality. Six months after our summer institute, I stand back in awe of where our MERIT-ignited collaboration has taken us. Next month we head to the CUE Conference where we will present our digital citizenship wiki and project: Digital ID – a project that will continue to grow, even as our MERIT year draws to an end.

If you applied for the 2012 MERIT program, I wish you luck. If you are accepted, I guarantee you too will soon be widely broadcasting its benefits.  If you did not apply this year, I encourage you to think about 2013.  And the good news is that MERIT is open to teachers across the nation and world. For a glimpse of the depth, breadth, and possibilities of the program, the community, and the multiple “ah ha” moments, checkout the video below from the 2010 MERIT team:

January 21, 2012
by blogwalker

Gearing Up for Digital Learning Day

I’m starting the countdown to California’s February 1 Digital Learning Day celebration and feeling very fortunate to be attending the event with three outstanding teachers from my district.

Lesley McKillop, 4th gSplash-Channel3rade teacher at Prairie Elementary and Area 3 Writing Project colleague, will share how her students use filmmaking as tool for transforming their writing into social action, such as taking on the Sacramento Board of Directors to save Splash, an environmental education program. Checkout the video for an idea of the many ways Lesley takes student voices beyond the walls of the classroom.

Teresa Cheung, 4th grade teacher at David Reese Elementary, will share how her students use voice recorders, as part of the Stories from the Heart project, to interview family and community members to compare and contrast childhood experiences across generations, geographic areas, and cultures.

Terri Mills, 5th grade teacher at David Reese Elementary, will share See the Wind, a science and writing lesson in which she teams her 5th graders with 1st graders. With a little help from their big buddies, the first graders then take their writing and their voices out to the world via VoiceThread.

I’ll be sharing Digital ID, a collaborate project I’ve been working on this year with Writing Project and Merit 2011 colleague Natalie Bernasconi. But more about this project later in the week:-)

In the Sacramento region, thanks to the efforts of Digital Learning Day coordinator Jayne Marlink, the excitement is growing, along with DLDay resources.

Hope to see you there!

January 8, 2012
by blogwalker

Feb 1 is Digital Learning Day!

Digital Learning Day – what a great way for schools to head into the New Year! If your district, like mine, is experiencing the weight of PI (Program Improvement) pressures, requirements and walk-throughs sucking the creative juices right out classrooms, Digital Learning Day will provide a much-needed celebration of innovative teachers and instructional strategies.

Started by the Alliance for Learning, and in partnership with the National Writing Project, Digital Learning Day will showcase powerful work going on in the many districts and classrooms where educators are making thoughtful use of the potential of digital tools to provide students with the skills they need to succeed in college, career, and life. The ultimate goal is for the event to ignite a “digital learning movement that truly provides a quality education for every child.”

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education (and former governor of West Virginia) speaks clearly and passionately in this video message on the commitment for Digital Learning Day to be more than a stand-alone event.

“Simply slapping a netbook on top of a textbook, however, will not necessarily lead to significant outcomes. Effective digital media combined with powerful teaching, rich content, and engaged students has the potential to take learning in the United States to a much higher level and provide all students with experiences that allow them to graduate prepared for college and a career.”

Across the nation, the Alliance for Learning and the National Writing Project (NWP) will be coordinating statewide and local Digital Learning Day events.  In California, under the direction of the California Writing Project (CWP), you have a number of opportunities showcase good things happening at your schools and districts:

  •  February 1 Sacramento/Capitol Area ShowcaseWriting Our Future: A Celebration of Students’ Digital Learning and Writing (4:00-6:00 pm, location TBA). CWP Director Jayne Marlink describes the event as “imagine a combination of a science fair and a gallery walk…Teams will share their approach to improving learning – the learning goals, the technological resources used, and the student work that resulted.” I am really looking forward to involving some of the amazing teachers in my district’s EETT grants and the ANU Teach 21 grant!
  • February 1 (and maybe during the following week) Road Tour – A tour of schools and classrooms across the state that will open their doors to invited guests and community members, so they can see great digital teaching and learning in action. There will also be an Online Road Tour of schools and classrooms that will be visited via the CWP website. Amazing middle school teacher Natalie Bernasconi, for instance, will invite visitors in for an exploration of digital writing as a powerful way for her ELL students to find their voices and share their stories.
  • Try One New Thing Digital Learning Day is not limited to February 1! Across California and the nation, Writing Project sites will be sponsoring workshops and conferences for teachers and administrators. Educators will be encouraged to “sample an online lesson, use mobile devices in class, start a wiki, use digital storytelling, start a project-based learning unit, but above all, challenge your teaching, learning, and pedagogy and see what digital technology can do for you and the students you serve!”

A great starting point for DLD resources are the toolkits, which are “are designed to help you think about how technology may strengthen your instructional strategies.” More resources and tips to come!

Digital Learning Day is a call for action “to leverage innovative uses of technology in our nation’s schools to ensure every student experiences personalized learning with great teaching.” It’s also a great opportunity – in this time of painful budget cuts – to showcase good things happening in public school classrooms.  I hope you will join me in publicizing this event in your districts and regions!

September 24, 2011
by blogwalker

Teaching Writing “Out of a Box” – Can we reverse the trend?

Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. ” (National Writing Project)

Image from the National Writing Project

I was not taught how to teach writing as part of my teacher credential program.  It is through my 16-year affiliation with the National Writing Project that I have joined conversations, learned strategies, and shared best practices on helping students improve their writing skills – in ways that help them see themselves as writers and to actually look forward to writing.

Following my participation in the Area 3 Writing Project’s 1995 Summer Institute, as I headed into the new school year, I could almost immediately see the difference in my 6th graders’ attitudes and progress as I revamped my writing program.  By the time we headed to science camp, many had already transitioned from “having to write” to “getting to write.” I can still remember our first stop on the way to camp, where the students had an hour to explore a sandy beach, watch the seals and seagulls, and marvel at the pounding surf.  I noticed a number of students sitting silently, counting on their fingers.  I realized that, in their heads, they were counting syllables – for words they would include in the haiku poetry they would write down that night in their notebooks. Writers in the making!

Not surprisingly, in our current test-driven climate, many school districts have adopted scripted, formulaic writing programs with the belief that writing can be taught step-by-step out of a box program. Sadly, I think districts often value most programs they have to pay for – over the knowledge and expertise of their own teachers on effective ways to improve students’ writing.

I started my morning reading Paula Stacey’s Let’s Stop Teaching Writing, an article by that was included in today’s National Writing Project Daily. I value Paula’s reflections on teaching writing to 3rd graders and share her belief that “In our desire to help students engage in the process of writing, we have defined a process that really isn’t writing.”

I am currently out of the classroom, working as a technology integration specialist, and therefore am not in a situation of having to take a stand with an administrator or “writing” coach on teaching a boxed program. To those of you who are in that situation, I recommend initiating grade level and site discussions around the National Writing Project’s Core Principles:

  • Teachers at every level—from kindergarten through college—are the agents of reform; universities and schools are ideal partners for investing in that reform through professional development.
  • Writing can and should be taught, not just assigned, at every grade level. Professional development programs should provide opportunities for teachers to work together to understand the full spectrum of writing development across grades and across subject areas.
  • Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research, the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing. Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically.
  • There is no single right approach to teaching writing; however, some practices prove to be more effective than others. A reflective and informed community of practice is in the best position to design and develop comprehensive writing programs.
  • Teachers who are well informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers as well as partners in educational research, development, and implementation. Collectively, teacher-leaders are our greatest resource for educational reform.”

Given the incredible amount of bureaucratic requirements and accountability issues administrators must deal with,  I think it’s easy for them to lose their vision of what students really need to thrive in today’s digital world. I recommend sending good resources their way. Resources such as Edutopia  to provide them with a window into “what works in education,” or the NCTE’s  working “definition of 2st century literacies,” or the NWP’s Digital Is  to inspire and re-energize them with a  “collection of ideas, reflections, and stories about what it means to teach writing in our digital, interconnected world.” Because writing matters.


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