Rethinking School District Social Media Policies for Teachers / Students

I’ve been fortunate enough to teach in a school district that blocks very little – blogs, Twitter, Flickr, wiki’s, YouTube, Cover-It-Live, and more are all open. FaceBook and the obvious porn and other sites are blocked. However in my job as STEM Facilitator I hear from teachers locally and nationally in school districts that block most to all the above and more. If there are any social possibilities, whether it is moderated or not … it’s BLOCKED, no questions or comments allowed.

I’ve also been asked to share with local, state and even the US Department of Education, “What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students?”

So for everyones benefit it would be more than helpful to get feedback about that here. Especially if you are an administrator or government representative that has successfully dealt with this issue. The Common Core State Standards require students to collaborate globally, and certainly many of us can sing the praises as to why and how that is a valuable learning experience. So again – What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students? PLEASE share in comments and I will pass on.

Thanks in advance!

Learning is messy!





Posted in Change, Education, Inclusion, Messy Learning, Project Based, Reform, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 19 Comments

Unleash the Learning Power of Blogs By Actually Using Them Consistently!

Blogs are an incredible learning tool. But like an exercise bike, having one does not lead to self improvement unless you use it. And using it sporadically is only barely helpful. You have to invest time to get the great results … imagine now the sculpted/toned bodies of the models they use in ads for any exercise equipment … then imagine the sculpted/toned brains of your students using blogs. That doesn’t happen without consistent use.

Now that I think of it though, blogs are not like an exercise bike, blogs are like one of those pieces of fitness equipment that include multiple exercises – weight lifting, sit-ups, pull-ups, leg lifts and so on. Blogs are certainly writing spaces, but they lend themselves to not just publishing writing, but also response and discussion which is that higher level thinking we are vying for. But wait! There’s still more. Blogs also include, publishing photos, videos, podcasts, spreadsheets, slide shows, art work, and much more. AND all of those pieces can be written about and discussed. AND note its not even all writing, notice in my partial list it can be oral language and media … and of course it involves reading. So multiple exercises for the brain! AND all of that is archived and it is then easy to see improvement over time – you can see it, your students can see it and their parents can see it.

Did I mention the family connection? Not only is the blog available for student collaborators to see and interact with, the students’ families can as well. Students can go home and show parents what they did today, family members can comment … see what I mean? Oooh, and I’ve had experts like scientists and athletes and the like leave comments and interact as well.

Here’s the thing though, getting back to my initial point, that doesn’t happen if we don’t use them consistently. Blogs are powerful, engaging, motivating, learning tools. So use them consistently, and use all their possibilities. Otherwise it is like doing one or two writing projects a year that you turn into published books … “My Poetry Book” and/or “The Day I Was My Dog” – great stuff, but imagine doing that all the time and you (the teacher) doesn’t have to find the special paper and laminate and so forth.

Oh, and couple your class blog with a wiki and a photo sharing service like Flickr … it only gets better.

So if you have your students blogging because you want them to learn. Then really have them blogging all the time!!!! The initial time it takes to get them up and going will pay big dividends!

Learning is messy!

Posted in Blogging, Change, Education, Literacy, Making Connections With Blogging, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Wikis | 9 Comments

Sharing Real-World Projects Sharpens the Literacy Skills of Connected Students

I have a new post up over at the Powerful Learning Practice Blog entitled: Sharing Real-World Projects Sharpens the Literacy Skills of Connected Students. Head over and give it a read … and comment as well. :)

I’ve been making the point in my STEM trainings that part of the appeal, to me at least, of STEM and Maker learning, is how language intense it should be. Teachers react well when I point that out and make the case for not leaving the language experiences “on the cutting room floor,” so to speak. There are so many deep, thoughtful, and especially, creative language possibilities that are too often not realized or wasted in the rush to do an interesting, engaging activity and then move on.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Literacy, Messy Learning, STEM | 2 Comments

Constructive Learning Is …

7 Years ago Doug Noon, an elementary teacher in Alaska, who some will remember for his fantastic blog “Borderland,” which unfortunately he decided to end awhile back, challenged his readers to write their own blog posts about what constructive learning is. I’d link to it, and my original post did, but alas there is nothing to link to. For some reason my old post has been garnering more than usual interest the last few days so I went and checked it out and found it still has legs. See if you agree, and maybe write your own:

Constructive learning is learning about something you had no intention of learning about because of what you did or are doing to produce something. You learn that you can have persistence, you can stick with something to completion – you just spent more time on task than you ever did in your life. You learn from failure what doesn’t work and why it doesn’t work until you work out what can work.

Constructive learning is contemplation.

Constructive learning is working things out with someone you could not possibly work things out with because you can’t possibly get along with that person because they are an enemy, your enemy –  but, because you had a common goal, an intriguing goal that happened to use your strengths in an unexpected way – you now share a successful experience.

Constructive learning is working on something intriguing enough and important enough (to you) that you stick with it and work through what is hard with materials and people and ideas for long enough to find success.

Constructive learning is making connections.

Constructive learning is learning about just what you had in mind to learn about. You developed the thinking about how to learn what you wanted to learn about. You put together the materials required – Tried it, proved it to yourself. Done. Next.

Constructive learning is just doing something, anything almost, that seems to have even a whiff of possibility – sometimes it just works.

Constructive learning is seeking out those you would really like to work with because you have a good sense that you are kin in your thinking and interest – if the right problem is taken on kismet can happen – but so can disappointment.

Constructive learning is re-doing it because now we see how it could be really great.

Constructive learning is starting to make one thing, but then realizing it would make a better other thing. So you make the other thing instead.

Constructive learning is everything fell apart. The group, what we were trying to do, the idea, and it’s best to just walk away.

Constructive learning is everything fell apart. The group, what we were trying to do, the idea, but now we’ve had time and we are enthusiastic about it again.

Constructive learning is finding out that someone you thought was cool, was someone to be around – isn’t.

Constructive learning is learning that that jerk, that idiot, that ugly person!  – isn’t.

Constructive learning is planning a constructive learning experience and watching what you hoped would happen, happen – but also all the great stuff you didn’t really plan to happen, that happens.

Constructive learning is the kids that never got it until they had a chance to do it this way.

Constructive learning is more than the above –  it is a passion.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Education, Inclusion, Messy Learning, Project Based | 2 Comments

A Whole ‘Lotta Shaking Goin’ On

I recently happened across this piece I wrote in 2002 for a writing class, in fact my Northern Nevada Writing Project class,  about my experiences during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and its aftermath. (Side note – Corbett Harrison who is co- genius behind was one of my instructors)

I was teaching 6th grade in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time of the earthquake. I was home in the East Bay getting ready to watch a World Series game, but my wife of 2 months was on the 38th floor of an office building in downtown San Francisco. Today, October 17, 2013, is the 24th anniversary of that event, so I thought it fitting to post this today. A bit different from most posts here. Think how different this experience would be today with changes in technology.

A Whole ‘Lotta Shaking Goin’ On

         I settled into the couch, a crisp fall apple clenched in my teeth, and with a quick double poke on the remote I turned the TV on and selected the World Series channel. Nancy wouldn’t even start her ninety-minute commute home for another half-hour, so I could relax, watch some of the game and still have plenty of time to prepare dinner.

         As the game coverage faded in on the set, I took my first bite of apple and immediately felt strangely disconnected and disoriented. The feeling only lasted a second or two but when my senses realigned, I realized I was experiencing an earthquake. A constant shaking sensation like traveling over slightly uneven pavement was joined by intermittent sharp bumps. My eye caught a hanging light fixture swaying so it almost smacked the ceiling. Dishes rattled and clanked in the kitchen. A splashing sound had me glance outside at the source. The top two feet of water from the swimming pool was being sloshed out onto the surrounding deck and plants.

         Car alarms sounded, windows rattled and the whole townhouse moaned. Then stillness. No pictures had fallen, or walls cracked. No dishes had fallen out of cupboards, no apparent damage. The quake had lasted about 15 seconds, but it seemed much longer.

         “This is great!” I thought. “Many of my students must have felt that! What a great discussion we can have tomorrow. What did they feel? Did they follow the earthquake procedures we’d covered? Had they watched the news to find out the Richter scale reading of the….wait a minute. If that quake was epicentered near here then no big deal – but if that was centered far away that was a big quake!”

         It was then that I noticed the TV was dark. I got up and confirmed the power was off. I dashed to the garage and turned the car radio on… nothing but static…bad sign. The garage light came on. I ran back into the house, turned the downstairs TV on and flipped through the channels of static until I found Channel 5 in San Francisco had a station identifier on. I bounded upstairs, shoved a blank tape into the VCR in our bedroom and pushed record. “This way I’ll get a tape of how they deal with an emergency,” I reasoned.

         I returned to the living room to find channel 5 coming on live. Dave McEllhatten appeared from a darkened newsroom looking flustered but talking calmly. “You felt it,” he reported, “and it was a big one, or at least the biggest one I’ve felt.” He explained they were on generator power, hence the dim lights, and that they would get us information as quickly as they could.

Seeing the newsroom intact made me feel better since Nancy’s office was on the 38th floor of a building  just across town from there.

Within 5 minutes I was seeing scenes of a bridge collapse, which initially they reported as the Carquinez Bridge, but was really the Bay Bridge, and smoke pouring from a collapsed freeway and buildings here and there.

But what I also saw was not much other damage. I tried the phone but it was dead. I figured the only way Nancy would still be in her office was if everything was OK anyhow. 

I walked through our townhouse to inspect for damage but found none.

Now I got antsy. “Is there something I should do?” I thought. “But what? Getting in my car was the wrong thing to do – and where would I go? The bridge was down and finding Nancy would be next to impossible.”

         “The last Bart train is out of the tube which is good news,” Dave reported, “and no more trains will be running until they can check the tube for damage.” “No Bart!? But that’s Nancy’s way home,” I moaned.

Now there were scenes from San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Cruz of building collapses and fires. Then a report came from The Marina section of San Francisco that showed apartment buildings off their foundations, on fire and a general chaos of people shouting, sirens blaring and bleeding people being carried off in stretchers.

I tried the phone again…nothing. I hung it up only to have it almost immediately ring. I answered and heard a strange voice speaking in Spanish. I answered in my best college Spanish but as soon as they heard my voice they hung up. So the phones were working!

I hung up and tried the phone…nothing. As I held the phone in my hand thinking about what to do next I heard the dial tone click on. “Great it works!” I thought, “But who to phone?” I tried Nancy’s office but the call didn’t go through.

My Mom answered my next call on the second ring. My parents only lived about 4 miles from me. Mom informed me that she had not heard from my sister who worked in the same building as Nancy. We reassured each other that they were probably fine and hung up so as not to tie up the phone line during an emergency.

Now the reports from the TV were coming in fast and furious. Scenes from Candlestick Park where the World Series had been cancelled, and then from the Cypress Freeway that led onto the Bay Bridge came reports that the upper deck of the freeway had collapsed onto the lower deck, a gruesome image to be sure.

I decided to try the phone again. It had by now been about 2 hours since the quake and it was dark. I reasoned that Nancy may have gone to her sister’s apartment in San Francisco. Before I could get to the phone, it rang. It was my Mother telling me that Nancy was all right. She had met up with my sister and they had hired a limo to take them and another woman to Nancy’s sister’s apartment.

I called Nancy. It took several minutes but the call went through. Nancy said they were hunched over a transistor radio with a dying battery, trying to hear what was going on. Helicopters were landing and taking off from the park next door, ferrying National Guardsmen around the city. Otherwise, she said it was pitch black and eerily quiet.

She explained that she had had to walk down 38 flights of stairs after the quake and that she had picked up some pieces of her building that had crumbled on the ground in case I wanted to show my class. I filled her in on what I knew and that she could probably catch a ferryboat home the next day. Knowing we were each all right, we hung up.

Soon afterwards I got several calls from friends and relatives from other states checking on us, asking me what I knew, and could I contact someone they couldn’t and let them know if they were OK. This took some time, but I found out in doing so that my phone service was working better than seemingly anywhere in the Bay Area. I was able to get through every time and get back to people and let them know things were fine.

About 9:00pm Nancy’s boss called to see if everything was OK and report that she knew Nancy was fine. She was calling from the office! She had no lights but the phone worked so she was calling employees’ families and letting them know how things were.

“Um, they’re reporting that there might be large aftershocks, Laurie!” I reported, “don’t you think you might want to get off the 38th floor!?” In true type A personality fashion she assured me she was fine. Her husband was driving the 80 or so miles from their house in the East Bay to come down the peninsula and across the Golden Gate Bridge to get her. The bridge was closed but might reopen.

“Laurie, they’re saying on the news that they really don’t want people coming into the city right now. Maybe you should get out of there and get to Laura’s house (Nancy’s sister),” I suggested.” She’d have none of that. She had more calls to make so she signed off.

Tim was knocking on the door soon after Laurie hung up. Tim was Nancy’s sister’s husband, and he worked on this side of the Bay Bridge so he couldn’t go home. I filled him in on what I knew and we stayed up pretty late and watched TV.

I was struck by the fact that when you watched the network coverage that most of the country was seeing you were led to believe that the Bay Area was decimated. While in truth the damage was mainly concentrated in isolated pockets. The Marina section of San Francisco where some of the most severe damage had occurred, was built on sand that had been dredged in and filled an area that used to be part of the Bay. The sand had “liquefied” during the quake and that had caused foundations to fail and buildings to collapse.

The rush of adrenaline from an evening of excitement made it hard to go to sleep, and yet I knew that 5:30am was fast approaching and tomorrow would be a big day at school. We were warned that some students might be traumatized and that we should be on the lookout for any students that might need help coping.

The stories from my students the next day ranged from those that hadn’t felt anything to the soccer players that ended up on the ground riding out the shaking. I got letters from a few parents thanking me for the earthquake preparedness unit we were doing. They noted sons or daughters that were usually helpless that put water in the tub in case the water went out and questioned whether they should turn off the gas in case the pipes had ruptured. Easily the toughest story to hear was from a girl in my class who reported to us that her father, an Oakland fireman, had not come home and her mom was certain he was working on the freeway trying to save those trapped in their cars under the concrete. They finally heard from him a day and a half later, and indeed he was part of the crew that was cutting through concrete and pulling out survivors and non-survivors. He later confided to me that he would never be able to fully talk to his own kids about what he had done and seen during that time. I guessed that he may have been one of the firemen who had to literally cut through a woman’s dead body to save the life of her four year old son who had been trapped for 3 days next to his dead mother.

Nancy got home that afternoon after a ferry trip and a ride to her car with someone. We regaled each other with our survival stories for a few hours. A week later building engineers reported that the Speare Street Tower where Nancy worked swayed six feet in both directions during the quake, which is exactly what it was designed to do.

Nancy went to bed early since she hadn’t slept much the night before. I settled onto the couch to watch a rehash of the day’s events, but a lump in the cushion prevented me from being comfortable. In between the cushions was the apple I had taken one bite out of when the quake struck the evening before. The other side looked OK – So I munched on it as I relived the last 24 hours with Channel 5.



Learning is messy!

Posted in Brian Crosby, Literacy, Messy Learning | 2 Comments

Tales Out of School

In my travels I’ve recently heard some interesting, if not disheartening tales.

Several teachers I met shared being at a school board meeting where a school board member told about visiting middle and high schools and being appalled at seeing students using smart phones in the hallways and hearing how occasionally teachers have to ask students to put their phones away in class. Also he has heard stories about students accessing inappropriate sites on their phones. His plan is to change school district policy so that the first time a student has a phone out in class for any reason, the teacher is to confiscate the phone for a day. On the second occurrence however, the teacher is to confiscate the phone and then break it in front of the student and the class as a punishment and vivid reminder of how important the no phone policy is.

It was pointed out to the school board member that A) That put teachers in a very untenable position. B) It put teachers, the school and the school district in a position to be sued. C) It might be against the law to break something as punishment … and there were other issues and concerns raised. The school board member vows to look into it.

Another situation involves a teacher sharing at a training how she loved the new district online grade book program. She really liked how, even though she did not have a school district iPad, she could access the online program on her smartphone and that enabled her to input grades and notes while she was interacting with students in reading groups and other situations. She explained that she had been trained to do the same on paper, this took no more time to input AND it meant she didn’t have to take the time to transfer the data from paper to the program later on a computer. It saved her time and was more efficient. Other teachers nodded their heads and took notes about what they thought was a great idea.

Sitting by this teacher in the training were several district administrators. They questioned if the smartphone was hers or the school district’s. She explained that of course it was her phone. They admonished her and explained they would look the other way “this time” – but that technically they could “write her up” for going against school district policy. She was NOT to use her own device to input grades or access the online grading system. She asked if it was OK to take home her school laptop and input grades from home, and the answer was of course since it was a school district computer. She informed them that even though she used her phone that at no time were the grades actually “on her phone” but only on “the cloud”or internet, so she was not sure how that was against policy. They admonished her again and informed her that she was never to do that again!

Wow! We have a long way to go!

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 1 Comment

Who Gets Noticed? Telling? Or Not So Much? You Decide

A few weeks ago I noted to a local education reporter here that their Twitter follows included basically zero (or only VERY few) educators – almost all politicians and other media people and  neo-reformers (Rhee, Broad, Students First, etc.). To their credit they not only acknowledged that, but followed me and then asked me for other educators to follow, which I obliged (although I did promise more which I’ll have to follow up on – Geez!)

That leads to today when, as I was cooking dinner, I noted through another media person I follow,  that a very high state education official was on Twitter. I clicked on who they follow and noted … wait for it … that they followed basically zero educators – mostly politicians and media people. Now this person has been on Twitter for like 2 weeks or so and perhaps doesn’t get the 2 way street that is Twitter (well or their PR person doesn’t), but for someone in charge of setting education policy … it does raise my eyebrows a bit.

Next I started checking various school board members, school administrators that have Twitter accounts, and state “education reporters” from media outlets. Guess what I found? … Yep about the same story. Mostly (really almost ONLY) followed other media types, politicians, the neo-reformers (not sure they understand or care the issues there), and various others, but almost no, or literally no actual educators.

Now to be fair, I’m not saying its a conspiracy to keep teachers down (mostly, :) ), but I do think it shows a basic … um .. “unawareness”, …. a not even thinking about getting a balance or inputs. Also, it takes some time to search around and find people (in this case educators) on Twitter, but still … really?

I think mostly it demonstrates how many get a Twitter (or other social presence on the web) because “you’re supposed to,” without understanding how its supposed to work … that its actually supposed to be a 2 way street … you’re supposed to read the Tweets of those you’re connected with, and learn from them, and interact with them too. Just sending out your thoughts to seem “connected” is actually pretty (actually, very) lame … really like using everyone else. It’s condescending really … we should hang on every one of your Tweets (thank you, thank you, thank you!) but you don’t have time to interact with ours (I’m looking at you @arneduncan – but also many others).

Again, I’m not surprised by this … I just think, maybe, it is a part of what the media and others don’t get about what teachers / educators see as a deck stacked against them when it comes to coverage of education issues. Those with money, power and a high media presence (see above) get their views reported … others … not so much.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Education, Reform, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Beginning of the Year Classroom Learning Ideas

Over the years I’ve posted about lessons and activities I’ve used successfully to start off the year. Here are some of them in case they help:

1) “Getting To Know You” is how I started my year with my students that not only was successful and getting them to know each other better, but was a great way to end up with my first seating arrangement for the year, and starting to teach them how to support and include each other.

2) Write It! is a writing game that I originally learned in a writing inservice class. Not only is it great at getting students to write, it also familiarizes them with each other’s names AND THEN becomes a great way to scaffold them writing quality blog comments. I did not share the blog comments piece in the original post, so I’ll do so here. Go read the original post first.

After your students are very comfortable playing the game and writing blog posts, use the format of the game to have your students write quality comments on blogs. When my students first blogged many would leave comments like, “Nice post.” OR “I liked it.” OR WORSE: “nice poste” OR “i lickd it” with no punctuation – that would be the entire comment. Then one day I thought to use the game as a scaffold. I’d explain that when they left blog comments they had to start (just like the game) with a “nice comment” like, “Your post was interesting to read.” OR “I like how you describe things.” OR just whatever. Next they could write anything else – perhaps sharing a connection to the post or a general comment, BUT they had to leave a question at the end (just like the game).

Why? Because it made them think about what they read, it required them to analyze something about the post to praise, and by asking a question at the end (along with a link back to their own blog!) it encouraged a conversation. I especially encouraged students to find posts that connected to something they had posted themselves – “Nice post about your new kitten. I don’t have a cat, but I wrote a post about my Grandma’s dog you might like. Here’s a link to it. Do you have any other pets?”  – Have your students comment on your own class blog at first so you see how they are doing, then let them loose on other class blogs.

3) Baseline – is a post for those of you that get started blogging fairly early OR take some kind of a baseline writing assessment at the beginning of the year. For years we were required to get a baseline example of writing to chart growth during the year’s benchmark writing assessments. I would have the students type up that assessment without correcting any mistakes they noted – then we had an archive of a baseline piece right on their blog. Sometimes we would come back to that piece, cut and paste it into a word processor and re-write. Students would chuckle at the mistakes and lack of grammar, or perhaps realize they were much better now at word choice and describing than they were. Great way for them (and everyone else) to see growth.

Well, that’s all for now.

Learning is messy!


Posted in Blogging, Brian Crosby, Education, Literacy, Making Connections With Blogging, Student Access | 1 Comment

HackEd ISTE 2013



Just spent the day at what used to be called EduBloggerCon (and a few other iterations over the years). As always great folks having conversations about where education could / should be going.

Now I’m actually sitting in the Bloggers’ Cafe at the end of the day … blogging … used to do this more often, kind of feels good.

I’m not going to go into all the conversations I had today, but instead focus a bit on one notable takeaway. Several conversations I had today with individuals centered around that we are having the same conversations about the same topics (how much things need to change, and we need to get people onboard, what we could be doing,  how to do that, how to speed up that change, … you get the idea) and that it is really getting old and nothing seems to REALLY be happening.

I’m as frustrated about that as anyone out there (here? … wherever), but one takeaway I had about that today is that we are having those conversations with more people from more places. The first EduBloggerCon 7 or 8 years ago had about 30 attendees (more or less). Today, hundreds were in attendance and many were new faces. Having those same old conversations (and they weren’t all old topics BTW) is important I think. Maybe its not enough, maybe it won’t lead to change fast enough, but until enough people hear the message let’s keep at spreading it.

I’ve also heard for years that certain blog posts / topics have already been written … I think we have a whole new group online now that would benefit hearing about some of those same topics. Perhaps now that more and more stakeholders are connecting this is the time to re-visit and refresh those past conversations … maybe more ears are listening? Am I off base here?

Learning is messy!




Posted in Blogging, Change, Education, ISTE13 | 4 Comments

A Professional Learning Community/Network Example

Or: “Why many educators find Twitter and other social networks indispensable.”

I’m currently attending the NSTA STEM Forum and Expo in St. Louis. Last night while taking a class on using telescopes in the classroom,  not far from my house in Nevada I got an email request from a teacher wanting to know if there was a way to live stream from her classroom so that the chicken eggs her class is observing could be watched all night so as to not miss their hatching.

I thought of USTREAM, but I haven’t had reason to use it in awhile and when I checked it out I could see it wasn’t going to meet her needs. So I went to Twitter to see if the network of educators and various “techies” and others I’ve been fortunate to be part of could help:

My Twitter Request




About 5 or so minutes went by and lo and behold Chris Craft from South Carolina chimed in. He suggested using Google Hangout … then when I balked somewhat, he filled me in as to why it should work:

Chris Craft Twitter
















(Note my typo in the last Tweet – it should say “so I’ll have…” not si)

In the meantime I touched base with the teacher that requested the help and set up a time next week when we will try to make this work (or a variation of it) well in advance so we have time to problem solve. I’m not positive it will work (at least in part due to limitations on my part) but it gives us a solid place to start and a resource (Chris) I can go back to for clarification if we do run into issues.

I lament all the time along with many of my colleagues that we don’t share these examples of how a PLN helps … is really indispensable anymore. So when this happened I made sure to share … but there are many examples and it is hard to always share. Hope that helps clarify PLN’s a bit more.

Oh! And I’ll do my best to share how it goes!

Learning is messy!




Posted in Education, Messy Learning, STEM, Teacher Access, Twitter | 4 Comments