Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Dos and Don'ts of Professional Development

As educators shift their practice to more collaborative experiences for their students, they are demanding a similar shift in their professional development.  Dr. Will conducted a 3 part series of Google Hangouts on Air from varying perspectives on the value and changes in professional development in education today.

Click here to see Dr. Will's website with all episodes and posts.

Part 1

Carlie Stigler is wrapping up her first year in the classroom and spoke from the perspective of the new teacher.  See her conversation with Dr. Will here.

Part 2

Ibrahim Baig of Bright Minds Connect provided the perspective of someone who creates and delivers professional development for educators.  See his conversation with Dr. Will here.  Ibrahim also provided this excellent Review of Literature on Professional Development as a resource.

Part 3

Dr. Will invited me to provide the veteran teacher perspective on professional development since I have been in middle and high school classrooms for 13 years.  Here is the final cut of our episode.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Take Student Notes to the Next Level

I typically don't write tool-based blog posts since I prefer to focus more on the philosophy and pedagogy behind teaching with technology.  On the other hand, sometimes there is a tool that is just awesome and worth writing about.  In my classroom, one of those tools we always come back to is Skitch.

Skitch is an image annotation and creation tool.  If you are interested in giving it a try yourself after reading this post, here are some tutorials:

My students and I have found many uses for it.  Here's a list of some of them, with examples from my student Katie, who gave me permission to post her great work.  If you'd like to see more you can visit her blog at Using History to Make History.

Creating and Labeling Charts & Graphs

My students have access to all class notes and resources on our website.  As we work through an analyze the information during a lesson, they like to add their learning to the notes.  Skitch is a great way to do this.
Katie added detail to this racial class pyramid showing
the Spanish colonial order in the Americas.
Katie could have done this pie chart on paper, but she wanted
it saved in her Evernote, where she keeps all of her notes. She
decided to use the data to complete it digitally instead.
After reading about the Mexican Revolution, Katie
decided her notes would make more sense in the form
of a timeline.  Skitch was the quickest way to put it together.

Color-Coding Documents

When students have primary or secondary sources to read and analyze, they often like to mark them up and color code them.  While they could do this on paper with highlighters, the digital version is more long lasting and won't get lost in a messy binder.  Also, the digital version can be saved and embedded in a blog post or other project later to show learning.  Here are some of Katie's examples from a lesson on Napoleon.

Add Images to Notes

Primary sources are note limited to text like the documents from the Napoleon lesson.  A great deal can be learned from historical images.  Sadly, most school copy machines only print in black and white.  Much of the color and resolution of the images is lost.  While the original image could be projected on a screen by the teacher, that doesn't give each student in the room a personal up-close experience with that piece of history.  When combined with Evernote, Skitch can help students illustrate their notes with color images of all kinds.  Here are a few examples of how including the images with her notes made the difference for Katie.

This was an activator for our lesson on the
Luddites in England.
When we studied the Protestant Revival, images
of gatherings helped students understand the ferver
around the movement

Deep Image Analysis

You probably noticed that Katie circled a few elements in the images above.  Most of her notes were alongside them, though.  On occasion we have done real deep image analysis where students have added quite a bit of annotation to historical images.  Here are some of Katie's.

This shows the expectations on women in the early 19th
century. We analyzed it as part of our early women's
movement lesson.

This is propaganda from the Temperance Movement.

This image shows a young girl leaving her family to go
work in the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Once students have done this annotation, they can record their voices explaining their notations.  Apps like Explain Everything make this process simple.  It is a great alternative to a quiz or essay to get students to talk about the history in their own words.

All of these examples are from just one student in my class, but all 120 of my students have been using Skitch to add color and analysis to their Evernote digital notebooks all year.  It has definitely allowed students to add personal colorful touches to their notes, get an up close look at historical images, and add these personalized elements to their multimedia blog posts and projects.  If you want to give it a shot, remember to check out the tutorials at the top of the blog post to get started.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Guest Post: Building a Wall of Collaborative Learning

by Shelley Lynch

Recently, I presented a workshop at Reading Memorial High School’s Blue Ribbon conference for educators on tips, obstacles to achievement, other challenges in our profession.   Envisioning how to best facilitate this workshop, I sought the help of Kerry Gallagher, a Reading Memorial High School history teacher and expert in using technology in the classroom.

As a workshop presenter, I could not anticipate the number of attendees, their role, grade level, experience, needs, and so on.  I knew I wanted participants to have control over how they could share their best practices and challenges and that I would serve in the role as facilitator.   I also wanted to have available an easy to use online tool (versus flip chart paper and markers) where teachers could share tips and challenges if desired.   

Kerry suggested I use Padlet, a free program that allows participants to express their thoughts by collaborating on a virtual wall.  The program is very easy to use with lots of flexibility in security settings.  Below are screen prints of the steps I took to create a padlet.

FIrst, I created an account at    You will be asked to enter your email address and to create a password.   You will also create a profile.   On the main screen shown below, there are options at the top of the screen.  To create a Padlet,  select the option “New Padlet.”

After selecting this option, another screen (see below) will appear with options listed vertically on the right side of the screen.    The second icon (plus sign) will indicate (when you move your mouse pointer over it) to “Create a New Wall.”

Prior to typing on your new wall, you should select the icon to “Modify the Wall.”    You will need to enter a title for your wall and, if desired, there is another section to enter a description of your wall.   Modifying the wall is a very important option as it will allow you to access many key setup features for your wall.  

These setup features include the following:   
  • selecting a wallpaper background, 
  • selecting a portrait image to associate with your wall, 
  • choosing the layout of how posts will appear on the wall (freeform, stream, grid), 
  • setting up the visibility/security of how public you want the wall to be (private, password protected, hidden link, totally public….), 
  • notifications which indicate how you want to be notified when someone posts on your wall, and 
  • creating the address which is a unique address/url of your wall so users can access your wall.

Once you modify your wall, you are all set to start.    For example, you as well as guests of this virtual application can pose open ended questions and obtain responses from guests.  Guests can also add a URL (video, image, document…) to the wall.   

Below is a small sample of  the wall created in my Blue Ribbon workshop.

There are a lot of online Padlet tutorial videos and sample works completed by educators.  Below is a link to the Padlet site as well as a link to a tutorial on Padlet features.

Teachers in this workshop were very curious about Padlet, and I was able to demonstrate how to use the tool in minutes.    I am looking forward to sharing this tool with students in my classes.

About the Author:

Shelley Lynch worked in private industry for 17 years as an Training and Staff Development Manager.  Her experience includes both the healthcare and financial services industries.  She has been a business education teacher for 19 years and currently serves on the School Council as a faculty representative and is a Professional Development Committee member for her school district in Reading, Massachusetts.  Shelley earned a B.S. in business with a specialization in accounting, M.B.A, and C.A.G.S.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Student Data Privacy Balance

The opinion piece originally published by The Hill was reposted today by EdSurge.  My hope is that this small article will continue to circulate so that lawmakers, policy advisors, parents, and students can consider the educator voice in the student data privacy conversation.

Given other recent articles, such as this one in the Washington Post and this one in EdWeek the discussion is heating up.  It is essential that we protect our children's privacy while still making it possible for educators to access formative data that informs instruction and allows for personalized learning. This important conversation must continue in a meaningful way that will lead to best practices everyone can agree on.

June 2015 Update

The op-ed from The Hill was cited in a whitepaper from The Center for Democracy and Technology.  You can download and read it at Privacy and the Digital Student.

Finding Your Niche #beyouEDU

As part of the #beyouEDU movement, Dr. Will is featuring the theme "Finding Your Niche" this month,  The theme challenges educators to be true to themselves as they practice their profession and journey through their careers.  He kicked everything off with a vlog in which his passion for making connections in the education community was apparent.  I was honored that he asked me to write about what finding my niche means to me.  The resulting post is published on his blog.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cue the Suspense: Student Created Movie Trailers

You are in the midst of the most important personal and professional challenge of your life.  Everyone doubted your abilities at the outset, but you've actually had more successes than anyone expected... perhaps even beyond what you believed yourself.  You could win this thing!

This was the thinking of General Robert E. Lee in 1863 as he planned to go north and execute a stunning victory in enemy territory. Gettysburg.

Unfortunately for Lee, Gettysburg would turn out to be a devastating blow to the Confederacy, and it would be just the thing President Lincoln needed to rededicate the Union cause.  So my students needed to find out why.

Why was Gettysburg a turning point in the Civil War?

Just as the opening paragraph of this post was meant to create suspense around the Battle of Gettysburg, I want my students to see the drama and suspense behind every document and piece of evidence we study in class. What creates suspense more than movie trailers? Here's how we made our own dramatic classroom productions.

Activator: Setting the Stage

We are in the middle of the Civil War unit, so I wanted students to recall the important background'/historical context to understand the significance of Gettysburg.  In small groups, students looked back at their digital notes in Evernote to recall answers to these questions:
  • Based on our Civil War scavenger hunt, which side was winning the war in the East throughout the beginning of the war? How do you know?
  • Based on the infographic activity, which side had the statistical advantage at the outset of the war? Give at least one example.
Instead of going around the room and asking each group to answer the questions aloud, we put them on a Padlet, a digital bulletin board.  This way no further class discussion was needed.  Everyone posted their answers and checkout other groups' answers.

Analysis: Researching the Roles

The class sorted themselves into 4 groups.  Each chose one of the four documents for the DBQ Project's materials on Gettysburg.  Also provided were some guiding questions that get students to go through the process of identifying the source, bias, and purpose of each piece of evidence.  Finally, they had to develop an answer to the question, "Why was Gettysburg a turning point in the Civil War?" based on that one document.  I either gave them approval or asked more question to get them to add detail to their answer.

Production: Building Suspense

On the second day of the lesson I started by showing them especially compelling movie trailers from YouTube.  Then I gave them a quick (like less than a minute) tutorial on iMovie's movie trailer feature.

This was the best part of the lesson.  They were excited to produce something so engaging, but in the process I overheard them talking about the way word choice in the Gettysburg Address inspired hope, and the tone of sadness in Gen. Lee's letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  The in-depth document analysis that was happening in these small groups was really astounding.

They had 30 minutes to produce their trailers.  We spent that last 15 minutes of class viewing and discussing the results.

The kids applauded one another and whispered things like, "Wow! That was really good!" and "Now I'm kind of scared of what it was really like in the battle."  It is gratifying to know they enjoyed the lesson, but their learning is the most important goal.  These 10th graders can confidently explain why Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War.  More importantly, they understand how to analyze history in a way that looks beyond facts to the human emotions, strengths, and weaknesses of the people who lived it.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Guest Post: Thank You To Our Teachers

By Dr. John Doherty

The week of May 4-8 is Teacher Appreciation Week. This week is an opportunity to reflect on the impact that teachers have had on our own lives when we went to school and to also thank our children’s teachers for their hard work and the positive effect that they have on our students. Please join me for the next few minutes, as I share with you some stories of a few of our current students who, through the support of many of our teachers, have overcome challenges and blossomed as students.

First, meet Ottavio, a first grade student at the J.W. Killam elementary school. In September, 2014, Ottavio was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor. Since September, this little boy has endured numerous surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments. Through it all, whenever possible, he attended school and was happy to be with his Killam friends. Currently, he attends school on a part-time basis and is doing better, although some days are more difficult than others. He is able to participate with his classmates for some parts of his school day, and loves attending Physical Education class and having choice time with his classmates.

Ottavio with his teacher, Nina Balfe
Ottavio’s classroom teacher, Nina Balfe, shown here in this photo with Ottavio has made a difference in his life. Throughout this entire year, Nina has shown extreme dedication, compassion, and support to not only Ottavio, but to his entire family. She has been his number one advocate…doing whatever she could to make him feel safe, happy, and welcome. Additionally, Nina has also done everything she could to be sure that Ottavio could receive all the services that could be provided to him. She even tutored him after school on the days he was well enough to do so. Nina also knew the importance of supporting all of her other students as they watched their friend go through this very difficult time. In working closely with his doctors and his family, Ms. Balfe adopted a class mascot stuffed monkey named Steve to keep Ottavio’s spirit alive within the classroom when he cannot be there. His classmates have been extremely helpful, kind and caring in taking care of Steve. The monkey travels everywhere with her class. She even had her first graders share at a recent all school assembly why they carry Steve with them throughout the school day.

The Killam PTO and community have also been supportive and have sent generous donations for the family. They were able to connect with an organization, Family Reach, who will sponsor a marathon runner, Jason Beulow, who will run at the Boston Marathon this Monday on Ottavio’s behalf. The money Jason raises will be used to help offset Ottavio’s medical expenses.

Meet Huixin (“who-sin”), a 2nd grader at Barrows currently in Mary Ellen Mauriello’s classroom. She came to Reading from China last year as a 1st grade student speaking no English at all.

Huixin has made amazing progress through the supports provided by her classroom teachers, her ELL teachers Carla Pennachio and Karen Hall, and her connections with her peers.

Huixin as Betsy Ross
This is a picture of Huixin dressed as Betsy Ross at her 2nd grade Wax Museum presentation day. With the help from her mother, Huixin handmade (not with a sewing machine) her Betsy Ross dress for the Wax Museum AND made the hat all by herself. In addition, she completed research and wrote a report about her historical figure. Huixin is remarkable and is speaking, reading, writing, in English, has a wonderful collection of friends, participates actively in class, and is a great artist. She is truly a success story!

Holly is an eighth grade student at Coolidge Middle School who has struggled at times in school. In December, Holly had the opportunity to participate in Challenge Day, a full-day event in which 8th grade students and adults alike broke boundaries between each other, walked a day in each other’s shoes, and ultimately, learned to appreciate each other for who they are, rather than judging them by their stories. Holly embraced this experience. She opened up about herself, talked about the challenges in her life, and even stood and sung in front of 80 of her peers and 20 adults. The teachers who attended said that particular moment was emotional and powerful and that the entire Challenge Day experience had a significant impact on everyone who attended. This learning opportunity would not have been possible if it were not for Coolidge counselor, Marlene Lifshin, who wrote a Reading Education Foundation grant to bring Challenge Day to Coolidge Middle School. Ms. Lifshin also co-teaches a Project Adventure class, which encourages students to step out of their comfort zones, and embrace their uniqueness. Recently, Marlene challenged her class to remember the message of Challenge Day and to come up with their own message on empathy, which was one of the key themes of that Day. Holly embraced the challenge and wrote her own song, performed it, further celebrating her comfort with who she is, her strength, and her growth. Her song, called Empathy, is on You Tube (see below) and is beautifully written and sung.

Brandon is an eighth grade student at Coolidge. Not too long ago he was stumped on what to do for an art project. He sat, staring at a collaged paper he had made for an entire class period, wondering what to do next with it. Day number two, he still sat pondering. His art teacher, Sarah Doane encouraged him saying, “Sometimes if you just make a mark on the paper, it will help get you started. It might inspire you to turn it into something specific.” His white line of paint turned into a series of birch trees. Brandon, shown here with his art work, received a National Silver Medal in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for this piece of art. He will be accepting his award in June at Carnagie Hall in New York City. It was the encouraging words of Sarah Doane that enabled Brandon to persevere.

Last, but certainly not least, meet Kaitlin, a senior here at Reading Memorial High School. Currently she is taking college level courses at North Shore Community College while simultaneously finishing her high school diploma …. All with the support of RMHS Teacher Catarina Angelou. Kaitlin has struggled academically and emotionally since elementary school and has become, with supports and patience during her K-12 years, a proud young woman who will graduate from Reading Public Schools thankful for all that have been offered to her in her time here. Recently, Kaitlin was asked to reflect back on her entire school career. She noted that Killam Elementary School was a home for her. Each day, she was greeted warmly by her principal Cathy Giles, and Killam Office Staff, Denise Iozzo and Priscilla Osterlind. She also shared that her 2nd grade teacher, Maureen Gilman always provided a safe haven for her. Kaitlin says that feeling of emotional safety continued when she entered Parker Middle School and met Parker staff members Gerry Gomes, Eric Hiltz and Diane Ketlak. Each of these staff members helped her balance her home life and peer struggles which followed her into school each day. They helped to ease her transition into RMHS where Kaitlin found academic inspiration in a History course taught by Dr. Jeffrey Ryan and a mentor in her Latin teacher, Danja Mahoney. She was challenged with the structure and rules of the classroom but, she is the first to admit, these were challenges she fully embraced. Reading Memorial High School became a secure place for her to be herself, grow and achieve with teachers like Jen Hagopian, Harlan Kroft, Steve Padovani and her guidance counselor, Sara Meunier. Julie LaCasse stuck with her in Math and never let her give up on herself. Outside of the school day, after first expressing hesitation, Kaitlin found her voice with RCASA and was supported by the adults in the program including Tom Zaya, Erica McNamara, and Julianne DeAngelis. School Resource Officers Corey Santasky and Mike Muolo watch out for her in the community. Even adults who have never officially had Kaitlin continue to reach out to her. Mike Scarpitto always greets and laughs with her as does custodian Mo Hillis. Secretary Pat Shields puts aside whatever she is doing to make time for Kaitlin so that she feels welcomed.

 Ottavio, Huixin, Holly, Brendon and Kaitlin all have something in common. They have caring adults in the Reading Public Schools in their lives who believe in them, coach them through challenges and struggles, and allow them to blossom. More so, these adults do these types of things because they know and believe it is the right thing to do for their students. It is in their DNA as an educator. These students remind us that, we, regardless of our role, make a difference in the lives of our students each and every day just by being here, saying hi, smiling, and being supportive. Sometimes having a safe place to go and getting a little inspiration is all a young person needs.

 We have over 4400 students in the Reading Public Schools and each of them have their own unique story to tell. All of them have had someone in their lives who have made a difference. Our teacher’s role is to unlock the potential in our students, connect with them, support them through challenging times and help each of them reach their potential.

 Why do teachers do what they do?

 They are here because of the impact that they can have on their students’ lives. At times, the work is challenging, but they persevere, because they know the outcomes are priceless. Our teachers have entered education and have been called to this profession because of the Ottavio’s, Huixin’s, Holly’s, Brendon’s and Kaitlin’s of this world and the inspiration that they provide to us as educators each and every day.

 I want to conclude this post with an excerpt from a poem from educator Ivan Welton Fitzwater called, “Only a Teacher?”

“I am a teacher! What I do and say are being absorbed 
by young minds who will echo these images across the ages. 
My lessons will be immortal, affecting people yet unborn, 
people I will never see or know. 

The future of the world is in my classroom today, a 
future with the potential for good or bad. The pliable minds 
of tomorrow’s leaders will be molded either artistically 
or grotesquely by what I do. Several future presidents are 
learning from me today; so are the great writers of the next 
decades; and so are all the so-called ordinary people who 
will make the decisions in a democracy… 

Only a teacher? Thank 
Goodness I have a calling to the greatest profession of all! I must 
be vigilant every day lest I lose one fragile opportunity to 
improve tomorrow.”

 As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, please take a moment and thank a teacher for the work that they do each and every day with our students. On behalf of the Reading Public Schools, thank you to our teachers for being part of our school district, thank you for what they do each every day for children and thank you for the impact that they have on those students who come to school because of that one adult who they have connected with in our schools.

About the Author:

John Doherty is the Superintendent of Schools for the Reading Public Schools in Reading, Massachusetts, a Pre-K-12 school district of approximately 4500 students North of Boston.  John received both his B.S. in Biological Sciences and his MEd. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and he received his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Seton Hall University.  He has been an educator for 32 years and currently teaches a graduate level course to Reading teachers called Expanding the Boundaries of Teaching and Learning, which supports teachers in making the transformational shift in the classroom where students have more ownership for their learning.  Dr. Doherty has presented and has been a panel member at several local, state, and national conferences on a variety of topics including educator evaluation, school culture, increasing district capacity, and technology integration.

This article was originally posted on the author's blog Pathways.
You can find Dr. Doherty on Twitter @jdoherty