Push the button

Beginning with the end

There…  glad I got that out of the way.  There ended the longest blogless period I’ve had in about three years.  Not that I’ve ever been that prolific.  In fact, I’m pretty satisfied if I get time to write one post a week.  I use Twitter for the smalltalk.  Blogging, for me, is about really exploring ideas from one perspective or another.  However, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that my last post was April 17th.  All that being said, it’s time to get back to the synthesis of thought that I only find through this approach.

For the handful of folks who read this blog, you won’t likely find much to chew on after this one, but at least I’ll get a few things off my chest and get back in the game.  I’ve been in a bit of a transitional period at school (yeah- both technically and mentally).  It might help to toss out a little historical perspective on my responsibilities since I became an educator.

Here’s my career timeline in a really small nutshell:

  • 1992: teacher: 7th grade science & odyssey (multidisciplinary gifted program)  also assistant wrestling coach
  • 1995: teacher: 9-12 general biology, honors zoology, honors botany, science investigations (independent research program under gifted ed.)
  • 1999: started Marine Biology program for upperclassmen in all three public schools.
  • 2004: moved to another SJSD high school to take head wrestling position with superstar brother as assistant.
  • 2007: began life as the generalist instructional coach for my building.  taught one period of Honors Zoology concurrently.
  • 2009: @erinlynnnash took the reigns of Zoology so I could switch to a Dual-Credit course with MWSU called Principles of Biology.  also moved toward a focus of technology integration within my building… a natural fit for me within our IC model.  (my 18th & last year as a wrestling coach)
  • 2011: move to a new district-level position, “Academic Technology Instructional Specialist” within the Curriculum & Instruction office of the SJSD.  this is a smart re-framing of resources for the future.  I will also continue as instructor of our Marine Biology program.

That makes it pretty apparent that next year will be my first year unattached to an actual building.  While I’m a bit misty-eyed at that prospect,  I’m also looking forward to the possibilities within this switch.  The pool of smart, energetic professionals I get to collaborate with just went from from about 70 to around 900.  Fear meet Excitement.  I think you’ll enjoy one another.


This little blogging project began as one small part of my firsthand attempts at understanding the wider ecosystem of the participatory web.  Specifically, what might this realm offer the student (or teacher) in seeking understanding and making sense of the world in which they are faced?  Because really…  at its heart, this is what education at this level should be.  Of course this is my opinion, but making sense of a very complex and changing world is what education in 2010 should be.  No?  I knew what I had been doing within my own classroom.  As an instructional coach, I got to see firsthand what was going on in other classrooms.  However, if I were going to help lead a school toward change in this direction, I had better get a broader view.


In this time, I have explored more cutting edge tools than I could ever highlight on this blog.  I immersed myself in the participatory web as much as seemed humanly possible.  I have made more national and even global connections than I ever thought possible.  Within the past year, I have begun to shake things down to what really works for me, all the while trying to stay abreast of the rest.  If we all learned the same way, this wouldn’t even be a challenge, right?

During the past few years, I sat side-by-side with colleagues as they willingly dove head-first into the realm of anytime, anywhere learning via digital technology. I have led professional development events at my school to bring all teachers into the fray.  I have led classrooms that, bless their hearts, have embraced the still-experimental nature of these tools of communication.  In chatting with my wife and teaching partner about the past few years, the role of reflective and authentic learning instantly came to the forefront of her mind.  Those two elements have truly been our focus.  I always wonder how that would have worked without such a prior grounding in instructional practice & action research.  Probably far less famously I suspect.  Of course, any time I ponder the convergence of the elements of pedagogy, content, and technology, I think of Dr. Punya Mishra and the TPACK framework he lined out with Dr. Matt Koehler at MSU.  I no longer make educational decisions of any sort without without running them through this filter.


As a baby step in engaging the whole of our local educational community, Dr. Jaime Dial and I created the Saint Joseph Digital Express as an adaptable structure for communication into the future.  Check it out.  This network was largely tossed out this past year as a potential learning sphere and will likely serve us well as we move into a more focused future on this front.  I’m also excited to have Will Richardson as a consultant and PD facilitator for the coming year.  He was my suggestion for getting things started and kick-starting the conversation.  Will will be working with local administrators, instructional coaches, and curriculum coaches to help us hone a mission for 21st Century instruction.  Will sets the tone well and sees the big picture of many of these current shifts that have potential to impact the world of education.  From my experience, he is an excellent facilitator and does a really super job framing tough issues and leading large groups in thought concerning these issues.  This work will certainly be translated down to the building level of the SJSD in various ways within the following year and as we move forward.

Might individual buildings move in different ways toward these new ideas?  You better believe it.  As our Curriculum & Instruction department in the SJSD believes, each child moves toward learning in different ways, so we believe in different learning communities moving in subtly different ways to tackle the issues of 2010 and beyond.  We have powerful instructional leaders in our building principals who will take this new learning and apply it as it fits to our schools.  Through our school improvement process and commitment to focused professional development in support of these plans, we all have made serious moves in positive directions in the past five years.


It’s hard to be perfectly patient and excitedly enlivened all at the same time.  Perhaps more than ever I’m happy to be a part of this district at this time. I’m happy to be a part of a public school district that keeps its eye on the ball with regard to instruction…  all the while fueling the innovation needed to stay relevant and authentic for today and into the future.

To my knowledge, in our district the word “technology” has never been included in any job title to date outside of our own Troester Media Center.  TMC is the physical brain of our Internet nervous system with all the associated services.  We have long enjoyed a powerful IT infrastructure with the foresight to deliver potential to each classroom and to deliver it fast.  We have owned our own gigabit fiber optic network joining more than 20 buildings since 1995.  Yes, I said it… fiber.  I’ve had nothing to do with any of those moves.  You can look above to see what I was busy with at that time.  And yet, I was always thankful for each new thing I was allowed to do during that time because of this technology.

Many changes have taken place regarding the world of digital communications since 1995.  Shoot-  many things have changed in the past year.  We are a district currently possessing more kit than 90% of public or private schools I have seen.  We have a K-12 instructional model that increasingly gives credence to a constructivist approach.  What we need now is to connect our gear with our mission.  We’ve had “T” in one silo and the “P” and “C” in another across town.  I believe we are well ready to aim toward true TPACK integration.  For so many years technology was used in large part to facilitate management and operations as well as a rather teacher-directed approach to learning.


Integration vs. transformation

However, in 2010, and for some time now, we’ve needed more.  Our kids need more.  They deserve to emerge from their school experiences tech-savvy and ready to take on the world like modern learners.  Delivering that requires a bridge connecting smart people who’ve been wanting the best for our kids for some time-  while speaking significantly different languages.  To do that we need well-supported tech-savvy teachers.  I’m looking forward to doing what I can to fulfill at least some small part of this effort into the future, for these challenges are certainly worthy. Sliding the title “technology” into any position within C & I is a significant move.  Significant in that it recognizes the importance of modern technology in making learning authentic in a world where information and communication comes increasingly digitally-flavored.  I would love to establish myself as a strong link between the world of slick gadgets and the world of differentiated, student-owned learning.  Instructionally, we are in a really good place-  particularly for a public school system.  Technologically, we have some of the best of the best.  The time is ripe for a marriage made in TPACK heaven.

While I’m leaving day-to-day contact with some really smart friends and colleagues…  I’m looking forward to working with another set of really smart colleagues and increasing friends.  One final thing is for sure-  I’m certainly glad I’ve spent the effort to cultivate a rich and varied personal learning network over the past few years.  Of course I’m going to need it.  I cannot imagine consulting on such a broad range of topics without all of you.  You might want to keep Skype running…



*”Push the button” by INoxKrow on Flickr
*”Moar Cute Duck Bum” by Duncan Rawlinson
*”Integration” by certified su on Flickr
*”go” by A_of_DooM on Flickr.

Spheres of Influence

How fun is this?

Three years ago I moved into a position of instructional coach for my building.  The majority of my days are now spent as a content-generalist coach focused on helping teachers improve pedagogical skills.  Our opt-in model keeps the conversation focused on one thing:  pedagogy as opposed to content.  This is a very smart model for honing in on the “P” sphere of Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK framework.  However, perhaps even smarter is the fact that I am not completely removed from being behind the wheel of my own classroom.  Teaching my own class is a way to assure my attachment to at least most of the day to day experiences of our folks in “the trenches.”  My opinions on instructional practice and concrete strategies are only as good as my ability to pull them off in my own classroom.  I say this for perhaps a different reason that you might think.  The core of my role as a coach is to question, to advise, to consult, encourage, and inspire my colleagues toward better and better things.  It really isn’t about “me.”

TPACK framework diagram

That said, my ability to move down any strategic path toward best practices in instruction with a teacher is directly tied to both my familiarity and comfort level with that mode of learning.  Put simply:  you can’t talk the talk without walking the walk.  So during the day, I teach Principles of Biology during period three as well as Marine Biology.  Marine Biology is a special case across the board.  The program was created in 1999 and and includes night classes from 7 to 9pm on Mondays, a roster made up of students from our three local high schools, and a week-long field study on the coral reefs of the Bahamas each April.  Did I mention yet that my district respects and fosters solid innovation?  For that, my students and I are terribly lucky.

To my original point

Seriously.  Blogging is such a reflective act for me.  So often I start down a simple path and quickly realize there is far more under the hood to discuss.  So with that out of the way, allow me to introduce you to two of my newest colleagues:  Jennifer Toalson and Alex Paolillo.  Interestingly, between the two, they teach quite a range of subjects: General Biology, Environmental Science, Microbiology and Genetics.  More interestingly, they were (somewhat recently) Marine Biology students of mine.  Our department has a total of less than seven FTE’s.  Therefore, here are two-sevenths of my immediate world.  Jennifer was a member of the 2002 Marine Biology class and Alex was a 2004 member.

Alex & Jennifer discuss the finer points of pipetting.

Jennifer joined the Benton Science Department last year and was an immediate success.  As the oldest of seven, she is a natural at building relationships and getting the most out of younger folk.  Jennifer’s Dad is also a teacher of industrial arts at a high school across town.  Alex, who will begin his teaching career this fall, also comes equipped with a teacher’s pedigree.  Alex is actually the son of two teachers and his father was at one time the Director of Secondary Education in our city.  And yes…  in my prized image below, you’ll see Alex attempting to feed bread crumbs to seagulls from his bare chest in The Bahamas.  Tell me this isn’t going to be fun.

How many of you have been lucky enough to have two former students as direct departmental colleagues?  How fun is that?

I can’t tell you how excited this makes me.  Again….. I am now only a really a small part of the science department at my high school.  However, with a wife who is the Department Chair, it is even more exciting to see our immediate world become so infused with young, enthusiastic blood.  One thing I can say for sure about Alex and Jennifer:  they really want to make a difference in the lives of young people.  With that, anything they want to work hard for in this profession will come to them.  Not only do I remember their high school days as fun-filled, I now have spent time with them as colleagues.  The following pics will give you a glimpse of them in their (recently) younger days as Marine Biology students.  One might wonder if perhaps holding a sea urchin or encouraging sea gulls to feed from your belly makes one a likely candidate for biology educator in later years.  I am staring to believe so.  (funny now to see them so young again here in the next two images)

Jennifer in HS

I recently thought about doing a quick and dirty post that mentioned these two coming on board as biology teachers.  (as biology teachers, biology teachers in my hometown, and as biology teachers in my current school)  The day it hit me was a few weeks ago when Erin, Jennifer, Alex, and I spent the day at a biotechnology workshop in Kansas City…  (many thanks to Erin for organizing the day’s events.)  Overall, we had a great summer day of re-connecting to the past and teambuilding for the future.

Alex and the seagulls

In closing

Since Marine Biology began in 2000, some of my former students are undergrad marine biology students.  A few are even PhD candidates.  People frequently ask about those.  However, the demographic that isn’t often inquired about might just be those who have lived their entire lives in the center of the continent…  who love biology…  love the energy of youth…  but cannot find a better reason to move that far away from a strong family/friends network.  I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this as of late.

See what this does?  I start out with an idea to post a simple image from a recent workshop and I end up tacking it on to personal connections, people-to-people connections, coaching, and the TPACK framework.  When I began blogging a just over a year ago in April-  it was done as a “proof of concept” exercise.  That has blossomed into the mess you now see.  The bottom line is:  You cannot imagine the effect blogging will have on your future learning unless you are actually doing it.  This truly is a new genre of writing.  It is more than empowering for the everyman who embarks upon it.  Give it a try.  What are you waiting for?  And while you’re at it…  give my two new colleagues a shout out from the masses.  They will soon be getting an earful from yours truly about establishing their “digital footprint” and getting connected as a professional.  I am excited about being a leader in the “T” (in TPACK) revolution in the Saint Joseph School District.

Stay tuned…


*TPACK framework courtesy of Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler
*The rest…  me.

Connectedness Has Colleague Seeing Pink

Below is the text of an e-mail I received from a favorite colleague, Terri Johnson, a day ago.  This is a fun little glimpse into one of the many connections being made worldwide by teachers in my district this year.  While I could go on about positive global connections made by colleagues in the quest to create personal learning networks- this time I got a really nice little play-by-play.

Pink Shirt Day

I had to tell someone–and I knew you’d appreciate it.

A series of serendipitous events:

  • 1. You taught me the value of Web 2.O.
  • 2. I finally started using Twitter.
  • 3. Following lots of great people.
  • 4. Barak Obama tells all Americans to try to help others-volunteer. (I read about it via Twitter and watching live streaming at etc.)
  • 5. Thought, OK! What can I do? What can my students do?
  • 6. @teachmescience on Twitter Discusses National Pink Shirt Day to put an end to Bullying.
  • 7. I recall Pink Shirt Day being mentioned on Channel One last year.
  • 8. Start a discussion in my Teacher Advisory Class about the Pink Shirt Day and Bullying-they decide we should promote it at Truman.
  • 9. We’ve made posters, kids have created Commercials to run in the AM at Channel TMS (our student run news program.), and are creating pink “labels” for kids to pass out and wear on the date-February 25th.
  • 10. I mentioned this to @teachmescience via Twitter as a thank you for the heads up.
  • 11. She mentions this via e-mail to the Radio Station who started Pink Shirt Day.
  • 12. Evidently “National” meant Canada.
  • 13. Said radio station just e-mailed me asking to set up a telephone interview for Wednesday Afternoon.

How fun is that?!?


So, apparently, she and a couple of her students did a radio interview on the Christy Clark show during school today on CKNW AM980 in British Columbia, Canada.  Unfortunately, it was far too wild of a day for me to listen in, but I hear it was a great experience for all.  A little research on my end led me to the website for Pink Shirt Day, as well as Christy Clark’s page on the topic.  Apparently, this little movement aimed at ending bullying is gaining quite a head of steam, as Ms. Clark says on her site:

“I encourage all of you to wear something pink to symbolize that we as a society will not tolerate bullying anywhere. I wish I could take credit for this idea but it comes from two incredible Nova Scotia high school students.”

Terri-  of course I’m hoping you’ll pipe in here to give up a few more of the details.  Way to dive in an immerse yourself with like-minded professionals the world over.  And what’s more…  involving your students every step along the way in real social action.  You are modeling some pretty powerful connections.

*UPDATE: This just in, an audio link the piece (about halfway through).

Trolling My PLN For Edtech Vision

Calling all brains

I’m asking for your help.  If you could pick anyone, anything, or anyplace, What books would you read?  What conferences, workshops, or meetings would you attend?  Who would you travel to meet with?  Who would you fly in to sit at the table with you?  Who would you pick to help you in your strategic brainstorming or planning?  Who could help inject progressive, innovative ideas about the future of education and the technologies that will drive it?  Anyone.  Yes, I am serious.


This post is a straightforward attempt to leverage the power of my PLN.  It is my goal to get some fresh input about that very thing…  fresh input.  As a generalist instructional coach on what could realistically be called a “21st Century upgrade” mission in my building, I have spent countless hours in research this past year.  In fact, this blog originated from some of my earliest explorations into how a school can systematically raise the tech literacy of its staff ahead of a larger edtech implementation with students.

Here’s the deal

I am pleased to say that I work in a district with some success in incubating innovation.  We locally help to fund innovation with a fantastic “Apple Seed” grant program for creative projects.  We also celebrate ingenuity with an “Innovator of the Year” award- presented alongside the T.O.Y. award each year.  On a district wide level, our administrators in charge of curriculum & instruction are working hard to implement constructivist-leaning instruction and content-specific best practices.

In my opinion, we have long lacked such a mandated, district level approach to educational technology integration.  We invested early in a robust and speedy system-wide fiber optic network.  We have always succeeded in putting current, state of the art technological tools in the hands of our children.  What we now recognize the need for, is an innovative and comprehensive plan to elevate the technological savvy of all SJSD faculty members.  21st Century literacy skills (whatever you think those might be) cannot be developed in our children by skipping over our staff to do so.  We are ready to do the staff development required in readying our own workforce…  to ready those of the future.

macbook pro inside out

Our crew

A district task force was assembled to study the situation.  Our group consists of three instructional coaches, one social studies teacher, a library/media specialist, our district’s technology curriculum specialist, and our chief operating officer.  We have been told that we are “taking one year to study.”  One year to learn everything we can about what the future of learning will look like-  at least with regard to information and communication technologies.  Experimentation with free online technologies has been spawned and is growing in a grassroots way in a few places already.  My home high school actually has a building-wide implementation plan that was put into play this past summer.

The goal is to get just enough perspective about what we are currently doing… and what we still need to do…  before making any more large scale technology purchases.  The idea is to put the “buy it and they will come” -approach to edtech integration to bed for good.  This task force is headed by our C.O.O.  He is a direct sitting member of our superintendent’s council.  This level of buy-in is aligned what I had in mind when I wrote a post entitled “Increasing Our Level of Vitamin A” last November.  We are really to the point in our little corner of the world where we need to think long and hard about our mission and vision prior to buying even one more laptop.  Smart move, methinks.  And this mission had better be flexible.  Life moves pretty fast in these circles.


Why should you care?

I don’t know if I can say why you should care about a project in Missouri.  However, I do believe I know why you will.  Because you are a bunch of committed, forward-thinking educators.  Folks like us know the power of buy-in at all levels of implementation.  Here’s betting that the readers of this blog realize the power potential of solid know-how combined with administrative support.

Please help.  I could submit my own recommendations.  I essentially do that quite regularly behind the driver’s seat of this blog.  The articles I write examine interesting avenues and advocate passionate positions.  My blogroll is a list of folks I rely on for new learning.  I have a set of books on my shelf that were important to me, but really…   the elements of my learning network allow it to be a dynamic, hyper-responsive, thing.  There is even a pretty good chance you came here from the Twitterverse-  and that has become a frighteningly good resources as of late.

Speed Writing

We are locked and loaded for NECC 2009.  We are set for a sit-down at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino this March.  We recently sent a small contingent to METC 2009 for a last minute look at a few of the presenters.  We are ready to grab a few keystone texts for the group to dive into.  We are ready to visit the top workshops available where our learning/time ratio will be strongest.

We are going to take a slow, smart, focused look at this issue.  I can make informed suggestions as it is.  Yet- this post marks one of the ways I am increasingly gaining input.  Here’s betting that an emerging best practice in “informed decision making” includes surveying your PLN as an crucial step.  What do you say…  will you make a suggestion for our study?

Artwork thanks:
*Fisketur by ergates on Flickr
*MacBook Pro Inside Out by Christoph*B on Flickr
*Focus by ihtatho on Flickr
*Speed Writing by margot.trudell on Flickr

Connecting Biology Educators Worldwide

I have a brand-spanking new site to share with you and your colleagues who might teach biology/life science. The new site is a worldwide professional network I created with the help of five super collaborators from across the country. This new public network is called: The Synapse.

header for: The Synapse

For my non biology-geek readers (the majority) please allow a quick define of both a synapse and the site itself:

A SYNAPSE is a minute gap between nerve cells which transmits crucial information through the nervous system. The goal of this network is to perform a similar “synaptic” function between biology instructors of all levels and locations.

The Synapse is a science content-focused site on the Ning platform. Though it is managed by six people who are all relatively well versed in educational technology, it is not the primary focus of the network. It was designed primarily as a site for life science educators to connect with others without any geographical barriers.  In fact, the site owes its origin directly from a frustrating discussion in the Twittersphere between biology instructors of many levels.  On that day, it was decided that we needed a central place to meet, share and support one another from afar.

“What’s in it for me?”

Here, teachers can sign in to create a free profile to begin commenting, sharing, etc.  The Synapse is a professional social network that features a discussion forum, blogs, event listings, images, videos, chat, etc. This is a perfect place to troll for ideas on an upcoming unit, a new strategy or approach you’d like to attempt in the classroom, etc. On The Synapse, teachers can log requests for ideas, tips or suggestions for teaching those most challenging topics or using new strategies. Teachers will also notice the ability to join or form their own subgroups within the network based on region, content focus, instructional strategy, etc.

Admins of The Synapse

The facilitators of this network represent different regions across the country, varying grade levels, varying approaches, varying years of experience.  In fact, diversity within the network will certainly grow quickly even more over time. As this new network begins to expand, the power of numbers will work to produce results in an even more timely fashion.  I look forward here to what James Surowiecki quite simply called The Wisdom of Crowds.”

The real potential beauty of this network is its goal of decentralized intelligence. Online social networks such as this one harness the power of asynchronous communication to allow teachers to collaborate when and where possible within our increasingly busy lives.  Sure, your brain has a ton of neurons…  on the order of about 10 billion.  However, it also contains around 100 billion synapses.  That is, connections between neurons.  It could thus be said that the connections between these brain cells are in some ways a larger factor than the brain cells themselves.  Play that metaphor out in terms of this project.  The connections we make here are potentially larger than any of us as individuals.

Sign in

The first step is to join. The second: poke around. See what this site can do for you as a teacher who is constantly looking to improve his or her practice. The final step: share. If everyone adds that minimum of one or two special things they have to share, this site will quickly be a huge part of your personal learning network.  In fact, in the words of Dr. Geoffrey Hinton:

Learning occurs as a result of changing the effectiveness of synapses so that their influence on other neurons also changes… Learning is a function of the effectiveness of synapses to propagate signals and initiate new signals along connecting neurons. Learning and experience change the structure of the neural networks. (Geoffrey Hinton, “How Neural Networks Learn from Experience,” Scientific American, 267:3, September 1992, 145.)

Experience affects efficacy when it comes to your brain.  Aren’t we magnificently plastic creatures?  (Check out the related discussion between Dr. Doyle & I on this post.)  The fact that you could alter the structure (and thus the function) of the only brain you’ll likely ever own, is a really powerful idea.  So what on Earth are you waiting for?  Jump in.  Become one of the collaborators (neurotransmitters) within this newly-forming network.  If you aren’t one who teaches life science…  forward this post to a colleague who does.  They might just thank you.

Outpost Motel

So welcome to another outpost on the rapidly expanding web that potentially connects professional educators worldwide. With a bit of help, this tiny outpost could turn into a metropolis. We think the infrastructure is ready. What do you think?

Artwork thanks:

Outpost Motel” by Allen “Roadsidepictures” on Flickr.
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