SliceofISTE Pano

How Might We Give at ISTE 2015?

Make an Impact at ISTE

This blog was originally published for Getting Smart.

In less than 30 days over 15,000 edupeople will descend upon the City of Brotherly Love for ISTE 2015. With more than 900 sessions, three keynotes, and over 500 companies involved, it is pretty important to do some thinking about how you want to spend your time at this behemoth of a conference.

And, that is usually my mindset too–How can I make the most of (insert conference name)? I mean the majority of us in the eduspace are on pretty tight budgets and already carefully weigh the costs and benefits of each event. We work booths for company friends, sign up to teach summer school, write grants and blog posts and letters to our principals, and save up so we don’t miss out. As a result, we want to squeeze every last drop: filling our bellies with all the free cheesesteaks (there will be free cheesesteaks right?), our conference bags with all that swag, and our minds with as many sessions and ideas as possible.

This year I am looking at things a little differently–thanks to a little help from my friends.

Instead of thinking about what we can get from the ISTE conference, we started thinking about what we can give. And not just at the conference itself, but what about the surrounding community of Philadelphia? 15,000 is a whole lot of people, what could a small mind shift do?

Slice of ISTE

From these conversations, and Sara Boucher’s love of pizza, #sliceofISTE was born. The hope is to have ISTE attendees flood the local business, Rosa’s Pizza, which donates free slices of pizza to area folks in need of a meal.

Buying a slice of pizza is a simple choice, at a small price, but there is a more important underlying shift in thinking we are hoping for. We want to be aware of the needs around us and look for other ways to serve the local community while in Philadelphia. It is about a posture of service instead of being served.  It is about a shift from being a consumer to a creator, a doer.

SliceofISTE Pano

Speaking of doing, here are five additional ways we can give during ISTE 2015:

  • Be Inclusive. Remember the middle school lunch room? I’d rather not; that was horrible. Let’s make lunches and dinners and evening festivities as inclusive as possible. Make new friends, expand your horizons, and get out of the echo chamber.
  • Be Observant. Notice someone who looks completely lost or overwhelmed or lonely? Talk to them, ask them: if you can help them find their way, if they want to tag along with you, or need a recommendation for a session to attend.
  • Be Encouraging. Sometimes adults forget to be digital leaders themselves. I am all for free speech, but let’s be cheerleaders instead of trolls on the Twitters and in person. A heartfelt look in the eye and, “you will do great,” can be more powerful for a first time presenter than you realize.
  • Be Generous. Leave room in your schedule to be generous. Share your ideas, your resources, your experience, and your time with others who are potentially in a different stage of learning this whole EdTech thing.
  • Be Humble. We love you and your ideas and want them to spread too. But keep it classy and build up others. It is not always about you.

So whether you are team #ISTE15 or #ISTE2015, whether this is your first ISTE or fifteenth, let’s all take a moment and think about the potential for positive impact in the communities where we go to learn.

SliceofISTE You Matter

How might we give?

Extra Toppings. And one more question: What if conferences had committees, strands of service learning, or organized opportunities for groups to volunteer together at conferences?

For more information on the #sliceofISTE movement, read Scott Bedley’s blog post, check out the Smore, and join us at Rosa’s.

Nurturing a Culture of Thinking Reflection Activity

Nurturing a Culture of Thinking From the Start

Nurturing a Culture of Thinking Reflection ActivityVisible Thinking is about helping students become better thinkers. The way our students think and their disposition towards thinking, are each greatly influenced by the culture of our schools and classrooms. When thinking is valued and protected, students and teachers will come to realize that real learning is not about facts, but about the exploration of ideas*.

Ron Ritchhart identified eight forces that impact the culture of thinking, each with the power to stifle or promote thoughtful learning. Below are Ritchhart’s Cultural Forces, his commentary, and some of my thoughts mixed in there.

Ron Ritchhart's 8 Cultural Forces

8 Cultural Forces

1. Time: Allow students time to explore ideas and time to respond to questions asked. Don’t forget about the second wait time students need in order to reflect after a response is given.

2. Opportunities: Create purposeful activities to explore ideas. Implement learning design that promotes inquiry. Students can’t deepen their thinking if they are only given shallow requests.

3. Structures & Routines: Use Thinking Routines, patterns of conversation, and other tools to make student thinking visible. Over time, these routines can become engrained habits that will stay with students for a lifetime of learning.

4. Language: Use a language of thinking and reflection with your students. Ideas like metacognition and wait time could be explained to your students (no matter their age).

5. Modeling: Model who you are as a thinker to your students. Share, discuss, and make your own thought process visible.

6. Interactions & Relationships: Create a safe place for thinking and sharing, through collaborative inquiry and continual reaffirmation of the value of thinking.

7. Physical Environment: Arrange the space to facilitate thoughtful interactions. The way a room is set up can say a lot to our students about whose ideas are valued.

8. Expectations: Share clear expectations for the level of thought required for a learning activity. Keep the priority on thinking and learning, not on regurgitating information and completing work.

I believe it is important to reflect on these forces as they apply to the culture we create in our classrooms, schools, boardrooms, presentations, and any interactions we have with “learners”. I created the reflection activity to help myself and the educators I work with, as we strive to nurture a culture of thinking. I spent some time trying out the activity and ended up with some changes I’d like to implement in every single category.

Reflecting on a Culture of Thinking

A culture of thinking doesn’t develop spontaneously. It takes intentionality.  I hope this reflection activity will encourage my teachers to experiment with, and be mindful of, the forces that impact student thinking.


Ron Ritchhart’s newest book, Creating Cultures of Thinking, is due out in 2015

*This is a paraphrasing of a quote from Rosamaria Díaz-Vélez, professor in the online Making Thinking Visible Course- Fall 2013


Why I can’t stop talking about Visible Thinking

Many approaches to encouraging better thinking are abilities-centric, but Visible Thinking is about fostering dispositions of thought, creating a Culture of Thinking, and bringing students to the center of the learning conversation.

Visible Thinking Quote

I think it is vital to share the message and practices of Visible Thinking, especially as they apply to innovation and creativity in the classroom. Visible Thinking promotes the simultaneous development of non-cognitive and cognitive skills, something few other instructional frameworks can truly claim. The strategies are also not dependent on a certain subject area, curriculum, student demographic, or technology infrastructure. Visible Thinking can be implemented in a class with one iPad, a thousand Chromebooks, or ten sticky notes. There are no excuses to limit adoption.

One of the basic tools of the Visible Thinking framework is a series of Thinking Routines, simple patterns of conversation, or protocols, which encourage a spirit of inquiry, reflection, and metacognition. I created the resource below to help the teachers and students I work with as they pursue a Culture of Thinking. My plan is to use it when introducing Thinking Routines as part of an exploration activity. I am hoping these routines will become part of their reflective toolkit, a natural part of their questioning strategy and, eventually, a given in their classroom culture.

Visible Thinking Prompt Picker

This can be cut and folded into one of those fortune teller things or you could punch a hole and put a spinner on it and have teachers or students explore the routines they land on and share where they might be best used.

For the VT Research Buffs: I know they aren’t really prompts, but I thought the word protocols might scare people.

Clarification: Since I plan to use this when teaching about the routines the randomized selection works. When using to actually select a routine to use… the randomized deal doesn’t so much work since there are more appropriate times to use each routine. Proceed with caution–you’ve been warned. 

The Visible Thinking framework and Thinking Routines can be found at

Amateur definition from Austin Kleon

Three Benefits of Being an Amateur

Amateur definition from Austin Kleon


This quote from Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work, continues to challenge me. Maybe it is because I strategically placed it on my desk, as if to watch over me, or maybe because it is just so divergent from the side of ourselves we prefer to show the world, but I can’t stop thinking about it. We show the world our finished products, our accolades, the gourmet dinners, and perfected presentations, but not the mess, the tears, the burnt chicken, and crumpled papers. We want to be thought of as anything but amateurs. Even if we are.


This is especially true in education where the question, “How long have you been teaching (or administrating)?” stems more often from a place of superiority and judgement than genuine curiosity. The wounds of this question (and the associated implications) are still healing from an academic intervention meeting, over five years ago.

Kleon’s definition, however, gives new hope for the amateur. Reflecting on his words, here are three benefits of being an amateur:

1. Amateurs are willing to experiment.  As a result, they often innovate without realizing it.

2. Amateurs haven’t already developed bad habits. As a result, they are coachable.

3. Amateurs bring love and joy to their work.  As a result, they inspire and encourage others.

With a new school year comes a whole round of new experiences and lots of folks who feel like amateurs. You might have a new position this year, be at a new school, in a new state, be a brand new teacher, or at least have a new teacher on your campus. Instead of focusing on all the things amateurs have yet to learn, let’s adopt Kleon’s definition and embrace the amateur. Starting off the year as enthusiasts who approach our work with a spirit of love certainly can’t hurt.

5 Activities End of School

5 Activities That Helped Me Survive the End of the School Year

5 Activities End of School

This piece is cross-posted here on Getting Smart.

Snow cones, slip ’n slides, and other summer staples may be on the horizon, but surviving those last days of the school year and all that it entails can feel simultaneously like a sprint… and a marathon… and one of those crazy color covered runs… all rolled into one. So, here are a few activities from my classroom time that helped me not only survive the end of year, but maybe even provided a head start on training for next year’s race.

1. Student Organizational Gurus

Judge me if you will, but I had some students that LOVED to help me organize and create systems for everything from my rubber bands and staples to math manipulatives and our class library–all as we were under deadline to get everything packed up on those last days.

I don’t think I am stretching too much to say I saw the continued development of problem solving, spatial reasoning, and good-ole organizational skills and habits forming for my students who took on these tasks. I certainly remember the little treasures found when unpacking the following year like the handwritten student note on my rubber band collection with a little smiley—“Have a great year! We will miss you! Love, Patty”.

2. Preview Challenging Content

Vertical planning may not supersede “getting horizontal” to avoid passing out from exhaustion in the last moments of the school year, but a quick, informal meeting could set the tone for a whole new round of students.

Ask the teachers in the grade level ahead of you what students often struggle with in the first weeks of school. Give students a little preview of the content, let them explore and make connections and ask questions in a pressure free zone.

If feasible, set up a time to visit the students who are coming up to your grade level and give them an overview of what to expect and things they can do to prepare.

3. Let Your Students Share Your Class Expectations

Creating a classroom culture takes time and a lot of energy. Let your students give you a hand by creating videos, blog posts, letters, or other projects to share what will be expected of your next group of students when they arrive.

My students made quick videos in the sharing a secret tone as we called it—whispering into the camera “secrets for success in Mrs. Clark’s 4th grade bilingual classroom”. It was pretty funny and actually quite reflective for me to hear what they took away from our classroom culture. Apparently, I was a stickler for positivity with several students ending the stem, “Whatever you do” with “don’t ever ever say I can’t…”

And my students the next year? They were way more attentive to this style of sharing success secrets than any list of expectations I could have made.

4. Curate Summer Content to Continue Learning

I remember the feeling of shock and awe when I got a message from one of my students the second week of summer asking me why I wasn’t updating our class website with new activities and learning links. Oh how we sometimes underestimate our learners!

So, instead of being surprised when your students actually want to continue learning, be one step ahead and provide lists of books, websites, videos, apps, or any content you think might be relevant to them as they spend their summer days looking for ways to occupy themselves.

Students can get involved by sharing their own favorites or collaborating to develop a class crowdsourced group of resources to share.

Here are some tool options that might help:







5. Create a Portfolio of Learning

I remember being frustrated by the fact that much of the work we accomplished in that year together would be summed up on a report card with a final grade and maybe a sentence or two of accompanying comments. My room would be empty and my students would move on to a whole other world (middle school).

Wanting more reflection, more emotional closure (at least for myself if not them too),  more thinking about their learning, and hoping to inspire a new set of goals for the next year, I asked my students to put together a portfolio of their work (we had kept much of it throughout the year) accompanied by their thoughts on a couple of questions such as the following:

Portfolio Reflection Questions:

What progress do you see in your work?

How have you grown?

What was the hardest thing for you?

What work are you most proud of? What makes you say that?

What was a challenge you persevered through?

How do you think you got through that challenge?

Would that strategy work if you got stuck on something in the future?

What goals do you want to pursue next?

What steps might you need to take to meet these goals?

These Moments Matter

During those final days of school, in between the Field Day events and the zoo field trip and the student placement meetings there is only so much one’s brain can handle.  But these moments DO matter. So, may we not just survive the end of the school year, but use the last interactions with our students and colleagues to set the pace for next year’s race.

10 Spring Cleaning To Dos for Your Digital Abode: Part II

10 Spring Cleaning To Dos_II

Part II: Input–stuff related to the learning and growing you do.

Check out the first 5 To Dos Here!

6. Change the Filter on Your Feeds

Are the people you follow today the same as when you first signed up for Twitter, Google Plus, and other social media sites? Have you grown and changed since then? If so, it may be time to filter your feeds and update who you follow.

Who posts things that are of interest and relevant to the work you do? Who are you looking to connect with? Who will push your thinking? Who will share new things? Who is just making noise?

Take a moment to go through your Facebook, Instagram, and other feeds too and customize them considering those who have earned a place in your feed. Whether for professional or personal use, filter what gets your attention and make the most of every moment.

ToolTip: Instead of following based on the number of followers or likes (#Sheeple), spend time looking at the type of content posted and how they interact with others. Carefully consider in that moment, “Is this someone I want to  bring into my digital abode?” Try a service like JustUnfollow to help speed up this daunting task.

7. Dust off Digital Friendships

After step number five, did you uncover connections you hope to maintain, or grow? Try some of the tips below to reconnect or just make someone’s day!

ToolTip: Make someone’s day!

Tweet a Treat: Starbucks Tweet a Coffee

Handwritten Notes (via a digital service): Send handwritten notes (real ones) through this Handiemail or try Felt App.

Box subscriptions: Whether they are into dogs, babies, beauty, or just about anything, there is a monthly subscription service to make them smile.

8. Freshen Up Your LinkedIn (& other online profiles)

Don’t wait until you are looking for the next endeavor to update your online resume, LinkedIn, and other online profiles.

ToolTip: Adjust your privacy & sharing settings, so your current employer doesn’t think you are preparing for an exit.

9.Redesign Learning Sources

Input matters. Inspired by task number six, think about not only the people, but also the sources from which you get information, content, and expand your thinking and knowledge.

ToolTip: Take advantage of your commute or solo exercise time with audio sources like Umano, Stitcher, andAudible. Track your literary consumption with sites like GoodReads so you can reflect on your growth, model that lifelong learning stuff to your students or kids or colleagues, and think about what’s next.

Not a fan of audio? Ok, then update your Flipboard, and/or  ScoopIt feeds with some new content to push your growth and prepare for summer reading by the pool (Is school out yet?).

10. Create Clear Space

Arguably the most important task of them all. That is… if you want to be sane enough to keep doing the work you are doing. Be present, disconnect, and schedule margin (time when there is nothing scheduled).

ToolTip: A good read on this topic— Margin.

So, as you tackle your spring cleaning list, don’t forget your digital life! Then when you have rested and disconnected for a bit, you can come back to a clean digital abode and do work that matters.

What spring cleaning todos are on your digital list? Start the conversation in the comments below!

10 Spring Cleaning To Dos_Part1

10 Spring Cleaning To Dos for Your Digital Abode: Part I

10 Spring Cleaning To Dos_Part1

Part I: Productivity–stuff related to the work you do.

 This piece is cross-posted here on Getting Smart.

It’s spring cleaning time and your digital life is no exception!

1. Update & Organize Your Passwords

With the recent Heartbleed bug fresh on our minds, there might finally be enough motivation to update those pesky passwords for the plethora of web tools, apps, and services that make up our digital day to day. So, please remove the sticky notes with your passwords taped to your computer (Yes, I’m talking to you!) and consider a shift to a digital solution that you can protect and access anywhere.

ToolTip: Evernote Encryption

Already an Evernote user? Create a new notebook specifically for your passwords. Add a layer of security through encryption. Simply highlight the password, give it a right click, and choose the “Encrypt selected text…” option. Each time you sign up for a new service or app, add the new username, password, and any other relevant account information to the passwords notebook.

Try services like Last Pass, Password Box for extra security and ease of use.

2. Tidy Calendars & ToDos

Color-coded list makers and Post-It connoisseurs, you are not alone! I carried a physical planner and a box of markers long past the days when that was actually the most effective and age-appropriate decision (my planner had stickers for various events and holidays).

I haven’t left physical lists and notes completely behind, but my move to one digital “Master List” and one “Today List”  has made a huge difference in those tasks that previously failed to find their way to my daily docket.

ToolTip: Task Organization

Google Tasks or iOS Reminders:

Google Tasks within Google Calendar offers an extremely simple workflow connecting tasks to your calendar and providing the option to sort by due dates, offering perspective on prioritization when needed. If you crave the satisfaction of striking something off your list with a physical writing utensil, printing task lists is available too.

Productivity guru, Greg Garner, mentioned rumors of Google Tasks getting the ax., integrates with Google tasks, so you could try that too and make sure your Tasks don’t get swept away in any upcoming changes that might be brewing.

Tackle Bigger Projects with Trello:

For bigger projects (planning a graduation ceremony, conference, or building a product) with lots of teammates, tasks and the need for collaboration–try Trello.

Sunrise: Connect multiple Google calendars, iCal, Exchange, and Facebook events in one, clean calendar interface with Sunrise designed for iPhone & iPad.

3. Automate That Which Can Be Automated

What the Rumba has done for vacuuming can be done with many tasks in your digital abode! Web service IFTTT provides simple “recipes” to automate digital (and now some physical) tasks.

ToolTip: IFTTT Recipes

Here are four recipes to try, customize, or inspire your own!

Recipe: Automatically save my Gmail attachments to my Google Drive.

Recipe: Send me a text when I get an email from this sender (your boss, that “special” parent, the news you’ve been waiting on).

Recipe: Send me a text if it is going to rain tomorrow.

Recipe: Send me an email when a New York Times Technology article becomes popular (or you can choose different categories to follow).

Want to get your students thinking? Ask your class what IFTTT recipes might help in your classroom day-to-day or save them time! Sorry, I don’t think there is a recipe for class attendance (yet), but you could make a reminder to do attendance.

4. Clean Sweep Your Inbox

What was once intended to save time and make communication more efficient has somehow produced the opposite effect. Pursuing the coveted Inbox Zero and avoiding enslavement to our email notifications can be challenging, but not impossible. Try simple new habits such as: setting specific times to check email (and only when you actually have time to deal with it), creating fewer folders (not more; some even advocate for a single folder: ‘Read-Keep’ or just Archive), turning off notifications, and creating todos or calendar events for specific emails that may need more time and attention.

These little changes can have powerful, cumulative effects. Even switching to an alternative mode of communication such as: walking down the hall to talk face-to-face, picking up the phone for a call, or using real-time messaging tools like iMessage, Google Hangouts, or Whatsapp.

ToolTip: Unsubscribe with Unrollme

Make more space in your inbox with Unrollme, a site which helps sort and manage email subscriptions. Unsubscribe (in one place) from all unwanted Email subscriptions, “Roll up” those you want into one daily digest email, called the “Rollup”, which can be received at a time of your choosing.

Mailbox: For a speedy and clean mobile email experience try Mailbox, which makes quick work of overloaded inboxes and encourages Mailbox Zero practices. Bonus: A desktop Beta Mac OS version is coming soon.

5. Sort & Systemize Digital Artifacts (& take out the digital trash)

The people I know with immaculate houses do a little bit every day and maintain deeply ingrained habits of putting things where they belong—EVERY TIME. Try it with your digital abode by setting a routine for cleaning off your digital desktop, sorting the stuff you want to keep, and getting rid of files you don’t need. Don’t forget to empty the trash and free up space on your computer too!

Next, think about how you will handle every digital item that wants a place in your digital space. What will you do with new photos? New lesson ideas? Blog post inspiration? Links to remember? Recipes to try or keep? My personal answer for almost all of these is various Evernote Notebooks (except photos which are routed through iPhoto), but search for a system that works for you and commit to it.

Tool Tip: Did you know handwritten notes uploaded to Evernote are also searchable? Handwritten parent notes, running records, or family recipes–all searchable.

Bonus Tip: Mother’s Day is coming up too! Create something with your newly organized photos or recipes.

Photos: Make a Mixbook

Recipes: Make a Tastebook

Stay tuned for more Spring Cleaning To Dos with Part II…