Category Archives: Professional Development

Cardboard VR in the Classroom

Last Friday we rolled out our new set of Google “Cardboard” VR viewers.  The first experience was with grade 8.  I led them through the Google Expedition depicting the life of two Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.  Monday, Ryan Maney (@rmaney17), our amazing elementary STEM Teacher used them to take grade 4 students on a virtual field trip to a wind farm as an introduction to their science unit on energy.  (NGSS 4-PS3 Definition of Energy and Energy Transfer).

In both cases the power of the experience was realized by the excitement of the students.  One fourth grader was overheard saying, “I would have never guessed that teachers would use VR in a classroom.”

Our grade 8 Humanities teacher Tweeted…


What did we learn from these experiences?

  1. VR Experiences need to be short or have frequent breaks.  The main reason for this is to prevent kids from getting a headache or queasy when using the viewers.  It doesn’t happen to everyone, but we did have a few children who needed to put the viewer down after a few minutes.
  2. You don’t need a full class set.  We only have 10 viewers.  As our STEM Teacher so masterfully modeled, pausing frequently is an opportunity for students to stop, reflect, and record observations.  Think of it as “close reading” with VR.  Students would view a scene, then pass the viewer to their partner as they wrote down observations, details, and questions.  Then their partner then does the same while they view the next scene.
  3. Make sure your viewers have a button.  Many of the cheap viewers I’ve seen at Walmart or other places don’t have the button that mimics a screen tap.  This is necessary for many of the Google Cardboard apps, Google Earth, YouTube, CoSpaces, etc.  It allows the students to select items, move, or pause playback while in VR.  We went the the Homido Grab headsets (pictured below) and Huawei Honor 5 inch phones (no SIM Card).


For the Dearly Departed

One of the realities of working at an international school is the yearly transition of teachers moving on to new schools at the end of the year.  Already there are boxes of stuff filling rooms and hallways from those who are moving.  But what about all your digital stuff?  How do you take it with you?  What happens to files you’ve created after you leave?  Here are a few things to take care of before you go…

Google Apps

You should make a backup of any files you’ve created on your school’s Google Apps account.  If you’ve created any documents as part of a team or department, you will want to transfer ownership of those documents so they do not disappear after your account is deleted.  Here’s a video I created explaining what to do:



Since you will probably be losing your school e-mail address, there are 3 things you need to remember to do here.

email_tasksFORWARD – Any e-mail and attachments you are going to need to a personal e-mail account.  This could be anything from awesome lesson ideas you received, important documents and attachments, and login/account info for anything you may have signed up for using your school e-mail account.

FORWARD – Any important information that people at your school are going to need after you leave.  This could be important invoices, receipts, inventory lists, or account information for online tools that will be needed for the next school year.  You’d want your predecessor to do the same for you, right?

UPDATE – Your default e-mail for any online accounts you created using your school email address.   While you will likely no longer have access to any subscription services that were provided and managed by your school or district, you probably also used your school e-mail to create accounts for a variety of different online tools or services.    Better login, go to account settings, and change the default e-mail.  Once you no longer have access to your school e-mail, you will no longer be able to recover any account information, or reset a forgotten password.

Update Your CV or Resumé

This transition time is also a good time to update your CV or resumé with your new school, e-mail, and contact info.  You probably also want to update your profile info on Social Media too.  It saves you from having to explain to people, “Oh, yeah. That’s my old school. I’m not there anymore.”

So, if you are one of those joining the ranks of the “Dearly Departed”, congratulations! Blessings and best wishes on your new adventure.


Be Active, Not Passive

Last month I overheard a conversation between two teachers looking through the DVD’s in the school library. Allow me to paraphrase the conversation.

“What do you think of this one?”

“Hmm. I think that’s okay. I might have used it last year.”

“Is it age appropriate for my kids?”

“It’s from <publisher name> so you should be okay.”

“Great. I need something to show this afternoon. This’ll work.”

I find it difficult to accept that in 2014, with all the media available to us, that many teachers still do not preview videos before showing them to their students.  I know that teacher time is a valuable thing, but so is face to face lesson time with students. Why would anyone want to squander that time by with a video that may not even meet your content standards? Or worse yet, use a video as “filler”?

Going through my old files yesterday, I came across this classic Hall Davidson handout. I don’t know if it is even available online anymore, but I hope he won’t mind me sharing it.


Most of us have moved beyond VHS tapes, but consider the wealth of video resources we have available through YouTube, SchoolTube, TeacherTube, and subscription services like Discovery Education.  There are so many options to create powerful learning experiences for our students.  But as Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Let me point out some strategies for ACTIVE video watching that are still quite relevant today.

  • Preview the video before you show it. This seems obvious but it’s easy to skip this important step. Even if another teacher has recommended a video WATCH IT YOURSELF first. You don’t want to be surprised by content. PLUS knowing the content ahead of time will help you plan activities that will help your students learn the most from the video.
  • Use short segments rather than full videos.  If the concept you want to teach can be demonstrated in a 90 second video clip, you don’t need to use up valuable face to face time with students showing a full 20-30 minute video.
  • Use the PAUSE button. Want to make sure your students got that important concept? Pause. Ask questions.  And if you need to, back up the video and show that part again.  It’s just like re-reading an important passage of text. Besides, the fact that YOU are actively watching and making sure THEY are paying attention sends a message to the students that “This IS important.”  You send the opposite message if you just let them passively watch while you sit at your desk and grade papers.
  • Have a plan! Know what you want your students to know after watching a video clip.  Have a pre-video activity (something that prepares them to watch) and a post video activity  (something that you can use to assess whether or not they learned the concept).
Stuck for ideas?  Check out the many SOS Strategies for actively using Video and Media in your classroom.  Here are just a few ideas to make watching videos more meaningful:
These are just a small sample of the many SOS ideas. Click the link below for a list of all the SOS Strategies:

Not At ISTE But Still Learning

In 2008 I attended my first ISTE (NECC) Conference, in San Antonio. Even from that first experience, I saw that “the entree”, my most valuable takeaway of the conference came in the form of conversations. Presentations, workshops, and sessions were important, but it was the conversations and the connections that occurred between sessions that helped me grow the most and kept me coming back for the next 4 years.

This year I missed ISTE. Correction…this year I REALLY missed ISTE.  As I slumped on my couch at home, reading all the tweets, posts, and direct messages of colleagues and friends announcing their arrival in San Antonio I couldn’t help but feel envious. Envious of all the face to face meetups, jealous all the sharing and learning that would not include me.  But I was not alone. There were others on twitter who, like me, also felt like the kid who couldn’t go to the prom.  We all had our reasons, but bottom line – ISTE was happening without us.

Then something truly magical happened. Our collective online “pity party” took a turn that I could not have predicted. A community was born. I noticed all the amazing educators posting #NotAtISTE hashtags on Twitter and started up some conversations.  One particular conversation with Victoria Olson (@MsVictoriaOlson on Twitter) led me to create a Google+ Community where all those of us who could not go to ISTE would be able to share links, resources, and ideas.  We may not be able to meet face to face and have conversations like those in the Bloggers Cafe, but we could use Google Hangouts to create a virtual Blogger’s Cafe. I threw it out there on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 8.24.21 PM


Would anyone show up? The next day our community had over 40 members and by the end of ISTE we had grown to 129.


We commiserated with each other and tried to cheer each other up by posting all the fun things we could do because we were #NotAtISTE.


We also shared resources and had some fun and thoughtful “face to face” conversations in Google Hangouts.  We discussed how to truly integrate technology for student learning, how to encourage teachers to move beyond mere technology substitution and grow to augmentation, modification, and eventually to redefinition (the SAMR Model), and so much more.  Thanks to Josh Gauthier (@mrgfactoftheday) for taking the initiative and jumping in to host some live hangouts. The growth and sharing was truly organic.

As a result of this group I also had a chance to really dig in and learn about Google Plus and how truly powerful it can be to connect people with other people. I don’t know if we would have had the technology even just two years ago to pull this off.  The sense of community from this group went beyond just education chat, we were building relationships here.  We’re even planning to have a real #NotAtISTE13 meetup at ISTE 2014 in Atlanta.  As much fun as it was to be #NotAtISTE, I hope I get to go next year. I can’t wait to meet my new friends face to face.

Creating and Collaborating in the Cloud

This year is a year of changes at my school. I’ll likely be sharing others in future posts, but today I’d like to focus on one that I’m most excited about  – Google Apps replacing Microsoft Office.

Beginning this Fall our incoming 6th grade students no longer all have the exactly same computer supplied and imaged by the school. Instead they are allowed to purchase and bring their own laptop computer. This means our teachers are now dealing with students who could have Macs or PC’s and a variety software and hardware configurations. We needed something that would create a common experience for any platform and Google Apps was the logical choice.

To learn more about our Bring Your Own Laptop program click this link:


  • Google Apps is FREE.
  • Since it works in a web browser, the user experience is the same whether your on a PC or Mac.
  • Google Docs are saved automatically. There’s no need for students to save their work or try to remember WHERE they saved it. This is a BIG deal if you’ve ever worked with middle schoolers.
  • Google Docs are saved “in the cloud”. If a student’s computer breaks, their work is not gone. They can get on another machine, sign-in, and have access to all their work. This eliminates “the dog ate my flash drive” and “my computer froze” or any other technical excuse they might use to get out of doing their work.
  • Google Docs are “collaborative”. This opens up new possibilities for collaborative notes, documents, presentations, and projects. It also makes “turning in” assignments a simple matter of sharing your document with the teacher. No more saving, downloading, and uploading of files. It makes commenting, correcting and revising work much more efficient.

So how does Google Docs work in the classroom?

When students create a document the first thing they must do is give it a proper TITLE. The document title is analogous to putting your name, class, period, and assignment on the top of your paper. Our students are required to name their documents like this:

LastName, FirstName Subject Period Assignment


Naming documents this way allows the teacher to search and filter documents by assignment, subject, name, or class period.  A teacher could filter all documents shared with them to see all submissions for a particular assignment or just the documents submitted by a particular student. If a student shares “Untitled document”, the teacher will not accept it.

Instant Commenting

When a teacher is evaluating student work, adding a comment or critique is a simple as clicking your cursor in the document or highlighting a section of text and pressing CTRL-ALT-M (the keyboard command to insert a comment). CTRL-ENTER will post the comment.

When a comment is posted, the student can see it immediately.  If a student happens to have the document open while a teacher is looking at it, they will see the comment pop up on their screen. They might also see the teacher’s cursor moving through the document right on their screen indicating that the teacher is looking at their document at that very moment. As I explain this to students this might seem kinda creepy, but it’s also pretty cool.

In our old system, students submitting documents would have to upload a document to to Moodle. The teacher would have to download and save the document. Open the document. Add comments. Save the document, then upload the document back to Moodle so the student could see the comments. Instant commenting in Google Docs is a big time-saver.

Revision History

This is like document insurance. As you work on and make changes to a document, Google Apps is generating a revision history. At any time you can go to FILE and SEE REVISION HISTORY to look at previous revisions of your document. So if you, or one of your collaborators accidentally deletes part of your document, you just find an earlier version of your document and restore it.

How is this helpful to you as a teacher? Think about the writing process. Now you can take a students work and use revision history to go back and see their writing process. What changes did they make? What did they add? What did they delete? Did they make the corrections you suggested?

Have you ever been part of a group project and had a bad experience because you did all the work but everyone in the group got your “A”? Now a teacher can use revision history to see not only what changes and additions were made to a document, but also WHO made them. So now the teacher can see who did the most work and who did nothing. Now those lazy people who sit back and let you do all the work will get their just reward. (It’s about time.)

Teachers as Contacts

We also recommend that students using Google Apps, add teachers to their contacts. This is something our teachers have students do at the beginning of the school year. It makes sharing a document with a teacher much simpler because they just share it and select the teacher’s name from their list of contacts. You don’t have to hope that students will type your e-mail address correctly every time.

We’re only in our 3rd week of school and already I’m hearing positive comments about how much quicker and easier it is to assess student work with Google Documents as opposed to dealing with Word and PowerPoint files uploaded to Moodle.

If you’d like additional Google Doc resources, here is the site we created to support our Google Apps training:

Online Behavior Infographic

One of the advantages of working at a Christian school is our ability to be able to integrate faith into our curriculum. One example of this is the infographic below. Much of what we expect in our students’ online behavior is based on the qualities of good character and ethics. So in essence, digital citizenship is character education.

My generation tends to see a distinct line separating our real lives and our online lives.  For our students, that line is much more blurry. Their online world experiences are blended with their real world. Their interactions with their friends and classmates cross-over between the digital and the face-to-face.  As a teacher it’s easy to make a distinction between classroom behavior and online behavior, but when you stop and think about it, isn’t it all just “behavior”?  Stealing is stealing, whether it’s shoplifting a candy bar from the liquor store, or downloading a copyrighted movie from Bittorrent. Bullying is bullying, whether it’s on the playground or in a text message.

When I created the infographic below, my goal was to take our current online behavior agreement (Word doc link) and make something that could be posted in classrooms and referred to daily as teachers and students work and interact online. The intention is to make Digital Citizenship something that is emphasized and modeled in all classrooms, rather than a subject that is only taught in the computer lab.


If you would like a higher resolution copy for viewing or printing…

Feel free to use it, share it, or modify it to meet your needs.

Back to School – Are You Ready?


You walk into class the first day, ready to teach. You look out across the room, examining the the group of learners you see before you. What do you see? Usually it’s a combination of the following…

  • Golden Retrievers – Sitting in the front row. Always wanting to please and requiring constant affirmation. “Is this right? Is this what you wanted me to do?”
  • Storytellers – Constantly have their hand in the air, not because they have a question, but because they need to tell you about something that happened to them once – or maybe it was someone they know – or maybe it was someone on TV.
  • Otters – They don’t care what they’re doing, as long as it’s fun. These are the ones that were talking when you were were giving instructions so they have to ask the person next to them what you said. Then because they are talking to the person next to them, they miss the next thing you said so they need to find out what to do from the person sitting on the other side. Usually when you’re all done, an otter will ask, “Can you explain that first part again?”
  • The Insecure, “Hanging by a Thread” Emotional Mine Field –  Ready to snap at any moment. One wrong comment or look can set them off. Tread carefully.
  • The Eye Rollers – Don’t want to be here. What ever you’re saying must not apply to them so they don’t care. They usually sit in the back of the room with…
  • The Know-It-Alls –  Who are not paying attention to you at all and are working on something else or constantly staring at the clock wondering when you’re going to be done. The two most common replies from both of these types  are “Fine” and “Whatever”.
  • The Space Cadets – Their body may be in the room, but their mind is in a galaxy far far away…
  • The Organizationally Challenged – You don’t see them in the room because they’re running late. When they do arrive, you can’t miss them stumbling in and juggling four times as much stuff as anyone else. After they’re settled and ready to pay attention, that’s when they realize the one thing they need is back home on their desk.
  • The Defense Attorneys –  Known by their familiar battle cry, “That’s not fair!”  These are the ones that will put more time and effort into arguing why they shouldn’t have to do something than it would have taken to actually do it in the first place.
  • The Perfects – Perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect teeth. These are the ones that really DO know it all. They’re always one step ahead of you and are your built-in spelling and grammar checkers.  You’re just one more rung on the ladder they’re climbing for future success and ultimate world domination.

Are you getting a mental picture yet?

Wait a minute! I forgot one important detail. Imagine that room you are in is not filled with students, but with teachers, and YOU are leading their back-to-school technology training.

Ever notice that a group of teachers is not that different from a group of students? Each one has their own issues and idiosyncrasies. Each one has their own unique set of experiences and learning styles. With a group of students we all know the importance of building relationships, building trust, and getting to know the way each student learns so we can tailor our instruction to help them meet our educational goals.  Yet so often professional development for our teachers is delivered in a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all technology in-service.

This year our school principal has us reading “Leading and Managing A Differentiated Classroom” ( As I’m going through the book I can’t help but think that teachers need differentiated instruction too.  Just like with our students, our goal with professional development is make sure that all our teachers master the skill we are presenting. If we want to do that effectively then we need to design a flexible technology training that takes into account the various strengths, weaknesses, and learning needs of our teachers.

For the Golden Retrievers it could mean providing that extra affirmation and feedback they require, but it also might mean answering their questions with other questions getting them to think through what they are doing and helping them to become independent learners and problem solvers.

For the Otters it might mean stopping every once in a while and asking them to echo back what you just said. or have them explain or “re-teach” the last few steps to the rest of the group one more time for reinforcement.

For the Emotional Mine Fields and the Organizationally Challenged, it may mean taking time to meet with them individually to find out what is going on outside of work. We know from Maslow (’s_hierarchy_of_needs) that higher level learning cannot occur if a student is lacking one or more basic needs (physiological, safety, love/belonging). Often times we don’t know all the crap that our fellow teachers are dealing with, so learning to empathize with their situation can help you understand better how you can help them learn.

The Eye-Rollers and the Know-It-Alls need you to show them how they can use what you are teaching them next week. Help them understand the relevance of what you are presenting and that this is not just one more thing that’s going to go into a desk drawer never to see the light of day again.

How do you deal with the other types of learners? I haven’t finished the book yet.  What strategies might YOU use to help them?

Not everyone in the room is starting with the same technology skill set, and not everyone is going to take what you’ve taught them and use it in exactly the same way. How boring would it be if they did? I suppose the important point to remember when leading your teacher trainings is not to focus on the technology, but rather all the wonderful faces in the room. Let them know it’s not about the tool, its about them.  Let them know you’re not just teaching a skill, you’re helping them to grow as professionals.

What is Your Kryptonite?

I’ve never seen “Waiting for Superman” and I don’t intend to. I’m tired of hearing about what’s wrong with education. I prefer to focus on what’s right. I’m not waiting for Superman, in fact earlier this month I was blessed with the opportunity to spend a week getting energized by the light of over 100 Star Educators at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (DENSI). Every teacher in attendance was a bona fide superhero. As we shared, worked, learned and played together I could see that each one of us was gifted with their own unique super power. Combine those powers and you have an unstoppable force strong enough to solve just about any problem in education today – or at least that’s how it seemed.

"Up, up, and away!"

We made videos and built presentations. We got to meet and be inspired by big name experts like Danny Forster, Steve Hargadon (who we renamed “HargaDEN”), and Hall Davidson.  We conferenced and we un-conferenced. When the scheduled events ended, the learning continued though impromptu “sessions” in the dorm rooms before breakfast and late into the evenings. Sleep was not a priority. Why sleep when you can spend that valuable time learning?

The only problem with this amazing week is that it had to end. In a perfect world, all of us superheroes would just stay there in San Diego, living, learning, and playing, but a perfect world has no need for superheroes. A superhero’s work is to fight for truth and justice, to right wrongs, solve problems, and protect the innocent. In the end each us had to leave and go home to our own schools and districts to face our own challenges and deal with the inevitable post-DENSI depression.

Every superhero has a weakness. For Superman, it’s Kryptonite – that substance that drains his energy and makes him feel powerless. As a teacher and tech leader, what is your Kryptonite? Perhaps it’s one of these…

  1. Internet Filters – It’s happened to all of us. You’ve got a great idea for a lesson or activity that will really motivate your students and get them excited about learning only to find that the site you need to use is blocked.
    When a superhero faces a force shield, he does not give up and go home. He finds a way to go through it, go around it, or turn it off. Work with your school and district IT to get the site unblocked. As a teacher and an adult you have the right to override a school Internet filter or have have sites unblocked for you and you don’t even have to provide a reason. (See “Dispelling Myths about Blocked Sites” and “Knowledge is Freedom“)
  2. Consistency and Fairness – Ever been told that your class can’t do something unless all the other classes decide to do it too? How often do we sacrifice creativity and innovation for the sake of consistency?
    Superheros are sometimes required to go solo, moving forward where others fear to tread. Lead by example. Blaze a new trail for others to follow.
  3. The “Almighty” Inflexible Schedule – Does your education dictate your schedule, or does your schedule dictate the education? This is especially true if you are departmentalized. I know I’ve missed the opportunity to participate in numerous live events and webinars because it didn’t fit into the schedule or happened during break or “switch” times.
    A superhero sees what needs to be done and fights for it. Often times this involves making personal sacrifices to bend the un-bendable. You may need to give up part of your lunch or prep time, or offer to cover for another teacher, or promise give up time out of your own class later on. If the opportunity is truly worth it, a superhero will find a way.
  4. Lack of Administrative Support – Do you live in constant fear of trying something new or innovative with your students because you know that if it doesn’t work or if someone complains that you’ll be left “hanging out to dry” by your principal or administrator?
    Superheros must sometimes work outside the law to do what is right. Don’t let fear of getting in trouble rob your students of a valuable learning opportunity. True innovators and those who make a difference are risk takers. Think of the inspirational stories of Jamie Escalante and Erin Gruwell.
  5. Fear of Failure – What if it doesn’t work right the first time you try it?
    Don’t give up. A superhero demonstrates mental discipline and chooses to focus on the learning goal rather than what could happen if he fails. When he does fail (notice I said “when” and not “if”), he doesn’t give up, but learns what didn’t work, makes changes and adjustments, and tries again.  We learn more from failures than successes. Besides what better way to model to your students that failures are just part of the learning process?

If I learned one thing at DENSI, it would be that even though I sometimes feel that I’m fighting the good fight all by myself, I am not alone. When the Kryptonite of the real world robs me of my power and energy, I can reach out to my fellow superheroes. Help is only a text, a tweet, a skype, a direct message, an e-mail, or a just phone call away.

Thank you Discovery for a wonderful week in San Diego and for helping me build a powerful circle of Superfriends.

Serendipity Strikes Again

Sometimes you get lucky and happen to be in the right place at the right time. For me the place was Twitter and the time was this morning right about 8am Pacific time. It was there I saw this message…

I clicked on the link and there I was, watching the Discovery Pre-Conference Event live from the FETC Conference in Florida. Problem was it didn’t look like anything was happening. People were just sitting at tables talking and working on their laptops. Maybe they were taking a break and the real session would be starting in a few more minutes.

I decided to check out the chat and see who I might be able to “talk” with while I waited for something to happen. I saw my friend Jen Wagner (JenW in the chat) and tapped out a quick “Hey Jen!”. Funny thing is, where Jen would normally respond quickly with a greeting and a “smiles”, I got nothing. Strange. I read backward through the chat and noticed JenW, nsharoff, derrallg, pgeorge, dduray, and a few others were all busy chatting about gathering pictures, adding slides to a presentation, and posting links on Twitter. In a few moments it was clear what was going on. I had just dropped in right in the middle of a…

Virtual Project

All those people at the tables in Florida were not just having conversations. They were working on a project for the DEN Pre Conference. And so were we. Before I knew it I was part of Virtual Table #7. Our project was about the weather. An appropriate topic considering the blizzard that was crippling most of the country right now. Jen had created a Twitter form asking for your location, the temperature, and whether or not schools were closed in your area because of the weather.

At the same time, the group was collecting pictures uploaded to Flickr from around the country and bringing those images and weather information into a Google Presentation.

I quickly got to my Google Docs, opened the presentation, and observed a presentation forming right before my eyes. I SO wanted to be a part of this. Grabbing a camera from our library media center I quickly ran out front and snapped a picture of the front of my building being sure to frame the shot so it showed off the warm California sunshine. A quick Google search gave me the current local temperature and daily forecast. I added an new slide to the presentation and alerted the chat room that I was claiming slide #13 for myself.

Over the next 30 minutes we worked to build resource pages, links to Discovery content, weather maps, links to the survey results and more. Nancy Sharoff even linked to a Youtube video of snow falling right outside her house. She had just shot and uploaded it a few minutes earlier. I put my own creative touch on the title slide.

By 9:15 am we were just about done and pretty proud of what we had accomplished. About 2 hours later the projects were shared. Even though I had 4th graders in the computer lab with me, I watched live as groups presented their projects. Then Porter Palmer, who was running the live feed for us in the room in Orlando, shared the project that Virtual Table #7 had created. What a thrill to see our work displayed on the screen in Florida and to hear the Oooohs and Aaahhhs from the pre-conference attendees. I think my self-esteem just went up a few notches.

Thanks to all who participated in the virtual project and to Porter Palmer and the rest of the DEN Team at FETC for making something like this possible. It was a blast.

CLICK HERE to see our presentation.

The Group Brain

What do you get when you take 75 educators from across the US and Canada, put them in blue shirts, house them in college dorms for week, give them training and access to top experts on the latest educational technology tools, and put them in teams to experience these tools hands-on to produce curriculum-based projects? You get the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) Summer Institute 2010.

You would think that after attending two previous institutes that the talent, dedication and love of learning shared by attendees and presenters alike would no longer amaze me.  You would think that I’d see the same or similar projects again and again.  You would think that my third institute could not possibly match the energy and enthusiasm of the previous two. And you would be totally wrong.  It was truly a mountain top experience – and I’m not just criticizing the countless stairs at Bentley University.

If I look back at the greatest professional development experiences I’ve had, the top three are Discovery Institutes. They do it right. First, they bring in top experts to train us.

  • We learned about Edmodo from Co-founder Jeff O’Hara who didn’t just present a session and leave, but stayed with us for two days!
  • We learned movie-making techniques from AFI’s Frank Guttler and Discovery’s Digital Storytelling guru Joe Brennan.
  • Dr. Lodge McCammon spent the whole day with us and shared his “one-take video” technique using his own original music and student creativity to teach core curriculum content. Who doesn’t enjoy a good song about linear equations?
  • Jim Dachos, the GlogsterEduMan, showed us Glogster and explained the new features of GlogsterEdu. (He and his team also threw us an ice cream party – in Glogster colors, of course.)
  • Then there was Lance Rougeux and the awesome team from Discovery who spent the whole week with us. They not only helped us dig deep and learn their product inside and out, but also shared their expertise in other web 2.0 tools.  One of them even got up at 5am every morning to run to Duncan Donuts to get coffee for us. I can’t say enough about the DEN Team and the work they did putting together this institute. (Many of them are pretty good actors too.)

But the week was not just devoted to teaching technology tools. Attendees are also expected to produce projects using these tools.

Here is where the DEN Institutes excel. They put us in teams, give us a project, and let us learn from each other. It was like being part of a group brain. If there was something I didn’t know, it’s a good bet one of the other teachers at the Institute could help. They help me, I help them, we work together and help each other – and learning happens. I completed 4 projects in 5 days! Best of all I had a great time doing it.

At the DEN Institute they understand that if teaching and learning isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right – and we definitely had fun. Staying in the dorms at Bentley made me feel like a college kid again. We’d stay up late finishing projects that were due the next day, share cool tips and tricks we’d learned, and just take the time to getting to know each other. Remember in college there was that one dorm that was always the party room? We had one of those too. One night I even got locked out of my room and had to crash on someone’s couch.

By the time Friday came around, none of us wanted it to end. The good news is, it doesn’t have to. Thanks to the DEN Institute I’ve added many new Facebook, Twitter, and Edmodo friends. I plan to continue the learning and friendships made in Boston, as I have with previous institutes. While I definately miss the face to face interaction – and the fun we had in room 105 –   I don’t have to lose that Group Brain.

Thanks Discovery for a wonderful week of learning and for connecting me with an awesome group of teachers.

By the way, if you’d like to see the project I worked on with David Fisher from Florida, here it is.  Enjoy.

I also created a Glog highlighting some of the projects and tools shared at the institute. CLICK HERE to see it.