Monday, March 2, 2015

An Uplifting Story - Burlington Blog Update (Edition 18)

The post below is actually a copy of a weekly e-mail that I send to our staff  to promote our Burlington Public Schools Blog which shares the great work going on across our school district. I also try to give a quick technology tip/resource that I think would be useful. It is the 18th post in the series.

As we deal with this record-breaking winter, we've finally surpassed the 100-day mark of the 2014-2015 school year.  Given the fact that it has been a little depressing dealing with "Snowmageddon", I have decided to share an uplifting story about a father in Florida who was concerned about his autistic son and finding him a job that would highlight his strengths. 

Burlington Blog Update
Only 77 more posts to go...

Here's to another 5-day week!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Blizzard Bags Making News Across North America

As we were discussing Blizzard Bags at work this past week, I noticed my phone had an incoming call from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia. Since we were in a meeting, I let the call go to voicemail. Ironically, when I checked the message a bit later, the call was from to discuss Blizzard Bags.  The call was from Paul Bennett, a professor and consultant from Canada who has spent some time on this topic. Mr. Bennett has voiced concerns for quite a while on the need for schools to ensure continuity for students when bad weather interferes. He wrote a piece back in 2010 titled Schools Out, Again: Why "throw-away' school days hurt students where he cited concerns regarding lost time due to weather in the Province of Nova Scotia.

Anyway, here are a few of the stories regarding Blizzard Bags that have been in the news over the past week:

"Blizzard bags" make for a smart snow day - Halifax Herald, Paul Bennett (A lot of comments)

My Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (March 1, 2015)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

I Think It's Obvious Why College Students Prefer Real Books

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an ind...
If this is how you grew up reading, what would your preference be? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier this week the The Washington Post ran a story titled Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right. Every time I see one of these stories it makes me think a bit about why this is the case. It actually amazes me that people are so surprised that "Digital Natives" prefer real books to e-books. The fact of the matter is the in the case of this article, we are talking about college students who have spent more than a decade completing their reading in real books and having educators assign work from real books.  Just because they now have access to e-textbooks and/or e-books does not mean that they will choose to abandon the workflow they have used for their entire educational career. Why are we surprised by this? 

In Burlington for instance, we handed out iPads four years ago and our current seniors have had iPads for their entire high school careers. Yet, we have not seen a seismic shift in the amount of reading that has moved away from traditional books. Again, is this a shock? Given that these students had done almost all of their reading through eighth grade in a traditional format, I think not. Do I think that our elementary students will feel the same way? No, I think we will start to see more of a split in the choice by students in regards to a preference of reading online vs. reading traditional books.

The Only Way To Get Students Comfortable With E-Reading

The major problem in regards to seeing some of the unique aspects of reading online is to have students guided through the process and shown some of the things a reader can do digitally that they cannot do with a traditional book. Unfortunately, this is still something that many educators are uncomfortable with or unwilling to try. Personally, I love reading online and the fact that I can click on hyperlinks, bookmark key points/articles, and interact with others interested in the same topic/novel. In fact, we have had a pilot in our middle school this year using LightSail that has shown some indications of success. (I'll write more about this later).

The point here is that we need to give students access to all of the tools and resources that can help them engage with whatever they are reading and then let them choose what works best for them. The key part of whether students choose to read traditionally or online is choose to read.  We need to encourage reading and discussion about reading with our students and help them on a pathway that will help them enjoy this lifelong journey. The only mistake in this whole conversation is to micromanage the decision.

Embrace the Struggle

We need to embrace the struggle that is part of this and have meaningful conversations to guide our own learning and the learning of our children.

Denying these opportunities benefits no one! 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Weekly Diigo Bookmarks (February 22, 2015)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pondering School Work For Snow Days...What The Heck Is A Blizzard Bag?

photo via -

It is old news by this point that we have had a decade's worth of snow this winter in the Greater Boston area.  In the last few weeks, we have had three times more snow than we did during the historic Blizzard of 1978. While many schoolchildren are thrilled to have missed multiple days of school (five here in Burlington), the thoughts of administrators have turned to making up some of these days prior to the dog days of June.  Here in Massachusetts, our district will pilot "Blizzard Bags" in an attempt to reduce some of the make-up days that now have us in school until Thursday, June 25. 

What are Blizzard Bags?

I have to admit that I was unfamiliar with the term Blizzard Bag when I first heard it and was unaware that the practice of employing Blizzard Bags to compensate for snow days is something that has been happening in states like Minnesota, Ohio and New Hampshire for a few years. In fact, I have started to bookmark sites of districts using this practice to get some ideas about how this works.  In all honesty, I have been underwhelmed with what I have found thus far on many of the sites. Many of the samples are simply worksheets that students would do independently and would fall short of the definition of structured learning time articulated by Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester in one of his weekly updates below:
The Department has received inquiries regarding so-called "blizzard bags," assigned work sent home with students in advance of an expected storm. In many cases, this work appears to be very similar to normal homework assignments; there is educational value, but it does not necessarily meet the standard for structured learning time. For this approach to count toward the student learning time requirements, school districts must ensure that such work is structured learning time, is substantial, and has appropriate oversight and teacher involvement.  

Blizzard Bags in Burlington 

As expected, we have received numerous inquiries from parents and news media about our Blizzard Bag proposal which must be approved by both the Burlington School Committee and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In all honesty, we have not yet articulated what the work will be that students will be asked to do in grades K-12.  The plans will be constructed over the next month or so and then brought forth to our School Committee.  

While I can't tell you specifically what our Blizzard Bags will be, I can tell you some of the qualities I think these assignments should have.  But before, I go down that path I think it is important that we recognize this wonderful opportunity we have before us. We have been presented with a chance to discuss learning and the countless activities that we could offer students to learn outside of our schools. We need to embrace this collaborative endeavor and ensure that we include staff, students, parents, and others with experience in this type of endeavor in the planning. Lastly, we need to be honest with ourselves regarding the fact that this will not be perfect. Some of the learning opportunities that we create will work well and others will not.  But isn't that what happens as we plan lessons during our 180-day school year anyway?

So here are a few of the opportunities that I think Blizzard Bags should provide students...

  • Independence
  • Collaboration
  • Hands-on
  • Digital learning
  • Inquiry
  • Teacher Feedback 
  • Peer Feedback
While I could continue with more examples, the point here is that these assignments should allow for choices by students and staff. They should not be worksheet-driven as a few of the examples I have seen in other districts using Blizzard Bags. In the end, we are attempting to have a learning experience for our students that would be equally as meaningful as a day at the end of June. No offense intended here, but I think we can do much better than that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Question For School Leaders...Are you preparing students for...?

Image via 

I still remember how excited I was back in May 2011 when the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) published their position statement on Social Media and Mobile Technologies.  As we approach the four-year anniversary of this document, my feelings have changed to disappointment due to the limited progress I perceive in this area.  Ignoring and/or banning the use of social media and mobile technologies in schools is still far too prevalent and it is bad for kids.

Here is the key phrase in this position statement for me:
"Education should prepare students to be active, constructive participants in a global society."
The best way for this to happen is also clearly articulated in the position statement:
"Encourage and model the appropriate and responsible use of mobile and social technologies to maximize students' opportunities to create and share content."
Along the same line, the recent interview below that Joe Mazza did with Richard Culatta, Director of the United States Office of Education Technology Culatta talks about what we need in our schools to create schools that are "Future Ready."  
"It's not OK for district and school leaders to say I'm not that tech savvy. Even joking about that is not funny anymore...The strategy for using technology to transform learning cannot be delegated..."

So I ask my colleagues the following question: What are you doing to model the use of technological tools in your role? 

Here's a place to start 

If you aren't sure where to start, NASSP has shown great leadership over the past four years with its Digital Principal Award that selects three school leaders annually "who exhibit bold, creative leadership in their drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals."

Check out the work of this year's winners John Bernia, James Richardson, and Bill Ziegler to get a look at what best practice looks like.  In addition, look back at past winners (2014) Daisy Dyer Duerr, Jason Markey, Derek McCoy, (2013) Dwight Carter, Ryan Imbriale, Carrie Jackson, (2012) Eric Sheninger, Mike King, and me.  All of these school leaders are just a few keystrokes away and they are willing to answer questions that you may have to help you and/or your school community move forward on this challenging and exciting path!