A simple set of #edcamp kickoff slides

Posted by on Aug 12, 2013 in Mixes | 0 comments

In doing my part to make things a little bit easier for Edcamp organizers, here’s my slide deck that I use to kickoff an event. Please feel free to copy and remix to suit your own Edcamp.Edcamp kickoff slides

Teach like Batman

Posted by on Aug 11, 2013 in Mixes | 2 comments

Batman Beyond

Laura Thomas at Edcamp Keene asked one of my absolutely favorite questions of the whole thing during her Becoming Badass session (coming soon to a bookshelf near you!): Who are your fictional role models? What are the things they do that help you become a better teacher?

The very first name that came to my mind was Batman. While I think Spider-Man’s morality (“With great power must come…great responsibility!”) has always spoken to me, and he’s always been the most relatable superhero because of his essential humanity (amazing that I would identify with a nerd hiding something amazing, isn’t it?), he still has superpowers that I can never duplicate. If you can help me with that, call me!

However, in the very first Batman comic I ever purchased, Batman 400 (October 1986), Stephen King writes an introduction titled “Why I Chose Batman” that really gets to the heart of why Batman:

Batman, however, was just a guy.

A rich guy, yes.

A strong guy, granted.

A smart guy, you bet.

But he couldn’t fly.

In a world of gods and legends, Batman, a normal guy, stands up and is counted in a way that many heroes with powers aren’t.

Given that, how can we teach like Batman?

Study, study, study

One of my favorite things about Batman is his origin story. No, not the death of his parents, but, in the parlance of the times, “how he came to be!” After the death of his parents and he took the sacred oath over their graves, Bruce Wayne dedicated himself to his war on crime by traveling all around the world and studying with the greatest teachers he could find. Martial arts? Check. Detective work? Check. Technological wizardry? Check. Driving? Check. Batman is always looking to learn from the best teachers around him and will study a new task until he’s mastered it.

As teachers, we too should be life-long learners, seeking out the best, most experienced master teachers we know, and learning everything we can from them. We should learn about things outside of teaching and see how we can bring those things back to our classrooms. We should strive every day for mastery in our work.

Always have a plan

Batman is the man with the plan. Before taking on a situation, Batman thinks through his options and chooses what he thinks the best plan of attack is. Should he he enter by the front door or by the skylight? Which is the most to his advantage? Can he set up the Batmobile so it can come crashing into the building at a crucial moment? Teachers, of course, know the value of a well-planned lesson. But Batman always takes things a step further. He has contingency plans for almost any scenario. If he gets knocked out, his mask will zap you if you try to remove it. If Superman goes crazy, Batman is probably the person who’s going to take him down.

Do you have contingency plans? I’m not just talking emergency lesson plans if you’re out sick, but have you thought through how you’re going to handle it if something goes wrong with your perfectly planned lesson? Batman has.

Use the best technology

Batman has the most amazing gadgets to help him handle any of the situations before him. Of course, he has all the flashy vehicles, but the best thing Batman has is his utility belt, filled with stuff that he can use to help him save the day. Whether it’s smoke pellets, a grappling gun, batarangs, or access to an amazing supercomputer, Batman uses any and all available resources in his mission.

Are you as a teacher taking advantage of all of the tools at your disposal? Like Batman, you should be constantly looking at everything you have and asking yourself how you can best use it, whether it’s a single computer or a 1:1 program.

Be a detective

Batman got his start in Detective Comics, and one of my favorite things about him is how much he uses the power of his mind to solve mysteries, whether it’s the Riddler’s clues or a mysterious footprint that he figures out where its soil came from. Batman doesn’t just jump from finding out a person was kidnapped to immediately rescuing them, but has to solve the puzzle of the crime first.

Good teachers are constantly being detectives. If a student makes a mistake in a math problem, it’s your job to figure out why they made the mistake so that you can then guide them toward the right answers. If a student is having a hard time behaving in class,  do a Functional Behavior Assessment to get at the root of the issue and help them overcome it.

Surround yourself with the best people

Batman doesn’t join any team. He’s on the Justice League, the team of the most powerful, most noble beings in the DC Universe. He’s the best, so he stands with the best. He also constantly proves that he belongs there. He’s also a mentor to some great people with lots of potential like Robin and Batgirl.

What kind of team are you working with at your school? If you’re a connected teacher, who are you connected to? Work at surrounding yourself with the best people you can find, and don’t waste your time on the people who are constantly complaining and not trying to solve real problems. Make sure you’re working as hard as everybody else and proving your worth. You also need to remember to help newer teachers grow and learn so they can also become great teachers.

Do you teach like Batman? Or do you take fictional inspiration elsewhere?

Building Digital Texts on the iPad

Posted by on Aug 6, 2013 in Mixes | 2 comments

Below I’ve embedded my slide deck for my six-hour workshop I’m presenting tomorrow at the MTA Summer Conference on Building Digital Texts on the iPad.Digital Book Workshop.002

Six hours. Solo. Yikes.

On Commercialism #iste13

Posted by on Jun 23, 2013 in Mixes | 5 comments

I’m on the plane winging my way toward ISTE as I type this, rocking out to a variety of mashups (dj BC’s Beastles, where have you been all my life?), mentally prepping myself for what I’m sure will be an great week of talking with fabulous educators. I’m pumped about my workshop withShelly Terrell and Lynne Herr with our tiny group of people, which will give us a real opportunity to dig in deep on the questions the participants have.

I’m also prepping myself mentally for all of the commercial aspects of this event. I like free stuff as much as the next teacher, and I like free food with friends at parties, so I’m sure I’ll take advantage of both while I’m there. Bt I also need to keep in mind that this free stuff is in service of trying to get me to try out new products and to then go back to my district and recommend that they purchase said products. I’ll need to be vigilant that I objectively look at everything that comes my way, so I can determine that I like it for all the right reasons.

Since this is my first real-deal ISTE with a presentation, though, I was *not* prepared for the commercialism that would hit me *before* the conference. My email over the past few months has been a steady stream of vendors asking me to insert *their product here* into my presentation in exchange for *free stuff for me and my copresenters and/or giveaways for participants*.

I have been consistently horrified by these offers and the larger implications for all of the presentations at ISTE. The whole reason you go to a non-sponsored session is because you want the expert opinion of the people leading the session on what’s good and what’s worth doing. I was hoping that this would be a well-developed opinion from lots of experience, but now these companies are forcing me to evaluate every single presentation I attend for purchased bias. Did the presenter mention that product because they used it all year with their students, or did they mention it because they got some free swag? If they got swag, are they going to offer a disclaimer, or are they going to hide it?

I just don’t know any more.

Learn with me this Summer!

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Mixes | 0 comments


I’ve got a busy Summer filled with some great stuff! I’d love to see you there!

  • June 23-25 ISTE! (San Antonio, TX) I’ll be running a workshop with the wonderful Shelly Terrell and Lynne Herr called The Teacher’s Survival Kit for iPad Integration! I’m pretty psyched.
  • June 27-28 MADPC! (Burlington, MA) The third annual Massachusetts Digital Publication Collaborative is a great opportunity to work together with others to create some great digital content for your classroom.
  • Tuesdays in July and August Edcamp BPS Tuesdays! (Burlington, MA) Every Tuesday morning all summer long you can get a taste of the sweet, sweet Edcamp. We will help you with anything. Seriously. Anything.
  • July 22 Edcamp BLC! (Boston, MA) I actually will be out of the country so I won’t be there, but you should go!
  • August 4-8 MTA Summer! (Williamstown, MA) The Massachusetts Teachers Association has a great summer camp for teachers. One day I’ll be running an Unconference, and another day I’ll be doing a solo day-long workshop ever on creating digital texts with the iPad.
  • August 9 Edcamp Keene! (Keene, NH) We’re going to do a totally stripped down, no monetary sponsors to speak of Edcamp, and it will be awesome. Because we’re there to share!
  • August 12 Edcamp Cape Cod (Sandwich MA) OR Edcamp Leadership (Union, NJ). I’m torn. So, so torn.
  • August 16 Edcamp Connecticut! (Simsbury, CT). Best potato chips ever! Also, great learning. Also, I’m serious about the chips.

Whew! See you there!

Reading ePub documents on your iOS device or Computer

Posted by on Jun 17, 2013 in Mixes | 2 comments

Later this week I should be posting lots of student projects from this year that I haven’t had a chance to post yet!

Many of the projects this year were created in Book Creator for iPad, which creates an ePub file, which is an electronic book format. The advantage of the electronic book format is that it allows students to insert audio and video into their books. The negative is that there aren’t many options for how you can read those books. Up until a couple of months ago, your only option was using iBooks on an iOS device. Now, fortunately, there’s another option on the computer. This post will describe both ways of reading student work created in Book Creator.

iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch)

First, you’ll need to download iBooks from the App Store. It’s completely free!

Next, you’ll need to find an ePub file to download. Here’s the first grade graphic novel that I posted earlier this year!

After tapping on the link, you’ll see a screen that gives basic information and gives you a download button that you should tap.

Photo 10

This will bring you to an Open In screen. If it says Open in iBooks, tap that. Otherwise tap Open in… and then choose Open in iBooks from the list that pops up.

Photo 11

iBooks will open up with your new book ready to read!

Photo 9


Computer (PC or Mac)

If you don’t have it already, you’ll need to download the Chrome web browser by Google.

Download the ePub file and save it somewhere easy to find again. I use the Downloads folder or the Desktop.

You’ll then need to add the Readium Extension to Chrome. In order to add it, you’ll need to be signed in to a free Google account.



After downloading, it should create a New Tab on the Apps page. Click on Readium.



Click the Add Items button



Click Choose Files, then find your epub where you had saved it. Then click Add Book. Now you can read your book!



Later this year, Apple will release a new version of Mac OS X that will have iBooks built in, so this is just a temporary measure for reading on Mac. After that it will work much more like iOS.

This post is crossposted from my work blog.

Six years on Twitter

Posted by on May 25, 2013 in Mixes | 1 comment

Six years ago today I joined Twitter.


Like most people, it took me a while to figure out how to use it in a meaningful way, but when I did…

It is not an understatement to say that using Twitter has had an amazingly powerful impact on the course of my career as a teacher. I was planning on writing up a grand story or two about how exactly Twitter has changed everything for me, but I find in the moment as I sit down to type this that the immensity of it all overwhelms me. I’ll tell some of these stories some other time, but in this moment, I just want to give thanks.

I would be a much worse educator today without Twitter. Thank you to the many, many, many wonderful educators who have freely given me their time, advice, and answers over the past six years. Thank you for guiding me towards better pedagogy and better use of technology. Thank you for making it possible for me to move 300 miles and already have an amazing new job waiting for me. Thank you for helping make it possible for me to become a graduate professor. Thank you for connecting me with the most wonderful people that I have the good fortune to work with to launch a movement. Thank you for being a source of inspiration, intellectual discourse and challenge, hope, news, sadness, humor, joy, and friendship. Thank you for being messy and wonderful and confusing and amazing. Thank you for being you, for giving your time so freely, for making me think, and making me laugh. Thank you for supporting me when things were tough, and supporting me when things were great.

It’s been an amazing journey for me. I hope you can say the same.



#edcampBOS: An embarrassment of riches #edcamp

Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Mixes | 3 comments


I’m honestly still having a hard time processing Edcamp Boston this weekend, because even in comparison to the many other events that I’ve been fortunate enough to attend and organize, this one really stood out as one of the best Edcamps ever. Seriously. No joke. No hyperbole. My high water mark for Edcamps before this was Edcamp Philly last year, and Boston at least equaled that.

It’s a funny thing, but I think it takes a city a few years to really click with Edcamp. The first couple of years there’s a lot to learn as a starting point. New tool, new pd format, new people, new everything. if you look at the schedule for a typical first-time Edcamp, it’s very heavy on the Intro. Intro to Twitter. Intro to iPads.

Year three seems to be a different ballgame entirely.

Check out this ridiculously awesome schedule:

This is pretty much my definition of an ideal Edcamp schedule. It’s lean and mean. There’s not a lot of fat on there. There’s a few open slots, which means everybody who wanted to facilitate something got to do so, but there’s no so many empty slots that people should find it impossible to get to something that will interest them. In the days leading up to Edcamp, we sent out this message to participants:

Since this is the third Edcamp Boston, and New England has hosted a whole bunch of Edcamps by now, we’re really looking forward to all session facilitators bringing their A-game. At this point we should mostly be past just sharing lists of tools. We should be talking about how we’re actually doing stuff in our classes. We should have grand debates about the future of education. We should be talking serious pedagogy, teaching, and learning. Less tools, more teaching and learning! Bring it.

Their response, as exemplified by that schedule above:

In. Sane.

We started the day off as Edcamps are wont to do: light breakfast, building the schedule. Because it was May the Fourth, I used this to get things started during the kickoff:

During kickoff, we clarified the discussion/hands-on nature of the sessions, talked about voting with your feet for any reason at all, and I, in a bit of ominous foreshadowing, made sure to mention that hallway sessions are just as valuable as those occurring in scheduled rooms.

We did a quick icebreaker, and then we were off. People quickly broke apart the rooms from neat, orderly rows to messy circles and clusters. I loved it.

On a personal note, one of the reasons that this Edcamp was so great for me is that Laura and I brought some of our students with us! Five fifth graders came to talk about our 1:1 iPad program. We wanted to give them some time to get acclimated to their surroundings, so we didn’t put their session in until the second block and encouraged them to check out what was happening int he other rooms. They went to a session on games in the classroom, found it not to their liking, and then you know what they did?

They voted with their feet!

Yes, 11 year olds can do it! You can too!

They went to a session on art apps for the iPad, totally loved a bunch of them, and then made sure to email me their lists of favorites so we can look at getting them onto their devices. I love my job.

When their session came up, my students completely blew me away. We didn’t do a lot of prep with them. We told the kids they’d probably be asked a bunch of questions, and that they should answer honestly. They all went up to the screen and showed off their work at some point. We Skyped in one of their teachers so she could listen and sometimes chime in. Laura and I answered a few questions, but mostly, it was the kids doing the talking in response to things the teachers wanted to know.  They were articulate, forthright, graceful, sweet, and funny. They were amazing. I can undoubtedly say that being in the room with those kids and watching them work the room made me so happy. It reminds me why I got into this job in the first place. It was absolutely one of the highlights of my entire career as a teacher. I love my job.


The rest of the day is a blur of amazing conversations. Remember that ominous foreshadowing? I didn’t get to one single session other than my own! Every time I was hanging out at the board considering my options (because yes, I like to look at the actual physical board, thank you very much), I’d end up in yet another conversation with somebody about what’s going on in their schools, classrooms, and parts of the state, and the next thing I knew, time was up! Then we held our smackdown and prize giveaways, moved on to the afterparty for even more great conversations, and finally went home, where I posted this on Facebook:


#edcamp is turning 3: a shared responsibility

Posted by on Apr 28, 2013 in Mixes | 7 comments

We’re in the thick of the spring Edcamp season right now, and just weeks away from Edcamp’s big third birthday. Next weekend I’m thrilled to be a part of the organizing committee yet again for Edcamp Boston. But something’s been brewing in my mind for some time, and this post here definitely helped crystallize my thoughts and spurred me to writing.

Here’s the deal: people all over the place have been saying they love Edcamp. Lots of people are looking for support in rolling their own in their neck of the woods. Which is awesome, and why we created the Edcamp Foundation.

But Edcamp itself is bigger than the Foundation. It’s all of us, here and now, who believe in participatory learning. We’re all responsible for Edcamp. Edcamp wouldn’t happen without all of us working together the past three years to make it happen.

And sometimes, we’re botching it.

We’re messing up when we take the Edcamp name and turn it into something it’s not. I’ve had to chase after people who want to charge money for Edcamps. I’ve had to chase after people running Edcamps exclusively for a select group. I’ve had to chase after people calling an event with a predetermined schedule an Edcamp.

And that’s fine. That’s big picture stuff. I can handle that. It’s my voluntary job, and I do it because I believe in this thing.

But I can’t, nor I should I, be the police at every Edcamp around the world. Again, that’s all of us.

How are you helping to make your Edcamp a success?


Organizers, it’s got to start with you. You are amazing, and have contributed to the nearly 250 events since we started this thing three years ago. Edcamp wouldn’t happen without a group of local educators willing to say, “Hey, it would be awesome if we got a bunch of people to talk about education.”

Thank you.

For the love of God and all that is holy, you need to make sure that people know what Edcamp is about. You need to help your participants see that bigger picture. You need to let them know what a good session should look like and what a terrible session should look like. A great session at traditional conference is quite likely a terrible session at an unconference. Your experienced presenters? That’s going to be weird to them. Let them know that if they’re going to be presenting, they’re doing it wrong. They should be facilitating discussions. They should be working together to figure out new tools.

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed at this at times. I’m working on it.


Thinking of running a session? Awesome. Fantastic. Edcamp doesn’t go without people willing to take the lead and say “Hey, it would be great if a bunch of people got together to talk about this.”

Thank you.

For the love of God and all that is holy, remember this if nothing else: it’s not about you. If you’re preparing a slide deck, or have a bunch of speaking points, just stop. It’s not about you. It’s about the group of people in the room who want to share with and learn from each other. If one person is doing almost all of the talking, something is not right. If the participants in the room are passive, something is not right. I don’t care how great that presentation was at your state technology convention, that’s not right for Edcamp. this is not to say that a person can’t come in with a definitive plan for a session. Practice what you preach! My session at Edcamp Maine was all about problem-based learning, so guess what? People in the session did Problem-Based Learning! I was mostly sitting with one guy who didn’t want to try the problem and just asked me a lot of questions for 40 minutes while everybody else in the session was out of the room running around the building grabbing video. It was awesome. If you’re running a session where you think you have a lot to share because it’s something totally amazing and new (I’m looking at you, 3D Printing!), let the questions of the people in the room guide what you share, not your slide deck. If you’re not sure of where to start when designing a session built around discussion, may I suggest this helpful list of conversation protocols? It’s a phenomenal resource!

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed at this at times. I’m working on it.


Participants who choose not to run a session, it’s totally cool. Edcamp doesn’t happen without you to be there and help grow the knowledge pool of everybody present, moving around the building to different sessions and saying, “Hey, I want to learn about that.”

Thank you.

For the love of God and all that is holy, remember the probably single most important tool in your toolbelt during an Edcamp is the rule of two feet! I alternately heard somebody once more inclusively call this the rule of momentum: if it doesn’t move you, get moving. Is the session not what you thought it would be about? Totally cool, happens to all of us. Vote with your feet. Is somebody completely dominating the discussion in a room? Try to break their domination! If not, vote with your feet. Does the way the discussion move make it less relevant to your work? See if you can pull it back! If not, vote with your feet. Is somebody breaking out a slide deck they painstakingly put together for another conference? Vote with your feet immediately. The whole point of the rule of two feet is that you need to take responsibility for maximizing your own learning during the day. If no sessions during a time period interest you, hang out in a common area and just talk with other people who are around. The hallway session is one of the most insanely powerful and profound thing that you can have at any conference, it’s the real model for why we believe discussion is so important at an Edcamp, and it still works great at an Edcamp! So if something’s not working for you, please remember to vote with your feet!

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed at this at times. I’m working on it.

To go back to Kristy’s post which started all of this off, I do have to point something out: her concerns are not new. We had these very same concerns at the very first Edcamp! They are also not problems that are going to go away any time soon. There will always be people who try to take advantage of an Edcamp and twist it into something it shouldn’t be.

We’re all responsible for stopping them, and if not possible to stop them, to work around them.

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed at this at times. I’m working on it.

My school does the Harlem Shake

Posted by on Apr 4, 2013 in Mixes | 0 comments

We put up a lot of great stuff on our YouTube Channel (like, say, these Book Trailers for Mystery Novels), but sometimes we also post ridiculous videos for a meme of the moment.