Tweet and ye shall receive

October 19, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’m working with a program in Boston called The SteppingStone Foundation on a new endeavor called College Success Academy. One of the program directors sent out an email to all TSF/CSA teachers, requesting the following:
Do you have any favorite academic game websites? We’re hoping to put together a list of such sites for use in study hall when [students] are finished with homework.  Please send me the names of any FREE websites that are fun, academically enriching, and aimed at 5th-8th graders.
So I sent out the following tweet (Incidentally, the Program Director is not familiar with using Twitter):
@dancallahan Need “favorite academic game websites” for 5th-8th gr. Preferably an existing list. Any help? #edchat #5thchat #6thchat
Did my tweeps stand up and deliver? They certainly did! In under and hour, I have more resources and site than I can possibly go through by the time this program ends.
Thank you especially to @dancallahan, as well as @saraallen91, @mrsd5107, and @ginkiy for their recommendations.
Here’s what I sent back to the program director:

Dan also recommended, along with several others [@ginkiy] on Twitter, the following sites:

  • and, and there’s also
  • Coincidentally, Dan stumbled on this list of top 10 sites for educational games while we were flinging tweets back and fourth.
  • Someone I don’t know personally, @mrsd5107, tweeted this list of 5th grade sites that might be helpful:  I wish I could say that I have vetted it, but I have not. In general, I find that the best lists of apps/links are sorted by categories and how you might use the tools, and this is organized that way – that’s a plus, so I’m impressed. It’s an extensive list, and I know a lot of the sites, but not all of them.
  • Here’s a list of math game sites (from @saraallen91):  I found it harder to browse than the one on “TeachersClass” but still worth perusing.
That’s a start – and it barely scratches the surface. Unfortunately, I’ve probably now given you a list of hundreds of sites, and it may be overwhelming. If so, start with Dan’s suggestions. He’s never let me down.
That’s MyTakeOnIt anyway.

Our first problem: Homework.

September 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

My students’ assignment was simple: Write a short blog post reflecting on any of the following:

  • a problem you have
  • a problem faced by your school, community, or the world
  • the concept or process of “problem solving”
  • this class

After several days, not a single student returned to class having completed the assignment. Not a word had been written.

We had a very SMART problem. If you don’t know the acronym, SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Jim Lerman pointed out to me the other day how applicable the SMART acronym is to problem seeking, and I think he is correct.

I had to think fast, because you can’t have a blog without blog posts, and while I didn’t want to turn blog writing into a punishment, I did want to kickstart my students into writing.

So I opened up a single Google Doc, shared it with all of them, and had each of them write their name on the blank page. I spaced their names out along the length of the document, and asked them to write. The same topic, but this time I asked them to just write. Stream of consciousness. Free writing.

Two minutes in, and 80% of the class wouldn’t have paused to acknowledge a fire in the room. Here are some things I would like to share in no particular order (note: I asked them to not check grammar or spelling, though I have edited their writing in some – not all – places)

1.choose a topic
2.list expectation
3.list facts
5.list problems
6.solve problems
7.check check check

We can share our [experiences] on the blog. . . .we could list the problems and figure out the solution. In this case, each step of our problem-seeking project could be clearly presented on-line, which will be efficient to show [others] what have we done all over the time.

to solve a problem, we need to have a problem!!!

How do we solve problems? How do I know that I have a problem?

Fire. This is what we need. We need passion and motivation and inspiration.
Perhaps we should figure out one thing we as a group are good at. But that feels risky. Like building a hammer without establishing the existence of nails.

So, what’s gotten me thinking in other classes?
status exercises
dropping in
free writing, oddly enough

What inspires people?
a good soundtrack
people they know
any underdog story
eloquence-“Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power”

But maybe it’s not when effects us personally but what evolves us emotionally.

problems are problems because they need to be fixed
it’s possible that problems only exist because they have a solution
perhaps if a problem has no solution then maybe it is not a problem
to use math as an example 3+2 is a problem because it has a solution: 5
5 is not a problem because it has no solution
It is likely that having a solution is not the only common thread between all problems
there are other things all problems have in common
they can all be phrased as a question
for example: what is 2+3.
the answer is 5 again, but unlike the prior example, this problem was phrased in the form of a question

(so much for the flipped classroom!)

Problem Seeking/Problem Solving Flow Chart

August 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Problem Seeking Flow Chart

Problem Seeking Flow Chart

In my quest to… how did I put it? “…end world hunger and. . . .[solve] other large problems” I have advanced a step or two. (For some background behind this quest, please read my previous blog post here.)

  1. I have made arrangements with several schools, educators, and other programs to incorporate problem seeking classes into their existing offerings.
  2. At EdCampCT [ ] this week, I lead a workshop on Problem Seeking & Problem Solving where together we:
  3. …used Brad Ovenell-Carter’s draft of a problem seeking flow chart (linked on this blog post) as a foundation to create a more complete algorithm for how to seek and solve problems (image shown right).
  4. I am starting up a non-profit organization for students and central to its mission will be a large Problem Seeking and Problem Solving component.

As I make progress, I will continue blog more about my thoughts and experiences. In the meantime, I am looking for feedback for the process outlined in the flow chart displayed on this post.

Thank you to everyone at EdCampCT who participated in this workshop – I hope you found it as helpful as I did! A thank you also to Brad Ovenell-Carter [ ] for his blog post and for creating what became the first draft of this flow chart.

(If you want a laugh, check out this alternative problem solving flow chart. Warning: Contains explicit language.)

How to end world hunger and the solution to other large problems

July 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

At around 3:30 AM in the middle of a sound sleep, I awoke to a moment of complete lucidity.

The Process of Finding a Problem

Process of Finding a Problem

I awoke so suddenly because I realized I had solved the problem of world hunger. No, really. I LITERALLY (by the literal definition of the word “literally” – see the recent Boston Globe article here) have in my own possession the tool that will CURE cancer.

Let me repeat that: I have in my possession the tool that will solve the problems of climate change!

No, I posses the tool that will end homelessness… This tool can even get the Republicans and the Democrats to avoid defaulting on the country’s debts AND agree on the best way to do it.

Well, maybe that’s pushing it.

But I CAN end the recession. I DO have the ability to resolve the energy crisis. End poverty, and war, and oppression. I can abolish slavery for once and for all.

The tool I posses tool is my own brain. I won’t do it with my brain alone, though. I have at my disposal the problem solving capabilities of the most amazing brains of hundreds of people… Thousands… MILLIONS (thanks to the Internet) – and those brains belong to our students.

Building Learning Communities Logo

Building Learning Communities Logo

This week I attended a conference in Boston called Building Learning Communities (BLC). I can’t do the conference any justice by writing about it on this blog – I will leave that to some of the awe-inspiring educators I met this week (Here’s a simple Google searchthat will show you some of the blog posts that reference the BLC conference as they are written over the next few weeks, but I will update this post with links to specific blogs as more bloggers post their thoughts.)

[edit: Here is a perfect example of a very eloquent blog post written by Brad Ovenell-Carter, head of Think Global school(@Braddo on Twitter):]

But here’s the important part: At the end of the conference, the organizer, Alan November, put out a challenge he’s calling “Stand on our shoulders” [ ]. I don’t think the site is even live yet, but here’s the gist:

Alan has put out a call to action. He has asked all educators to work with their students to find and address the world’s most difficult problems: locally, regionally, internationally – you name it. And the reason he has challenged us to take on this awesome task is because we CAN.

We have the ability to solve the world’s problems, and it is simply a matter of sourcing our students – and teaching them how to use the greatest tool at their disposal, their brains – to solve these problems together. Alan wants all educators to put out their hands and figuratively lift our students up onto our shoulders so that our students can take advantage of all of OUR accomplishments, and all of our parents’ accomplishments, and so on. From up on our shoulders, our students can reach even higher, lifted up by humanity’s history of accomplishments.

I am taking Alan up on this challenge. This fall, I will facilitate at any schools that wants to have me, a class on “Problem Finding.” In each of these classes we will find a problem of value to us, and we will spend the semester, the year… The rest of our lives, if need be, addressing that problem; attempting to solve it.

I will help students learn how to use their most valuable and accessible tool – their brain – and I will help teachers coach their students on becoming the best problem finders and problem solvers they can become.

Together, we WILL end world hunger! We CAN, and we WILL.

Thank you, Alan. I guess all we needed to solve the world’s problems was the right tool and the right inspiration.

(A little bonus inherent in this challenge: The best way to evaluate the success of this achievement will not be a standardized test, as so many politicians would have you believe (see this site from another BLC attendee, Angela Maiers or @AngelaMaiers on Twitter). The success of these students will be assessed by the actualization of the real change that these students enact, their ability and desire to repeat their results on future projects, and the benefits to humanity that will be accomplished. Maybe our politicians could learn something from this challenge, after all!)

That’s my take on it, anyway.

(Image credit: Image taken and posted by BLC participant Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches on Twitter) and linked here is a photo from @ewanmcintosh’s keynote presentation on Problem Solving

Summer learning Opportunities

July 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

Before the school year ended, I sent out tweets to my followers and emails to educators with whom I work with a link to this Google doc [ ] containing information about summer learning opportunities in Academic Tech. There are a couple events coming up that I am specifically looking forward to:

EduBloggerCon Logo

EduBloggerCon Logo

This coming Monday, July 25th, is EduBloggerCon “East.” It’s a FREE, all day event during the much larger, week-long BLC11 (Building Learning Communities 2011). I have never been to an EduBloggerCon, but I have been to other similar conferences. What makes it special is that it is structured as an “unconference” (more formally known as “open space technology” [ ] ) where topics are determined and facilitated by the participants within each session. You’ll notice that sessions 1 and 2 are open on the schedule to accommodate this flexibility. EduBloggerCon “East” is in the Boston Park Plaza hotel, so it is easy accessible by T.

I am very excited and I will be attending. I hope you will too!
For more information about EduBloggerCon “East” you can read more here:

    BLC11 (Building Learning Communities 2011)

Building Learning Communities Logo

Building Learning Communities Logo

BLC11 lasts the entire week next week. I will be attending, and would be happy to see any of you there. BLC is a more traditional conference, and covers many topics including subject-specific topics, workshops related to educational reform/evolution, and also EdTech. You can see exactly what workshops/topics are offered and learn more about the conference here:

BLC is not free (probably around $700 at the door?) but if it lives up to my expectations it will be well worth the price of admission!

    EdCampCT: Aug 18th in Simsbury, CT (Free!)


EdCamp Logo

EdCamp Logo

If you go to ANY single learning event this summer, I highly recommend an EdCamp. EdCampCT, specifically, is eagerly anticipated by educators around the North East, including myself. I will be attending, and also facilitating one session on “EdCamp Book Club” ( see my blog post here: or participate on Twitter #ecbc1 where we are discussing Brain Rules by John Medina) and probably co-facilitating a session on “BYOD/BYOT” (bring your own device/tech) with Michelle Luhtala ( @mluhtala [ ]) and Meg Wilson ( @ipodsibilities [ ]).

EdCamps are also based on the “open space technology” style of “unconference,” where the topics are determined and facilitated by the participants within each session.

Can’t make it to EdCampCT on Aug 18th? EdCampKeene is in Keene, NH on the 17th, and a founder of EdCamp, Dan Callahan, is hosting EdCampBHS (Burlington High School) Tuesdays throughout the summer: July 5, July 12, July 19, July 26, August 2, August 9, August 16, August 23.

Let me know in the comments or via Twitter ( @MyTakeOnIt ) if you plan to attend any of these events. I will be at EduBloggerCon “East,” BLC11, and EdCampCT come rain or shine. If you want company at one of the EdCampBHS events, let me know and I will join you if I can.


EdCamp Book Club

June 25, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’ve noticed something in myself that I find intriguing: When I am participating in conversations on Twitter I am drawn to find a way to bring those conversations off the Internet and have them in person.

On the other hand, when I am at a conference, I find myself compelled to participate in backchannel conversation while I converse with folks face-to-face. At first I contributed this peculiarity to my “grass is greener” syndrome, but now I’m not so sure.

Earlier this spring I made an attempt to bridge my online conversations with a face-to-face meeting when Eric Hileman ( @ittosde on Twitter ) – an educator from Oklahoma whom I have never met in person – and I conceived of a face-to-face component of the weekly Twitter conversation #edchat. You can read about it here.

While #edchatf2f (“EdChat Face-to-face”) was by no means a failure, I have not given the experiment a chance to succeed. The maiden meet-up was close enough to the end of the year that very few teachers could participate, and though summer is almost upon us, I haven’t planned another gathering.

BookshelvesI read something on Twitter this morning that got me thinking about another way to bridge online conversation face-to-face conversation: a Twitter-based book club. The idea is simple: A handful of people get together and read a book together – a standard book club – but instead of meeting regularly in person, the group meets online via Twitter. This already exists.

Now take that idea, and apply to it my desire to continue online discussions in person. Suppose you time it so that the group finishes reading the book just in time for a conference that the group of readers will be attending (or most of them). Imagine it: several weeks spent reading the same book and discussing it online culminating with a face-to-face wrap up of the discussion at a conference!

With EdCamp CTfast approaching, I think I may try this experiment. If you’re interested in joining me, send me a message on Twitter (@MyTakeOnIt). I will organize a group of interested participants, we’ll pick a book and a weekly meeting time, and we will discuss the book on Twitter. We will then organize a corresponding session at EdCampCT to wrap up the book discussion and also debrief on the experience.

I think I want to start with an educationally relevant book – maybe even something about online learning or collaboration. I’m open to suggestions. We’ll work out the rest on Twitter… Maybe even bring it up at EduBloggerCon East 2011 in a few weeks… Though may need to begin sooner.


My mind is racing after #edACCESS11

June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

After several years of yearning, I finally made time this year to attend the annual edACCESS conference, hosted this year by the Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ. edACCESS is a national association of information technology staff at small schools and colleges, and the annual conference uses the peer conference model, developed and facilitated by edACCESS co-founder Adrian Segar and described in his book Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love, for the majority of its conference sessions.

Tom Daccord presents for edACCESS11

My colleagues and peers have been reporting back to me for years on how beneficial edACCESS is. With a style very similar to an “unconference,” the attendees are the presenters, planners, and participants. The collaborative environment speaks volumes to the personalities of the attendees: It is as important to us that we share our own ideas and experiences as it is that we learn from others.

This year, discussion sessions included many (participant-chosen) topics that spanned the educational and technological sides of EdTech. Some years a keynote speaker is invited. This year Tom Daccord of the blog EdTech Teacher spoke about a topic near and dear to my heart: steering a school’s technology decisions based on its mission and pedagogical goals.

Upon splitting up into peer sessions, we discussed topics including:
-Disaster recovery setups and power requirements
-PC and Apple coexisting
-Teacher Accountability For Use Of Technology
-Favorite iPad apps & how to find more
-Reporting structure: Do you report to the Head Master? CFO? Pros & Cons?
…and many more topics.

The audio from all of these topics is recorded, notes are scribed, and at the discretion of the members of each session, both formats are usually posted to the edACCESS wiki.

I can’t put too fine a point on how valuable it is to get peers and colleagues together, supporting each other, and collaboratively learning and working out our problems. It’s incredibly active learning, and even after the conference my mind continues to race with new strategies I can’t wait to test out, and new ideas that rush through my mind, unable (and unwilling!) to turn down the spigot.

It was a pleasure to participate: learning from my peers, and facilitating when appropriate. For me, edACCESS11 has not truly ended. I have extended my Personal Learning Network, I have made new friends, and I plan to continue these rich conversation year-long. Plus, I have edACCESS 2012 to look forward to!

Thank you to everyone involved at edACCESS – it was a pleasure and a valuable experience!


p.s. Thank you, Steve, for encouraging me to go this year!