Monthly Archives: March 2009


I have been spending quite a bit of time keeping abreast of posts on the ISEnet Ning. (Independent School Educators network Ning. What’s a Ning? According to Wikipedia, Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks. You can find out more about Ning on the about page. A number of us Ningers have wondered to one another what it stands for, and turns out that the word simply means “peace” in Chinese. A nice thought for a social network :-).)

Another type of social network is Twitter. Several of my students twitter, and they describe it as a micro-blog because each entry, or tweet, may contain only 140 characters or less. 

What do the Ning and Twitter have to do with each other? An esteemed colleague, who I have only met via various online networks, has created a Twitter account to share the “challenging queries and statements” of Eugene Randolph Smith. I’ll let Peter explain in his own words:

In 1920 the head of the Park School of Baltimore was invited to tell a group of Boston parents about the latest in educational thinking and practice. By the time the evening was over, the parents had decided that Eugene Randolph Smith was the person they needed to hire away from Baltimore to build a new school in Boston.

Smith, a devotee of Dewey and Kilpatrick and a fervent progressive, led Beaver Country Day for 23 years and was an important figure in the Eight-Year Study, which demonstrated the effectiveness of progressive educational methods in preparing students for college.

During his years as head of BCDS, Smith regularly posted challenging queries and statements for his faculty to discuss and dissect, a model of idea-driven professional development that I love. In 1963 Smith, long since retired, collected many of these queries and assertions into Some Challenges to Teachers, which was published by Exposition Press.

In the interest of passing along Smith’s challenges, I have created a Twitter account as “Tweetcher” from which I will be tweeting a daily excerpt from Smith’s book, compressed into 140 characters where necessary.

It turns out that WordPress has recently added a Twitter widget to their stash. Partially to check out this feature, but more so to easily follow along with Peter’s tweets, I have added the widget to the right side bar. Just scroll down to the bottom to see the most recent five challenges. [UPDATED April 29 – I have switched from Peter’s feed to a feed for BrainBits.]

I am curious how many of you have Twitter accounts and would appreciate, please, if you would participate in this poll. Thanks! 



Sir Ken Robinson at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning

These days Ken Robinson is all over the place giving talks and being interviewed. He can do that because he knows how to tell stories, and has a wonderful voice that is sheer pleasure to listen to. He also has a compelling message that resonates with educators. I must have listened to or read just about every online Robinson interview that exists. Here is yet another one, text only, from earlier this month on

The interview focuses on Robinson’s latest book, The Element. A few Fridays ago I had the pleasure of hearing him talk about this in person at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference in New York City. Thanks to Google, I had a  free pass to the conference, and attended solely to hear Ken talk. 

I spent the morning roaming the aisles collecting goodies to bring back for my colleagues, and being reminded how large, loud and sometimes overwhelming a major conference can be. Lunch was delicious and included in the admission, and it was where I was told there were some 8,000 attendees at the conference. 

With a pleasantly full stomach, I settled into a center aisle seat in the third row, filled with anticipation for Robinson’s one o’clock talk. Even though I figured his message would be similar to the one online at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (it was), that did not deter me in the least. 

What did I gain from seeing Sir Ken in person? He is not as tall as I expected. (My son thinks it’s silly that I thought he’d be taller, or that I even noticed this aspect.) He has a wonderful smile and the outside corners of his eyes crinkle when he smiles wide or laughs. (A long time ago I read that smiles of this nature release endorphins that make you feel good. It’s the power we have to uplift our own moods, as long as those corners get crinkled :-)) He introduced Terry, his wife, though I didn’t get to see her as she was somewhere at the rear of a very large ballroom.

But mostly what I gained was seeing a marvelous story teller in his element, sharing a tale about which he is passionate. The result was an attentive audience that was rapturous over many of Robinson’s proclamations. His message has made the rounds of independent and public school teachers alike.

He riffed on the concept of standards versus standardization, saying that “standardization only ever gives you the lowest common denominator”. He previously stated that great schools, of which there are many, are different from one another because they are “personalized and customized”, not because they are standardized. 

Robinson went on to share statistics from an experiment designed to demonstrate that we are born with the capacity for divergent thinking, but get educated out of that capacity. The highest scores in this experiment were earned by the youngest participants – kindergartners! The students were retested every five years, and there was a control group of a slightly larger number of adults. 

Continuing on, he asked for a show of hands to see how many in the audience wore wrist watches. His point, on which he elaborated further, was that we in education need to anticipate the life that the kids we are teaching will be living, and teach to that future. This is a common theme I have heard voiced elsewhere, particularly from those of us responsible for facilitating the use of technology in schools. He behooved us to “enliven the minds of learners.”

He also had the audience belly laughing over his hypothesis of tonsils (the pulling of which Robinson likened to a baby boomer epidemic in the U.S. from the 1960s) and chicken nuggets, but you don’t want me to share that here, as the punch line really requires Robinson’s voice, smile, and arched eyebrow.

So what comes next? My wish list of what I’d like to hear more of…

  • the specifics regarding the program he helped design in the UK for systematically approaching creativity
  • more of his ideas for changing schools, which he has said need to undergo transformation rather than reformation
  • his ideas on how to make the arts more prominent in education 

Robinson’s book tells many tales of people who found their element, many of them after spending dissatisfying years in school, but…

  • what about those students who do not find their element

If any of you are aware of Robinson’s responses to the above, or know more about the program in the UK, please share below in a comment. Thanks!

Copyright. Okay?

The Media Education Lab at Temple University has produced a pamphlet regarding copyright entitled Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education. Two weeks ago at the GCT Reload, this was the topic of “Conquering Copyright Confusion” presented by Kristin Hokanson. I was astonished to learn that, unlike what I grew up thinking, “copyright is not an owner’s right!” According to Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, the purpose of copyright is:

To promote creativity, innovation and the spread of knowledge

Did any of you from the States know this?

Kristin began by having us consider how kids use media both inside AND outside of school. Think about that for a moment, and I’m certain most of you will realize there IS a difference, especially those of you with children or those of you who teach. 

The Doctrine of Fair Use, which forms the basis of the Code of Best Practices, is based on Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, an explanation of which follows in video produced by the Media Ed Lab:

You can learn more about the Code of Best Practices at:

In addition, you can listen to a lively, entertaining and informative discussion, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, with Lawrence Lessig, Shepard Fairey, and Steven Johnson which took place last month at the New York Public Library.


FYI Shepard Fairey is the street artist who created this image of Barack Obama, and around which a brouhaha emerged over copyright.

On the Copyright Confusion wikispaces pages you can try your hand at analyzing the use of the Obama poster using the Fair Use Reasoning Tool and see what conclusion you come to.

Celebration of Teaching & Learning (and Ken too!)

thirteen-confOn Friday, thanks to a free pass handed out at the Google Certified Teachers Reload, I attended Channel Thirteen’s Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference in New York City. With two ultra busy weekends in a row (yesterday, in an early celebration of her 80th birthday, I took my Mom to see Jersey Boys), I have not yet consolidated all the goodies from the Google session or this conference. Still, I did take some pictures, so here is a quick peek at the day.

In addition to keynotes, workshops and panel sessions, there were two floors of exhibitors. Here are two of the more curious exhibits. 

This is Einstein visiting from Madame Tussards. Einstein is followed by a Burmese Python, who was mingling with the crowd.


And New York always seems to have something to say.


Of course, the whole reason I attended the conference was to hear and see Sir Ken Robinson in person!



Dance & Pilobolus

Pilobolus is a dance troupe that I have long wanted to see in person, having caught glimpses of them on television. Saturday evening I had the pleasure of seeing them perform at the SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center. In addition to sharing some of their shadow performances (see the video below for further explanation), they also danced in front of the screen.

Pilobolus is a troupe that utilizes a combination of acrobatics, contortions, and a variety of dance steps to create their form of modern dance. Creative, risk taking, trial and error, daring to be different – all of those describe a process that uses improvisation as a major tool in their dance development.

I have previously written about mirror neurons, and also about visualization. It turns out that, according to research on dance discussed in the DANA Foundation article listed below, “…learning by observing leads to action resonance and prediction that is the same as occurs with physical learning.” In other words, watching someone dance (this is where the mirror neurons and visualization kick in) can produce the same impact in the brain as trying to do the dance yourself. And the combination of observation followed by practice leads to the strongest learning. If you have ever taken a dance class then you know exactly how this plays out.

I have ALWAYS loved to dance. Our older son manifests this same love of dance movement. Give us a beat and we move our feet. Provide rhythm and the only work we have is to try and stay still. Two weeks ago I started doing Zumba, a combination of dancing to Latin beats while getting one heck of a cardio workout. Talk about releasing endorphins, and the benefits of learning new steps while coordinating body movement to music. Yup, Saturday mornings I get those neurons firing!

For more on dance and the brain:

Snow Day today; GCT Reload last Friday

A tad blurry view out our front window at 6:30 this morning; what looks like a person dressed in orange is merely the reflection of an indoor light.

Friday’s Google Teacher Academy Reload! Many highlights, including reconnecting face-to-face 🙂

p.s. To answer your question, if you read my previous post, there were two “officially sanctioned” photographers among us and yesterday they posted a slew of pictures. These came from Kevin Jarrett’s Flickr Photostream.