My Books from GoodReads

Hope Was Here
Copper Sun
The Hunger Games
Hip-Hop High School
A Brief Chapter in My 

Impossible Life
The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, 

The Last Olympian
The Ruins of Gorlan
The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp
Breaking Dawn
I'll Be There
The Knife of Never 

Letting Go
Thirteen Reasons Why
The London Eye Mystery

Some of Mr. Padula's Favorite Books

Monday, July 29, 2013

EdCamps - A New Force in Professional Development?

Imagine a force so powerful that it can compel 60 educators from around Massachusetts to willingly give up a sunny day in July and converge on downtown Boston for an all-day professional development session….

You’ve most likely just encountered an ‘EdCamp'..!

I reported in another post on the overall theory and structure of an EdCamp:

An EdCamp is a relatively new style of professional development where the presenters are often ordinary classroom teachers.  There isn’t one presenter explaining one topic, there are several sessions going on in different conference rooms at the same time, each session on a topic chosen by the presenter.  Thus, no agenda, or conference schedule, is defined ahead of time.   In fact, an EdCamp is often referred to as an “unconference”..!

An EdCamp venue provides meeting spaces with lots of break out rooms, and a blank wall where participants post what topics they want to present (or discuss) at a given time and in a given break out room.  You, the eager educator, look at this on-the-fly agenda on the morning of the EdCamp, decide what you want to learn, then go to that break out room and become part of the discussion – if you wish.

I attended my first EdCamp – EdCamp Boston – in May and became a believer before the first hour had passed.  The energy level in the room was charged and every session I attended was a winner.  The July EdCamp (EdCampBLC – for Building Learning Communities), was held at the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown Boston.  Given my experiences in May, I had high expectations for EdCampBLC – and I’m pleased to say I was *not* disappointed!

EdCampBLC was organized by a small, but energetic group of educators: Tracy Sockalosky, Sean Sweeney, Jeremy Angoff and Brian Hammel.  Once the introductions were completed, available times and room names were arranged in a grid on one of the walls.  As attendees decided on a discussion/presentation, they just grabbed a piece of paper, wrote a brief blurb about their topic and taped it to the wall, thus claiming one of the rooms for their own! 

When all slots on the board were filled, the organizers of EdCampBLC transcribed the entire agenda into a GoogleDoc that we could access throughout the day from our devices.  The final agenda looked like this: 

EdCampBLC Agenda

Because meeting room space was at a premium at the Park Plaza, this EdCamp featured four meeting areas, and two of these were at opposite ends of one large ballroom.  If you look closely, you’ll notice I took the plunge and signed up for a presentation.  That’s me, @PadulaJohn – my Twitter handle, in the Clarendon room for Session 2 – but more on that later…!

After reviewing all the sessions, I had time for two (not counting the one I planned):

-          What is transformative? 1:1? Chromebooks? iPads? Apps? BYOT? Google?
-          Implementing and managing ChromeBooks and iPads.

For me, the first session, “What is transformative?” was so indicative of a classic EdCamp session.  About a dozen people gathered in a room and the conversation was initially led by Jeremy Angoff.  We began by trying to define exactly what ‘transformative’ meant and what was being transformed.  As we talked, Jeremy created a GoogleDoc, projected it on the wall, and posted the link, so participants could share their thoughts in real time as we moved forward. 

As the meeting rolled along, I was struck by several things.  First, once Jeremy delivered his opening words, others quickly chimed in with their own thoughts, questions and caveats.  If you walked into the room 10 minutes after we started, I think you would have been hard pressed to pick out who was ‘in charge’ of the entire meeting, as no one person really dominated the conversation.  I had my own ideas on what our conversation about ‘transformative’ was going to center around (technology in the hands of students), but many had extensions on this and a variety of other things to consider:

-          the SAMR model of rolling out technology (watch for a blog post on that very soon!)
-          the need for truly realistic expectations
-          how some are reluctant to embrace technology (Dan Riles described teachers who were reluctant to embrace technology in the clasroom ‘Tech Vulnerable’, which I loved!)
-          whether technology would help teachers create intrinsically motivating projects
-          the need to reach ALL learners (low, medium and gifted)

Those are just some of the ideas that stuck with me long after we left. 

It was a thought-provoking hour that raised many important points.  As we were wrapping up, I really liked the way Jeremy paused and gave anyone who hadn’t been heard the chance to say something.  Many of those who were in more of an observing role did make some points and were able to have their opinions added to the dialogue.

The time *flew* by (when have you ever said that in a PD session??) and before you knew it, it was time to move to the next session. 

[By the way: if you were waiting to hear our lofty answer to “What is transformative?” – sorry, we never got there!  As tempting as it might be to try and wrap this up in a tidy sound bite, it is an incredibly vast and complicated issue.  I was just happy to be part of the conversation!]

Session 2 was entitled “Using Schoology to collaboratively build a US History course” – and it was moderated by me!  Actually, the entire idea of utilizing crowd sourcing to gather resources for a US History course was the brainchild of Nate Everett (@thalesdream).  Nate presented this at an EdCamp session in May, but could not be at this EdCamp.  Since the theme of our EdCamp was ‘building learning communities’, I felt this was a perfect topic, so I volunteered to give the same type of overview.  There was a break between session 1 and session 2, so I eagerly awaited the flood of participants.  I had my laptop, some handouts, a few notes and a big sign indicating what the session topic was.  Time creeped toward 11:15 and I was scanning the door, watching folks walk by, pause…and then walk on!  By 11:20, there I was - staring at my projector – still waiting…!   Suddenly, the idea for a new session came into my mind “What if you scheduled an EdCamp session and nobody came?”….As I was about to pack up my stuff, I heard a voice – not exactly ‘calling out from the wilderness’, but close.  One lone participant stuck her head in and said “Is this the session on Schoology?” and I answered “It is now!”  We had reached the necessary quorum – two! 

Sara Krakauer (@globetwisting) introduced herself and I quickly went through my (Nate’s) overview.  Basically, Nate created a course using Schoology and grants interested teachers admin access to the course.  The idea is to get dedicated teachers to donate their resources (lesson plans, primary sources, assessments, etc.) to this site.  Teachers would then have access to a wide array of material and could pick and choose what they needed for their particular circumstances.  Sara was kind enough to listen to the idea and had a few questions.  Since nobody else had any questions, it looked this was going to be the fastest EdCamp session on record.  However, Sara was nice enough to explain a little about herself and discuss what she was doing.  I was blown away with her initiatives of global citizenship and the model she created to get her students more involved in 21st century learning.  If you want to learn more, please see her massive blog, Innovation On Earth

Sara explained that she was getting ready to present her learning model to Fulbright Scholars at the State Department!  She walked me through some ideas for her presentation and we talked over different ways she could use her time with these outstanding educators.  In the end – in typical EdCamp fashion - I learned more from her than she did from my Schoology overview.  It was a pleasure meeting her and getting to know more about what she is doing in her classroom. 

[Note to self – and anyone planning an EdCamp session: Try to pick a session slot that is NOT at the same time as a popular topic.  In my case, the Schoology session was at the same time as a session on curation.  I heard later that most of the EdCamp attendees were in that one session..!]

After lunch, I had time for one more session and I chose “Implementing and Managing ChromeBooks and iPads”.  Currently, my school only has MacBooks – but I would imagine these two devices will probably be the most commonly deployed over the next five years.  As someone working toward their license in Instructional Technology, I could see myself becoming involved in managing these tech tools and I wanted to hear what others had to say about this.  The conversation was, again, very interesting, with 10-12 participants raising questions and discussing issues over managing these devices.  We also discussed the differences (and there are many) between managing ChromeBooks versus iPads.  From the notes I took, it sounded like Casper by JAMF Software was the hands-down winner for strong iPad management software. 

In the end, though, the big story that everyone will remember from this session came from Jarred Haas (@JarredHaas), a middle school teacher in Peabody.  Jarred was interested in ways to “better physically manage our iPads.”  Jarred explained that his school has one cart of iPads for almost 1500 students.  There are no elevators in this school, so custodians *carry* the cart up and down the stairs to teachers’ rooms, depending upon when they have signed up for the cart..!  As the participant next to me replied, “Just when you think you have it rough…!”

There was a last round of sessions, and the standard “smackdown” session where attendees share what they learned from their day of presentations.  Unfortunately, I had other commitments, so that was the end of my EdCamp experience.  Even with the few sessions I took part in, the knowledge I gained and the new contacts I made will be resources I will go back to in the weeks and months to come. 

I hope you’ll consider an EdCamp in the near future – in fact my next one is only a few weeks away – EdCampCapeCod will be held on August 12 in Sandwich, MA and I’ve already registered! 

Give it a try – I think you will be amazed!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Web App to manage Common Core Standards

I've been sending around the link to this Common Core widget for over a year.  I figured it was about time I started using it myself!

To the far right, is a widget that provides all the Common Core standards for Math and ELA - just by clicking and drilling down into the appropriate standard.  There's also an embedded version - depending on what you prefer.

This is brought to you via MasteryConnect.  If you like it, grab one for yourself!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Technology as a Tool for Collaboration

I wanted this entry to focus less on some 'cool tool' and more on the idea that technology in and of itself can be an instrument for bringing educators together.

I've seen so many posts that have some variant of "Use [some cool tool] to spice up your lessons" - almost suggesting that it is the tool that does the teaching and not the teacher.  Technology - (in its simplest form, just the internet!) - is bringing educators together and linking classrooms in ways that are continuing to evolve daily.

The power and speed with which educators can come together hit home for me recently, while I was in the middle of my unit on Voting and Elections. As a Civics teacher for eighth graders in Boston, I want to leverage the excitement and energy of this year's presidential election. On the other hand, I am dealing with students who aren't really close to voting age. Making all this real and authentic is the order of the day.

In my daily review of Twitter, and more specifically, the outstanding Social Studies educators who drive #sschat, I came across two entries that got my attention. The first was from Dr. Andrea Pleau (@TeachPleau) of Rhode Island. She reminded everyone of the National Mock Student Election. I had heard of this, but never gave it a serious look. This year I did, and I was overwhelmed by what I found. This group does an outstanding and very professional job of 'registering' voters and generating ballots. I signed my class up and let them know what was in store for them. The excitement this generated was immediate and real! I am looking forward to having them login and 'vote' next week as if they were at the polls.

A second, and equally powerful voting idea came from Krissy Venosdale (@ktvee) of Hillsboro, Missouri. Krissy is an elementary teacher who wanted to show her class the power of voting. She sent out a Tweet asking for classes to sign up for her voting project - KIDVOTE. Krissy created ballots that can be printed and distributed to students on election day. A Google Doc she created will hold the 'returns'. Teachers will hand out the ballots and either update the Google Doc with their results or email Krissy the final totals. What started out as a simple request has grown to, by her estimate, over 31,000 students signed up for this amazing event! I can't imagine the excitement that her students will feel, knowing that they have triggered this much activity across the US.

There's something truly inspiring and empowering about coming up with a great idea and watching it grow to something that is global in scope. It makes you feel like you are teaching the world, not just your tiny corner of it.

All you have to do is ask...!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Experimenting with Thinglink

Once again, I got an interesting tech tip from my #sschat Twitter feed. Greg Kulowiec, one of the deans of #sschat and the person who blew me away with his Teaching History with Technology class, recommended a site called Thinglink. Here, you can upload images from a variety of sources, then embed (or 'tag') the image with hyperlinks. The examples from their site looked so interesting, I decided to give it a try.

To make it easy for me, I decided to take an image from one of my favorite lessons, the Boston Massacre. In this lesson, we examine Paul Revere's famous engraving of the Boston Massacre, or as he named it, The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street. Students study the image and note 10 things they noticed - the more interesting the better. Then, we examine a news story written at the time of the event and do a compare-and-contrast between the written account and Revere's image. We find at least three things that don't match and three things that do match. Students have a great time with this, as they have a hard time believing that the written account and the image do NOT match in so many ways. This leads us into an AWESOME conversation about purpose, bias, and the power of images.

I took some of the match/do not match items that students came up with and created FIVE embedded links within this image. Can you find them all?

Once I uploaded my image into Thinglink, I just clicked 'Edit image' and the picture gets placed in a simple to use editor. Clicking anywhere on the image makes a tag appear.

Thinglink made it VERY easy to embed my jazzed up image into this blog post by generating a nice block of embed code that I simply cut-and-paste into this write up. SO easy!

This has great potential!

To start, I kept it simple and used straight text tags - just to see how it looked. Then, my mind really starting thinking about what I could do with the full range of functionality they have to offer. Here's just a FEW:

- Posing questions that students need to answer
   (e.g. 'What is the soldier on the far right doing?')

- Adding a sound clip of the event:

- Adding depth/clarity to confusing/unusual items in an image - and offering extra credit if students dig a little deeper!:

- Turning an image into a jumping off point for a research project:

Thinglink also offers color options for the tags you embed. If these became a standard tool in your bag of multimedia offerings, I could see color-coding tags so that (for example):
- blue = basic information
- green = 'learn more'
- red = extra credit, etc...

I am sure there are so many more ways to use this. Feel free to comment and add your own ideas!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cool tools without exemplars may be like a project without a rubric

This is a long overdue post about some of the basics of using technology in the classroom. A lot of this came about as I was trading thoughts with Amanda Ballard, a middle school social studies teacher in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Amanda was wrapping up a revolutionary war project, where students were asked to create a wiki to show arguments for/against colonial rebellion. She shared some of the successes and struggles with the project.

From our email exchanges, I realized how careful we have to be as educators when we try to introduce a technology piece into a lesson/unit. For many of us, we are subjected to a new textbook, or even revised standards, so we are often in a state of upgrading/modifying/enhancing on a very frequent basis. It might be tempting to see technology as another tool in our bag that we might "slip in". Yes, we hope to jazz up the students, but we truly want them to be using the tools and methodologies of today. Why not a wiki to show colonial rebellion - better than a Pro-Con T-chart...!!!

When we do any project-based activity, it's fair to say that exemplars go a long way toward letting students see what we will be expecting from them. If we budget our time correctly, walking students through exemplars (good, bad and ugly!) gives them a chance to ask questions and gives us a chance to point out some specifics in depth of information, style and presentation. However, I rarely see any mention of exemplars when teachers talk about technology-based projects. We assume students are 'tech-savvy' and can immediately translate our concepts of a wiki, blog posting or facebook page into reality.

It got me thinking that we have so many how-to sites to help us learn HOW to use some new tool, but no way to easily round up samples for students to review. Maybe we should start thinking about putting out the call for student exemplars. We could create an exemplar website and have pages of links that teachers can go to when we start a project......?

We're busy putting together our own PLNs (which is great) - we need to make sure we tap into that and provide students with authentic instances of this technology.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


In case you haven't seen the FLOOD of messages on the #sschat Twitter feed, NCSS (National Council of Social Studies) held their 2011 conference this weekend in Washington D.C. Among the many presenters were a number of the "heavy-twitters" from SSCHAT.

Ron Peck was kind enough to post a link to his presentation about Video in the Classroom. It gives a great overview of Common Craft video formats as well as Animoto. Ron also posted an amazing set of links that I spent hours pouring over. I knew nothing about either technology, so I decided to take a look.

Common Craft seems like an awesome style of video. Their bare-bones characters and 'animation' (which consists of literally dragging paper images on and off the screen) make the end product look very home-spun and simplistic, but powerful at the same time. The sample video, Electing a U.S. President (in Plain English), is a great example of Common Craft at its finest.

On the flip-side, there was also a link to a 'behind the scenes' video that shows one class' experience creating a Common Craft video. I almost passed this one by, but when I saw it was from Paul Bogush, I took note. (I'm a huge fan of Paul and his excellent blog). This video put Common Craft-ing in a different light for me. The planning, creation and execution of all those zillion little moves - all to tell a 2-3 minute story - seemed like a big hurdle for me and my students to leap.

Then, I started down the Animoto path. Now, this was something that seemed a bit more manageable for me in the classroom. Once I had an idea for what I wanted to capture (in this case, it was the recent flooding in Thailand), it turned out to be very simple. (To be honest - the hardest thing was settling on a soundtrack!)..

Anyway, after finding a few pictures and converting my moldy WMA file to MP3, this video took me all of 3 minutes to create:

I am going to ask around and get some feedback from teachers using Common Craft videos. (I'm not giving up yet!)... In the meantime, I'm going to start thinking about "Animoto-izing" a few future assessments.

Thanks for the creative shot in the arm, Ron!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My attempts to use WallWisher...

Richard Byrne at (FreeTech4Teachers) recommended a webservice called WallWisher. It is a way to do online sticky notes.

I decided to try it out and "build" my first curriculum unit for Ancient Civilizations.

Once I got the hang of it, it was pretty easy to use. The 140-character limit was a bit tough to take, BUT it made me think about what I wanted to say (and not just blast out some long narrative.

Here's what I came up with: Unit 1 - Early Humans+Mesopotamia by Mr_Padula