IWitness Video Challenge

As an educator, I always strive to challenge my students, and to help them develop their wit, knowledge, and humanity.

I am very proud my school plans to embrace the IWitness Video Challenge.
“During the 20th Anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winning film, Schindler’s List, the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education is sponsoring the IWitness Video Challenge. The Institute invites students from all over North America to be inspired by the voices in IWitness, to use their innovation and creativity to create positive value in their communities by doing something ordinary (or extraordinary), and then asks them to build a video telling the story about how they contributed to making their communities a better place.”

I used to work at the Shoah Foundation, and now, as a teacher, I incorporate IWitness into my work because it’s a valuable tool for learning, teaching, digital storytelling.

I cannot wait to see how my students make the world a better place through the projects they design for the IWitness Video Challenge. I hope many schools encourage their students to enter. In my book, all the participants will be winners.

IWitness for Digital Storytelling

On Twitter, I describe myself this way: “Educator. Learner. I strive to learn & find/create ways for others to learn, so they can create ways for others to learn, and so on… My views are my own.”

Wednesday I will present a webinar about digital storytelling for ISTE. This webinar brings together more than a few of my roles as an educator and learner who shares ways for others to teach and learn. My webinar will focus on IWitness, a web resource that allows students to make connections with video testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation.

I used to work at the Shoah Foundation. In fact, I wrote some of the activities on IWitness. But I’m not presenting my webinar because of my relationship with the foundation. I am presenting it because I see students on IWitness in the year 2013 feeling a sense of connection with people who told their stories in the 1990s about events that happened in the 1940s and feeling moved to make a difference in years that still only exist on future calendars. You see, IWitness provides a searchable collection of more than 1,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses, along with educational tools and supporting resources that provide context. The elements embedded in IWitness do what the best tools of digital storytelling can do: they advance the mission of the foundation to help overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry — and the suffering they cause — through the educational use of stories.

It can be hard to imagine, and challenging to describe, until you use IWitness, which is available at no charge to educators. But if you attend my webinar, I hope it will become clear how you can integrate IWitness into powerful lessons about history, reading, writing, the arts, information literacy, tolerance, and more.

Meet CATIE; Help CATIE Grow

At the independent K-8 school where I work, I recently helped initiate a group called CATIE: Conversations about Technology Integration in Education.

In our first few meetings, we have taken valuable steps. For one thing, we have a working  mission: to establish a learning community of educators who will discuss ways to leverage technology integration in support of the school’s mission, vision, and strategic plans. We have established preliminary goals, such as encouraging student-centered learning, and finding opportunities to share our own strengths and strategies with one another during meetings, observations, and in-service days.

Recently, CATIE used a shared Google spreadsheet to  brainstorm areas of expertise among ourselves that we could share. The columns included: Name / Effective Practice I Can Share /  Ways I Can Share / Best Times for Me to Share / Link (If Any)
Getting very meta, some folks in CATIE dove into the Google spreadsheet but pointed out that sharing Google docs is, itself, a great area for our faculty to explore together.

So, at a later full faculty meeting we invited all teachers to view and contribute to our spreadsheet. We ended up with people signing up to share on a wide variety of topics, including why, how, and when to effectively integrate document cameras into lessons, how to help students research and write using Noodle Tools, how and when to consider integrating “flipped instruction” techniques, and more.

With such a good start to our entirely volunteer group, I feel a responsibility to maintain it and build upon it well. I worry about how to find the time in everyone’s busy schedules, how to differentiate for our diverse needs and interests, and how to make the group as inclusive and accessible as possible.

I share this because my PLN helped inspire CATIE, and I am hoping to glean even more inspiration for the benefit of CATIE. Also, I wrote it in case you need inspiration to launch a group of your own. I wrote it because I believe deeply in the power of connected educators to collaborate in ways that improve schools and learning for all stakeholders. Don’t you? Please comment!

Wearing My Parent Hat

What is a school?

Is it a building or a location? Is it a group of people who teach and learn together? Is it an organization grouped around a unified philosophy of learning?

I work at a school I love, though I fumble about inarticulately when I try to explain why it makes me so happy.

My own children have been to a few schools in the quest for ones that feel like a “fit” for our family, and the struggle has left me questioning what it is that makes a school a school, what it is we seek when we look for ones for our kids, and why it feels so difficult sometimes. Is it that the cobbler’s children have no shoes, or something else?

I am an educator, yet it can be difficult for me as a parent of school children to navigate the world of “school” with them. Does anyone else have this experience?

Do Something

I learn a variety of things from #etmooc educators, but the other day one of them said something that really resonated:

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t do everything — only feel guilty if you don’t do anything.

Get me that as a tattoo. I wrestle with guilt, but I recognize it as a largely wasted/wasteful emotion, and I refuse to let it paralyze me.

Just because there is so much I dream of doing does not mean I fail if I do not do it all. I have to relearn this over and over, so if not a tattoo perhaps I need a t-shirt or a half-full glass.

I am a little behind on this MOOC. But I also just had a piece of writing accepted for a stage show! I am scrambling to get some personal things done, but I’m spending more time being creative with my children. I haven’t accomplished all my goals for this year at school, but there is still time, and I have accomplished some things I didn’t even anticipate.

I write this to imprint upon myself that balance is perhaps an imaginary thing, certainly elusive, and sometimes one side of the scale has to give way to the other for good reasons; I write this to remember that this truth is more than just okay, it is how people live and thrive, it is how I rock and roll…

Recently I helped out some with an unconference. Uncharacteristically, I contributed less than most members of the team. The other members of the group are super stars, and they created an incredible day of engagement and learning and connecting, and my contributions were limited to a few planning meanings and soliciting some swag, because I had some other balls in the air at the same time. Each time the edcamp team includes me in any bit of credit, I cringe like an imposter. Yesterday that happened – that guilty feeling of shoulds (I should have done this, or that, and more…) Then, with perfect timing, the #etmooc came to my rescue. Dean Shareski said (and I hope/think I’m getting this line right):

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t do everything — feel guilty if you don’t do anything.

I needed that reminder, and I hope it helps you, too.

Contagious Learning

My two children want to know why I want them to steer clear of water fountains and high touch museums right now, and I explain about the flu coursing through our communities, and how quickly things spread when we all share the same physical space. “When you push that button, you come in contact with every other person who touched it, and all the germs they came in contact with before they pushed the button.”

Contagion gets a bad rap, though; on cyberspace, “viral” can have a healthy connotation.

A teacher at my school asks me how to do X or Y. I look on Twitter for that key word. I find a tweet with a very helpful link to a Diigo page about X or Y. I save the tweet, retweet it, save the link in Diigo, follow the person who bookmarked it, and take the learning back to the teacher who asked me, and explain my process to her so she can do it too next time. We set up her Twitter account, her Diigo account, knowing, like me, she might lurk a while. But I help her populate her network a bit with some of the great folks I follow, knowing that someone from one of my ISTE groups or a MOOC I took or an educator with the last name Couros eventually will write something that catches her eye, and she will click until she hits an inspiration she feels compelled to share or a question she needs to ask, and then it’ll be her tweet out there, getting someone’s attention, maybe someone who had been a lurker… and so on.

It’s that season when pushing buttons can cause things to go viral. Atchoo.

I’ve been catching all kinds of learning, and spreading, it, too, I hope. Bless you!

ETMOOC Here I Come

I just finished participating in a MOOC called Designing New Learning Environments (with professor Paul Kim) and swore I’d take a little break from structured online studies, but I can’t resist outstanding learning opportunities with impressive PLNs, so here I am in etmooc. By way of introduction to my new classmates, I’d like to share that I currently work as the Middle School Dean of Technology Integration at a wonderful independent school in California. In 2011, I completed the Administration and Supervision graduate certificate program in Education through Johns Hopkins University and the International Society for Technology in Education, and I aspire to continue my growth in school leadership. I’m a Google Certified Teacher, a three time participant in the National Writing Project, and an experienced presenter at educational conferences and workshops. I recently helped with EdCampLA.


I am also proud to have spent a year working on IWitness, an important and free application from the USC Shoah Foundation that was honored by the American Association of School Librarians as one of the top 25 web sites for teaching and learning.

I started another blog as well and have had trouble deciding which blog to sustain. (If you have thoughts on that, I welcome them!)

You can find me many places online (Google, Twitter, Diigo, etc.) as ghkcole.

A Curriculum about Curriculum

Through my participation in the Johns Hopkins course on curriculum, I have expanded my conceptualization of the curriculum through what I’ve read and discussed with my classmates and colleagues.

Our two texts, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, (Jacobs, 2010) and The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (Tomlinson, 1999), both resonated for me, and echoed many of my core beliefs. Jacobson articulates the shift that I deeply believe needs to happen “if we accept that we need to prepare students for a vastly different future than we have known.” While this emphasis on a shift to a more metacognitive and learner-centered approach did not break into new territory for my way of thinking, her work helped me think in terms of specific about steps I will need to take as an administrator, and I know I will continue to reference her text, particularly her outline for “mapping the development of The Habits of the Mind.” Tomlinson’s work spoke to my belief that “the teacher in a differentiated classroom understands that she does not show respect for students by ignoring their learning differences.” She helped me visualize exactly what successful differentiation looks like more thoroughly than I had previously, though, when she outlined  a series of questions about teaching and learning, and offered guidance on how teachers can start the process of establishing differentiated classrooms. Again, I plan to utilize this material in the future as I become an administrator.

In our classroom resources, our instructor included a link to Kathie Nunley’s work with Layered Curriculum. These resources particularly excited me, because I so strongly concur with the tag line, “because every student deserves a special education.” Unfortunately, like most educators, most of my experience in differentiation involved adapting and accommodating for students at the struggling or high achieving ends of the performance curve in any class. Now I have a clearer sense of how to use three layers to differentiate for every student.

Finally, through this course I learned more about the role of politics, national directives, and state mandates in influencing the curriculum. As an independent school educator for most of my career, I have enjoyed freedom of autonomy regarding curriculum, and I now have a clearer understanding that public school educators do not share that autonomy.

Overall, I have enjoyed stretching my thinking about curriculum through this course. I know I will employ what I have learned when I move into an administrative position.

Technology and the Curriculum

As an instructional leader and a school administrator working in a school striving to meet the needs of 21st century learners, I have a variety of expectations about the integration of instructional technology into the curriculum, and ISTE’s NETS serve as one key foundation to my expectations. First, I expect all learners to have equitable and reliable access to the Internet. The use of the Internet should be integrated in appropriate ways throughout all subject areas. Beyond being a powerful learning tool applied in traditional subject areas, technology itself should also be studied by students growing up in today’s digital age, and there should be a written, taught, and tested curriculum focusing on such key concepts addressed in the 2007 NETS as digital citizenship and technology operations and concepts.

In order to differentiate for a wide spectrum of learners, I will promote the use of a variety of technology tools.  As Heidi Hayes Jacobs wrote in Curriculum 21, “With the resources available today for use in the classroom, such as interactive software, digital imaging, audio and video creation tools, on-demand video libraries, computers and LCD projectors, and Web 2.0 tools, the hardest job may be choosing which tool to use and how to integrate it into the classroom” (p.197). The best way to begin making more specific tool choices is to know the school well and determine its most pressing needs, much as the way educators using the backward design principle begin with what you want students to be able to achieve, know and do before designing lessons. Certainly efforts to differentiate will be served best by having instructional technology tools that provide visual, auditory, and physical input for learners, so I likely will promote the use of computers, web 2.0 tools, videos (Brainpop and Discovery Streaming, for example, but also free sources), iPod Touches, digital cameras, SMART Boards, and scientific probeware.

Instructional leaders and school administrators cannot fail to recognize the important time in which we all live and learn, and I will not try to meet the needs of 21st century learners with approaches from the Industrial Revolution. As Jacobs said, “Today’s students are demanding a change in the classroom because of their ability to gather information faster than any previous generation” (p. 197). When I am an administrator, I will ensure that the curriculum meets the technological and learning needs of my community.

The Curriculum As I See It

I believe that schools exist to help learners understand themselves as learners, and to prepare them to learn and work independently, collaboratively, and interdependently. While I believe there is some importance to what subjects are taught, I do not believe the subject matter is as important as the process of learning, the interest in learning, and the skills of learning, which are crucial. Our society needs learners who know how to think analytically and solve problems. In Curriculum 21, Heidi Hayes Jacobs describes a much-needed mind shift that needs to take place in education: “FROM knowing right answers TO knowing how to behave when answers are not readily apparent.”

I also believe that a crucial purpose of schooling is socialization and the development of interpersonal skills. All people are unique individuals, and they vary tremendously in their talents, interests, and styles, but they can learn through education how to work together for the maximum benefit to all. Differentiated classrooms do more than teach each individual in a way that resonates; differentiated classrooms afford a model in which learners discover crucial truths about a differentiated society, and how to be part of a community.

My work as an Instructional Technology Facilitator demonstrates my beliefs in education. Essentially, my full-time job involves facilitating meaningful learning experiences for all stakeholders at the school where I work, encouraging them to find, use, and explore the tools that help them solve problems and create original work. I take great pleasure in helping learners learn. In pursuing an administrator credential, I seek the empowerment to take curriculum leadership to the next level.