Reading George Kennan

I’m beginning to learn the ins and outs of my new blog theme today, and this is something I really enjoy. I can post a brief status update without much effort. There’s plenty of times I’d like to record something on the blog, but not have to worry about the long writing process. So what’s going on right now? I’m into the beginning of my new biography on George Kennan by John Gaddis and enjoying it immensely. Back to reading!

Evernote: App Recommend

Evernote is an app that I use just about everyday. How’s that for a plug? Since I have it on my phone, iPad and computer, I can tag just about anything – whether its a picture, a website, a Tweet, a note I made myself or an audio recording. All of the notes are sortable and are easily accessible. I’m planning on using it for my students this year too. Here’s the App Store link and here’s the link for Evernote Schools.

Building Humanities

It’s been over 10 years, but my return to teaching World History is an exciting one. At Sandwich High School, freshman students have the opportunity to take a full year (two semesters) Humanities course that is team-taught between 9th grade English and 9th grade World History. This year, Sandwich is also rolling out a 1:1 iPad initiative for freshman and sophomore students. It will definitely be an exciting time! I can’t wait for the school year to begin! So, what is the course like? The Program of Studies states,

The Freshman Humanities program is a full year, 2 credit course which integrates English and history through a study of “The Human Condition”.  This is a team taught course led by a history teacher, an English teacher, and a special education teacher who interact with students on a daily basis. Students learn how to read, speak and write across two academic disciplines and will be evaluated on their ability to synthesize their knowledge of history with their understanding of literature through collaborative activities, creative projects, and individual problem solving. Specifically, the course exposes students to a wide variety of literary genres (including poetry, memoir, drama, short story, fiction, and non-fiction) and historical content from the age of ancient Rome to the Enlightenment. This full year team approach affords students the opportunity to improve upon literacy, integration of technology, grammar and vocabulary acquisition cross-disciplinary learning and the development of critical reading and thinking skills over the entirety of their freshman year.

Rome to the Enlightenment! I’ve been thinking all summer about ideas aligned to the themes of the ancient and Renaissance world leading up to the Enlightenment. There’s so much culture and art to cover in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and Europe. There are horrific wars where men fought sometimes needlessly and on other occasions, for the most noble ideals. There are heroes and villains, artists and saints, philosophers and merchants, priests and madmen enough to make the stories come alive in a freshman class. The details come in structuring it.

So the basic structure of the course was determined around six units:

  • The Study of History
  • Africa, Asia, and the Americas
  • Greece and Rome
  • Islam and Christianity
  • Medieval Europe and Feudalism
  • The Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment

From there, I expanded on the units to create a pacing guide throughout the semester. It’s still a work in progress, but the foundation of the course has been laid. From there, I built on the work of others to come up with some essential questions for students. Meant to deepen the instruction, the questions should create curiosity and inquiry as we work through different problems to solve in the weekly topics and units to come. The central question for the class is, “What does it mean to be human?” and I could not think of a better way to explore these eras.

For the Chinese laborer working on the Great Wall, or a French mason helping to build the massive cathedrals, there might be a sense of other-worldliness in helping to construct something far greater than one’s self. For the priests of the Aztecs or the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, a thread of power runs through all decisions affecting both the mighty rulers or the most common peasant. For the Greek philosopher to the Islamic scholar, questions about our place in the world and our very nature must be asked, and written, for the ages to ponder. When a Crusader knight or a Zulu warrior picks up a weapon, he must wonder about his own mortality and weigh it against either glory or death.

These are some of the qualities of humanity that I am looking forward to exploring once my Humanities class begins.

Notes from EdcampNH

Session 2 (Assessment Standards)

How do we authentically assess students?

  • How do we know what students know? How is it measured?

Blended environments

  • How do we know who did what? How do you give feedback and manage?

Determining Averages

  • Formative assessments don’t count. How do we account for standards based performance when grades are weighted the same before and after the grades are in?
  • Eventually we are grading on competencies, but we are not there yet.

Analogy: Driving test. Everyone knows what’s on it. There’s value. Drivers Ed works on the formative assessment and help students gain the competencies so they are ready for the big test.

Q: How do we change this as a school community? How do we make sure change happens?

Session 3 (Critical Skills) @dancallahan 

We’ve been given a challenge of presenting in a group on critical skills and fundamental dispositions in a 21st century classroom.

So, we’re in 3 groups

Group 1: Official  website
Group 2: Unofficial website and
Group 3: Article – From experience to meaning: The critical skills program by Laura Thomas.

We’ve been given 30 minutes to prepare to give a 10 minute presentation.
Now, we’re doing the presentation and breaking it down.

Session 4 (Ipads in School) @dancallahan

Songza (app) streaming music that gives you playlists according to different moods/styles.
50 Shades of Grey (ebook readers)
If you buy 20+ apps from Apple, you get them ½ price in bulk

Suggested apps:

  • Drawing pad
  • Toontastic
  • Doodlecast
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Paper
  • Skitch
  • Socrative
  • Nearpod
  • Subtext

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we make effective use of the iPad?
  2. What is a good app? Bad app?
  3. What do we like about it?
  4. What do we not like about it?
  5. How do you provide apps and devices?

Session 5 (Paperless Classroom)

  • iannotate
  • dropittome


  1. Explain Everything (ipad screencast)
  2. mybrainshark (PPT to screencast)
  3. iannotate (app like skitch but better)
  4. book2cloud (open source books with questions)
  5. (books in 200 word bits/email)
  6. mendeley (PDF organizer)
  7. (tool organizer)
  8. whitenoise (app to tune things out)
  9. (embedding books in a webpage)
  10. (dialogue creator)
  11. (express yourself with maps)
  12. (infographics)
  13. (infographics)
  14. (infographics)
  15. songzu (music streaming)
  16. (music synthesizer)
  17. (stream your device)
  18. reflectionapp (device to projector)

Notes from EdcampCT

Session 1: Social leaders RT

Essential question: How do we move from a culture of isolation to a culture of collaboration?

Discussion introducing the work of Larry Cuban and his judgment on tech in schools. Does it actually improve learning? Is there evidence on this? No. Reference of Robert Evans, organizational psychologist and former English teacher. His point is that there needs to be institutional change but ones that focus on moving out of isolation. Also a reference of Mica Pollock and her work at She also used texting and eportfolios to improve instruction in a high risk community.

Examples: school websites, iPads, computers in the classroom


  • There is a technology fear factor.
  • Teachers need time.
  • Schools have to create trust.
  • Does tech improve the practice?
  • Is social media creating a participation divide?
  • We need to invest more in human capacity than tech capacity.
  • Never use the term technology in the title.

Session 2: Building better questions

Introduction: Laura is a school librarian at Burlington HS and is frustrated that students don’t know how to design good projects. Too often the teachers focus their attention on descriptive information and kids just go to Google.

We then shared essential questions from different disciplines and Laura wrote them on the board.



  • Projects can’t just be written in a different form and called ‘creative’. Come up with different ways for students to create.
  • Building essential questions
  • Make learning relevant by helping students take positions on different issues.
  • Mary Johnson has a great format for helping students build their own essential questions.
  • How do we move students from trying to give descriptive answers to analytical positions?

Session 3: iPad PD

Recommended reading: Bill Strickland (Pittsburg) regarding classroom environments

Tom Maccord leads and he introduces 5 common mistakes that districts make in their pd concerning iPad integration.

  1. Failure to give a clear message and communicate to your stakeholders on why iPads are necessary. Failure to distinguish the benefits of an iPad vs a computer.
  2. “There’s an app for that.” is not true. This is s huge misunderstanding here. Subject specific apps are mostly drill and kill. (notability, explain everything, Evernote, GarageBand, iMovie – 4 apps that cross learning disciplines is a better pd approach for students and teachers)
  3. Shared iPads create challenges.
  4. iPads are bought, given to teachers, and there’s no pd.

Session 4: Game theory in the classroom

I led this ‘curiosity’ discussion on the nature of game theory in the classroom. I had learned a bit about this from articles and websites but not from my peers. As it turns, there were others at edcampCT that also were curious. Some had learned much more than me from the speeches and workshops of others. Others had been working on models of game theory in their own class. We talked about the advantages and disadvantages of competition as well as the authenticity of learning that is needed for intrinsic value. In the end, we did not arrive at conclusions but we did create more of an understanding.

What is it?

Is it a differentiation tool or a motivation tool?q

Is it just a new grading system or learning experience?

How do you apply it in the classroom?

Extrinsic vs intrinsic

Is all extrinsic a bad thing?

If everything is for points, is that a bad thing?

Game theory structure. What’s the best structure?

Identify 21st century Skills. The more skills used you get rewards. Accumulated xp equals privilege. Earning privileges vs skills.


  • Book, Enders Game is a fiction book that focuses students to play war games to fend off an alien attack.
  • Gamification of our society
  • No a reflection of critical thinking
  • Most game theories involve large scale projects
  • Game theory involves a new language and not everyone is familiar with it
  • Read 180 is a game system too
  • We learn through play, yes.
  • Martha Nisbaum and netricity. Nothing is real unless you assign numbers.
  • Is there a false belief in measurability?
  • Is there a way to build something that carcosonne into a class learning experience?
  • Can we make points a part of process instead of product?
  • The tasks have to be intrinsically meaningful.
  • The games have to be authentically experienced by students themselves.

Session 5: Schoology

Last year, I used Schoology as a classroom platform for online learning in all of my classes, but the most direct engagement I got was with AP US History and Multicultural Studies. This was in part because NBHS had been given 7 iPads as a donation, and I ended up with 5 of them for use in my classes. By sharing them, I was able to have classroom access to the internet for student discussions and online research.
Here in this discussion, my goal was to introduce the idea of a classroom management system…

Q1: What is it? What are its advantages?

  • LMS  content, assignments, discussion, assessments, resources
  • Grades, attendance, analytics
  • Collaboration. Colleagues, parents, students, administrators
  • Planning. Units, lessons, resources, all in one place and portable

Q2: How does it improve instruction?

  • Focused writing
  • Peer review, debate, discussion
  • All materials are in one place making studying easier
  • Classroom is portable on mobile devices, flipping is easier

Q3: What skills does this help students develop?

  • Networking and collaboration
  • Critical thinking, argumentation,
  • Effective writing
  • Presentations
  • Inquiry
  • Developing good questions


  1. Tour wrist
  2. Zite
  3. dark sky
  4. Paper
  5. Caffeine