Friday, June 8, 2012

TeachPaperless: Final Post

Dear Readers,

I hate long goodbyes; so I'll spare you.

The news: this is it for TeachPaperless. I've decided to close up the blog. As this has been a big part of my life for the last three years, this moment comes with mixed emotions. But it is time; we've accomplished whatever this thing was meant to do and now it's time to make new things.

Before heading out, however, I wanted to acknowledge some people who have really made this whole project work. I'd like to thank Reader Knaus -- who I believe was the very first reader to really get into a comment discussion on this blog; thanks to Will Richardson, Ira Socol, Chris Lehmann, and Clay Burrell for inspiration; thanks to Scott McLeod; thanks to Richard Byrne; thanks to Dean Groom and all the crazies in Australia; thanks to all the folks who took part in the original Friday Chat sessions; thanks to the editors and folks at Edutopia, ISTE Connects, NY Times, Ed Week -- especially K. Manzo; thanks ASCD, MindShift, Audrey Watters; thanks to Robert Pondiscio for being such a great person to argue with in the early days of this project; thanks to Anonymous -- who is a very prolific commenter; thanks to Malcolm Gladwell for not beating me up (not that I think he would have); thanks to everyone at Johns Hopkins School of Education -- especially my former students; thanks to Bob Schick and to all of my former high school students / lab-rats; thanks to all of the readers and commenters who pushed our thinking here; thanks to all of the contributing writers; and especially thanks to John T. Spencer -- hands-down the finest pure-writer anywhere near the education discussion today.

I think we did some good stuff here; and I think we (or I should say "I") screwed up a fair amount. I take full credit for all screw-ups and I humbly accept whatever the fates allow here on out.

This also marks the end of my formal classroom teaching career (although for the last year I've taught exclusively online). Over the years, I've come to realize that I can't be a classroom teacher. My interests in learning are in the things that exist beyond the structure of a school curriculum and an academic environment. Luckily, we are living at a time when teachers have more ladders available to them to pursue their work in education than perhaps at anytime in the last hundred+ years -- from collaborative community based art projects to social entrepreneurship to the design of new technologies to the dreaming up of new programs that challenge the traditional barriers of time and geography and that will effect a real future.

And so, in the capacity of co executive director, I've joined with fellow teacher Andrew Coy in helping the Digital Harbor Foundation to found a series of community education and technology centers in Baltimore. We'll be serving Baltimore City Public School teachers and students K-12 -- delivering extracurricular after school maker-experiences where teachers gain free, open, and relevant PD and students gain digital literacy skills through the experience of actually building new things and new designs and new technologies.

I'm pretty crazy excited about the work we've done so far; and will be sure to detail where things lead on Twitter -- which, btw, I'm now going to use exclusively as @blakeplock.

Last thing I wanted to say -- and this is to the teachers and students out there: go make stuff. Stop jumping through hoops. There is a world out there and there are a million different ways of becoming educated. You don't have to follow their rules. Go out there and make stuff. Stuff that matters. Stuff that makes people smile. Stuff that changes the way other people do things. Stuff that's beautiful. Stuff that's ugly. Stuff. Stuff you make. Stuff that reflects who you are rather than what they want you to be.

Thank you all for some great conversation. Now it's time to really put my nose to the grind in Baltimore; I expect you'll be hearing about what our kids and teachers are doing soon.


Friday, May 25, 2012

We Have a Negative Space Problem

In terms of social media, I spend the most amount of time on Twitter and the least amount of time on Facebook. On some level, it's the culture of each "place." Plus is great, but I haven't found a way to "fit in" yet -- despite having an account and posting from day one. Meanwhile, Facebook is the place where I meet folks from high school.

However, it's more than that. It's the concept of space. Twitter is simple and it looks simple. Watch the user interface and there's enough negative space to breathe. Google Plus has more to offer than Facebook and does so with more negative space and easier navigation.

It has me thinking of school. When I walk the halls, there's too much negative space. When I visit classrooms, there isn't enough negative space. Physically, there isn't any sense of balance. Students move from edgy overload to edgy boredom without a sense of flow.

When I think of instruction, it's crammed with positive space. No reflection. No wandering. No negative space between the subjects and the concepts. Again, it misses the sense of balance. For all the talk of "instructional design," schools are often missing one of the core fundamentals of design. We need negative space.

I'm not sure what it would look like, but I want schools to rethink the concept of negative space. I want to recover the paradoxically complex simplicity and solitude of negative space.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What My Grocery Store Needs to Learn About Twitter

by John T. Spencer

My grocery store has a sign begging me to follow them on Twitter. Here is what I was expecting to see in their Twitter stream:

  • Hey, I’m selling food right now. You should come buy some. #hungry #food
  • Did I mention that we have food? Thought you should try it. #food #hungry #eat
  • Just sitting here full of food.  Just got stocked.  Damn I'm full.  #food
  • Hey guys, I have a ton of food and an endless supply of Celine Dion music. #adultcontemporary #food #party
  • Party at my place. Everyone is in line.  No one is line dancing.  #lamestpartyever #party #food
  • There's a #grocerchat in twelve minutes.
  • So apparently all food is ethnic food (even white people food). So do I call it Hispanic, Latino or Latin? #grocerchat
  • Really? But Latin just sounds like singing monks? Is that really what we should use? #grocerchat
  • Apparently it's not okay to switch the butcher block signs to Comic Sans. Who knew? #grocerchat
  • RT @Kroger "Wal-Mart is such a selfish blowhard.  I hope he chokes on the vomit from eating up all the little guys." 
  • Sorry for the confusion. Supermarkets are for all people, not exclusively superheroes. #apology #food
  • I'm sorry for referring to myself as the "anchor store." @kay'sbeautysupplystore - U R muy importante to me, girlfriend! 
  • Sorry for referring to @kay'sbeautysupplies as "girlfriend." #crossedalineonthatone #tryingtosoundhip
  • @Safeway - You want a link? We got tons of sausage at our site.  
  • @Safeway - Wrong link? :( You want a link to an article?  I've got a whole magazine rack.  #checkoutthatrack #supermaketinnuendo
Perhaps it's asking too much of Sprouts to act like a person on social media. However, I would assume that if they were on Twitter, they would do something different. Post some recipes. Send some links to foodie blogs. 


Maybe choose a representative from three or four departments to answer questions regarding food. What if I could tweet out to a veggie expert who can tell me the best season to buy habanero peppers? What if I could look into my Twitter feed and get some tips for grilling large hunks of animal flesh? Instead, I see a stream of advertisements for events and sales.

Ultimately, that's the real issue with social media. Companies want to learn how to use it. However, Twitter is as much a place as it is a tool. We don't learn how to use the park or the library or the town square. We learn to relate and to participate and to interact in those places. If Sprouts wants to engage with the public, it has to move beyond simply creating advertisements and tweeting them out. You can't use Twitter.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

kroto music

kroto music

Student-led Final Review

By Noah Geisel (@SenorG)

Others on this blog have been writing about student-produced/student-driven final exams. I'd like to add to the conversation the student-produced final review. This is the third semester that I have foregone handing out a big semester review before the final and instead left it up to my students to guide the review and I have not been disappointed. Just as there is a wide range of abilities in my classes, students produce an array of activities that go far beyond what I would have created, especially on the high and low ends of ability/readiness. I would be lying if I claimed that 100% of students subsequently took advantage of class review time to diligently study and prepare for the final exam but the vast majority do and, from my viewpoint, appear much more engaged in the whole process. I think that the student ownership creates buy-in and interest in what we are doing.

Note that while this is for high school Spanish students, most of the tools and resources here can be adapted to meet the needs of other subjects. This year, the most popular and beneficial study guides came in the form of the dice maker,, awards show and Quizlet. Below is an abbreviated version of how I introduce this to classes (I post it to them on Edmodo, and those who create digital reviews share them with classmates on the group page):

One of the ways that you can demonstrate your own understanding of learning is to be able to show it or teach it to another student. To that end, you will help others study for the final exam (and they will help you) by creating a review activity or game. We will dedicate block day and Friday to preparing for the final exam by using YOUR review activities.

You must be able to explain the game to your peers. If you are unsure about your idea, run it by me before your create it. You may do more than one activity. If you have a bigger project to attempt, I am open to allowing you to work in pairs but clear it with me first. Same goes for any doubts you have...if you have questions, ask!

Some ideas:
1. Write stories that classmates can read. By reading them, they are studying and preparing for the test.

2. Record a listening practice. You can record a reading of one of our stories from class (They will be in your edmodo library) and have questions that classmates answer to demonstrate their listening comprehension.

3. Adjust one of these games to meet your needs:

4. This site is a gold mine of activities you can use: awards certificate maker to do your own awards show for classmates, dice games, board game generator to invent your own board game, crossword puzzles and more. A lot of you used this one last semester:

5. Create a story (usng target vocab!) in the form of a fake Facebook conversation:

6. Here's another site with great resources, including a Jeopardy game maker:

7. Make your own online review game!

8. Make your own poster series (Hola meme addicts!). This site has some good resources:

9. Create a stack of digital flash cards. There are a ton of resources out there. Here's one:

10. This is a step up from a dice game: Sentence Generator

This is but a partial list of what resources are out there. What would you add to the list? Have you had success (or struggle) with tasking students to take ownership of their own final review? Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cell Phones Don't Annoy People; People Annoy People.

By Noah Geisel (@SenorG)

Last week, I joined fans of public radio’s This American Life, in shelling out twenty bucks to go to the movie theater for a live taping of the program. Host Ira Glass drew laughs when he talked about the many theater managers nervous that we was encouraging viewers to take out their cell phones during the show. While he was going for laughs, he was dead serious about letting folks fill the theater rooms with screen glow. Dozens of audience members in hundreds of theaters across two continents simultaneously pulled out their smart phones and fired up the app that had been created specifically for this show. Glass introduced the band OK Go, known more for their groundbreaking music videos than pop melodies. The gimmick-geared musicians did not disappoint. The easiest way I can describe the experience: the band played music and with the app the audience played Guitar Hero to accompany them. I think the consensus was that it was pretty cool stuff.

At the end of the song, folks put their phones away and the show, as they say, went on.

Cell phones have become Enemy #1 in subways, movie theaters and pretty much every public space. OK Go and This American Life provide an excellent example of how mobile technology can be mobilized for positive disruption. They succeed in showing that the negative disruptions are a product of the users, not the phones.

This is a good lesson for schools and educators to note. In edu-speak, controlling the impact of cell phones is a classroom management issue, not a cell phone issue. This does not necessarily mean educators need to be incorporating mobile into their lessons (though many readers of this blog probably do); rather, that we are at least embedding into our lessons the idea of responsible cell phone citizenship. Modeling the positive disruptions a la Ira Glass is one of many ways of fostering this important learning.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Open, Collaborative Test

by Mike Kaechele

I was inspired by Shelly's final exam to try my own version of a collaborative, open internet test. The background for this is that students worked in groups of 3 on one of five topics related to the Cold War: Germany, China, Korea, Vietnam, and the arms and space race. All students were responsible for researching the beginnings of the Cold War and the policies and actions of the West and the Soviet Bloc. Students prepared presentations on their topic and shared while their classmates took notes. The next day the students worked in their same groups (they had two hours) to answer the following questions with full access to their computers.

Names and font colors :

Please pick a different color font for each group member and use it throughout. You should proofread each others' work before you are done. You must answer all of these questions in your own thoughts and words. Copy and pasting will result in no credit for that question! Your answers should be in complete sentences and paragraph form. You have some choices in how you answer these questions. Be sure that you address ALL of our sub-topics: China, Germany, Korea, Vietnam, and the arms and space race somewhere in this test.


WHG8.1.1a blue
Explain the origins of the Cold War including the differences in ideologies and policies of the Soviet bloc and the West.

The arms and space race between United States and Soviet Union.

Conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

The development of communism in China

Answer all of the following:

  1. Explain how the conclusion of WWII helps start the Cold War. Be sure to list specific events and decisions by different countries.
  2. Explain in detail the message of this political cartoon. Be sure to identify the people, countries, etc:
  3. Give 3 examples of how the Capital used fear to manipulate people in The Hunger Games.
  4. Explain the “Domino Effect” and “containment” and how they originated from the Truman Doctrine. Give an example of how these policies were implemented.
  5. List as many examples of proxy wars from the Cold War that you can. Explain in detail how one of them was a proxy war.
  6. What factors lead to communism developing in China and how is China part of the Cold War?
  7. How were the space and arms race related to each other and to the Cold War? Give detailed examples of how they began and progressed.
  8. Watch this. Explain how this is not the end of the Cold War. How and why did the Cold War end?
  9. Evaluate your partners in this Google Form.

Choose 4 of the following questions to answer in detail:

  1. Insert 2 images (One Western and One Soviet) of propaganda and explain how they used fear to manipulate people.
  2. Why was this era called the Cold War? Use reason and evidence to support your claim.
  3. List the title and artist of a Cold War song,insert a hotlink to the song lyrics, and explain how that song relates to the Cold War. Bonus points if Mr. Kaechele likes the song:)
  4. Explain how “The Butter Battle Book” is an analogy to the “Arms Race.”
  5. Give specific examples of Cold War governments making decisions based on fear and false assumptions of the opposing side.
  6. Some people have compared the Cold War to a chess match. Others say “The Cold War never fought any physical battles.” Agree or disagree with one of these statements and support your opinion with examples.
  7. Explain how the Berlin Airlift was brinkmanship between the Soviets and the Americans.
  8. Explain how the Suez Canal Crisis was part of the Cold War.
  9. Watch “We choose to go to the moon.” How is this speech propaganda? How is it part of the Cold War? How is this speech part of the “American myth” of exceptionalism?
  10. Choose any topic of the Cold War that you feel is not addressed in the previous questions that you feel that you are an expert on. Explain it in detail.
 Some observations of this process is that students were challenged. I also enjoyed listening to the conversations going on in the room. They were more intense than normal. A couple of students told me they liked the test. When is the last time you have heard that? I also think that if I used this format again they will do even better in both their preparation and understanding that it is their responsibility to make sure that they address all of the standards.