Category Archives: Curriculum 21

Beyond Pockets of Excellence in Blogging

There are many, many pockets of excellence in classroom/student blogging out there. These blogs are driven, coached and nurtured by educators who “get it”. They get how blogging makes a difference in student learning, supports 21st century modern learning skills and literacies and at the same time basic reading and writing skills. These educators understand blogging FOR their students.


[insert a screeching sound of breaks] …then it STOPS!… Why?

The students move on from those teachers classes to the next grade level or school with a teacher who:

  • has never heard of blogs (hence does not use them)
  • sees blogs as an add on and too much work (Who has time to moderate and comment on so much student writing???)
  • uses blog posts as a digital space to collect typed up homework assignments (Instead of a new writing genre, capable of multi-layers, higher order thinking/writing skills and multi-dimensional)

You can visibly see the engagement, ownership and learning curve when you look at pockets of excellence, such as Linda Yollis’ 2nd/3rd grade blog or Kathy Cassidy’s 1st grade classroom and student blogs.  We can assess the learning taking place of a set of students (during one grade level) with a committed-to-quality-blogging teacher.

What we CAN’T do with pockets of excellence is to track and identify LONG TERM gains in blogging as a LEARNING PLATFORM.

I see how the  Yokahama International Middle School  (Grades 6-8), has laid the foundation with their student blogs for a CONTINUOUS effort to document, reflect and assess their students progress ACROSS time. My current school, Martin J Gottlieb Day School also has an opportunity to implement student blogfolios across ALL grade levels (K-8) and build on skills from year to year. George Couros on The Principal of Change blog wrote in a post titled 5 Reasons your Students Should Blog about his school division and effort to developing blogs as portfolios with their students. They are bringing blogs to approximately 10,000 students!

How are they/we:

  • coordinating efforts across grade levels to help teachers and students BUILD ON  skills (ex. hyperlinked writing)
  • continuing to weave a thread that CONNECTS reflections (ex. self-portraits art pieces with a reflective text/audio/video piece attached)
  • giving evidence of learning at one particular moment in time and show growth ACROSS TIME  (ex. presentation skills, math number sense, gross-motor skills, etc.)


In an effort to provide a framework for our teachers from Kindergarten to 8th grade, I attempted to make my own thinking visible in regards to our classroom blogs and student blogfolios.

Each page addresses one grade level. I have divided the page into 2 main sections with the following subsections:

  • classroom blog
    1. teacher responsibilities
    2. student responsibilities (on classroom blog)
  • student blogfolios
    1. skills (new skills introduced at particular grade levels are highlighted in yellow)
    2. categories (trying to standardize categories to be used across grade levels. Ex. writing, reading, presentation, Science, Math, etc.)
    3. Reflection (examples of media that could be used to create a reflection in response to learning artifact)
    4. Examples of learning artifacts (Ex. Science fair presentation, About Me page, Self-portrait art work, visible thinking of solving a Math problem, etc.)

This framework was not created to be written in stone, but as a starting point for teachers to refer to, as they students are building skills of writing in digital spaces, become reflective learners and establish a positive digital footprint. It is meant to allow a progression of learning artifacts coupled with reflection paint a picture of each student’s learning journey throughout our school. The framework is to guide teachers in providing a smooth transition from one grade level to another and ensure a continuation AND growth in skills.

Where are other schools who are creating maps for continues use of the blogging framework for learning, reflecting and sharing? Can we put our heads together, as we are tracking and assessing the continued use of blogs FOR learning? Please connect with this blog or via Twitter.

Download the Blogging Framework as a pdf file.




Upgrade & Amplification Exercise and Checklist

The Upgrade and Amplification Exercise slide deck below grew out of the need for companion slides to “21st Century Critical Literacies- Is Traditional Reading and Writing Enough?

Once you know of the NEED and URGENCY of updating your curriculum and instructional repertoire to give the critical literacies of our century justice, take a look at the checklist below to guide you in considerations as you upgrade and amplify.

What does upgrade and amplify even mean?


Raise (something) to a higher standard, in particular improve (equipment or machinery) by adding or replacing components.

improve – better – ameliorate – promote


1.    Increase the volume
2.    Increase the amplitude

expand – enlarge – extend – magnify – aggrandize

Upgrading and amplifying traditionally taught activities, lessons, units or entire classroom learning environments TAKES time and practice. Just as in any sport, if you want to get better at it, you have to put in the time and practice.  Before you become an athlete, who thinks nothing of running a marathon or has the conditioning of swimming 5 hours non stop, one has to have enough attempts of failing and be exhausted by “working out” for only 10 minutes at a time. Only with practice does the couch patatoe become an athlete.

The same holds true with upgrading and amplifying. Most educators are “not in shape”, not conditioned, not in the routine of upgrading their curriculum to embed emerging critical  literacies and amplifying their own and their students’ work. They have to practice, put the time in and “pay their dues” until it becomes easier and second nature.

I am sharing with you my “workout” schedule, my model, my routine and techniques/methods of “getting into shape” to upgrade and amplify.

By upgrading and amplifying, you are not throwing out your instructional goals and objectives. These goals and objectives are just expanded and enlarged. The idea is to align standards with the framework of 21st century learning. The standards, skills and literacies are fused and support each other.

For warm-ups, take good old Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Make sure you touch on more than one learning AND teaching style to address all kinds of learners.

Continue your warm ups  by going through a cycle of Bloom’s Taxonomy of higher order thinking skills. Be aware of the different stages (levels) and  pay special attention to creating.  Shortcuts do not pay off… creating your own material, will allow you to share and amplify the work easier later on.

Once warmed up, you are ready to take a challenge, you might not have been exposed to before. Alan November’s model of the Digital Learning Farm prescribes six roles to empower learners. Don’t overdue it at the beginning of this workout series. There is no need to go through ALL the exercises at once. It will leave you over exhausted. No need to use every role in every activity, but take care to evenly distribute the roles across the school year.

The next workout is outlined by Ruben Puentedura‘s SAMR model to move from substitution over augmentation and modification to a redefinition of a task. The workout consists in starting out with using technology as a direct tool substitution, but no significant task improvement. It is compared to a direct automation of a previously analog task. The second set of the workout is to use technology in a way that allows for some task improvement. Don’t stop now and work through the aches and pains to reach the transformational stage. You will use technology tools to be able to modify the task by allowing a significant redesign of the task to finish off the workout by being able to redefine the task, create new tasks, previously not thought of or possible. Take a look at a chart of sample tasks, moving from the substution stage to the redefinition stage.

Once you worked through the workouts and routines outlined in the “upgrade workout routine”, become fit and conditioned in upgrading, the next level of your exercise routine takes you to the amplification routine. You can prepare yourself for amplification with simple warm up exercises. Instead of your students handing their work into you, have them present work to their classsmates first, then to a larger audience by inviting another class from the building or their parents in.

The first routine of amplification becomes the task of digitizing analog or physical artifacts of students’ work. This simple modification allows you to be able  to share the work online. With this simple act (uploading digital content), amplification is ready to happen. Parents, friends and family living across the country or the world will be able to connect.

By choosing to produce evidence of learning in a variety of media, we allow our online audience to read, look at, watch, or listen to student work. Amplification happens when we go beyond the traditional media in schools (which traditionally and primarily is text) and give students choices to use different media forms, mix and mash up media and/or create new forms.

Amplification means to extend classroom time beyond the traditional school hours. It also means to amplify the pool of people we learn from. Traditionally the “only” teacher in the room was… the teacher. When the teacher steps aside and allows students to share their knowledge and experiences and to open up classroom walls to bring in peers, experts, eye-witnesses from around the world, we amplify who we consider teachers as well as our geographic boundaries.

Traditionally our students have not had a long “reach” beyond the scope of the families, teachers and schools. By “reach”, I mean the amount of people their work could reach (could be read, watched, be looked at). An essay handed in to the teacher to be graded, has a reach of 1. Amplification happens when a blog post, uploaded, cross posted and linked to by others and the link disseminated via Twitter has a potential reach of thousands.  (Disclaimer: Sometimes the single act of uploading content online is not enough to reach further. There also has to be an ACTIVE EFFORT to build a network to be able to disseminate through).

Through social media, our potential connections, collaboration and dissemination paths can reach exponential levels.

The REACH is about the amount of people our work is capable of touching. The reach of our work would be already considered amplified (in a small way).  if we make it available in a password protected environment (only accessible to colleagues, classmates, community members). A larger ripple effect/amplification happens when our work is open to the world and disseminated across the globe though. We move from an audience of one to a global audience through synchronous and asynchronous tools. A global audience brings in different perspectives, points of view and resources, previously not available from a locally confined audience.

Making a difference in the world is possible through the amplified potential reach of a global audience. Even children as young as four or five years old (with the help of their parents or teachers) can find their voice and be heard! Traditional limitations of age, physical handicaps, financial limitations preventing traveling or a  lack of social network connections in the physical world,  don’t have to limit someone’s voice any longer. An amplification  to be heard can happen for anyone with an Internet connections.  It is a powerful realization that we all have something valuable to share with others.

The last tip to getting in shape to upgrade and amplify is: SIMPLY SHARE! The popular saying “A Candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” holds just as true for our purpose. The simple act of sharing online brings automatically larger degrees of upgrade and amplification with it. In order to share (without infringing on copyright or committing plagiarism) one has to create. By not keeping your creation to yourself, you amplify the potential reach your work can generate.

In the slide deck below, you will find examples from the classroom illustrating upgrades and amplifications to traditionally taught lessons and activities. I hope that the examples and the checklist below will help you in practicing and exercising your “upgrade and amplification muscles”. Please share your examples (or links to examples) in the comment section.  You will automatically upgrade your practice (connect, communicate, collaborate, create) and amplify YOUR work (networking, linking, disseminating), by linking them here. 🙂

You can also download the Upgrade & Amplify Checklist as a PDF


Action! The Digital Learning Farm

This is the follow up post of the survey results I shared in “Do Student Jobs in the Classroom Affect Learning?

The concept of the Digital Learning Farm is based on Alan November’s work.

Years ago, when farms dominated our landscape, children were responsible for performing meaningful jobs that were vital to each family’s success. Depending on their age, children would care for animals, repair farm equipment, prepare food to sell at local markets and more. Children were essential to the very survival of the family. At the same time, these jobs taught children the value of hard work, leading them to become more productive citizens within their communities as adults. […]

If our children are to grow up to make important contributions to our society,it is essential that we provide them with powerful tools and experiences across the curriculum. This will require a new culture of teaching and learning that engages students as contributors.

The Digital Learning Farm

I have taken Alan’s call to engage students as contributors to heart. Coupled with the desire to put learning, not passing quizzes and exams, at the heart of a classroom learning community, I keep 21st century skills, literacies and Digital Learning Farm’s roles to empower our learners in mind at all times.

Mr. Curran outlines on his Classroom Blog of Room 302, the different teams and responsibilities his students participate in each week. I love the thought that went into setting his teams up and by the look of his blog the consistency he integrated the roles into his classroom (instead of being a one-time project).

  • Official Scribes–Each week the official scribes take notes on the things we are reading and learning. They post these notes to an internet page that everyone can view if they want to review what we’ve been doing.
  • Global Collaboration Team–This team is in charge of making contact with classrooms around the globe. They will be emailing other teachers and classes, trying to make as many contacts world-wide as possible. They will also be managing any projects that we’re working on with other classes. Finally, they’ll be keeping track on several maps so that we have a record of where the schools and people we’ve contacted live. Oh, and they’ll have a blog they have to post to, too!
  • Society Contribution Team–This team will select a fundraising project to work on. To do this, they will use the website Kiva is a site set up for donors to locate projects around the globe to help to fund. (e.g. building a school in a poor town in Africa, etc.) Once they choose a project to help, they’ll manage the fundraising. Oh, and they’ll blog about it, too.
  • Research Team--We have a class of curious thinkers. And they have lots and lots of questions. Every week, the Research Team will collect our questions and post them to our class “Wonderwall.” Then they will help find the answers to those questions. They’ll also be given certain research tasks along the way to complete so that they build their research skills.
  • Learning Documentary Producers–Each week this team will produce a “learning documentary” of all the things we’ve learned about and done during those school days. They’ll produce a podcast and post it to the web so that everyone can see the exciting things we work on from week-to-week.

The following are references to websites and blog posts that show The Digital Learning Farm concept with its roles to empower student learners in action.

Ethical Treatment of Animals (7th Grade)- Contributors to Society, Researchers, Collaboration Coordinators, Curriculum Reviewers

7th graders wanted to learn and understand how humans in our society treat animals today. To gather the information, they interviewed two veterinarians and representatives of different associations and local businesses concerning their research. They hope that the people that take the time to read their website will benefit from the information and then pass it along to another person. Their  hope is that their research will help inspire people to treat animals with respect and understanding.

Navigating our Classsroom Blog Tutorial (2nd Grade)- Tutorial Designers

After the classroom teachers started to use a classroom blog as the primary means of communication between school and home, the importance of teaching parents how to navigate the new blog environment. Second grade students took it upon themselves to create a video tutorial for their parents explaining to them the basic blog vocabulary and navigataion of their classroom blog.

Quality Commenting (3rd Grade)- Tutorial Designers, Collaboration Coordinators, Contributors to Society

The first Seminole Swamp Morning Show. Students interviewed several bloggers of our school community to learn about quality commenting. They formulated questions, storyboarded, wrote scripts and recorded a news show to share with the world.

Jacksonville: For Kids by Kids (3rd Grade)- Collaboration Coordinators, Contributors to Society, Curriculum Reviewers

As part of their unit about “Our Community”, students wrote a script and recorded a video to suggest places to visit and things to do in Jacksonville, Florida. Recommendations for kids by kids.

Jacksonville Reads (3rd Grade)- Collaboration Coordinators, Contributors to Society

In the third installment of the Seminole Swamp Morning Show, students interviewed members of our city’s community regarding their reading habits and their favorite childhood books. From the mayor of Jacksonville, a police officer, a chef, a 100-year old man to the city’s baseball team’s mascot.

Math Tutorial Designers (4th Grade)- Tutorial Designers, Contributors to Society, Curriculum Reviewers

We asked our students to create a tutorial explaining multiplication to peers, future fourth graders of our school, etc. We started out with a lesson on Becoming good Tutorial Designers to show them examples of tutorial design techniques as well as to give them an understanding of the importance of clear and precise step by step directions.

Florida Explorers (4th Grade)- Researchers, Official Scribe

4th graders created a storybook, using Mixbook , where students contributed different parts from a common storyline. Students collaboratively worked on ideas for a possible storyline and how each explorer would be represented and how groups would be able to research and contribute their portion of a story.

Christopher Columbus Creates 21st Century Explorers (5th Grade) Researchers, Contributors to Society, Curriculum Reviewers, Collaboration Coordinators, Official Scribe

Follow along an “upgrade” process from textbook to globally connected learning. Students connect via email, face-to-face interviews, online surveys, Twitter and Skype with people from around the world to learn about different perspectives of one historic figure. They research, analyze and share their learning in a

Facebook Pages for American Revolution & American Revolution Myths (5th Grade) Researchers

Students showed their research and knowledge about historic figures of the American Revolutionby creating a fake facebook profile page. Since the students are under the age of 13, they created them offline in a PowerPoint slide, which we later uploaded to their classroom blog. In addition to the Facebook pages, the class  created a Snopes- Urban Legends inspired video. What myths about the American Revolution could they debunk? Students used the a range of programs (their choice)  to produce a short intro video

It’s About Learning Style and Collaboration (5th Grade) Official Scribe, Researchers

5th graders experiment with different types of note taking as part of creating “Official Scribes” for the classroom while taking into account the students’ different learning styles. From individual note taking with paper and pencil, individual note taking on a word processor, collaborative backchanneling to visual note taking (on SmartBoard and paper)

Tutorial Designers- Empowered Learners- Contributors (5h Grade) Tutorial Designers

We divided a 5th grade class into two groups (Quantity vs. Quality) and asked them to create a Grammar tutorial/practice for “Contractions” with the SmartBoard notebook for the first graders of our school. The Quantity group had to create as many separate tutorial/practice slides as possible, while the other group was told only to turn in ONE slide with a perfect tutorial/practice.

Taking Notes- Summarizing Information (2nd Grade) Official Scribe

2nd graders are learning about different communities. As they are watching a video they are learning to take notes in different ways. From paper, pencil and clipboard to “screenshooting” visuals that will be organized and categorized in a Venn Diagram.

Backchanneling-Movie Watching-Note Taking-Information Scribes (Middle School) Official Scribe

Middle School students watch a movie about copyright as they are using Today’s Meet as a backchannel tool. Collaboratively they create the “perfect notes”, then review the content by formatting, editing and organizing the information.

Take a look at these third graders who are creating their own “textbooks” on LiveBinder (3rd Grade) Curriculum Reviewers, Contributors to Society

Michael Thornton decided to have his students create their own “textbooks” using Livebinders.  ” The class and I go over the curriculum and/or standards.  We discuss what it is they are expected to learn.  Now armed with that knowledge, they find websites that fulfill what is expected of them.  In addition, they search for websites that engage, enlighten and enrich their learning.    This year my students created four unit “textbooks”.  I am going to continue this process with my new students next year.  In addition, these current textbooks are adaptable and will change with time.  This was a specific request from my students.”

If you have written about or documented “The Digital Learning Farm” in action, please leave a link in the comments. It is important to gather examples and resources to model for others.

CMI2011- You Are Invited

It all started when I attended a regional Curriculum Mapping Institute in Boca Raton, Florida in 2010. You can read the blog posts I wrote during the conference here:

Having not heard had Heidi Hayes Jacobs and her team before this Regional Conference, I have to say that I was mesmerized. I was finally hearing someone put into words what I had been thinking and intuitively doing in the classrooms. All I remember thinking was: Yes, Yes, Yes!

A couple of months after the Regional Conference, Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ book Curriculum 21 (ASCD 2010) was published. I  blogged extensively as I was reading the book and started to implement the concepts at school.  Since that “fateful” first encounter, I  became a faculty member of the Curriculum 21 team. It is an extreme honor to be part of and learn with this group  of talented, dedicated and visionary group of educators.

This July 2011 the National Curriculum Mapping Institute will again be held in Saratoga Springs, NY.  I want to personally invite the readers of Langwitches to consider attending any of the academies or main conference during CMI2011. There will be a galore of Curriculum 21 workshops, roundtables, think tanks, consultations, etc. in addition to Curriculum Mapping sessions.

If you are considering catapulting your teaching practice or your school culture into the 21st century, this is the PD conference for you this summer.

Let me know if you are attending and we can organize a Langwitches meet-up. 🙂