Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Happy 2014-15, Educators and Students! Celebrations!

Wow. Just wow. This has been a whirlwind startup this semester. In many ways, it reminded me of our infant days. Now entering our 4th year as a honest to golly public school, our 5th year as a working collaboration, I'm amazed and pleased at where we stand at MNPS Virtual School. This blog has always been a chatty mishmash of the personal and the professional, and this post will lean toward the latter.

To begin with, we celebrate a new team member! Ms. Kelby House, our new v-School Counselor, has come on board to join the illustrious and ultra-valuable Adrienne McNew in serving the Counseling needs of our growing student body. Kelby is clearly a fantastic choice for this position on the team. I accompanied her to last week's Middle School Preps rollout at the Discovery Science Center and if anyone left there without her business card in hand I would be amazed. She'll be strong ammunition in our efforts to struggle out of the box if misunderstanding. Hello!!! We are NOT the commercial option. We are a tried and true Public School, part of the 42nd largest public school district in the nation and one that is gaining national attention as a model for school improvement on a district scale.

We celebrate growth. Currently we have 137 full-time students in grades 7-12, an accomplishment we can largely credit to our Ms. McNew's refinement and faithful delivery of a rigorous interview process designed to make sure we are enrolling students who can succeed in online learning and who can benefit from the move over to us and away from daily bricks and mortar schooling. Around 750 students around the District are taking one or more classes with us this semester while attending their school of zone or choice. The latter, by the way, has been made much more doable with the district-wide implementation of free breakfasts and lunches for all MNPS students. Wow, just wow.

I'm celebrating in advance because communications went out from Pencil Partners last night inviting our business and post-secondary Partners at our Virtual Academy of Business and Marketing to sign a little agreement that they'll work with us this year. You can read more about that at the Academy page on our website. Once those are concrete, I'll share it all right here, an on Facebook, and everywhere else I can. The Academies model has done wonders for the students in the district, and its innovative implementation at our school will help pave the way for other online K12 schools to adopt it. Hey, we're workin' here! I'm so looking forward to attending the NCAC national conference in D.C. come
late October!

Hey, that's enough for now. More celebrations later. Thanks to my PLN, to ISTE, and to my students and teachers and staff for making every day I work my best day ever.

Oh, and I want to celebrate this fish. May I catch him again after he's put on another pound or two, but four pounds was my biggest catfish ever on Marrowbone Lake!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

TV News on MNPS Virtual School

Our school got some GREAT media "ink" on Tuesday night at WKRN's NewsChannel5 6 O'Clock News. Enjoy!

v-Lead School Counselor Ms. Adrienne McNew shares hopes and expectations for the coming semester with prospective students.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Last share from the THE Journal Thing, I Promise

Howdy, and happy Friday.

I realize I've shared, perhaps overshared, the various elements resulting from my selection as June, 2014's "Education Innovator of the Month" at T.H.E. Journal, but I'm so pleased with the several ways this honor has presented for me to share the work I do on a daily basis (usually here and elsewhere I'm chasing other treasures and sharing them, like virtual environments and ISTE) that I want to share here just the .ppt that underscores the webinar presented by EdWeb.net on June 26, just after the release of the monthly online publicaton.

That webinar can be seen at http://home.edweb.net/starting-maintaining-virtual-school/ and the .ppt contains links for follow-up that I mentioned during that hour of yammering. If you just want to mine the links, dive on into...

Thursday, July 03, 2014

One from ISTE2014, more to come

Hey, all,

Just back from #ISTE2014 in lovely Atlanta, GA and I'll be reviewing and sharing over the next couple weeks here. In many ways it was the best ISTE ever. I've been going to them since it was called NECC and actually my first one was in Atlanta back in 2000. This was my twelfth conference, since I missed a couple for family vacation conflicts and such, but I'll certainly pick up lucky 13 in Philly come summer 2015.

There have been many changes, many of them recently since the coming on board of CEO Brian Lewis. I tend to be a positive sort, so I swing with them. My friend Peggy Sheehy bent both my ears for nearly a half hour the other day actually reading aloud the loud rant she recently posted on her blog. So there are definitely dissenting voices. I share with Peggy the intense disappointment in not being able to connect with friend David Warlick this year--that left a hole in my ISTE experience--but I share my admiration for Brian and the job he is doing with what I believe is the vast majority of ISTE members. I do believe that Peggy has some insightful points about not throwing out the experienced babies with the ISTE bath water. You see where you stand.

So there. Do read that letter: It completely captures the firebrand that is Peggy Sheehy.

But to the purpose of my post today. Gord Holden's wonderful presentation at our Online Learning Network's (formerly SIGOL) one-hour-with-11-educator "Extravaganza" this past Sunday in Atlanta experienced some technical difficulties that we were not able to sufficiently rectify in our short time. In particular, Skype took over my audio settings and would neither yield them to video or use audio itself. Then the projector refused to display my laptop image, deciding instead to show a screensaver not displaying on my laptop monitor. Though we did share with some who stayed past our one hour, I posted Gord's PowToon video this morning at ISTE Connects so that it might find a broader audience. I reshare here to broaden its audience at least a bit further. Watch for more reflections on ISTE 2014 in the days to come.

Here's Gordon's

Saturday, June 28, 2014

At ISTE2014

It's a great morning to be in Atlanta, Georgia, high up on the 26th floor of the Marriott Marquis, with a Starbucks Dirty Chai and my honey asleep in the bed.

I just did an hour in the workout room on a treamill and a stationery bike, by turns, and now that I've stopped perspiring I'm going to shower quicklikeabunny and get out there to volunteer help for a couple hours before taking my pick of sessions presented by the leading and learningest educators in the world.

I'm going to put my pics up at http://tinyurl.com/merrickiste2014 at the book of the face, in an album titled intuitively, so if you want to see some of what I see don't hesitate to check that out.

Yesterday I spent some quality time with my dear good budd, Andy Wheelock, and I'll be seeking out more dear good budds today. Driving in from Nashville, arriving around noon, we got straight into our lovely room and after picking up something to gnosh I met Andy at the conference center. We scoped out our presentation spaces and we caught one of the last (of 5) sessions of Hack Education, a fabulous hour with Chris Aviles, techedupteacher, sharing how he gamifies his classroom and how incredibly powerful are the motivators Status, Access, Power, and Stuff. Some great resources were shared by Chris and by others in the 40 or so educator session. I'm going to jot those down then I'm signing off. Time to experience! You do the same by visiting...



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 8 and Conclusion (not): ISTE 2014

Hello, good morning, and .  Just sayin'.

I'll be at the Online Learning Network's Sunday 11a.m. ISTE Online Learning Network learning extravaganza — Blended, online and flipped learning, Sunday, June 29, 11:00 am–12:00 pm, GWCC B206 and most certainly at the Metagame: Virtual Environments Playground on Monday, June 30, 2:00 pm–5:30 pm, GWCC Building B, Level 2 (near Room B206) and floating around relatively untethered the rest of the time. Oh, I do have a couple 11-1 pm shifts in the new PLN Lounge, Monday and Tuesday, and of course the ISTE Virtual Environments Network Machinima Fest on Sunday, June 29, 5:30 pm–6:45 pm, GWCC A411. I sincerely hope to see you there, and as usual I'll be handing out free hugs. To claim yours, just hug me.

ISTE's annual conference is something I look forward to every year, and I've written lately about the innovations I've participated in there. I wonder what we will, all together, innovate this year? Hint: 10 minutes with the Occulus Rift at the VE Playground? Take your ticket and wait your turn. Hint: Your picture in a virtual world (courtesy of greenscreen photography) in the same venu? Hint: 11 speakers in just under an hour at the Online Network Extravaganza?

All this and more, and with that, I'm done with my little series on Innovation. I hope to see as many of you as can make it at my EdWeb.net webinar at 4pm EDT tomorrow, Thursday; and I hope I'm not done innovating, since doing so within a community of educators dedicated to student learning, empassioned about eliminating the dread of the desk in the row in the lecture that has for so long held a stranglehold on students' school experiences, and just plain good folks--doing so is the jam on my PBJ.

See you at ISTE!!! And drop by our booths at the Professional Networking Fair Sunday afternoon. Look for the Virtual Environments Network and the Online Learning Network, and you'll find me at one of them!!!!!!!!!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 7

Well, hello there. Thanks for visiting. Okay, by my count I'm owing two more posts to this series and for this one I'm going outside education because I want to reflect on the ways I've "innovated" in other ways, with some poetry, some fiction and some music.

Poetry

If someone had asked me what I wanted to be when I was 17, I probably would have said I wanted to be a poet. I had, after encouragement from my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Arfken, done some writing in free verse, sometime with much internal rhyme--which I note in a whole lot of rap these days--and quite possibly very informed by my interest in the popular music of the day. I know I considered performers like Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course the Beatles, as much masters of lyrics than as musicians. At the wonderfully inspirational Mr. Arfken's behest, I had entered a national poetry competition and had been chosen for inclusion in a publication, "Songs of Youth," a paper, ringbound tome the inclusion of my work in which earned me an intercom announcement over the school public address system one afternoon. I remember it came while I was hammering away on a mechanical typewriter in typing class. The clicking and clacking stopped, the announcement was made, and I felt honored and inspired at the same time. I would be a poet.

Over the years I kept that theme, while playing guitar in a little rock band, dating girls while never really committing to one or the other, and my, again, wonderfully inspirational Mr. Gaines in my senior year held a writers' group one evening a month in his home. Once in college, at UT Knoxville, I thrived in my English course and tried to get an exception to the Junior year level requirement for UT's Creative Writing course and was denied. That's when I lost interest in school. The pompous Professor told my advisor "He has nothing to write about. Tell him to go live life and then come back and ask to be in my class."

That's when I lost interest in school.

During my first year at UT I had innovated a publication, collaborating with a student from my Nashville High School, the poet and painterly artist Creighton Michael, to compile and bring to publication "Druid: An Humanities Magazine." Speaking of pompous, the use of  "an" was intentional, being the grammatically correct usage but the much lesser used. Down to earth magazine creators certainly would have said "A Humanities Magazine." But we were idealistic if nothing else, publishing our own poetry and drawings, gathering about us photographers, interviewers, fiction writers, and graphic artists and literally typing and cutting and pasting up the magazine. We had four issues before we went bust, and we interviewed Senator Al Gore, Dick Gregory, James Dickey, and, yes, Jimi Hendrix. We published black and white images of topless women as ad images. We were rebels, giving the official campus literary magazine such a run for their money that officials met with us and offered to give us that publication. When they would not promise they would not exercise editorial control, we stood up and walked out of the room.

So I did come back for part of a semester my sophomore year at UT, but I dropped out, moving in with friends off-campus, and hounding the school library administration daily for a job shelving books in the Undergraduate Library until they hired me. I worked there for 7 years, marrying and divorcing while writing poetry and submitting to little literary magazines. I had only a couple poems published, both by a rag called the New Infinity Review, out of Chicago, and all that rejection took its toll.

From my divorce, I got three kittens, my acoustic guitar, and my VW bus. That steered me into performing in local bars mainly doing covers of Jackson Browne, John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, and others and beginning to write some songs. I promised myself not to run away from my job as "Supervisory Library Associate" for a year, and after a year I was granted a leave of absence, with a promise I would have a job of some sort with the University upon my return, which never happened. I drove to Alaska with my friend Steve Bettis and took up singing in the thriving whole foods cafe circuit, hooked up with a group called the Dr. Schultz Band, and when they broke up that's when my music innovation kicked in.

I had been songwriting for a good while, playing with a friend named Scott Miller, playing solo, and eventually forming a duo with my then wife, Susan. We called ourselves "Alaskan Summer" and then "Summersong" and had some success, at one point playing for 7 sets a night, 7 nights a week, for 7 months in the holding bar in a tudor-style restaurant called the Abbey. Then the Dr. Schultz band broke up. The guitarist had just had enough of the personal tensions and power plays, I guess, but whatever the reason, the two remaining members bought my suggestion that we form a new band, just me and them, a band which would have something the Dr. Schultz band had little of, no matter what its success, and it was huge in Anchorage and around the state. They had been adopted by the Iditarod "Last Great Race" dogsled competition as their official band, they had played venues around the city to packed audiences. They were adored. But they had only one or two original songs. I had dozens.

So we had a year together, including a stint fundraising for the Iditarod, playing for 5,000 people at the Alaskan State Fair, and culminating in performance before 200 or so audience members at the Showboat Restaurant venue on New Years Eve 1979. From that performance and from others, years later I would digitize recordings from live cassette tapes off our sound board and put together a recording of just my own original songs, with a couple traditional (read "non-copywrite") ones thrown in. It's still available on iTunes and I'm still proud of it. You can listen up there. I never really expected it to go platinum, self-publishing it as I did at CDBaby. But every month or so some Alaskan (most likely) discovers it and I receive a payment to my PayPal account from CDBaby. I recently was shuffling songs on my iPhone while relaxing in a hammock by the lake and "Where I'm Bound" came up. I think that may be my masterpiece. Or maybe it's "Larceny," so beautifully sung by Dana Ward (then Dana Cox), with its rhyming of "window" and "then blow." Ha.

So I was going to talk about fiction but I'm out of time this morning. In a nutshell, I spent a year or so writing what I call "the pretty good American novel." I titled it "Lives" and classified it a "history-mystery." Its such a mashup of conceptions and conceits that I'm not sure that anyone who ever read it, aside from my dear brother-from-another-mother James Morrison, actually understood it. And I may be mistaken there as well. But I wrote it, and I worked very hard to interweave the stories of three humans in three time periods who share a soul and some related fates--one in late 60's Nashville, one in the time and setting of the American Civil War, and one in a post-holocaust dystopian future. I worked very hard never to actually state the underlying thread of reincarnation, perhaps to a fault. Anyway, pounding it out on my little "transportable" Kaypro 2x was an accomplishment, and it's another thing in the world that would not be here if I had not. It worked for me, and after several rewrites and reformats I self-published it at Lulu.com back in 2004 (I think). It's still available there, and available in ebook format, if you really are adventurous. I think it's sold like 3 copies over the decade, woo-hooo.

Let's get to work. I hope to see everyone who can make it at my webinar at EdWeb.net on Thursday at 4pm EDT. Here's a link to register. And thanks to T.H.E. Journal again! All this reflection has been good for me. Thursday I'll be sharing our good work at MNPS Virtual School, perhaps a product that I'm most proud of helping to innovate. All this other stuff is just what happens when a guy who has not much of a clue just can't stop "making."

I'm hitting Publish and I'll come back and edit. I may have made some horrible typos so I'll fix those later today.