Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Now. New Work. Let's Stay in Touch!

Just popping in here to note that I turned in my keys to the Cohn Learning Center and the Virtual School today. It felt good. It's a long story and to be kind I don't want to tell it. Suffice it to say that though I poured my heart and soul into my work at MNPS Virtual School for six years of my life, I am done and gone. Best of luck to the school.

For all the kind and supportive words from all of my colleagues and friends on social media and other fronts, I have the most profound gratitude. You all got me through this tough spot in my professional career. I thank you, I thank you, I thank you. And to my family, with which I have been blessed despite my own failings, I love you completely and I hold you in my heart always.

Now, to the future. I am completely excited to be returning Monday to the K-4 computer lab, but this time not to an independent school, where I did similar work for 11 years, but to my new home--Warner Enhanced Option Elementary School.

When told the official ask had been requested, I created a blog for families similar to the one I maintained for a decade at University School of Nashville, and I'll likely be more often blogging there than here in upcoming weeks. I hope to to build a curriculum and a future for my  24 classes a week, K-4. I'm on it already. When my students leave for middle school, they will be armed with confidence that they have the skills to deal with the rapidly escalating flood if information. They will know how to stay safe online. They will be able to tell when information is manipulating them, instead of being there to be manipulated by them. We will scaffold all this around the new ISTE Technology Standards for Students, just released last month and exceedingly comprehensive and spot-on. Let's play. Let's be good and have fun. Let's learn, share, and enjoy our time together.

Here's a pano of my dear boy Colin in my newly spiffed up computer lab. Watch for more soon!

Have a great week.

Now I have to make some mouse pads. God bless Google. :)

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Reflections on ISTE 2016 in Denver, Colorado

It's been my annual habit since 2005 to reflect upon the goings-on at the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education. This year I am continuing the tradition. The following will be a rambling, first person, eyewitness account of events in Denver that'll mix the personal with the professional, opinion with fact, and observation with reflection. I'm making this stuff up, as are we all.

During this year's conference, I...
  1. experienced my final day as Associate Virtualization Engineer at MNPS Virtual School, a story in itself,
  2. led the most successful Virtual Environments Playground ever, and saw the partnership with the Games & Simulations Network function like clockwork to share learning, playing, and teaching in innovative ways,
  3. made several real connections that will help bolster my severely reduced income and lead me to help promote technology in education in meaningful ways,
  4. explored Denver, mostly its world-class food, with my peeps;
This year's "moneyshot" from the annual meeting of ISTE VEN

Above, witness a special group of thought-leader educators who have more fun than most. The Playground on Tuesday, 2-5pm, was arguably the very best ever. See my June 21 post for that schedule. In addition to the ongoing "main stage" presentations, the tables saw consistent conversations and demonstrations that were unfailingly informational, upbeat, and helpful. Mary Howard, center above, bugged me a couple times, "What are you actually doing? You're just wandering around looking important." I guess it looked like that, but wrangling the mainstage to make sure we stayed on schedule, taking pics (with Rosie Vojtek's iPhone mostly), and Periscoping as much of the events as I could kept me busy. The layout of the Playground had two main stages, one at either end of the space, with flatpanels for presentation. This year we chose not to compete with on another with concurrent events, alternating presenters for each PLN. I was able during the keynote talk by Cynthia Colongne to bring her talk up in on the flatpanel down at the distant far end, Periscoping it up at the main stage, connecting my iPad down at the far display with a Periscope viewer on the iPad. Mash-up heaven, y'all.

Okay, here we go, more or less linearly:
Day 1, Thursday: I arrived in Denver's airport around two hours late on Thursday, June 23. It was wicked hot below us from Nashville to Denver, and we had repeatedly hit microbursts of heat along the way, resulting in the poor young mother next to me totally freaking out each time. The worst was yet to come, as our Southwest pilot made not one, not two, but three landing attempts, hitting ugly turbulence and pulling out each time. We never really got close enough to really call them landing attempts. Maybe "descent attempts" would be closer to the right nomenclature. At any rate, after the 3rd failed attempt he announced that we didn't' have enough fuel to circle in the hopes that we would wait out the turbulence, and that we were on the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Landing safely there we sat on the sunny tarmac of this tiny airport with the door open as we refueled, four other planes ahead of us in that queue. Once we had achieved a full load of jet fuel, we taxied, took off, and landed safely in Denver with little turbulence at all.

I took the train to Baggage Claim, got luggage without incident, and caught another train into downtown Denver, where my bro-in-law, Jim, picked me up outside of Union Station. Soon we were at my first Denver gnosh, fish tacos at The Pioneer, near his home. Soon after that we drove the 6 blocks or so home, to Grey Gables:
Grey Gables, est. 1887
Grey Gables, circa 1889
This was Elizabeth Iliff's (founder of Iliff School of Theology, later DU) home and is right off Observatory Park in lovely South Denver. More on that later. We stayed up a while and retired.

Day2, Friday: I woke up early, taking Ginger, the beautiful Golden Retriever,

off on a walk through the neighborhood before heading off into the first 1 mile walk of many to come. I took off west toward the University of Denver and past it, to to the DU light rail station. Walking through that campus was a joy every time. It's beautiful, and also empty of students this week, so I pretty much had it all to myself every time I walked or biked through it. Later I played around with Periscope, 'scoping several "Walking Ginger in Denver" episodes. Kinda fun. I was using those walks to practice for the 'scoping I would do at the ISTE conference. Check out all my Periscopes.

I bought my ticket from the vendor machine at the University of Denver light rail stop, hopped aboard, and went to the CCC, the Colorado Convention Center.
Spire and stands at the DU soccer field

I had arrived.

I couldn't get into the CCC yet, so I strolled around downtown for a while, landing in Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company for the first lunch, delicious clam chowder and a Caesar salad. Yum.

Coming out of lunch, I ran into my dear friend Kecia Ray, who was hosting ISTE for an unprecedented fourth year in a row. She was with Dallas Dance, a fellow board member, and after hugs and chat we parted, but not before Kecia had offered access to her penthouse room for breaks and where I could be able to stash gear I didn't want to be hauling around all day during the conference. She's the best. I took advantage of this offer several times, and it helped both my back and my feet, all of which always suffer at these things--miles to walk every day, not even taking into consideration getting to and from the train station!

I think I'll go ahead and post this, continuing later! I'm off to explore the environs with my bro-in-law. More later!

Day 3, Saturday:  I was up early and at the train station and took a minute to take my first pano of the trip, uploading it to Facebook. I was amazed to see that when it was posted it wasn't the short and wide still version, but when I viewed it on my phone it was actually interactively 3D!

In, registered, and with my Presenter ribbon mounted on my nametag, I got my first hug from Louise Maine, who was working the greeting station. I resolved to chronicle those hugs and of course stopped doing so after a dozen or so, but here's the starter list from that botched effort, copied from iPhone Notes:
Louise Maine
Kathy Schrock
Jill Brown
Lee Zeitz
Steve Hargadon
Barbara Bray
Vickie Davis
Coleen Kimball
Gordon Dahlby
Susan Larson
Kecia Ray
Jan Zanetis
Will Richardson
Mary Howard
Andy Wheelock
Sandy Wagner
Jessica Medaille
Cathy Cavanaugh
Barbara Seaton
and, and, and...
  That's the point of this conference, actually--hug collection. There were many, many more. You know who you are!

First stop, Hack Education! This "unconference" has blossomed from "EduBlogger Con" which was initiated in 2010, the brainchild of the stellar edublogger Steve Hargadon. From 8:30 to 4pm the pre-conference Saturday of ISTE, hundreds of thought leaders meet and many of them propose discussion topics. These are posted on the walls and attendees then commit to one of them by initialing the sheet, votes are counted, and however many discussions there are meeting spaces for are announced, and discussions ensue. Lunch break. Another session. and another session. This year there was an additional space for every proposed leader whose session was not chosen, where they could go and have the topic/discussion for whomever showed up. Here's a pano of the room (note the topics on the wall), and I periscoped the opening remarks, which you can view here.

I ran over to Bubba Gump's again, this time with Andy Wheelock, my brother-from-another-mother (I have several of those, don'tcha know). Then we headed back and I dived into a three hour paid session led by the amazing Will Richardson. This session:

Creating a Modern Vision for Teaching and Learning With Technology (WH022)

[Explore and create : Workshop]

Saturday, June 25, 12:30–3:30 pm
Hyatt Regency Hyatt Regency Capitol Ballroom 7

favoritesWill Richardson  
All too often, educators implement technology into their classrooms and schools without a clear, compelling vision for its use. As a result, little or nothing really changes in terms of the learning interaction for students. We'll take a look at how to build a vision that transforms, not just digitizes, learning.

Will pretty much held forth for the entire 3 hours, and I could have done 3 more. The core of the session was that we need to align our beliefs about what powerful learning is with our practices. Here's a graphic that I put together from Will's work that he shared to help hammer the point (with apologies for the unclosed quote):
I have just simply had too much fun in Denver with my in-laws and my honey. I do promise I'll be completing this thang next week, the week of July 11! I have copious notes and my memory box is still working pretty darned well. For now, last night the Denver Rockies demolished the Philadelphia Phillies 11-2 on a beautiful, if a bit sweaty, evening at Coors Field. Here are two panos:

I promise!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

ISTE 2016! On the way Thursday! Free hugs!

I'm so buzzed. I laid out my traveling clothes today so Lee Ann can pare them down tonight for packing. I'm getting in Thursday to Denver, Colorado to spend two weeks at my dear sis- and bro-in-law's beautiful home by Observatory Park, and the first week will be spent with my international peeps, old and young, old and new, innovators and thought leaders one and all. My biggest contribution to this year's ISTE2016 program is one built collaboratively by many people. I am absolutely certain it will be the best Playground ever, and we've been doing these for quite a few years. They've all been good, but this one looks...different. See what I mean here (note--all times are local to Denver, MDT):

More details are available at the session's online document at Go see what I mean. Meanwhile, if you are there, find me. If you are not there, visit in Second Life and at any given time we will be meeting in there as well. Finally, watch for 'Scopes at or just @scottmerrick on Periscope.

I'll also be helping out with the Online Learning Network's "Speed Dating, Falling in Love with Online and Blended Learning" event on Monday at 12:45-1:45 in CCC 405. That'll be a blast for sure! Michele Eaton, Doug Renfro, Nathan White and I are going to load your brain up with dynamic and empowering testimony from leaders in the field. Join us for that as well!!!

I can't wait, 'cause...

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Haiku from a Virtual World

Come join the ISTE VEN Writers Group in Second Life every first Tuesday of every month as we visit immersive simulated environments to inspire writing in any genre. Here's a little haiku I set down after our very first outing in April. The group is growing and the work is happening. Very fun, very worthy of one's time and attention.

Visit on Tuesdays at 5pm SLT (Pacific Time) to join in on all our activities and learning opportunities.

See you at ISTE2015 in Denver, CO and in the Metaverse!


Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Election

So it's the wee hours of the morning and dawn sunlight is peeking through the blinds in our NNW-facing home. The livestock are calm, Watson up on the leather sectional and MacGuyver curled up on the rug beneath, and senile Ruby on her carefully folded towel in the platform of her cat-condo. She's incontinent and we're making her comfortable in her dotage and limiting the daily clean-ups to the floor of her toney cat cage and litter box, which she misses with consistency.

I'm thinking about the election, and I'm thinking about what's right and what's wrong. I'm not really going to enumerate the issues here because you're hearing it, seeing it, and reading it everywhere you turn these days. But I do want to muse a bit.

With Hillary, who has been successfully demonized by well-meaning (and, yes, often self-rightous) Bernie  supporters, it would seem that the throngs of BernieorBust and NeverHillary folks are settled in against her. If you've spent time in that camp, as have I, you've seen enough to convince you that she has profited enormously from her position(s) in life and that anything she says about income inequality or oppression is at best second-hand and at worst, political pandering. She supported Goldwater, for God's sake. She's jingoist and hawkish and has been knee-jerk Military Industrial Complex candy. She's married to a man I once respected, but this primary campaign has lost that to him. Was his unraveling of Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection legislation a simple mistake? No, it was a complex one, and his teflon-like avoidance of consequences for this and for his personal behavioral choices is uncanny. He has lied straight faced to us, apologized for it, and then he slid into his incredibly lucrative foundation work like none of it ever happened.

It's a sad and scary day when anything The Donald says scans like the truth to me, but some of  Drumpf's criticisms of the Clintons approach that, e.g. this from, "The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves," Trump said during his remarks Tuesday evening. "They've made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts, and I mean hundreds of millions of dollars."
They "turned the State Department into her private hedge fund. The Russians, the Saudis, the Chinese all gave money to Bill and Hillary and got favorable treatment in return. It's a sad day in America when foreign governments with deep pockets have more influence in our own country than our great citizens."

The generous (and possibly naive) part of me wants to hope that no matter how despicable Hillary's actions have been in the past, this campaign has made her a better person. Once in office her charge will be to make good on her recently refined declarations of intent. Bernie has brought out the progressive in her. Can she follow up for positive change? Well, if she is as persistent in that as she has been so, historically, in her self-promotion and self-enriching efforts, the answer would be yes.
Here's what she should do if she wants my vote:
  1. Apologize for all the bad stuff she's done. Does she need a list of that? Have a staff member browse the Book of the Face for anti-Hillary memes. They are abundant.
  2. Promise to make good on the positions her progressive persona has stated over the course of the primaries.
  3. Promise to clean house at the DNC.
  4. Promise to reform the fuzzy logic of the Democratic primary process.
  5. Promise Bernie Sanders an important position in her cabinet. VP would be good, but there may be some where his political positions and experience would be more valuable and meaningful, perhaps State, but perhaps a new Department of Citizen Equality or Department of What is Right. I like that--Secretary of Citizen Equality.
The Bottom Line:
I'm on the fence about whether voting for a third party candidate who is honest, capable, and dedicated to reclaiming democracy from oligarchy would be tossing the POTUS throne to The Donald or if it could actually happen that Bernie Sanders might sweep into office on the votes of young people and us older adults who still care about fairness and equality. Given what seem to be rampant irregularities in primary voting systems this year, I am leaning toward the former. On the surface, it appears that Bernie supporters would rather rally than vote. Is that true? Or are his losses mostly the result of a broad voter suppression strategy on the part of the DNC and Hillary? That's the stickler, and I am withholding my decision, most likely, until I press the button in the voting booth. 
Of course, with substantial legal challenges facing both presumptive (and presumptuous) candidates of our broken two-party system, things may change completely by November and one or both of them may be in jail.
And that's that with that. For now. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rethinking, Recommitting

A quick update on my employment situation. I had a very sincere chat with my Principal last week after meeting with my Lead Principal the week before. Talking with her had led me to better understand the very large budget cuts experienced by Virtual School for the coming year. District Leadership has changed, support for our growth has waffled, and money is tight. That helps me to look at the coming year as one of change in my relationship to this project, but not its termination. As of now I am looking at a half-time position as v-teacher for the academic year 2016-17. The hours will be flexible, contact with the middle schoolers I taught this year will continue and expand, and I will hopefully be making positive differences in those young people's lives.

I was thankful for the chat and just wanted to share it here. If and when our enrollment justifies it, I am confident I will be offered the full-time position, perhaps even a version of my current position, once more.

Change is.

All that said, I am looking for work to supplement my greatly reduced income and I am certain I will find it. Keep me in mind, whether it's a teaching position or something you think a personable, honest, principled and educated senior can do--hopefully something that will contribute to community. I have a few ideas and I've sent out a few feelers, but please keep your ear to the tracks for me. Networking can't hurt, can it?

 My best to you and yours. Carry on!