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Friday, January 27, 2012

MNPS Principals' Retreat Virtual School Sharing

We had an experience yesterday that I want to share here, and I hope that if there are any who were present in the audience who might have taken pictures or who have thoughts they would like to share will do just that--share them.

Our school district, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, like I'm sure is the practice in many others, holds an annual Principals' Retreat to reset focus for those school leaders who are dispersed across the geographical district. It's one of the very few times these folks are all in one room. In our district, which serves nearly 80,000 students preK-12 and a growing population of adult learners, that means that around 140 school Principals meet to network, learn, and share.

This year the Retreat is held over three days, including Saturday I might add, at the Martin Professional Development Center, where my "small but powerful" team spent its first year implementing an on-the-fly Virtual Learning Program whose highlight was the graduation of seven seniors at the end of May 2010. I remember being up on that graduation stage as our little cadre of graduates was introduced by Middle College High School Principal Rod Manuel, and looking out into dead center of the audience of parents, grandparents, and family assembled as Mr. Manuel stated that he was "elated to host this innovative program in his school, where seven seniors who are graduating with a high school diploma today completed all of their schoolwork completely online" to see one small, thin, grandmother with tightly pursed lips slowly and solemnly shaking her head side to side in a gesture of firm disapproval. I'll never forget that moment.

That was when I became convinced that it would be an absolutely essential part of my work to help "sell" K12 online learning to the world. If people do not see how it really works, how much good it does for how many students, presently and in the future; if people do not understand not only how many ways the burgeoning educational practices of online learning challenge the way "we've always done it," and should; if people don't understand how this new way of facilitating learning is both rigorous and in many ways more, not less, subject to accountability for students, teachers, and administrators; we who understand those things will not have done our job.

In our little closing 30 minutes of the first day of the retreat, we shared and shared effectively. Here's my Facebook status post from 30 minutes after the event, when I opened my laptop on my family room table:
Just did 5 minutes to close a great share in front of 140 Principals, and our share included a Director of High Schools, two of our Adjunct Teachers (one present and one via Skype), two students (one present and one via Google Chat Video), and moi, the "student support guy." I'm beaming, and so proud of our "small but powerful team" as I put it. MNPS Virtual School Metro Nashville Public Schools

Tiona Horton demonstrates Discussion Based Assessment
 Much thanks to Dr. Michelle Wilcox, the Executive Director of High Schools who oversees our high school and its growth and who designed the presentation, to my colleague and "Coordinator/Interim Principal" Barbra Thoeming, who was an audience member at this "show" but who drives the school bus for us all (that's a virtual but very real school bus, ya'll), Dr. Kecia Ray for putting together this "small but powerful" team in the first place, Adjunct Teachers Fiona Horton and Alton Knight for their brilliant and lucid   demonstrations of how this all works, student Carrie Daniel for her onsite explanation of why online learning worked for her and helped allow her "time to work and help support her family of seven" and student Maggie Alexander for her amazing Google Chat performance simulating a Discussion Based Assessment gone awry (Maggie, you really helped Ms. Horton demonstrate how online teachers can clearly see if a student is not doing the work they claim to be doing--the DBA). Thanks also to Kelly Brown, our amazing School Counselor, Michael Terry, our erstwhile an creative Registrar/SupportPerson/DataMan, and to Sherry Hill, our amazing Senior Secretary. I will close this shameless Oscar-esque display of gratitude by thanking the parents and teachers and students who are taking these unprecedented baby steps with us, steps which I predict will take us to the firm establishment of this very new way of teaching and learning within an immense system (the MNPS School District) which, as I said at closing, "was not designed to host it." Wait, I should also include the people at the top, who are our trusting but vigilant enablers: Jay Steele, MNPS Associate Superintendent, and Dr. Jesse Register, Superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools. Principals, I thanked you in person yesterday.

In the spirit of "selling the concept," please enjoy this 90 second video of student responses about...

Monday, January 23, 2012

The 3rd Issue of Virtual Environments Journal is HERE!

beautiful new issuu (sic) of SIGVE's Virtual Education Journal? With two articles by moi and 60 pages of some of the most engaging introductions to what's happening in 3D worlds learning and teaching ever shared with the public?

Bring it on!!!

And thanks, Rosie and Bob Vojtek. FYI, both of those fine folks, who produce VEJ as a labor of love, are vibrant educational community leaders, public school administrators in their "real" lives and active volunteers for educational innovation on an international scale. See what they and many other innovators are up to in virtual worlds. You'll be amazed and impressed, I warrant.

Open publication - Free publishing

Please share profusely. And do visit ISTE Island in Second Life before  it moves to a new, smaller (but most likely more robust) space. You'll want to build a few virtual memories from the heyday of our tribe, now, wontcha?

Cross-posted (and elaborated upon) from Oh!VirtualLearning!

Friday, January 13, 2012


For better or for worse, I often consider myself a solitary fellow. I have my tight knit little group at MNPS Virtual School with whom I work, often in isolation (but not far from community) in my beautiful corner office on the top floor of an historical building in the Cohn Adult Learning Center in Nashville, Tennessee. But it has been a core assumption of my own self-image that I'm sort of a loner. Teachers everywhere might identify with this--typically isolated in a classroom with no other adult to share their best moments with, teachers have often cited isolation as a basic descriptor of their work environment.

Having moved into our new school and into my new office in a bit of a rush in August of last year, I recently came into a newly donated desk, which stimulated a sort of remodel of my office. The whole process left me with a new space on a wall directly across from my desk. I'm not one to leave an empty wall, so I brought in a wonderful Red Grooms silkscreen (see this version online) that had been languishing in my attic.

It was too wide for the space. That was okay, since we had a wall in what I call our "Great Room," which is a repurposed band practice room, a wall that needed that drawing. In fact, two nails were already set in perfect positions in the exact space for it. The Great Room, too, is shaping up

What to do with the space in my office?

Inspiration: When I crawled up the pull down ladder to grab the Grooms, I noticed a multi-snapshot frame on the attic floor. I intend to climb back up in a few minutes, when the family is all awake and before going in to my Friday (news flash, MNPS just called to say school is closed for snow! Yay!, er, I mean, awwwww), to snag that. It will host a sort of "Where's Waldo" (substitute "Scott" for "Waldo") set of pictures from past events that put my "solitary fellow" self-image to the lie. I thought it might be fun to put them here in order to share with whomever it is who actually reads this half-decade long memoir/op-ed thing called scottmerrickdotnet.

The first one that came to mind is what I lovingly called "the moneyshot" from NECC08. Taken at the conclusion of our jam-packed "SLedupotential" event, it features a group of human beings all of whom had met as avatars in Second Life, collaborating in an extraordinarily robust community of educators to mine virtual worlds for their potentials for learning and teaching:

Next, the group photo from NECC09's ISTE SIGVE "Birds of a Feather" meeting. This one was in Washington, DC, and we actually had some ISTE-provided refreshments for a get-together of the humans behind the innovator-avatars:

Then the "moneyshot" from ISTE 2010's Virtual Environments Playground, three days of back to back presentations highlighting where things had gone in that broad arena of education (a very narrow one in some  opinions, but only because those are not informed by virtual realities). Come to think of it, this event was also blessed by refreshments--frozen confections, yummy!:

From Edublogger Con (the "unconference" from ISTE's NECC08 in San Antonio, Texas, this is the most challenging picture for "Where's Scott!" Hint: at the core...

And finally, I found this one, a favorite of mine of our still tightly-knit group, the MNPS Virtual School team, my family away from family. Wait, who's that interloper? Oh, yes, Mayor Karl Dean of our fair Metropolitan city, Nashville, Tennessee! I believe this one may need its own frame since I think the one in the attic only has spaces for four pictures. I think I'll print this one BIG: 

Thank you for listening/reading/watching, and may you enjoy your own "'Way Back Machine" when you redecorate your own office! Hopefully, as it has for me, the process will help you feel less alone as you perform your own good work for our community members of the future, our students. I guess I'm not such a loner. Cheers!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Happy 2012, ya'll, and welcome to a new year of renewed dedication to blogging my head off. 

I've recently begun working on a piece of writing to document my work in K12 distance learning and I'm working-titling it 
The Necessaries: Essential Components for Best Practices in Online K12 Education

In doing so, I realize that I need to write both universally and specifically, but my overriding goal is to create something both personal and professional, sort of like this blog, that will help others emulate and improve upon our efforts here in Nashville, Tennessee. I won't be sharing the text itself as I work, but I will be pulling out snippets to share as I progress. My rough draft begins with a set of numbered (though not necessarily sequentially) bullets:

  1. Humanware
  2. Vision
  3. Funding
  4. Cooperation/Interfunctionality with Existing Systems
  5. Learning Management System
  6. Monitoring and Support Procedures
  7. Marketing
  8. Facilities
  9. Hardware
I'll be adding to these and possibly merging some of them into headings, but call the alarm, I'm getting started. Wish me luck.

See our work at, a website I created, maintain, and continue to improve (hopefully) as we proceed.


Gus by Scott Gardner Merrick  I wear these navy slacks I found behind O'Shaugnessy's, in the dumpster there. And they'r...