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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pearson Learning Executive Forum, September 2012


decade or so ago, working in a private school setting as Lower School Technology Coordinator at University School of Nashville, I forwarded the notion that any of our esteemed faculty and staff who benefited from funding to attend professional development workshops should be required to share what they learned from the experience. That suggestion was never formalized, though I did my best to hold myself to that standard here at my blog. Previous posts as far back as 2006 shared my travels in learning with the world, and the fun part is that they stand as a lasting archive. Here's the most recent addition to that body of work.
Thank you for attending 2012 PDL PreK-12 Executive Forum “Common Ground and Higher Expectations” in Orlando, FL. 
We hope you enjoyed the opportunity to meet educators just like you and discovered exciting ways to reach your destination and tools that will help navigate you toward your goals of higher student achievement.
Your input is important to us! If you have any questions or wish to discuss digital solutions available to you and your students, visit
Thank you again for attending the 2012 PDL PreK-12 Executive Forum! 

Chris Dragon,
Pearson Digital Learning

Last Wednesday I hopped aboard a Southwest Airlines flight with colleagues (also esteemed) Adrienne McNew and James Witty to soar down to Orlando, Florida at the invitation of Pearson Digital Learning to attend a two day conference they were calling an "Executive Forum." I've never thought of myself as an executive, but if we stretch the definition to one that includes one who is executing a program to offer online learning options in a public school setting for the first time in history to secondary (and eventually K-12) school students in Tennessee, well, okay.

The flight was filled with chat, as we, missing our middle Bs boarding group and ending up at the second to last row of seats in the 737, at least were able to sit together. Adrienne, self-professed aviophobic, had told us that she usually sleeps on flights, but our talk was so lively that proved to be impossible for her. This congeniality would set the stage for the rest of our trip. I came back to Nashville more than ever convinced that I am blessed to work in the company of these folks.

We hit some fairly serious turbulence about an hour out, and it was good we were laughing. I don't like that stuff either but I'm glad we had established a light tone. I think the shaking was serious enough that anyone standing might have been tossed around a bit. Luckily, everyone in the plane heeded the pilot's warning and was buckled up. Once we landed, we all laughed when the pilot heaved a dramatic heavy sigh over the intercom and exclaimed, "Yay. We made it!"
Yay. We made it!
We grabbed a cab to the hotel, and wow it was hot and humid. I had to ask the driver for more AC, which he did provide, and we got to the Renaissance Hotel Sea World safely, if a bit sweaty. As we entered the hotel we ran into Sharon Anderson from Putnam County, TN schools, a program which has been around considerably longer than ours (though we are the first recognized actual virtual School in Tennessee). Her group was on the way to a dinner Pearson-hosted for the Tennessee contingent. We retired to our respective rooms and changed clothes, then all met and snagged another cab to the hotel. We almost didn't get into the van, as the cabbie reached back from the driver's seat to open the side door from within but failed to take his car out of drive and only corrected his mistake when we yelled that his car was rolling!

We made it to Roy's Restaurant in one piece, or three, and had a wonderful dinner with lively conversation. Back at the hotel, we retired for what looked like a full day the next day.

I was up early as always and did an hour or so on the stationary bike in the wonderful Fitness Room then hit the whirlpool for a limbering up soak. I intended to plop into the pool but the water was really chilly so I deferred, headed up to my room, then down to registration. The first thing on the agenda was lunch! It was a wonderful meal, and I chalked up my second good meal of the trip. First up, a welcome by Pearson Digital President Chris Dragon, then I tweeted:

Listening to Lee Crockett and greatly enjoying his keynote at Orlando's Pearson Learning Executive Forum
Lee was spectacular. A longtime PLN (Professional Learning Network) contact whom I'd never actually met, this fiery fast talking Canadian--co-author with Ian Jukes (whom I have met and interviewed for my long-running podcast "Snacks4theBrain" ((grab episode 41)) and Ted McCain of Understanding the Digital Generation) served up visions of the future including my paraphrased  take-home from his talk, "In a very short time, anyone who needs to be managed will be unemployable." View a "presentation perspective" and by all means click that link on the last slide to subscribe to Ian and Lee's "Committed Sardine" newsletter. You'll get a free e-book, "Highly Educated Useless People" when you do.
Crockett was followed by Shawn Mahoney, Vice President, School Product Design Research and Evaluation at Pearson Digital Learning, who gave us a very detailed run-down of the ongoing processes by which courseware and curriculum are developed and tweaked for optimal performance. While a bit technical (this is a very smart woman) I found myself building trust in this organization, clearly Ms. Mahoney's intention. I heard a top level Pearson representative speak at the ISTE Leadership Symposium in San Diego last year say "Our online courses aren't very good. They are the best available but we have a long way to go to make them be what online students deserve and need in order to be educated for the digital future to come." This is  a paraphrase, obviously, but I was impressed to hear such candor from a commercial source. Clearly Ms. Mahoney is leading the development of some very good stuff, even using eye-tracking results from test students to drive design for efficacy. More power to her.

Maureen Martin shared some of the early learning offerings from Pearson, including Waterford Early Learning and Success Maker. Though our elementary education work is a bit down the road, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more.

Steve Bane closed the day with a session on Success Maker, a powerful digital literacy platform for the middle school years and Write to Learn. The intelligent individualization features of the former are fascinating, and you can read more about that here.

Free from our seats, we adjourned to the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) "Appy Hour" in the hotel lobby. My sense was that the assemblage, 52 attendees from 13 states, were pretty over-informed by that time, though we did head over to the Write to Learn station to chat with Steve, where I learned that it can be incorporated into existing courseware as an add-on tool for high schoolers. This platform has a sort of built in Artificial Intelligence which can grade essays, a development I find fascinating and intend to pursue more fully. A student can use it to submit work, then revise that work based on its commentary feedback. Cool as beans.

Dinner at Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld was excellent. We walked over, eschewing the proffered van for a bit of exercise in the warm and humid evening. Once there, we found ourselves hiking deep into SeaWorld to the restaurant, where we gathered outside for champagne and chat (and sweat) by the lake prior to being marched into the long tunnel leading to the restaurant. Dinner was wonderful, and we enjoyed lively chat with Sharon and Jan, a regional Pearson rep before strolling back to the hotel to retire. I tried to read a book and awoke around 4:30 am with the open book on my chest and the bed lamp still blazing. Good enough for that. I got up and headed down to the fitness room for another bout with the bike. I have learned that a little exercise in the morning always makes my days go better, and yes, I'm addicted.

Eric Wagner woke us up big time and here's that tweet:

Eric Wagner wakes us up at Pearson Digital Learning's Executive Forum at Renaissance Sea World in Orlando, FL 

His talk centered around the future of the future, and much like Crockett's the day before, set us up for participating in the breakout sessions which followed with a mindset in that vein. I followed his futurist predictions with interest, especially fascinated with his focus on all things mobile. His description of how GPS and databases collecting personal interests and information would work together in the future to, for example, let you know when you are near a Home Depot where you can pick up those nails you need and, more than that, order, pay, and have the service rep meet you in the parking lot with your nails and a receipt, was engaging to say the least.

Two 45 minute breakout sessions followed, and I attended Steve Bane's on GradPoint, the "son of BrainHoney" Pearson LMS we'll be expanding our use of come Fall 2013 as we wean ourselves off of BrainHoney;  and Maureen Martin's, on Write to Learn, which remains as a focus goal for my investigation over the next few months.

Steve Bane closed things down with a Writer to Learn talk, and though we were all clearly "monkey-skunked" by then (from my late father-in-law: "As the monkey said while having relations with the skunk, 'I don't think I've had as much as I want but I'm pretty sure I've had just about as much as I can stand.'") it was informative and he's such a lively speaker that we all attended, well, attentively.

We snagged box lunches on the way out, and having already checked out of the hotel Adrienne and I camped out in the lobby for a couple hours before heading to the airport in a cab, her to head home to Nashville and me to meet my dear brother Ed and take a rental car to our late brother Bill's family home to spend a couple more days visiting our sister-in-law and our nieces, nephews, and their families. But that's another story. Thanks to Pearson Digital Learning for a great learning opportunity completely in keeping with their tagline, "Always Learning."

Friday, September 28, 2012

Snapshots from Our First Ever MNPS Virtual School 2012 September Picnic in the Park!

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Thanks to all who joined us for Wednesday's first ever MNPS Virtual School SeptemberPicnicInThePark! It was fun mingling and gnoshing the burgers and hot dawgs so ably grilled by Ms. McNew's able husband Matt. We are all looking forward to the October Fall Fest. Students, stay tuned!

And congrats to Sabrina Briscoe, the lucky winner of our little student raffle. Enjoy your iTunes gift card and other goodies!

Mr. M.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

EdTechLeadersOnline Fall Webinars

Re-shared from ETLO's email campaign! OF course I want you to take in all of these, but October 30? Probably attendance-required!

Join us for these fall webinar events!
Increasing Student Achievement: Digital Tools in Online Learning Environments
Date: Wednesday, October 17
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM ET
Dr. Lisa Hervey, NBCT, Research Associate at The William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation
In this webinar, Dr. Hervey will discuss and reflect on the importance of selected standards from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) related to teaching with multimedia and online tools. She will also share several free, open-source digital tools that can support online educators in meeting these standards.

The webinar will focus on four guiding questions:
  • Authenticity: How do the selected SREB and iNACOL standards address student engagement? What does this mean for online educators?
  • Clarity: How can digital tools be the "solution" for increased student engagement in online learning environments?  
  • Impact: How do digital tools such as Screencast-O-Matic, Diigo, and Voki engage students? (a brief overview of each tool will provided)
  • Opportunity: What opportunity is there to encourage educators in using these or similar tools when teaching online?
To access EDC's Collaborate system:

1. Go to:
2. Type your name in the text box in the upper right corner of the page where you see the words "Type your name here."
3. Click the button titled "Log in as a Participant."
4. You may be prompted to download the software required for Collaborate.

Pre-registration is not required. Hope to see you there!
Creating and Running a Public Online High School:  Challenges, Successes, and Lessons Learned
Date: Tuesday, October 30
Time: 4:00-5:00 PM ET
Presenter: Scott Merrick, Online Learning Specialist, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Virtual School
The challenges and successes involved in crafting, improving, and delivering an online public school are significant. MNPS Virtual School in Nashville, Tennessee, now in its second year as the first public virtual school in the state of Tennessee, has many lessons to share about both the model MNPS Virtual School is using to build a strong virtual district school and the challenges they have had to overcome along the way. Scott Merrick, an Online Learning Specialist who has worked with the school since it began in 2010, will discuss these lessons and offer a personal vision of where public virtual education is going.

Scott came to the public school sector after 15 years as an educator in a private school setting and feels dedicated to making sure his currently 82,000+ student school district will continue to offer online learning options to its incredibly diverse and growing population of students.
Growing a Successful International Baccalaureate Online Program
Date: Tuesday, November 13
Time: 3:00-4:00 PM ET
Presenters:  Kirsten Peterson, EdTech Leaders Online and John Willoughby, Pamoja Education
This webinar will showcase online courses designed to prepare a global collection of online teachers, site-based coordinators, and students to run a successful online International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Over the past two years, EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO) and Pamoja Education have collaborated to grow the online IB program through a collection of targeted professional development and orientation courses that focus on teacher learning communities and student engagement. Come join a dynamic discussion with ETLO and Pamoja Education leaders about how a fast-paced needs-driven online program influenced program design and facilitation. In addition to looking at example courses for IB teachers and students, we’ll have a question and answer session built around some of the more provocative “what would you do” scenarios faced by Pamoja Education and ELTO throughout the program design and facilitation.
Have you missed any of our previous webinars? The recordings are available on our website: You can also continue discussions on the webinars and other online learning topics in the ETLO Forum.

This message was sent to from:
Barbara Treacy | EdTech Leaders Online @ EDC, 43 Foundry Avenue | Waltham, MA 02453

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Busy October!

 Just touching base on a few presentations I'll be doing in October. It's going to be a busy month. First, for ISTE's SIGOL, I'll be facilitating and hosting  a 59 minute session as the opening event for the bi-monthly SIGOL Webinar series "Priceless ProfDev in Less than and Hour!" I'm really looking forward to this one and I hope you can join us, as Cat Flippen (who can resist a smile at that name?) shares some great successes she's had using online tools in her high school classrooms. This one will be of great interest to all of us working in online learning environments as well as to anyone in any classroom with an internet connection, anywhere! Here's the brief description, and I'll add more details as we get closer to the event itself:
Wed., Oct. 173 pm EasternCatherine FlippenOnline Assessments, Data Collection and You -- How to assess, reinforce, and collect data without using paper to improve student success in the classroom.ll

Then, during Artclectic weekend (am I crazy?) I will take an hour out of those events to share our own ISTE SIGVE successes at ISTE 2012 in San Diego last June with attendees at Singapore's MobiLearnAsia conference. The theme is our Virtual Environments Playground's house of digital mirrors and just how we set that up so that attendees all over the planet could take part in the San Diego presentations in Second Life and on I'll be Skyped in for that one and I am hoping for a good crowd. We don't have a time yet--I may be up in the middle of the night! It's sometime during the day on Saturday, October 26 though. Stay tuned. And see the website for info about the conference.

Finally, on October 30, I've been asked to share the successes and challenges we've enjoyed and met in the development of MNPS Virtual School, the first public virtual school in the state of Tennessee and a growing viable option for students across the state. That's for the stellar organization Ed Tech Leaders Online, hosts of the annual Online Learning Institute attached to ISTE's annual conference. The session will be at 3:00pm Central time and is free. Watch their "Keys to Online Learning and Community-Building" webinar series page for details of that as we get closer.

That's it for now, as I head down to Orlando, Florida tomorrow for Pearson Learning's two day Executive Forum with two of my colleagues from Virtual School. Never boring, I must say!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Post-Interview for Channel 4

I suppose that everyone who's ever been on a television news interview does to some extent replay and revise answers in their head after the fact. I have to say that my own recall and response is working overtime though, so I am posting this morning in the wee hours in order to say what I wish I would have had time to say. Once the segment airs on Nashville's Channel 4 News, purportedly on Monday evening, I'll grab the video and embed it or link to it here, so that you will be able to laugh at my performance or congratulate me for it. Either way, it's in the past.

So, emailed at around 10:30 on Friday morning to attend a live television interview at the Martin Professional Development Center at 1:15 that afternoon, I concluded what I was working on, which was one of 23 class-specific "Performance Concerns" online reportage forms, geared to improve student support for all of our nearly 700 student course seats this semester (more on that later), I ran home in my little red Smart Car to get out of my Friday Casual Day jeans and into slacks, shirt, tie, and blazer. I let the puppy out of his kennel for a bit while I wolfed down a quick reheated gourmet burger from the fridge and a big glass of water and put the puppy back into his kennel, then ran back into town to be at Martin Center early.

There was a Microsoft event in progress in the big main meeting room so I hung out in Dr. Kecia Ray's office going over the bulleted list I had constructed from emails sent by both my Principal and my Executive Principal. Good there. I knew what to talk about. At around 1:30 our Associate Superintendent for High Schools and I were seated on the same stage the Microsoft people had just vacated, and I was introduced to the WSMV News reporter, Cara Kumari, and fitted with a lavaliere mic. Camera pointed, interview ensued. You can see the interview here when it's ready, both me and Jay Steele, our talented and dynamic ASHS (see above), which may be interlaced, depending on the editing style of the news room.

Now, to what's been raging through my brain. I know I meant to highlight "our small but mighty team" at the School but the incisive Ms. Kumari's lead question, basically "How did you come to this line of work?" threw me a bit. I'm looking forward to hearing whether or not my response sounded like "I built it," which in part I did but I'm not remotely suggesting that any of it was anything short of a team effort. I believe I said "That's what we are doing." I hope so, because the level of service and support our team of only five provide is nothing short of amazing. Then add the 23 adjunct teachers--a number that, like the number of students we will serve, will continue to grow--then you begin to see the scope and its potential to serve our 82,000+ student school district and the state beyond.

I think I responded to the question "What makes MNPS Virtual School different from a commercial service, the one now under investigation by the State of Tennessee for poor performance at a premium cost to taxpayers?" (I paraphrase) pretty well. I explained that, essentially, "We are a Public School, and we are not constrained by the necessity to earn a profit. Sure, we must function economically, but our decisions are not made with that constraint. Every decision we make is with what is best for the student in mind." I did also get to share a bit about Discussion Based Assessments, one of my interview goals. What's up with my hair? At one point Dr. Ray came in the back door and made a "tame that hair" gesture from the door. I laugh now.

Here is what I had planned to contribute to the interview, shared here to expunge from my self-flagellating brain the need to share it. Maybe I'll sleep better tonight!
  • We have added new face to face meetings, Orienations, Midmester Review, and Final Exam Review, which we will hold at our beautiful new Student Center at Cohn, formerly the Cohn Adult Learning Center. We will also stream these sessions and make them available in recorded form for review and for those not able to attend.
  • We have an intense focus on Student Support, hence the aforementioned Performance Concerns project, so that students who are failing to work at pace can receive both counseling and encouragement, or intervention if necessary, from their in-school Counselors or from our very capable Counselor, Ms. Adrienne McNew.
  • We provide online tutoring 24/7 primarily for our Math Students, via a wonderful service called Grade Results, and at no cost to our students who need it.
  • We are firing up weekly Enhanced Math Workshops for students who need in-person, one-on-one help
  • Attendance is Performance. I had worked out in my drive to Martin Center a whole explanation of how we are held to the same standards as any school, and that we have recently created detailed policies concerning how lack of performance in online coursework equates to failure to attend school and that these have been approved by our school board. If you think about that, in a brick and mortar school a student can come every day, sit in the back not working, and be marked present. That cannot happen in our school because we do not require our students to occupy a seat. The only indication we have that a student is "here" is by a detailed access to login records and the work he or she submits. That, to me, is value added. I had also hoped to highlight the benefits of everything being digitally available and of course the option for students to redo work toward mastery. 
  • I am so proud of my team I could weep now just thinking about them. They are the hardest working other 4 people I know.


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