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Thursday, December 18, 2014

v-TEACH in February! Climb Aboard!

...learn more!

Come join practitioners of the fastest developing field of public schooling: Virtual Schooling. You'll learn more than you can imagine. Calls for proposals also at the site! Click that image above to get started!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Webinar Tomorrow, December 9--Dr. Kecia Ray!

Hello, scottmerrickdotnetkins,

Just a quick heads-up to put on your alarm/calendar for tomorrow, my dear friend Dr. Kecia Ray's share session via the International Society for Technology in Education's Online Learning Network. She'll be offering tips, tricks, and truth about Blended Learning.

I've been friends with Kecia since the late 20th century, when we worked together at the Vanderbilt Office of Science Research, before it became a Center at Vanderbilt University. Back then, we were pushing some boundaries by helping to bring interactive videoconferencing to public schools, linking students to experts all around the globe. It's hard to believe that was innovative, in these days of Facetime and Skype.

As Executive Directory for Learning Technology with Metro Nashville Public Schools, Kecia Ray hired me in 2010, to begin crafting online learning options for our large (42nd largest of ~13,600 in the nation) school district. To her credit, she hasn't fired me yet. And she's provided me with the best colleagues in the world, all interested the the same thing--student success.

Kecia, beyond being a superb professional educator and administrator who can out-negotiate any vendor or administrator, is a funny and charmingly charismatic human being. Attend. You will not be disappointed:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM (Eastern Time (US & Canada))

Online Instructions:
Login: At 4 PM EST on Tuesday, December 9, please log in as a guest to
Michele Eaton
(317) 988-8651

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Have a Scott Christmas

with music from the folk music past of yours truly. I share these tunes annually, and this year I've decided to do so using SoundCloud, a fabulous music sharing platform I often browse to hear new music, especially that of friends I respect and admire.

So, here. Have fun and don't let the sticks and coal get ya down: 

Monday, October 27, 2014

NCAC in Washington, DC--Reflections

It was very productive this past weekend to spend some time with colleagues both old and new in the Hyatt Crystal City outside of our nation's capitol. The occasion was the annual conference of the National Career Academy Coalition.

My school will be the first online school in the world, to the best of my knowledge, to gain accreditation under the NCAC National Standards of Practice. This requires satisfying members of a review committee and will likely not happen until at least 2016, when we are currently scheduled to undergo review. There's a lot of work to do prior to that.

But my last post was about an accreditation, so I'm steering clear of that topic for now. What I want to do is briefly detail my experiences at the sessions I attended, all of which, without exception, were in the lecture format. This is not an adverse criticism, though it may sound so. I have thought for years that a format that encourages interaction between the participants/attendees would demonstrate leadership by example in the professional development arena, and after years of providing alternatives in the way of "Playground" sessions at ISTE conferences, I have come to settle for the fact that "this is the way we've always done it" may actually be the best way to do it, at least for educators who can actually do get something out of "sit and git."

So, that said, however inelegantly, here are the sessions that I attended, along with notes and insights gained:

9:00 - Teacher Externships: Bringing Relevancy to Student Learning; Dayna Paine, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System; Becky Padgett, Academic Coach
This was a most interesting session, as Ms. Paine shared a well-thought-out and successful program geared to fill in an experiential gap not in students, but in teachers. She explained that most of her teachers had come to teaching through the regular pathway, high school, college, then to teach. Many have not had varied experiences in other working conditions, at least not in full-time, career minded ways. My main takeaways were that roles of all sets of participants need to be explicit and clear from the outset, and that the externship relationships are intended to be maintained throughout the school year. The "collatoral skills" teachers experience and maybe even learn can make what they do in the classroom all that much more valid and real for their students.

10:30 - The Academy Model in an Alternative Setting: The Roosevelt Way; Dr. Heidi Houy, Principal, Roosevelt Learning Center; Jennifer Carson, Academy School Counselor, Rockford Public Schools
This session was close to my heart, since as we work toward the brass ring of accreditation, we struggle with many of the same issues of practice that any Alternative school will find. Roosevelt has come a long way in their implementation of the Academies model in spite of that. Clearly their ongoing response to Theodore Roosevelt's call to "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" informs that. The transience of their student population, their practice of meeting each student where they learn and how they learn, and their robust community partnerships all weigh in toward success of their program. And it is a program, though the school diploma is the same one that students in a regular brick and mortar school receive. That said, with 1200 students moving through their system a year, in one way or another, they are working to give students who rarely get the attention they need the special small learning community that Academies can provide. Dr. Houy came from Special Education into Administration and if she had not told us that I would certainly have been able to guess it. She cares and does so in a proactive way. I was most impressed by her adaptations of the Academies Model to the Alternative School setting.

12:15 - Lunch and Keynote Speaker; Roberto J. Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, White House Domestic Policy Council; Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education; Portia Wu, Assistant Secretary, Employment and Training Administration
Mr. Rodriguez came in after our Dr. Jay Steele, Chief Academic Officer for our MNPS (and, I was proud to learn, incoming President of NCAC!), had pitched some policy questions to our other guests. The answers were predictable but supportive. Mr. Rodriguez also preached to the choir, though I don't think anyone in the room was expecting anything otherwise. He mentioned that President Obama has visited not only our McGavock High School but several other schools across the nation, drilling down to the student level to help inform policy by what works. Disclaimer: I still believe in President Obama, despite his famously low approval ratings these days. I think history will be kind to his Presidential service, especially in the light of mostly successful opposing partisan blockages. If the country is polarized, I am just left of middle but absolutely nowhere to the right. I like his style and his humor and his effort to do well in a bad system. Watch this and see if you can do so with a dry eye.

2:00 - Melting Pot Marketing; Beverley Flatt, Program Manager (for the Academies of Nashville), Metro Nashville Public Schools
This was one of my favorite sessions, and only 20 minutes long. It was "sit and git," but a modified version since it was one of three sessions that could be chosen during the hour as participants rotated between 7 sessions. I spoke with two presenters who told me they had prepared for one hour sessions, so as you can imagine Bev talked fast. And she had alot to say. Her scientific research into the amazingly diverse Nashville community demographic and the appropriate ways to market to each of them is nothing short of brilliant. Raised eyebrows and smiles announced surprised learning around the table. Here's our Beverley's Prezi so you can learn too.

I was sooo tired of sitting down that I took a long walk down to Harris Teeter during the final session. There were some good ones offered though, with topics covering:
  • New software for career and education planning
  • Leadership practices for National Standards of Practice
  • Georgia Career Academies
  • School Counselors in academy settings
  • Career Academies and afterschool programs
  • Engaging business partners
  • and another software demo, from ConnectEd Studios
  • Monday morning units
  • Critical skills for career readiness
  • Lessons learned developing Career Academies
  • Developing a State network of Academies
I wish I'd gone to at least one of these, but the excellent thing is that many, if not most, of the presenters have uploaded their presentations for download.  I still have the NCAC conference app and will take a good look at what I can.

From 5:00-6:00 There was a "Speed Networking" session, billed as being like Speed Dating, and it would have been fun to watch but no one I knew went to it. I wonder how it went. Anyone go? Comment here if you did.

  I had room service breakfast, which cost me my entire per diem for the day but was pretty tasty. Then I jumped right into it:
  • I next attended (Innovation) Developing Workplace Internships: PG&E Energy Academy Summer Internship Program; Geneve Villacres, Community Relations, Pacific Gas and Electric Company; and Jerry Winthrop, Lead Consultant, California Department of Education. This session was an engaging look at a big program, statewide, really, and uniquely designed to deal with the rapidly graying demographic of their current skilled workforce. Though we don't have an Energy Academy, learning the way this huge project was implemented and has developed was heartening. I'm sure there are similar situations in Business and Marketing and that we can help provide skilled workers in this field and I will keep those methods in mind as we proceed. I was sure to leave my card with the capable Ms. Villacres since they did not upload their presentation and they promised sharing with those who reached out in that way.
  • I tried to attend the "Recent Research on Career Academies" but it was very slow paced "sit and git" describing research solely conducted in California and I needed something more "git up and go." So I went to what had been my first choice anyway, something unfortunately typo-titled in both catalog and app as "Managing by Manage: Team Work in Nashville" Huh? Just goes to show that no matter how many sets of eyes you get on a document things can slip through. However, this was my friends and colleagues and I wouldn't have missed it even if the data talk had been more hands-on or broadly based. Whitney Weeks, VP, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce; Chaney Moseley, Director for the Academies of Nashville; and Matt Seaton, Director of the Pencil Foundation, tag teamed around the topic of the big overarching Leadership Councils they have created and improved to further focus the work between Business and Education Community Partners who support the Academies of Nashville. I was interested to see the reactions of attendees from Montana, Illinois, Hawaii, and a couple of other places, to the suggestion that this really effective system might be helpful in their settings. First of all, none could summon up a local organization that might fill the role(s) filled by Pencil Foundation in Nashville. Some seem to have strong disconnections between what their students need and what the community can provide, and imho I feel that Leadership Councils could help with this. Nonetheless it was fun to see these three more or less sardonically play off one another and I could tell that their presentation was both entertaining the attendees and challenging them to think. I'm grateful to work with them if not daily, at least regularly.
  • Lunch was on your own ("Who doesn't serve lunch at a conference on Saturday?" was the question posed by one of my fellow lunch explorers) and we met at Italia Cafe Italia in a quaint strip of mostly ethnic restaurants on 23rd Street, just a few long blocks away from the hotel. I don't think the food was all that good--my "Caesar salad" was iceberg lettuce and dry sliced chicken breast but the Calzone was reportedly good. The best thing was that my nephew Ed drove down from his home and met us and I got to chat for an hour with him and have him meet four of my Academies colleagues. 
  • Back at the conference playing field, I hit "Teaching Game Development in High School;" Eric Preisz, CEO, GarageGames, LLC. This vendor-delivered session surely enlightened me and I learned a bit, and though we don't have an IT academy (yet) we do have a Gamers' Club and this might be something of interest to them. I know the development structure I learned may be of great use in any development project. I'm pretty sure it flew over the heads of some in attendance, though, and when it was just about to wind up I headed out for a bio break.
  • By then we were down to the last session, and since I was somewhat sleep deprived from a great night eating, laughing and hiking 4.79 miles (yes, Beverley measured it) I went upstairs and took a power nap, which turned out to be a good thing since I was about to have a very decent roasted chicken dinner at the NCAC Awards Banquet, ending with Nashville receiving the first ever Model Community award, all 50 or so of us onstage (will add pic when I can find it!), then walk to Bar Louie with my colleagues to have tasty adult beverages and play "HeadsUp" on our iPhones. Another late, but fun night

Hiking to the Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument
The conference was over, and so am I.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Accreditation! Check!

Yesterday MNPS Virtual School rounded out two days of intensive review by a four person visiting committee from AdvanceED, the accreditation organization which handles Continuous Improvement model review for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The extensive review process was described afterward by one of our Academy of Business and Marketing partners, who had undergone it herself, as "maybe more intense than writing my [Masters] dissertation." It involves weeks of collaborative work within the organization, compiling documentary evidence that the school meets or exceeds a set of criteria set by the reviewing organization, which serves over 32,000 schools in 173 countries. The process needs be driven by a single person in the school but everyone in the team is tapped to help provide evidential  documentation. Dr. Witty was the driver, and our "small but mighty" Executive Leadership team, aided by most of our Adjunct v-Teachers, contributed.

In order to even begin compiling said evidence, long meetings with a detailed self-evaluation tool were held in order to identify which kinds of documentation may be needed for each individual element in an extensive rubric. 

During the visit, the four team members from AdvanceED scheduled and held separate interview sessions with stakeholders, including students, parents, staff, faculty, and administration. They sequestered themselves in a conference room for hours, also spending time meeting off-campus in their hotel, discussing and debating findings toward preparing an exit review report rooted in consensus.

At around 2:30 yesterday, Dr. Karla Gable, the leader of the review team, reported out. She presented our brief "External Review Exit Report for Digital Learning Institutions." Toward the end, Dr. Gable shared what AdvancED calls their "Index of Education Quality, "a set of numbers that represent the review findings in quantitative ways so that they can be compared with those achieved by all of those many schools in their system. Our scores in each of the free domains, "Teaching and Learning Impact," "Leadership Capacity," and "Resource Utilization," were very significantly higher than the averages. I won't detail those but I will share that our overall score was 337.80 and the AE Network average overall score is 282.79. The final slide in her PowerPoint set proclaimed the news:

Dr. Karla Gable prepares to present final findings
MNPSVS recommendation

We had done it. The information we had collected and shared in a massive Dropbox folder, then summarized in a 43 slide PowerPoint of our own on Monday, had clearly demonstrated that we deserve to be among the digital learning institutions accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The committee team's report further noted a few things, including that the strides toward excellence we have made over our brief life as a program and a school--these at other districts have only been made with both funding levels and staffing levels at 3 or 4 times the ones we have had in place. Either we are very efficient or we are very lucky. I'm guessing it's a combination of the two. And we are blessed to be led by Dr. James Witty, our Executive Principle, who is organized to a tee and completely knowledgeable about how Continuous Improvement philosophies and concepts drive a school to excellence.

Our team is very special, and by that I mean not only our core Leadership team--I extend that description to everyone in the school, all the stakeholders, all of us. Importantly, now that we have distinguished our school in this way we can return our full attention to exercising the continuous improvement we have demonstrated thus far. Thank you, AdvanceED, SACS, and Metro Nashville Public Schools. We're on it.

Over and out,
Cross-posted from MNPS Virtual School

Friday, September 26, 2014

The How and Why, Long Story Short

Interesting. No matter how long I live, there's always something more interesting to learn.

As I float into the second half of my sixty-fourth year, I'm finding myself more and more reflective. I guess that's natural. And when I tapped into my LinkedIn account this morning, I discovered a post from Penny Christensen, a LinkedIn contact and "e-Learning Specialist," leading to something called HotLunchTray.

I'm up early as always, my pesky dog sitting next to me on the leather love-seat, and though most lately I've been using the morning time to level up
Scott's Blood Elf in WoW
Sophyae, my Warrior Blood Elf in World of Warcraft, I'll bite.

Back when I first joined the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach in 2001, hired on one day a week as Teacher-In-Residence, when it was the Office for Science Outreach, I attended a start-of-the-school-year retreat that was held in an office at Vanderbil. That morning, to begin to get to know one another, the small team sat around the table and shared about ourselves. Around that table was Jan Zanetis, Ginny Shepherd, I think Kecia Ray, and half dozen or so other educators who by turns shared about their lives leading up to the day. The date was September 11, 2001.

My ten minutes were hands-down the most convoluted story of the morning, which as you likely have already surmised became much more so as the day wore on. I shared about my first attempt at college in Knoxville, at UT, all the way up to the day. Maybe a list would suffice:
  • Dropped out of UT after 4 quarters, having been denied Sophomore entry to a fiction writing class limited to Juniors and Seniors after having created and published a year's worth of the off-campus literary magazine "Druid" (I just discovered this digitized version!)
  • Worked in the UT Undergraduate then Main Libraries for 5 years
  • Published in small poetry presses
  • Left on a Leave of Absence to write on a journey to Alaska
  • Played music for income for two weeks for the first time in Bozeman, Montana at the Holiday Inn while the VW camper was having its engine rebuilt
  • Played music and worked in book and liquor stores in Anchorage, AK
  • Apprenticed in the Alaska Repertory Theater, mainstaged in two runs of the play "Diamond Studs"
    That's my Stetson on the left, and that's the northernmost school gym in the USA
  • Formed the Last Frontier Band, the official Iditarod Race band for 1979
  • Moved to Los Gatos, CA and played music full time, also working in the public library
  • Wrote a novelette, "In the Running," never published
  • Moved to Nashville and worked as Master Bartender for TGIFridays
  • Saw my dad through his death, left as a traveling Master Bartender for Fridays
  • Wrote a novel, Lives, and a book of poetry, Speculativity, self-published and available at and Amazon
  • Moved to North Miami Beach to tend bar for Fridays
  • Sold dedicated word processors to lawyers in Miami
  • Became Head Bartender for Williams Island in North Miami Beach, then Manager of the Tennis Club Restaurant
  • Married the love of my life, Lee Ann
  • Moved to Nashville as General Manager of Slice of Life Restaurant and Bakery
  • Second love of my life, Miranda Lee Merrick, born 
  • Assistant Manager of Ruby Tuesday's in Bellevue, Green Hills, and Rivergate
  • Experienced an Interest Inventory weekend in Louisville, where they said, "Duh, you're a teacher."
  • Returned to Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and finished out college with a Cum Laude degree in Elementary Education with a second major in English, Creative Writing
  • Third love of my life, Colin Stafford Merrick, born
  • Student taught at Sylvan Park Elementary (6 blocks from my current school) and Dodson Elementary
  • Hired as interim sub for half a year at Dodson, teaching 4th graders
  • Hired as 3rd grade teacher at University School of Nashville
  • Transitioned to Lower School Technology Coordinator
  • Hired as Teacher-in-Residence at Office of Science Outreach
That pretty much got us up to the day of the share. I went on to create a podcast for the CSO, "Snacks4theBrain," recording and publishing 84 episodes of interviews with working scientists and technology tips, laced with independent music. That was a wild ride, working Mondays for CSO and teaching K-4 students in my technology lab. CSO's funding ran out for the TIR position in 2008, and I went back to 5 days a week at USN. When Kecia approached me to help craft a virtual school for our large urban public school system (the 42nd largest in the country, of  "about 13,600 school districts") I agonized about it, since I loved my work. In the end, which was to be the beginning, I resigned from USN (becoming pretty much a non-person in that institution's eyes, but that's another story) and took on the task, and here I am today, still riding that fascinating wave, looking at our final review for SACS accreditation this coming Monday, as MNPS Virtual School maintains and continues to improve its standing as "Tennessee's First and Highest Achieving Leader Since 2011."

Dig through this blog and you'll find a bunch of stuff, including some awards and other junk, but the main deal is that through teaching, I believe I've done some good in the world. Last evening at our annual Picnic in the Park I grilled, with a student's able assistance, 48 burgers and 30 hot dogs. It's just work, but it's good work. I'll keep plugging away hoping for more. It's for the students.

Adrienne was really the grillmeister!

Done. Thanks, Penny! Now back to that Blood Elf.

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 on June 26, just after the release of the monthly online publicaton.

That webinar can be seen at 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 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 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.


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 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 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.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 6

Well, hello there. Happy Monday.

A great long weekend included fishing at my favorite stomping grounds, Lake Marrowbone, up in Joelton. I caught and released seven of the finny creatures, and if you haven't caught my fun interview at EduTalk Radio from last Thursday, it's archived here. Please join me online on Thursday for a much more detailed hour about our work at MNPS Virtual School on

I promised (what was I thinking?) to reflect daily on accomplishments related to education that I might consider would help explain or supplement the explanation for the decision on the part of T.H.E. Journal to designate me as "Education Innovator of the Month" for June 2014, and I frankly had to take a break over the weekend. For one thing, I was so impressed by my friend Lucas Gillespie's own webinar on Gaming in the classroom that I spent several hours over the weekend leveling my female Blood Elf up to level 25 (of the maximum of 90) in order to be able to explore the community that is the Inevitable Betrayal Guild. I'm happy to say she's there, and the experience of getting there brought back fond memories of the year or two a decade ago when I played through all the Lara Croft Tomb Raider games. I of course watched both movies, and, yes, if Angelina Jolie runs for public office, as the skimmy has it lately, she's got my vote.

All that to say I enjoyed the writing respite, and that I want to talk briefly about ISTE SIGVE (the Special Interest Group for Virtual Environments), now rebranded as ISTE's Virtual Environments Network. In 2009, along with a group of virtual worlds in education enthusiasts, I helped innovate it. I'm not going to detail that again, because that's been done. Avail yourself of the hyperlinks in the following paragraph to understand mo' bettah.

SIGVE has taken on its own life since that labored birthing, working up a mission, writing a proposal, leading the proposal through the administrative hoops to approval, creating the wiki that houses years of research and resources (as of this writing 6,240 pages of information), all that. There is a new group of leaders emerging, many of whom I have never met in the physical world. In just a few days, we'll be meeting again at the huge annual ISTE Conference, sharing physical hugs (with no sexual harrassment, I might add) between empassioned educators who meet from a distance, regularly, in online platforms embodied digitally as avatars. It's sense of place at a distance, informing sense of recognition in person.

It was powerful in 2009, and it's powerful now. There's something about meeting someone you have gotten to know in a virtual world, meeting them in the physical world for the first time. If you haven't experienced it, you might think I'm nuts, but it's true. The closest I've come to describing that feeling is a reunion with a long-lost sibling, or a cousin you were best friends with but with whom you've lost touch over the years. It's recognition, and the immediacy and the strength of the emotion it fires is another testament to the existence of the soul. Through words and play online, one has gotten to know the soul of the avatar one has spent time with. It is the soul one recognizes in the eyes and the body of the individual one encounters in physical space. That's what fuels the hug.

Some of my best friends (you know who you are) I met and grew to know inworld long before that first hug. I look forward to renewing that bond in Atlanta beginning Friday of this week.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 5

So if you are a multitasker, I'm dishing up your favorite thing! You can read this post whilst listening to the fun 40 minutes I spent with Chris Piehler, Executive Editor of T.H.E. Journal and Larry Jacobs, host of the superb self-PD resource, EduTalk Radio.
More Education Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with EduTalk on BlogTalkRadio

I could probably leave it at that today, I'm so pleased with how that went. I knew I was in good hands when Chris said such nice things in response to Larry's introductory question asking why I qualified for the "Education Innovator of the Month" of June. But I did mention SLedupotential yesterday, and in the spirit of my pledge to blog every day leading up to my webinar Thursday (register NOW, here!), here goes...

Question: What do the 35 avatars in this picture have in common?


Answer: They are all educators participating at the same time in the physical world's NECC 2008 conference session, "SLedupotential." Well, on reflection (and that's why we're here, right?) some may not have been in San Antonio at the time of the picture, and I'm guessing that Mike McKay in Japan and Gia Rossini in London are in there somewhere. We did, after all, have a packed room in the Conference center, and we did spend 3 hours learning with one another, as "9 educators from 9 states" took turns sharing why we all just knew that virtual worlds like Second Life were the shizz.

We had spent months planning, meeting in Second Life, collaborating in Wikispaces and in the new Google Docs, and when we finally got there, it was an absolutely beautiful 3 hours. I'm just realizing that I don't really need to do much description here, just claim it as my own (and as the achievement of really more than 9 educators, working around our country and internationally to bring others into our forward thinking fringe), and to point you to the still-live website for resources, reading, media experiences, and to understand the scope of the innovation. Go explore, in depth,, but be sure you give yourself some time. There's a lot there! Here, I'll leave you with our sketch for the session, to which we really did adhere:

Sledupotential Sketch: 9 educators, 9 states, 3 hours, June 30, 2008, NECC2008

7-8:30: Early arrivals get help with basics. The goal is to have them sitting in a tie-died chair in the virtual room. Landmarks to that are at HQ, the Blogger’s Hut, Podcasters’ Place, and the NECC pavilion, as well as my own li’l space at Book Publishing Island. Tech set-up continues apace.

8:30: Formal welcome, ScottM emphasizes
• Learner-driven intentions
• This is an experiment in a number of ways
• The wiki is a tool/resource we have used since day one and which we expect to continue to build today and into the future (basic wiki editing for those who need it) The Attendee Questions page
• Your being here implies permission for use of your contributions for non-profit broadcast by any participant in any media, including a live audio feed for Second Life participants, podcasts, blogs, picture sets, etc.—any problems with that?
• Multi-tasking is cool
9:00: Speed intros of panelists (ONE minute each).
I work/teach in the rw in/at:
My real life family consists of:
In Second Life my primary work has been:
8:50: What is Second Life? What is the 3D internet? What other platforms are there?
9:00: Who’s doing what in SL?
9:10: SL as PLN. What is your profile and how do you edit it? SLetiquette. Prims. Building. Objects and ownership. Inventory.
9:20: Explanation of breakouts: 3 of them, 18 minutes long, 2 min. transition. Suggested topics can be changed during this period. Each session will choose a moderator and open a text edit file and save it to their computer’s desktop. These will be copied and pasted into the “Breakout Reportouts” page of the wiki during reportouts. Suggested sessions: Further Basics, Other MUVES, Further (Deeper) Education Tours. Everyone does everything, changing the assigned time.
9:30 Breakout session 1
9:50 Breakout session 2
10:20 Breakout session 3
10:30 Reportouts and time to get notes posted to the wiki
10:40 WTF? Ethics, Relationships, Safety
10:55 ScottM reports out the history of the collaboration. Others chime on on how they felt about the grand experiment
11:00 Questions, answers, unfulfilled requests and demonstrations
11:20 Giveaways. Signed books for 1st and 2nd names drawn, iPod kits for all attendees.
11:30 BFN

And that's a wrap on this Friday morning, on a day when I'm taking a vacation day from my much-loved work. Not that I'm not working! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 4

Thanks for tuning in, and in advance (as well as in retrospect), my apologies for long posts. Prose has always been my downfall.

So in connection with my being chosen as "Education Innovator of the month at THE Journal, a leading educational technology publication, I'm writing here another little reflection on something I have done over the almost two decades during which I have defined myself as a teacher, something innovative that I can reasonably claim to have "innovated." A bit more evidence of my "innovativicity" (there, I just innovated that term, though I'm not really happy with it) than I'll cover in either my upcoming edutalkradio show or my EdWeb webinar next week. Here are dates and times:

Education Talk Radio (will be linked there Thursday, June 19, and live at 11:00am CDT).
Starting and Maintaining a Virtual School, Thursday, June 26, at 3pm CDT. You can register now!

I struggled a bit for today, thinking I might share something called "SLedupotential," a 3 hour "9 educators from 9 states" event that shared some groundbreaking work in virtual environments, back at NECC in 2008. But I'll save that one and get to another virtual worlds experience, my work with 4th graders in Indiana University funded "Quest Atlantis." Quest Atlantis, re-imagined as Atlantis Remixed, now resides at Arizona University, along with its creator, Dr. Sasha Barab.

My dear friend Bron Stuckey (whom I first met in Second Life, btw) was then Quest Atlantis's international face, coming to NECCs and trotting around the globe sharing its successes and challenges; its student-centered, social responsibilities-focused, plain and simple fun; and its educational validity with anyone who would listen. In 2009, I brought my first 4th graders into Quest Atlantis, after training as a teacher online within the platform (my teacher was none other than Bron) and performing the detailed permissions-getting/registering and account creation requirement to include my students in the Questers. Here's part of a blog post from my computer lab:
 USN Lower School Technology blog at
This morning (Tuesday, January 27th) marked the first 4th graders' (Ms. Hunt's class) entrance into Quest Atlantis. My goal this week is just to hand out the usernames and passwords I've set up for the kids and to have them log in and begin to become comfortable with the user interface. Though the initial distribution process (handing out slips of paper to the kids with the information printed from a spreadsheet) was a bit clunky, we got in, and we didn't crash the internet connection! Yay! I did meet our network administrator in the hallway afterward and he said there was some slowing down, and we'll be testing over this week to see if I need to perhaps stagger the logins during that period more than I did today.
4th graders in Quest Atlantis!
The kids did GREAT! I asked them to find me at the clocktower and they did, then they moved about the OTAK island exploring and laughing. The excitement in our lab was palpable. This is looking good, very good, and look for ongoing communication about the process. Here's a picture of some of our virtual citizens in their "n00bie" shorts and teeshirts.
Over the rest of the school year, and into the following one, my students quested, explored,  leveled up, and learned. One of the most compelling reasons to take your students into Quest Atlantis is its foundational commitment to what they call the seven critical dimensions. Each element of every quest is designed to reinforce understanding of one or more of these. Here's a graphic screengrabbed from a portion of their Mission Statement:

If you can argue against 4th graders spending time immersed in those concepts and soaking them up into their core value systems, you're a better (and potentially vastly more evil) rationalizer than am I. 

So this Quest Atlantis experience is not something I made up, but making the effort and taking the time to bring it all into our K-4 computer lab, I would argue, qualifies as innovation. It resulted in many moments of epiphany and beauty in that learning and teaching experience, and I'll share one on my way out today. Louie and Gabe, one the son of a highly prominent rock-and-roll songwriter performer, the other the son of a schoolteacher, had risen in skills to the level at which they could modify their avatars. Take a good look at the picture and its insert, rasta hair and all, they made themselves twins. In the physical world they never could have done this, but in the virtual one, surrounded by meaningful positive experiences that they themselves have chosen from among the many available, they are twins. Life(s) is good...

Thanks for reading. More later!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections Part 3

So, okay, I'm going out of order. Sort of. But one of my most exciting and magical innovations was devising and implementing SLedupotential at NECC 2008. That, of course, was back when ISTE called it's conferences the "National Educational Computing Conference."

All right, I'm lying again. I'll be a good boy and save SLedupotential for another post in this series.

Did I mention Snacks4theBrain? Yes I did, last post. Working one day a week for the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach, I produced and published 84 (or maybe more) podcasts, each of which you can still access at iTunes, and I've spent a little time looking for references to it. Here's one in an article at the Vanderbilt Register from 2006:

How did I even get into this? Well, as I recall, I had been listening to podcasts from the early days, from the irreverent "Soccergirl" to Richard Vobes' "The Vobes Show," a daily online offering from a glorious madman in England. I also subscribed to Adam Curry's podcast, where the early MTV vjay held forth from his Netherlands expatriat residence, earning him the moniker "the podfather," because he claims to have invented the genre. Podcasts, of course, are online resident audio files, and after some time listening to my favorites I thought, well, how about one dedicated to emerging science? And let's make it entertaining. And let's add some music. I used

One of my favorite podcasts, The Goodbeershow, featured folks sitting around a table at a watering hole in Muncy, Indiana talking with Jeffrey T. Meyers about the beer(s) they were sampling that night, and he featured live or recorded music along with the ribald discussion. As it turned out, I was able to sit in and contribute to two shows in Muncy and to host one at Yazoo Brew here in Nashville when Jeffrey was passing through town. What fun all that was.

I proceeded to establish a format. I would open with a standard recorded intro, describe what was to come, play some independent (read: "free") music, interview a working scientist about her or his work, play some more independent music, and mess around a bunch. I would plug the Center for Science Outreach and their good work, reference the website, and play around with sound effects like a crazy person. I worked first in CoolEdit Pro, then Adobe bought that software and I moved to Adobe Audition. Eventually I was working with the freeware Audacity. And eventually, after all that work, I called it quits when I left the CSO (described in the last post).

I was "in the Cat Bird Seat," as my father-in-law would say. I'd invented something, was able to produce it mostly at home every Monday whilst working for the CSO, run in for meetings when necessary, and everyone was happy. Best of all, I interviewed a bunch of brilliant people, pretending that I knew what I was doing and, almost unimaginably, getting away with it.

You know that Vanderbilt scientist the national news always breaks out when there's any kind of viral outbreak? Dr. William Shaffner? I interviewed him about the Swine flu. Check. You know David Warlick, brilliant front vanguard for change in education? I interviewed him and we became friends. Peggy Sheehy? Of Second Life Teen Grid reknown? Check, and dear friend. Steve Spangler, the modern-day Mr. Wizard? Check. It's all there at Snacks4theBrain. Still and always. They are archived in the Vanderbilt University Discovery Archive. Go listen to one and help keep the series alive. I'd appreciate it. Hint: The best way to do this is to "Save File" and listen locally. You may need to rename it, taking out some weird characters, before it works. Looks like they need to do some maintenance on their 2008 archives. Ha. The direct link in but I've already renamed it and made it available for you at the following:

Here's a link to one episode, my replay of an earlier Dr. William Shaffner interview, so if you have 30 minutes for some weirdness and fun, go for it. 

So yeah, that's something I'm proud of. Something else I made up. More "innovation," though I was just making things up. It's what I do.

So SLedupotential next post? Maybe. Maybe not...

Stay tooned.

"Innovator" Reflections Part 2

Even though I didn't label the last post "'Innovator Reflections' Pt. 1," I'm going with it henceforth . Yesterday, in connection with the upcoming release of my selection as "Innovator of the Month" of June 2014 with THE Journal, I said I'd post daily until I ran out, or at least until Thursday of next week, when my webinar entitled "Starting and Maintaining a Virtual School" will hit the 'netz live and then be archived. I have been reflecting on the innovations I'm most proud of and I'm going to lump two into this post at the risk of running out soon.

From 1999 to the middle of 2010, my main work took place in the computer lab at University School of Nashville, after having taught 3rd grade for 3 years there. In 2001, I was asked by Vanderbilt University to leave USN to work full-time as "Teacher in Residence" for the Vanderbilt University Office of Science Outreach. I had been recruited by Dr. Susan Kuner, with whom I had done some work in the then very infant stages of videoconferencing at Vanderbilt Virtual School (not really a virtual school, but rather its own videoconferencing outreach, a very early iteration from which I learned bushels).

I loved my job at USN and my beautiful daughter Miranda was attending school there, and with my amazing son Colin just starting there as well I didn't want to leave my kids, or my students, all ~360 of them, whom I saw each week in the lab. We worked out a deal--I would work Mondays at the OSO, and my classes at USN would be compressed into the remaining four weekdays. It was doable, and we done it. This went on through 2008-2009, when the grant funding supporting the position ran out and I was let go, gently and with genuine compassion, by the Director of the by then Center for Science Outreach, Dr. Virginia Shepherd. Ginny explained that with the newly minted School for Science and Math taking off so solidly, priorities had changed, and I silently added in my mind that they had discovered that they needed the funding they had been allocating to supporting a rogue, independent, innovator for their new project and more classroom teachers for this amazingly innovative project. Learn more about it at

All this to say that I had a blast working with the CSO, all the way from its foundations as the OSO. That's where I first met and worked with dear friends Dr. Kecia Ray, now President of the  International Society for Technology in Education, and Jan Zanetis, now CEO of the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration). Ginny Shepherd more or less let me make up things, and the two best things I made up were the "VIA Dyer" Interactive Videoconferencing series and "Snacks4theBrain," an 84 episode podcast from the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach. Let's briefly detail these.

VIA is an acronym I used to describe "Videoconference Interactions with Astronomers and the "Dyer" is simply Dyer Observatory at the top of a hill just outside of Brentwood, Tennessee. The double entendre, in that the interactions came "via," or "by way of" Dyer Observatory, was indeed intended. I do not recall how I first got hooked into Dyer, but I believe it was that the OSO had placed one of a couple dozen grant-purchased high-end videoconferencing codecs (hardware) in school around the MNPS school district and also one up at Dyer, and I first went up there to help them get it set up. There I met with a man who has become one of my closest friends, Rocky Alvey. He's a story unto himself, then Superintendent and now Director of the Observatory and truly a Renaissance Man.

Long story short, over the course of a couple of years I helped design the website for the Observatory, upon which they have built nicely, and we served up a couple dozen weekly and then bi-weekly interactions with students around the country. A classroom would sit together in front of their own codec, wherever they were, and I would set up the videoconferencing camera on an expert in the field of astronomy, and they would do a little presentation, often a PowerPoint that I would operate as the "next slide" guy, then answer questions from the remotely located peanut gallery. Here's a snapshot from the Internet Wayback Machine (a great resource) from 2004 and here's a pic of one of these interactions featuring former astronaut and then-Director of Dyer, Dr. Rick Chappel:

Producing VIA Dyer was as much a learning experience for me as for the students. That's why I did it, really, trying as I have since I became an educator to push the technology into the service of learning and teaching. Building that program, then reluctantly letting it go (though Rocky has not--see a 2013 videoconference video from Dyer!), was a learning experience for me that prepared me for what I'm doing now. I am thankful to Dr. Ginny Shepherd for believing in me enough to let me innovate, and for Rocky Alvey for being open enough, and innovative enough himself, to support and help develop VIA Dyer. Maybe THE Journal needs to hit up my man Rocky!

Okay, that's enough for this morning: I lied. I'll share "Snacks4the Brain!" tomorrow. It's a doozy of a story that requires more description than I have time for this morning. Got to shower and get in to today's work at MNPS Virtual School, where "We Never Close."

See ya (that will mean more when you hear some S4theB!: heck, if you're an auditory learner and want a preview, head on over to iTunes and grab some Snacks before checking in here tomorrow. It's a body of work, don'tcha know.

Monday, June 16, 2014

"Innovator" Reflections, Part 1 -- "Innovator of the Month" at THE Journal--Honored, I am.

It's been awhile. I've been very busy with my work and more. Putting up our Summer School program at MNPS Virtual School, getting ready for ISTE, preparing for an upcoming EduTalk Radio interview, prepping for a June 26 webinar for THE Journal, and living life with a wife whose entrepreneurial efforts at TinWings are maxing out her time and our world!

I've also been fishing:

Catfish at Marrowbone Lake from a rented canoe

So. An editor from THE Journal, a leading publication for technology in education, emailed a query to do a phone interview because "someone" had suggested I might be a likely candidate for their ongoing "Innovator of the Month" article. This was clear out of the blue for me, and I tentatively responded affirmatively. Any given month, we're innovating at my work, as the process of building a lasting, viable, and valid online public virtual school moves along its path.

I've done my share of innovating over the past couple of decades, once I found my own path, mid-life, as an educator. Back when I was teaching 3rd grade at University School of Nashville I collaborated with a friend newly found on, Darrick Mosser, to build what they now call Project Based Learning between my 3rd graders in Nashville and his 4th graders in Japan. To do the videoconferencing part of this, I strung 50 feet of telephone line from the nearest telephone, in the office of the Learning Specialist, to my classroom, stringing it through the dropped ceiling tiles of the hallways and dropping it to my classroom Mac, on which I had installed CUSeeMe. The students met to meet their already established ePals penpals (Darrick's kids in an classroom overnight sleepover, brave man), and together we thought about what we were going to do over the coming months. We set out an interview project, focused on the time of America's Great Depression, and together brainstormed some questions everyone would ask their "elder," someone who had lived through that time. We decided everyone would produce a portrait of their elder and a portrait of themselves and write out their interview questions and their answers and we would publish this on the internet. Only then it was the Internet. We named our project "ElderQuest."

Finally, we set a date for another classroom sleepover when we would meet again to celebrate. We did, and I put up everything on the school's website (long taken down but archived somewhere on an old hard drive), and then we moved on to cursive writing. Those were the days, well before the Lower School moved on to standardize what was going on at the grade level at any time, all in the service of common practice. I don't think ElderQuest or something so organically developed would be possible today in any classroom, public or private, though I think it should be. Those were the days that the art of teaching trumped the dictated, orchestrated practice of it.

Anyway, I"m doing the EduTalk Radio show interview live on the 19th, this Thursday, and it's to be focused on my current work. What I intend to do each morning until then (just innovated during the writing of this post) is to think back on what got me here, and to write about something I did that I consider could be thought of as "innovative," one per day until I'm played out. If it goes past Thursday, it can be a resource for my related webinar on Thursday the 26th, titled "Starting and Maintaining an Online School." This'll be fun. For me, anyway.

Here are the links to the live (then both will be archived) events this and next week:

Education Talk Radio (will be linked there Thursday, June 19, and live at 11:00am CDT).
Starting and Maintaining a Virtual School, Thursday, June 26, at 3pm CDT. You can register now!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Flight with me (sic, not sick!) at Craft Brewed

I enjoyed a flight of seven four ounce beers (the glasses are 5 ounces but none was filled completely so I'm guesstimating they were coming in around four ounces each) at the wonderful Craft Brewed on Franklin Road last Friday after work and I took notes. Here I share them which you, perhaps to inspire, at least to inspire envy. It's a process. Craft Brewed is right around the corner from Camp Bow Wow, where my pooch Watson spends a day or two once a week. He is a feisty two year old and those camp days are as much to give his much older brother Macguyver a bit of relief as they are to exercise Watson to tiredness. Craft Brewed actually teams up with Bow Wow occasionally for Tuesday evening "Yappy Hours," when leashed doggies are encouraged.

First let me say I am a Rewards cardholder at this establishment. As such, I am promised ten dollars back on my registered credit card for every $150.00 I spend imbibing beer. This to my mind is even better than the ball cap one receives once one has drunk 125 unique beers at Flying Saucer or the wall mounted engraved saucer that gets mounted on the wall at the 200 beer mark. If you consider the minimum cost of a beer at the FS is five dollars the math will bear me out. Much like the proximity of Craft Brewed to Bow Wow, I spent years visiting Flying Saucer while my dear little girl rehearsed choir at Christ Church Cathedral nearby. For the record, I have the cap, but not the saucer!

I had visited the website for Craft Brewed just before leaving work, late, and I had written up a post-it note of what I wanted; but of course 3 of the 7 were tapped out. The friendly tapper agreed that they should change the web display to a webcam. Voila, updated menu always. Will they do this? Time, and the Internetz, will tell. Here's the wall I saw online:
Ah well, to the beers. I stood at one of the barrels that serves as a table and sipped...

  • Lonerider Peacemaker IPA...very balanced and just hoppy enough to be hoppy. This may be my favorite of the seven, surprisingly, and it's likely the one least likely to offend the hop-averse. Me? I'm hop-friendly to a fault.
  • Rivertown L'il Sipa Session IPA...happily hoppy, with a mercilessly intense grapefruity hops follow. This Ohio brew is floral and imposingly hoppy. Me liked. At IBU of 55, it made a believer of me.
  • Kentucky Ale...not Pale Aley to me, more like a malty lager. Pursue the link to its description at Lexington Brewing and you'll see it described as a marriage of an Irish Red Ale and an EPA. I'll buy that, which is pretty fitting, since I did buy it.
  • Little Harpeth Chicken Scratch...Pilsner, floral in a very different way from the Longrider. Maybe more like flowers and less like grapefruit. I really liked this one, and it's local, so, like, yay. Malted barley, locally grown corn, what' not to like?
  • Founders Pale Nitro...bitter for a IBU of only 35. Golden, but if I had to describe its flavor as a color it might be grayish dark brown. A hint of hops doesn't really hit until the back end. Not my favorite, but drinkable: I have rarely met a beer I didn't like.
  • Southern Tier 440 'Roggenbier' German Rye...a one-off for Nashville, I am told, and I thought I detected wheat in there (later I discovered it is fermented with a Weizen yeast, which yields the cloudy look and imparts a kind of fruity taste, a little sweet, maybe a good dessert beer, though I'd like it a bit colder. It's temperature at that point was likely a function of its being a small quantity in a small glass and its ordinal placement in my flight. I was a good boy and was taking my time.
  • Southern Tier Phin & Matt's... A good closing beer, complex and hoppy, but not either bitter or fruity hoppy, a grown up beer. The head had dissipated to a small flat section of the surface--a polar bear!  I shared that with my beerkeep and he laughed, but I thought I detected a hint of wariness in his expression. Do you see it? Note that by the time I thought to take a pic with my cellphone it had somewhat dissipated. But do you see it? No? Oh well, then.
There really is a polar bear in there...
 Fortified and mellow, but not overly intoxicated due to the fact that I'm a big guy and what a had embibed amounted to less than two pints of beer, I hopped into Huey (my Smart Car) and we picked up the tuckered pup and headed home. Thanks to Craft Brewed and let's to it again sometime, but with different brews!
Dead soldiers in a hops-shaped carrier!


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