Beginning Courageous Conversations about Race, from Everyday Antiracism

At POCC, I picked up two books: White Like Me, by Tim Wise,
which I read cover to cover in the week following the conference,
and Everyday Antiracism, a collection of essays specifically for
teachers, edited by Mica Pollock. I’ve begun reading through the
essays and came to this one, Beginning Courageous Conversations
about Race. It has prompted me to finally write some of my
reflections about my experience at POCC. The four principles are
this: 1) Stay engaged. I think POCC more than any conference has
made me more reflective about who I am and who others are. I find
myself very aware of race and behaviors, constantly searching for
microaggressions and bringing it up in conversations with people,
almost probing to see if others are willing to talk about it. I
find myself seeking out people who have a more developed racial
identity so that I can listen to how they speak and what they
think. 2) Expect to experience discomfort. Oh yes. Falling silent
because you’re not sure how not to say the wrong thing? Yep.
Worrying that you’ve already said the wrong thing? Yep. I live in a
world where people mostly agree. And when we don’t, everyone is
very nice about it. When you begin to see terrible inequities and
racism in the fabric of your reality and it feels like you are the
only one seeing it, yes, you could say it’s uncomfortable, though
that’s a bit of an understatement. But even in my shifted world
view, I’m expected to carry on as though nothing’s changed, have
polite and thoughtful conversations, be nice about it, even when I
want everyone to be jumping up and down with urgency for the change
needed. At POCC, one of the best sessions I went to was about how
white children are racially socialized. I forget the prompting
statement, but a black man stood up and said something to the
effect of, “I’m tired of our kids having to suffer just so you
[white people] can keep figuring out how to cope with race!” This
really made an impression on me. It IS my responsibility NOW to be
racially competent. 3) Speak your truth. I have two thoughts on
this. I am grateful for the many people I have around me who are
always willing to engage with me. Second, I think I don’t always
recognize who is and who isn’t ready and able to. I tend to drop
small bombs in informal conversations with statements about how
uninclusive something is or the lack of diversity in children’s
books, for example. It might catch the other person off guard,
which is maybe why I do it, but I need to find more constructive
ways of engaging with others on this topic. 4) Expect and accept a
lack of closure. One of my beliefs that was shattered (in a good
way, though tough at the time) at POCC, is that the sheltered
environment of an independent school, where people are nice and
teachers are thoughtful and the harsh reality of the world is kept
away, is a good thing. Actually, it’s just a magnification of white
privilege. Yikes. I love the school I grew up at and the two
institutions at which I have taught, and never would I have thought
that what we were doing was actually worse than the real world!
Unpacking white privilege as it relates to independent schools is
an essential next step in my commitment to education and to who I
am as a person. I worry about sharing these thoughts publicly. In a
time when everything written can come back to haunt, I fear these
words will get taken out of context or that when I’ve gone further
down this journey, I’ll look back and judge my naïveté. But I will
be courageous and speak my truth and be gentle with myself, as I
would with others and hope they would with me. Thank you for
reading and being on this journey with me.

Article Review: “Education as Design for Learning”

This fall I am working on a personal statement to articulate my core values and beliefs in education. In my research, I found “Education as Design for Learning,” an article by Richard Halverson and Erica Rosenfeld Halverson.

Perhaps this is an obvious statement, but I find that having the words to describe what you are thinking or observing is necessary  for thinking critically about it. When I am learning something, I need the big picture to hang the details on. Then, as I read, I can square my experience, understanding, and prior knowledge against the framework. Continue reading “Article Review: “Education as Design for Learning””

Poster Presentation #iste13


Yesterday evening I presented my SimCity project here at ISTE 2013. (You can find all the info on the conference resources page – please feel free to remix and reuse!) It was definitely a highlight of this conference for me, not just because I got to talk about my favorite work that I’m doing but because of the connections I made with other teachers and tech coordinators.

There are two connections that I’m really excited about though they are very different. The first connection is with two teachers from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who teach at a small boarding school for Cambodian students. It would be fascinating for our 7th graders to video conference with them to discuss the ideas of urban planning and design. What interesting perspectives they would have on city development and infrastructure!

The second connection is with a teacher from Quest2Learn, the gaming public school (OOPS! – I initially posted that it was a charter) in NYC, and his referral to SimCityEDU. I thought it was just a forum for teachers to post lesson plans, but it sounds like the Institute of Play is actually taking SimCity5 and modding it to provide scenarios that teachers can modify for their classes. It might then offer feedback to the student and teacher about how they are interacting with the system. This means that I could see evidence of systems and design thinking rather than just believing that this project is effective.

Presenting my poster also affirmed the value of having other perspectives on your work. One visitor said that he no longer uses the word work in his classroom, but calls it purposeful play. It sounds like a small, semantic difference, but I do believe words matter.

I think the poster sessions are the hidden treasures of the conference because you get to see all kinds of different projects in different phases of development and you get to talk to the people doing them. As a pragmatic person, I appreciate seeing lesson plans and rubrics because I’m always thinking about the literal how-to of a project.

Speaking of pragmatic, next time I present a poster I will remember to bring my own video adaptor and push pins!

Over Ambitious Planning for Next Year #iste13


I’ve got a couple ideas for a new approach to my 6th grade class, and I’m pretty much just going to list all the things I’m thinking about. It’s a little jumbled stream-of-consciousness right now, but hopefully writing it all down will help.

I teach 6th grade technology. In the current schedule, I see a group of 18 students one week on Tuesday and Wednesday for an hour each day, and then not again for another month. The librarian also teaches in this rotation, so for next year we are thinking of team teaching the group of 36 students in order to see the kids for more time and have more continuity. In this set up, we would do two-week long projects.

But what kind of project is engaging to 6th graders in an hour-long class right before lunch? Honestly the best class I can remember was teaching them how to use Scratch. Actually, I wasn’t so much teaching as just allowing them the time to play it.

So I have two ideas:

1. Gamify the class using 3DGameLab and turn it into a series of quests. We could find quests that involved using library and tech skills so that they were learning the skills from both classes. Some of the early quests would be fast, like taking a screenshot of their calendar to show they had properly subscribed to all their teachers’ calendars, and some of the later ones could be longer, like designing their own avatar. I’m daunted by the amount of work that would be needed to build this all, but maybe it would be worth it both for the better structure to the class and to test out what that looks like. Hmmm.

  • There is a camp through 3DGameLab to learn how to design your own app, which I’ve always wanted to learn and I have one in mind to build. I could do the camp and get the license to build for students.
  • I would love to pull some ideas from Jane McGonigal’s Find the Future game, like having students write their own constitution and/or origin story.

2. A project that I have always wanted to do with students is to have them design their own avatar or logo. They would first build it as a profile image that they could use for their google apps account. We could talk about image resolution and thumbnails if they were to try and print it the size of a page. It should be an image that looks good large and small. The FINAL step would be for them to print it from the 3D printer as a stamp, so they could stamp their logo.

  • I’d like them to workshop it to get feedback from each other.
  • I want it to be something that is really meaningful to them.
  • They could research logos for different companies, read excerpts from Tipping Point or Made to Stick.
  • They could make Scratch stories to tell their origin story and then turn them in to an adventure game at the end.

At first I was thinking I would have to choose one or the other, but after writing this out, maybe we could do BOTH! I am hesitant to try a new format with a new project, but it seems like a huge opportunity.

Also, my class is a rotation class that meets twice/week and repeats. It wouldn’t be that much prep. And how can I expect other teachers to try it if I don’t? Besides, our head of school asked us to change one thing this coming year. Reimaging my class in both content and form sounds like a good place to start!

Quotes from Kids

Image from

I asked the following question on my end of year survey/laptop check in (using a simple Google form, of course):

What do you wish teachers/adults would STOP saying, specifically about computers, phones, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.?

Nothing, I think most all of the things teachers/adults ask about computers are reasonable.

Awwww. So sweet and trusting.

Live in the moment. Lots of time I will be living in my moment and keeping up with my friends, and they don’t realize that is how I do it.

Love this. Made me think of this Don’t Carpe Diem  article from the Huffington Post.

I wish adults would stop saying that we can’t lend other people our chargers, but during class when someone asks tells them to borrow a charger.


I think the teachers should be much more aggressive about people goofing off in class. I regularly see people steaming videos, on inappropriate humor sites, and playing downloaded games such as Super Crate Box or Super Mario during class time when they should be working. There is also a lot of phone use during the day. I don’t have a Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr account (let alone know how to use them), and I don’t like most internet sites, so internet distractions are not a problem for me. I think many more sights than the ones currently blocked should be.

JUSTICE FOR ALL! Also, it’s sites, not sights. Darn those English homonyms.

facebook is stoopid, twitter is stooped, videogames are a waste of time


I ❤ Middle School.

Personal vs. Professional

In the world of social media, the line gets gray…

At the Klingenstein Summer Institute, they asked us to write down “questions we are living.” I love the idea of living a question because conceptualizing a question this way allows space to explore it through everyday experiences and think about it without seeking one answer. For example, at the time, I wrote:

  • What is good enough?
  • Who inspires me? Do I inspire my students?
  • How can I make the greatest impact? Is it in schools? Is it in policy? Education law? Direct leadership?

A question that I am living right now is,

Where is the line between personal and professional?”

This is called “Single Identity Transparency,” where our online presence is the same as our offline self. There are legitimate reasons for being who you are and their are legitimate reasons for being anonymous. (Changing your name to be on Facebook underage is NOT one of them…)

Here are a couple (12) infographics about the internet and identity.

Usernames & accounts. I tweet with the handle @pdxkali. When I created this username, I didn’t think too hard about whether this would be a personal or professional account. I have kept it because too much content is associated with this account now that I wouldn’t want to lose, but I wish now that I was @julierobison because it is a professional account. I don’t do a whole lot of personal tweeting, though I occasionally share something about being a new mom.

In contrast, a few people that I follow on twitter for their educational comments put personal content like pictures from vacation or check-ins at events that I don’t really care about. Their twitter feed is primarily personal. (I should probably unfollow them and just subscribe to their blogs…)

A couple of my colleagues decided to make two usernames, one for personal and one for professional, but I was mentioning the wrong one in my tweets or they wouldn’t be paying attention to both feeds.

I have always kept separate work and personal email addresses, because if I leave a job, I don’t want any accounts tied to an email address I no longer have access to.

When I started blogging, I initially created the and was blogging as the middle school tech coordinator. When I started to write more personal posts, like this one, I wanted it associated with me, not with my position.

Devices. We have been piloting iPad minis right now, and a colleague who already owns one, asked if he could borrow one for school use. Realistically, though, carrying around another device is just going to confuse things and wouldn’t he rather just have everything in one place? iOS devices are increasingly designed to be personal and group management of them is difficult. So should schools buy iOS devices for employees and have them use their personal accounts?

I carry around my iPhone all day at work. Sometimes I answer personal text messages, but the tech department often goes between email, text, or calls to reach each other. It’s beneficial to the school for me to use this device for my job, but I pay for it. On trips, we often use our phones for finding directions or emailing parents or taking pictures.

Boarding schools. As a dorm parent, I live where I work. I can see into classrooms out my front door. Kids see me on the weekends after a workout or at dinner feeding my 7 month old mashed peas. Clearly, I have accepted a blurrier line than most!

Final thoughts:

  • I feel comfortable with my current blend of professional and personal, though sometimes if feels like the workday never ends. (And at boarding schools, you are never really off duty until vacation!) I love my job and spend a lot of time outside of M-F 8-4pm thinking about education and teaching anyway.
  • People who are not connected to me via social media (professionally or personally) don’t know me as well.
  • Perhaps blending personal and professional allows us to see each other as more human? Maybe in workplaces where this happens there is greater social cohesion?
  • This whole idea of separate identities is very industrial-age with the idea that you go to a specific place for a specific length of time to do work.

Instagram #ParentPartnership #KeepingUpWithKids

Remember the themes of our partnership:

  • Create a Common Culture
  • Stay Informed
  • Start the Conversation

Definition of social networking: “The use of a dedicated Web site to communicate informally with other members of the site, by posting messages, photographs, etc.” (From Google)

  • Profile- and connections-based – Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn
  • Media sharing – Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest
  • Blogging – long posts – Blogger, WordPress
  • Microblogging – short posts – Twitter, Tumblr
  • Forums – interest-based
  • MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) Games – World of Warcraft


  • Take pictures and apply different effects
  • Automatic sharing to Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Picture sharing
  • Captions with Hashtags

Hashtag: word or phrase after the “#” sign. Meant as a way to tag posts so that you can search the stream. For example:

#Timbers #ftw #ilovepdx

  • You can follow people
  • You can comment on or like (heart) their pictures


  • iOS (iPad, iPod, iPhone) App

Setting restrictions on an iOS device #parentalcontrols

Instagram TOS (terms of service)

  • Must be 13
  • App is 12+
  • Just bought by Facebook

Great opportunities with Instagram


  • Privacy of pictures
  • Posting statuses using a picture

Devices everywhere!

Today I found myself using three devices to work on one presentation: my MacBook Air, iPad, and iPhone. All. At. Once.

There will be a forthcoming post on reflecting about the process leading up my first presentation, but this is a step in that process.

I’ve decided to use Prezi as my presentation tool because I prefer the visual layout. As someone who needs the overall picture to understand the details, it helps me have a stage where everything is laid out and then zoom in to each element. But this isn’t a post about Prezi, it’s about multi-devicing.

So I found the Prezi app for iPhone and iPad and decided to explore. I found that while I don’t really like editing on them, using them to present is really helpful. Since we have Apple TVs in a few classrooms, I can actually connect to projectors with my iPhone to practice giving my presentation, which I did today with two colleagues. The interface on the phone is quite good and I was able to go straight to certain frames when I wanted and I was able to control the video playback. If I were actually using it for a formal presentation I would lock the orientation so that it doesn’t flip back in forth as I gesture.

But the true multi-devicing came today when I was working on typing out my presentation. I wanted to go from the presentation to a full write up in order to refine my explanations, especially about games, which I posted here. I set up with my iPad on the presentation and my laptop open to type in Pages. It was incredibly helpful to have the iPad presentation separate from my laptop screen. I thought immediately about this article that I read about The Avenues, a for-profit high school in New York that issues it’s students both a laptop AND an iPad because they are used differently for different purposes, they do different things and engage different skills.

Since we are currently exploring what device makes the most for our program, whether that means a combination of a couple devices or something other than a laptop, it was interesting to find myself in the shoes of a student using all three devices differently to work on one presentation.

What do you think about students having more than one device? Do you know of a program out there that has done this?

What is it about games?

(While working on my NCCE presentation this morning, I decided to type out exactly what I’d like to say about games as I introduce my SimCity project. I will probably scale this back, but here’s the full, off-the-top-of-my-head version. Please leave comments and feedback on the content and organization or suggestions for resources!)

Games are play. We know the value of play (1) from all the research done that it encourages self-regulation, teaches cultural values and norms, develops creativity and real skills. One of my colleagues (@darkwolv) says that play allows you to explore ethics and morality in a pure way. There are clear rights and wrongs in a game, but you get to explore how you to handle it. For example, when little kids play doctor, they explore how they want to be treated when they are sick or hurt. When kids play multiplayer games like Call of Duty, they explore what it means to backstab a team member and the repercussions. How is play relevant to the real world? It allows us to temporarily leave reality, just as a good book or movie does. In this alternate space, we can develop real skills, such as cooperation with others, how to cope with and take responsibility, how to read and interpret data, cause and effect, etc.

Games give you a goal to work towards. (2) In soccer, it’s an obvious put-the-ball-in-the-net to score points and win. Even in an open-ended, real-time strategy game like SimCity where there is no way to beat or end the game, there are goals of growing your population and taking care of your sims. In school, the goal sometimes feels like getting the best grade or pleasing the teacher or getting the right degree to earn more money. If we are going to cultivate lifelong learners, the goal needs to lead students to learning and exploring.

Games give you, to quote Jane McGonigal (2), a sense of “heroic purpose”. If you look at American sports culture around high school sports, you see that successful high school athletes take on heroic proportion because of the emotion connected to winning. In World of Warcraft, you are logging in to save Azaroth. In this project, students got to be mayors of their city, not 7th graders. They had what I call “weightless” responsibilities. Because they are playing the role, there are no serious consequences to failure. Sometimes we give kids responsibilities that they are not ready for, like solving climate change, and instead of digging in and working on the problem, they shut down and disconnect. And we’re surprised? The weightless responsibility buoys the sense that they can succeed and makes them feel competent to succeed.

Games teach in context and allow you to learn as you go. You do not have to memorize the rules before you start. Take Angry Birds, for example. The first levels are simple and present the different types of birds one at a time. As you progress, exploding all the pigs gets harder and asks you to apply what you learned in previous levels. You wouldn’t start with the last level because each level improves your ability to play. Likewise, you do not get a guide to the types of birds and then try to use them. You discover their properties by trial and error. This is in contrast with much of how we teach. In math, for example, you are taught a formula first and then shown how to apply it to different scenarios just in case you come across something like it. How many times have you had to calculate the speed of a train going from New York to Chicago? Games, on the other hand, throw you into the fray and help you make sense of what needs to be done, and you learn how to do it by experimenting, exploring, failing, and succeeding.

The reason games are such effective teachers is in part because they are Goldilocks differentiators. They present exactly the right amount of challenge for every player that plays. For example, you can play scrabble when you are 7 or 70. The words you use will grow in complexity as your vocabulary expands and as you learn strategies for maximizing points. I love to do the New York Times crossword puzzle. Mondays are too easy but Saturday is too hard. Wednesdays are just right. A good game is designed intentionally to give you just the right amount of challenge. If it’s too hard or there are too many rules to memorize, you won’t play. By the same token, if it’s too easy, there’s no sense of accomplishment.

Games are fun! Without getting lost in all of these details, we know on a gut level that if something is called a game, it should be fun. Teachers, however, can feel that if their students are having fun, they are not learning. Playing games is seen as a frivolous, waste of time. Students should do “work” to learn. The exact opposite is true. Students learn MORE when they are having fun because they are engaged and alert. (3) With games, there is a sense of “hard fun,” where your work and effort results in success. This is what drives kids to practice free throws over and over so that when faced with a foul shot to win the game they can swish it.

Let’s take a moment to recap:

  • Development of creativity and skills, self-regulation, interpersonal skills
  • Exploration of morality and ethics
  • Goals
  • Heroic purpose and weightless responsibility
  • Learning in context
  • Appropriate challenges

Sounds like pretty good pedagogy to me!




(1) Rieber, L.P., Smith, L., & Noah, D. (1998). The value of serious play. Educational Technology38(6), 29-37.

(2) Jane McGonigal’s work: Ted TalkReality is Broken. Variety of other papers.

(3) Variety of sources:,, Play = Learning

Critical Friends Group

In her Educational Leadership article Redesigning Professional Development (Vol. 59(6), March 2002), Deborah Bambino writes, “By providing structures for effective feedback and strong support, Critical Friends Groups help teachers improve instruction and student learning” (25).

When I attended the Klingenstein Summer Institute two summers ago, we learned how to run a Critical Friends Group (CFG). That fall, I began a CFG here at OES with four colleagues. We’ve now met 4 times and have plans to meet twice more this year. It has been one of the best components of my professional development. I have learned about other projects going on at school and gotten to know colleagues deeper on both a professional and personal level.

It can feel different from other interactions with colleagues because it has prescriptive structures and roles, it’s timed, there is a goal, and it is an intentional group of people. I have found that the focused time is the most important aspect for me because there are no tangential conversations or random brainstorming that distract from what I want answered.

Here is the basic format and description of what we do:

1. We follow a tuning protocol from the National School Reform Faculty developed by Joseph McDonald and David Allen. (Sorry I don’t have links – this is all from KSI)

Introduction (2 mins)

  • The facilitator briefly introduces the protocol.
  • Each participant reviews his/her role.

Presenter shares dilemma and asks for feedback (10 mins)

  • The presenter shares the context of the artifact he/she has brought.
  • The presenter explains the learning goals for this assignment.
  • The presenter identifies what s/he needs help with.  What’s not working? What is the dilemma? The presenter tries to frame this as a focusing question.
  • The Facilitator restates the presenter’s focusing question to confirm.

Clarifying Questions (5 mins)

  • Participants ask clarifying questions in order to gather information that may have been omitted from the presenter’s explanation.  Clarifying questions are nonjudgmental and ask for facts: How many days did you spend on this unit?  Was this the first test of the year?

Silent Examination of Artifact—unit plan, lesson plan, student work sample, or assessment (10 mins)

  • Participants now look closely at the work, silently taking notes on where it seems to be in tune with the learning goals the presenter described and how they understand the work in light of the presenter’s focusing question.

Probing Questions (10 mins)

  • Participants ask probing questions in order to give the presenter an opportunity to reflect further on the work and the focusing question: What were you hoping would happen when. . . ?  What are your assumptions about. . . ?  What would you have to change if you wanted to. . . ? What is the connection between _____ and _____ ?
  • Presenter responds to probing questions as they arise.  The goal is for the presenter to deepen his/her understanding of why this unit/ lesson/student work/assessment is a dilemma in the first place.

Pause to reflect on warm and cool feedback (3 mins)

  • Participants take a few minutes to jot notes on what they would like to contribute to the feedback session, thinking in terms of warm and cool feedback.

Warm and Cool Feedback (10 mins)

  • Participants share warm and cool feedback, speaking about the presenter in the third person.  Presenter is silent and may take notes.
  • Warm feedback may include comments about general strengths of the work and how the work presented seems to meet the desired learning goals.
  • Cool feedback may include comments about possible disconnects between the desired learning goals and the work itself, as well as other gaps or problems the participants perceive.  These may be phrased as observations, questions, or suggestions for strengthening the work.

Reflection (5 mins)

  • The presenter responds to the feedback; participants are silent.  This is not a time for the presenter to rebut or affirm each point, but rather for the presenter to think aloud about what s/he learned and what questions remain.

Debrief (5 mins)

  • The facilitator leads a discussion of this tuning experience.  What worked, and what needs work?

The times are quite serious – if it says 10 minutes, it means 10 minutes. Even if the person is “done” explaining, you sit and wait, because they might think of something else they should add or want to say.  Again, the times and the structure allow for a different experience that can be reassuring because you know you will not get interrupted.

2. We each take on a role in the protocol, whether as presenter, facilitator, or ideal team participant.

  • The presenter brings an artifact from their teaching (with copies to share) from a lesson plan that they want to improve. It should be something that needs improvement and is not just being developed. It should not be something that is already polished.
  • The facilitator keeps the protocol and time.
  • The ideal team participant can listen closely and really delve into the dilemma that the presenter has brought.

I know that this is not something I could have implemented without having watched those experienced in it first. I think it is important to have someone who knows how to do it because they buy in to the protocol.

Now that we’ve run this several times, our CFG is thinking of experimenting with the type of presentation given, since some of us have non-teaching responsibilities. Protocols such as “probing questions” might give us another format for talking about other aspects our of jobs that we’d like feedback/support on.

For more information on Critical Friends Groups, see the National Reform School Faculty.