If you see this in your RSS reader, please update

I noticed that a couple weeks ago the number of subscribers to my blog dropped significantly. I thought I had my RSS feeds at edublogs routed through FeedBurner, and as such I wouldn’t need to do too much to keep my current subscribers. However, I now realize that this wasn’t quite the case.

If you’re getting this in your RSS reader, it means I messed up and didn’t handle the transition to my self hosted site very cleanly (http://blog.benwildeboer.com). If you’d like to subscribe to the feed for my new online space head over to the blog or use this feed address: http://feeds.feedburner.com/SustainablyDigital

Sorry for any confusion!

The switch

I’ve done it. I probably made up my mind awhile ago to do it, but I (somewhat hastily) went ahead with it just recently. That’s right! I moved to self-hosting. There are lots of reasons for the move, but I do thank edublogs for their help and support getting into this blogging business.

You can find me and my posts at http://blog.benwildeboer.com. If you subscribe via email you may need to update your subscription to stay current with new posts. RSS Subscribers should be switched over automatically. The RSS feed is http://feeds2.feedburner.com/SustainablyDigital in case you don’t subscribe now but would like to. 🙂

See you there!!

Communities of reformers & learners (great posts 2 & 3)

Communities of reformers

Some posts hit you exactly when and where you need to be hit. Dina over at The Line wrote a post that did just that recently. In a new school where I’m not exactly enthralled with the existing culture, I’ve found myself frustrated often. I haven’t been posting as much in part because I felt like most of what I wanted to write about would be negative and complain-y. I’m not one to be content with school culture that needs some work so I’ve tried pushing some things here and there with very limited success. That’s frustrating. Add that to teaching brand new classes and I’m frustrated knowing that this isn’t my best year as a teacher, even if its simply because it’s all new

In the midst of frustration the providencial interWebz sent Dina’s post my direction. Frustrated working to change a school while working in that school she pulls in advice from several of my favorite names in education (featuring Deborah Meier and Chris Lehmann) who advise reforming with a posse (for support) and giving yourself a break when things don’t work out they way you’d like. Check out this gem of a quote from Chris:

Trying to be Rafe Esquith or Debbie Meier is a good goal, but only if we don’t beat ourselves up when we fall short… teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. We desperately need wise, kind, thoughtful people who make this a career and a life.

And we need to forgive ourselves when we aren’t perfect or awesome or “A-game” every day. When the people who care leave because we cannot measure up to our ideal version of ourselves, in the end, that’s bad for our schools and our kids.

I have been in the habit of beating myself up for falling short this year, and Dina’s post helped me remember that it’s okay. I can fail without being a failure (and that I need to start forming a reform posse 😉 ).

Communities of learners

Michael Wesch teaches his college classes as if they were research groups. He does this to great effect and has received quite a bit of notoriety for his unique teaching style and the products of his students’ research (some examples). In the post Our class on how we run our class, Wesch details how the class is organized and what the students are responsible for generating.

Wesch has effectively created and implemented a teaching style that I’ve been slowly working towards in my last several years as an educator. It’s basically the definition of student-centered, authentic, active learning (I know that’s a lot a buzz words in one sentence, but if they’re ever applicable, it’s here).

This post gave me a lot to unpack and think about in relation to my own teaching. I haven’t had the time to sit down and decompress all the information he’s slammed into this one post quite yet, but it’ll definitely be something I spend time on this summer (if not sooner).

Michael Wesch was a guest on a recent Seedlings Podcast (#60) where he gives a little more insight into his philosophy of teaching. An interesting tidbit: he uses Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving to stay focused on what how he should think about his students. The whole show is worth a listen.

danah boyd on teens and social media (great posts, pt. 1)

I haven’t been utilizing this blog to great effect lately. I consider this a place to air ideas I’m formulating, put my reflections down in writing, and share items that I’ve found noteworthy. However, my less-than-regular posting schedule the last couple months has seen many ideas, reflections, and noteworthy items come and go without being recorded here. Hopefully this post will mark the start of slightly more regular postings.

In the past couple weeks I’ve come across three posts that have resonated with me deeply. I’d like to share them with you. This post is the first of the three. The other two will follow shortly.

Living and Learning with Social Media by danah boyd

This is a transcript of Dr. boyd’s talk at Penn State’s Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology. danah boyd studies teens and how they interact with social media. This talk is probably the best pieces I’ve seen (evar) on social media and its implications for the students in our classrooms. Let me hit you with some highlights:

On differences in populations using MySpace & Facebook:

More problematically, I’ve heard many of you talk about using Facebook directly in the classroom. And I’ve heard you talk about recruiting through Facebook. What kinds of assumptions are you making? Are you aware of these issues?

A refrain I’m starting to hear as the norm from those I follow online that I couldn’t agree with more:

Just because youth are using social media doesn’t mean that it can fit well into the classroom. It needs to be thought through pedagogically and y’all need to understand how it’s being used in everyday life before bringing it into the classroom.

Describing why using social network sites in the classroom is probably not a great idea:

On social network sites, you have to publicly list your Friends and you have to have the functioning network to leverage it. What happens if you’re an outcast at school? Does bringing it into the classroom make it worse? […] Bringing social network sites into the classroom can be very very tricky because you have to contend with social factors that you, as a teacher, may not be aware of.

And lastly, describing why teens have a lot to learn about social media even though they may use it regularly:

For all of the attention paid to “digital natives” it’s important to realize that most teens are engaging with social media without any deep understanding of the underlying dynamics or structure. Just because they understand how to use the technology doesn’t mean that they understand the information ecology that surrounds it. Most teens don’t have the scaffolding for thinking about their information practices.

So much of what boyd says flies right in the face of how many educators view social media. In my experience social media- especially social network sites- are seen as a disease. They think it puts teens into dangerous situations and prevents them from doing “productive” activities. danah points out that much of what teens do online is normal teenage socialization using a new tool. She’s careful to point out that there are differences between socialization on Facebook and socialization in real life.

Dr. boyd also notes that we shouldn’t assume that teens have a deep understanding of how social media even though they may use it all the time. For me, this point emphasizes how important it is to teach students about social media in our schools instead of simply banishing it. Internet filtration is well-intentioned but often their main effect is to lock out some of the most relevant teaching and learning opportunities for our students (as I’ve mentioned before). As educators we need to have an open dialogue with our students about these technologies- something danah boyd points out and I coudn’t agree with more.

If you haven’t read any of danah boyd’s other research and writing, I highly recommend it. Her website contains many of her articles

Best advisory ever: A How-To & How-Not

HowTo: Have a good advisory

  • Eat. Stop at the store. Pick up some donuts, mini-muffins, and assorted fruit. Advisory isn’t a fun place for students. Make it more inviting. Bribery through food is a good start.
  • Apologize. Mainly apologize for using the “curriculum” you’re supposed to be using. Be honest. Tell them you were trying to the the right thing, but some times the “right thing” isn’t what’s right.
  • Talk. This is big. At this point students will most complain about how stupid advisory is and how it could be used for so many more useful things. Complaining is good
  • Share. Show a couple video clips you particularly like. Show a couple video clips students like.
  • Enjoy. The first advisory meeting you’ve had all year that wasn’t forced or awkward.

Advisory (a.k.a. mentor/mentee, homeroom, seminar, etc.) is designed to be a time where students meet with a teacher to form a relationship outside of the traditional teacher/student interactions. Teachers meet with the same group of students for all four years of high school with the expectation that deeper and more lasting relationships will be formed between students and teacher. I believe that a well executed advisory can be a positive influence on school culture and student success. However, our system is broken.

In a nutshell, here are the major problems:

  • We meet with our advisories every two weeks for 30 minutes. This isn’t enough to form lasting relationships.
  • Activities and “curriculum” used for advisory are developed on an “as-we-go” basis.  There just isn’t time to develop this stuff on the fly.
  • A small, under-attended, over-stressed committee of five or six individuals designs the “curriculum” that is used for advisory. Six simply isn’t enough people to tackle this monumental task.
  • All levels use the same “curriculum” materials. All grade levels- and especially freshman and senior levels- should have their own goals and activities.

Today, I quit. I stopped using the materials provided. I stopped using any formal materials. I couldn’t put my students or myself through that uncomfortable hell of pushing through an activity that neither of us thinks is appropriate or helpful.

If you had been visited my classroom during this time you wouldn’t have been blown away by anything that happened. If you had been in my classroom for every other advisory to see the awkward and forced interactions that used to be the norm you’d understand my enthusiasm more clearly.

As educators we want so much for advisory to be valuable that we forget the most valuable part is just getting to know our students. You don’t need a formal curriculum for that. You just need time and desire (a few donuts don’t hurt either).

My Tumblr (and why I need one)

In my travels through the InterTubes, I find many interesting, clever, fun, or intriguing items that just cry out to be shared.

You’d think since I have this fairly well-established blog (i.e. it’s been in existence for >1 year) this would be the place to share. However, I like that this blog focuses pretty specifically on education related topics, yet so much of the good stuff I find isn’t directly related to education.

Delicious (or Diigo)! Why not just bookmark it on one of these great social bookmarking sites I already use? Well…I would…but I use those tools to stash away items that I might like to revisit sometime in the future. It’s cool stuff, but I don’t really have any need to find it again.

Twitter! Of course Twitter is a great place to share this fun stuff. Yet Twitter is pretty lacking in the visual display department (i.e. pictures, videos, etc.), and it just doesn’t seem to do many of these things justice.

And so I’ve created my own tumblog: WillyB’s Schtuff

On it will be links to many of the fun, interesting, clever, and intriguing items that the ‘tubes drop into my lap. Check it out.

As an aside, I’ve tried to integrate the tumblog’s RSS feed into the sidebar or on another page on this blog, but have been unsuccessful so far. If you know how to easily do this I’d be grateful for the help.

When frustration is a good thing

I keep waiting for that day when I look at my curriculum and am happy with what I see. You know, that point where it’s really good and perhaps only needs a few minor changes each year.  After years of constant tweaking, improving, and overhaul it seems like that day should be right around the corner.

Instead, the more I learn, the more I tweak, the more I realize how imperfect my curriculum really is. To be sure, it has improved dramatically from my first year teaching, and I’d even say it’s gotten better every time I teach. Yet I’m still discontent. I’m still frustrated that the level of student engagement and rigor I’d like to have doesn’t match the engagement and rigor that actually exists.

The last two weeks my frustration level has been pretty high. We’re not doing enough work in groups. We’re not doing enough meaningful projects. We’re doing too much question answering. I’m talking in front of the class too often and not spending enough time talking with students. I critically tear apart my teaching technique and the way I present the content.

I’m confident that the curriculum I’m using and the way I’m presenting it is at least “good.” My frustration comes from knowing that it’s not the best. It’s the difference between completing a marathon and winning a marathon. Completing a marathon can be pretty a pretty major accomplishment for a recreational runner like myself. However, if you’re an elite runner with the talent and training to be able to win a marathon simply finishing isn’t a major achievement.

While I don’t mind my status as a recreational runner I’m not happy being a “recreational teacher.” I have access to the knowledge and skills required to be an “elite teacher.” As such I expect myself to constantly strive for “elite” status.  I analyze my teaching and curriculum like that elite runner watching a video of herself in slow motion; trying to find inefficiencies in her stride that can be eliminated.

My frustration (I’ve only recently come to realize) is simply a manifestation of my desire to improve.


Image Credits

Technology mission statement

Through some odd and not all that interesting turns of events, I’m pretty much the chair of our school’s technology committee. I’ll spare you the details, but it wasn’t exactly where I saw myself fitting into the system this year (my first at this school). Nevertheless, it is what it is and I hope to make the best of it.

Task number one: Come up with a mission statement for the technology committee.

I’m pretty new to the school and don’t have the greatest understanding of what the goals of the committee have been in the past. As I see it, the committee’s job is to: (1) provide support and timely teacher professional development on how technology tools can be used to improve teaching and learning, and (2) act as a go-between for teachers and those making purchasing decisions on where technology money could be spent where it would have the greatest effect per dollar.

I’d really prefer if it sounded like a real person talking instead of sounding bureaucratic and overly wordy. However, since mission statements are pretty much solely for those people who enjoy bureacracy and wordiness, I may be willing to settle somewhere in the middle.

Here’s my first go at it:

Working to support teaching and learning through the effective use of technology in the classroom.

Or maybe:

Providing teachers with the tools and training to use technology in support of effective teaching and learning.

Guess I’ll try one typical wordy one too (though I won’t like it):

The technology committee strives to provide technological tools to teachers, students, and the community in order to support our students and staff in their teaching and learning. Students will graduate as effective digital citizens able to contribute to society utilizing 21st century technology tools and skills.

Seeing as this post is a bit of thinking in public, what do you think of the above options? What mission statements do your schools use for technology committees (or whatever you call them where you are)?

My podcast list

Podcasts are amazing. I listen to them when I do the dishes, when I’m driving by myself in the car, when I’m going for a run, and pretty much any time when I’m doing mindless work. I’ve come to rely on podcasts quite a bit for my entertainment/learning/information. I’ve found that since I’ve started using podcasts (as opposed to simply listening to the radio) I’m consuming more far more information than I ever did previously.

I often find so much valuable (or at least interesting) information through listening to my podcasts, allow me share my current subscriptions. I recommend all of them. If you have a favorite podcast that isn’t on my list, feel free to throw it in the comments. I’m all for more quality shows.


  • Bit by Bit (SEEDlings): Bob Sprankle, Alice Barr, and Cheryl Oaks (all from Maine) meet weekly, generally with a different special guest each episode, to discuss education and education technology. Usually includes good discussion of educational uses of technology and they share lots of potential tools to use in the classroom. (~1 hr.; posts weekly)
  • EdTech Posse: Rob Wall, Rick Schwier, Heather Ross, Alec Couros, and Dean Shareski get together to discuss “learning, education, teaching and technology.” I’ve only caught one episode so far, but I really enjoyed it. The hosts of the show are all involved in teacher education, which brings a different perspective to the discussion. Perhaps it’s a little more academic, but it’s not presented in a way that was off-putting or ivory tower-ish. (~1 hr.; posts now and then)
  • Moving at the Speed of Creativity: Wes Fryer creates this podcast, which frequently features recorded sessions from education conferences around the world. Sometimes the sessions aren’t of great interest to me and I skip them, but I’ve heard many very interesting and thought provoking presentations through this podcast. (time varies, usu. < 1 hr.; posts at least once/week)
  • The Practical Principals: This currently sits as my favorite education-related podcast- which is odd since it’s aimed more towards the principal crowd than the teachers. Scott Elias and Melinda Miller star as the Practical Principals relaying advice and tools to maintain your sanity. They’re personable, funny, and extremely knowledgeable. It’s a must suscribe. (~1 hr.; posts monthly-ish)
  • Always On: I actually haven’t listened to an episode of this podcast; though it comes highly recommended from Scott Elias (of the Practical Principals). The most recent episode is on my iPod but I just recently subscribed and haven’t gotten to it yet.


  • 60-Second Science: A quick bite of recent news in science. (60 seconds; posts weekdays)
  • 60-Second Earth: Same idea as 60-Second Science, but with a focus on Earth Science. (60 seconds; posts weekly)
  • Bytesize Science: Put out by the American Chemical Society, this podcast is a fairly recent addition for me. Each episode focuses on one topic; going over scientific information in a way suitable for middle and high school students. I haven’t used this in my class yet, but it would be appropriate for such use. (~5 min.; posts every couple weeks)
  • Krulwich on Science: Long-time science correspondent Robert Krulwich explains recent scientific discoveries and science and current events in an accessible and interesting way. I found this podcast through my exposure to RadioLab, which Robert Krulwich co-hosts (see below). (5-8 min.; posts weekly)
  • NOVA | PBS: The podcast for the PBS television show. Includes interviews and information that relates to the topic of the TV (though you don’t need to watch the show to enjoy the podcast). (~10 min.; posts weekly)
  • Quirks & Quarks: A CBC-radio show where the host (Bob McDonald) interviews guests about current events in science. You can subscribe the show split into its segments or all together. I personally like the segments, but the option is nice too. (1 hr.; posts weekly)
  • RadioLab: Favorite. show. evar. Each show focuses on one idea (i.e. morality, sleep, stress) and investigates it from a variety of angles. Amazingly well produced, interesting, and easy to understand. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich have great rapport and make the show auditorially stimulating. It’s so good I have every RadioLab show permanently saved to my .mp3 player. All other podcasts get deleted after one listen. Download them all. You won’t be sorry. (1 hr., weekly during the season)
  • Science Friday: Ira Flatow hosts this call-in current events in science show every Friday afternoon. I love the show but never can stick out 2 hours in front of a radio. The podcasts downloads each segment individually. I enjoy getting it broken down into smaller parts so I don’t feel like I have to sit down for 2 hours to listen to the show in its entirety. The show also has it’s own twitter profile: @scifri (2 hrs.; posts weekly)
  • Science Talk (SciAm): Host Steve Mirsky discusses recent events in science, often through interviewing scientists or recording presentations. (1 hr.; posts weekly)


  • Baseball History Podcast: A homey yet well done podcast that showcases the biography of one player each week. Includes Hall of Famers, Negro Leaguers, and some other lesser known players. It’s an entertaining and informative rundown of that players career. Excellent for me since I like baseball, yet my baseball knowledge pre-1988 is pretty limited. (~7 to 15 min.; posts weekly)
  • Car Talk: The NPR Saturday morning call-in radio show. It’s funny, entertaining, and informative. If I’m behind in my podcasts I’ll skip this one, but that’s only happened once or twice in the last six months. (1 hr.; posts weekly)
  • Planet Money: I believe Clay Burell pointed me towards Planet Money back in September or October when the financial crisis really started to gather steam. The hosts of Planet Money make it their goal to explain the complex happenings of the financial world in simple and entertaining ways. I definitely understand the financial crisis waaaay better than I ever would’ve without this podcast. (~20 min.; posts Mon-Wed-Fri)
  • Sports with Frank Deford: The popular sports writer pontificates on various subjects of sport. Quick and interesting. Frank Deford has the honor of being one of the very few “famous” people I’ve actually met. He was giving a talk at my college and came into one of my classes to answer some questions. (~5 min.; posts weekly).
  • This American Life: An award-winning radio show which brings different stories around a single topic each week. Generally very interesting and well produced. It’s one of the podcasts I look forward to listening to the most each week. (1 hr.; posts weekly)

If you have a podcast you look forward to every time you turn on your iPod, please let me know what it is, even if it doesn’t fall in the science or education categories.

Towards a more open curriculum

I’ve been busy working on a small project for the last several weeks. Initially it started as a way to easily share the resources I’ve been using in my class with other teachers in my building. It quickly morphed into something more. As long as I was organizing things in this manner, why not just publish it all online?

I believe education related materials should open and available to use by anybody who has a use for them. Materials that are locked behind stringent copyright regulations or locked up on a teacher’s hard drive aren’t always able to be used by students, educators, parents, or others in ways that they may like.  If someone finds what I’ve created useful I want them to be able to use it in whatever manner they find it the most useful. Alec Couros has done a lot of thinking about what open teaching is all about, and I’ve come to take many of his ideas a challenge to think about how I choose to control the materials that I create (see his recent posts: Visualizing Open/Networked Teaching and it Revisited). The way I control media- and mentor that to my students- should reflect the values that I hold.

A timid step

Towards becoming an “open/networked teacher,” I’ve decided to release my curriculum resources to the internets. Curriculum Science is a wiki I’ve set up where I’ll be posting all my handouts, presentations, and projects under a GNU Free Documentation License (hat tip to Dan Meyer who planted seeds he posted his full geometry curriculum). Though it won’t matter to many people, I’ve also aligned them with the Connecticut standards for 9th grade Integrated Science. It’s a work in progress that will be updated as I make my way through this semester’s curriculum. Not all the material I would categorize as “my best stuff,” but it is “my real stuff.”

A little help

I don’t have this whole teaching/technology thing figured out. I’ve spent a lot of time considering how to be the most effective teacher possible, but that requires constantly revisiting what it is that I’m doing and how it is that I’m doing it. A few things I’d enjoy hearing my readers thoughts on:

  • Is the GNU Free Documentation License the way to go for this? Would a Creative Commons license be a better match? I’m a little fuzzy on the specific definitions of the various licenses.
  • If you have ideas for how to get at the content in a more effective manner than I’ve done in my curriculum please let me know. Lately I’ve been feeling that my ideas for new materials have been stale and not as effective as I’d like.
  • If you use or remix anything I’ve created it’d make me happy to hear back on what you thought of it or how you changed it.

The Resources

Curriculum Science