• K-12 Online Conference 09

  • Edublog Awards 2009

    The File Cabinet was nominated for an Edublog Award this year. I am honored!

  • Game Classroom

  • Top 50 Educator Innovator Award

    Top 50 Education Innovator Award - Online Colleges
  • Discovery Educator Network
  • Diigo

    diigo education pioneer
  • The future is not some place we are going to but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination. John Schaar American Scholar and Professor
  • Shelfari: What am I reading?


A New Twist

I have struggled in the past months with where to take the direction of my blog. I want to write. I want to share. I decided at the start of the year to start fresh with “In the Trenches,” a new blog focused on resource sharing. For this time in my life, I’m finding it helpful and inspiring to maintain my writing there. I don’t want to shut this one down, but I just wanted everyone to know where I was. Thanks for checking in with me! Please head over to “In the Trenches” and check me out there. I’d love to continue to learn with you!

Pencil Metaphor

Today my colleague and PLN member, Kevin Jarrett, shared this infographic. It was too good not to share.


This particular metaphor references the willingness of individuals to embrace technology in the classroom, which makes the idea of the pencil even more ironic. Yet, the more I read each of the descriptions, the more I was able to picture individuals and groups of people that I’ve encountered who fit these characteristics. Very few of the situations that I can think of have anything to do with technology. I identify with this metaphor so much because of how it is applicable to any kind of change.


It reminds me of the PBS behavior support triangle. In most cases, 80% of people are willing to go along with changes and roll with them. 15% will resist them, but they will comply – just not always with the best attitude or consistency. The remaining 5%  are those who use every fiber of their being to resist changes.


What astounds me when reviewing both of these is how loud of a voice the erasers and “red zone” seem to have. They don’t just seek to resist changes in their own lives, but they seek to undo the work that others around them are doing. What could possibly motivate this behavior? I really don’t know. I am constantly in awe of those who so vehemently act in this manner. The effort that they place into resisting any changes in their lives and blocking those who stand behind the changes could be redirected positively with only a fraction of the spent energy. The erasers in this scenario are not like those in my classroom, who seem to wear down in a day. Where do schools (and any other facet of life) go from here? Will there be a point where the anti-change agents voices are overshadowed by those working to move our schools forward? We have to hope so. That’s the only thing that keeps the pencils lead sharpened.

Free for NC Educators



and one guest!



The North Carolina Museum of Life and Sciences in Durham is hosting Teacher Appreciation Day on Saturday, August 27. We will be offering free admission for public and private K-12 teachers (with school ID) and one guest.



Come see the Museum through the eyes of your students! Climb inside StarLab, our portable planetarium, to learn about the constellations; marvel at the sight (and taste!) of our unbeatable liquid nitrogen ice cream; learn about the many programs the Museum has to offer for your grade level through a sampling of the materials and activities we use in our focused field trips; meet the staff who facilitate our educational programs; and let us thank you for all the hard work you do!

Will You Rondee?!

Do you need to have a conference call but aren’t sure of a good route to take? Do your colleagues and friends have a hard time making it onto a web-based conference call, like Skype? Do you struggle with reliable internet, right at the time when you were scheduled for an online meet-up?


Check out Rondee!



Rondee is a free conference call solution that allows participants to join in a pre-set conference while online or from a standard cell phone or home phone. This is a great option for those of us who are constantly on the go. I was even able to participate in the NC DEN LC meeting the other evening from the sidelines of my son’s football practice because I could just call in! This is an excellent option when your colleagues are limited by accessibility, travel or other barriers to making it in front of a computer for a set time.


Rondee is free,  easily set up, available as needed or with scheduled events, and offers free audio recording.  And why might you need to use a conference call solution…

1. Show your students how to set up a study group

2. Have a planning meeting to car pool to an upcoming DEN event in your area

3. Talk with your curriculum or grade level team to decide on a learning event for your classroom (or who is bringing what to the pot luck lunch)

4. Plan a family dinner with everyone at once

5. Talk to other educators about more ways to use Rondee and DE Services


So… will you Rondee?




Dot Day Is On Its Way

Are you a fan of Peter H. Reynolds? If you aren’t sure who he is or about the great things that he and FableVision do for kids and learning, stop reading this right now and go visit his webpage. Seriously. Go!

If you are back, or just still here, then you know that Peter H. Reynolds and Fable Vision are responsible for some amazing kids’ literature that focuses on finding their own creativity, their own stars. He is also an advocate for educators and offers us wonderful resources, like his free, downloadable posters. One of my favorite books of Reynolds’ is The Dot, which has become so beloved around the world that it has become its own day!

Help your students find their own mark by celebrating International Dot Day on September 15, 2011. Read The Dot together as a class and find ways to have students make their own marks. Need some ideas for inspiration and activities? Check out Reynolds’ page for The Dot  at his website. Start planning now! Be prepared to share your mark with other educators in September!

Read Across America Day

First of all, I’d like to say how disappointed I was to see that the last posting date I have for my blog is December 1. In my defense, I’ve been facing the trials of being in the early months of pregnancy. I’m happy to say that we will be adding to our family of four in mid July, but that hasn’t been good for the blog!


Despite how long it’s been since I’ve posted to Keeping Kids First, I’m so happy to be sharing this post. Each year in the USA on March 2, we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss with Read Across America Day. This year, I decided it would be a great experience for my students to actually “read across America” using Skype to foster cross-classroom collaboration. A few weeks ago, I was overwhelmed by the response by my Twitter and Facebook PLNs when I went looking for classrooms who might be interested in sharing this day with us. I scheduled us classrooms to chat with all morning in thirty minute intervals. I also helped my students to prepare for their conversations with writing book talks, practicing read-alouds and honing our skills on being respectful listeners.


As March 2 approached, I was excited to have parents join us for our classroom “Read In” first thing in the morning, which was also kicked off with our first call of the day. The parents of the students who attended, as well as other staff members who happened to stop by during the morning, were awed by how we were able to collaborate and share with classrooms across the country, how engaged the students were, and their enthusiasm for the opportunity. We charted our “visits” with Google Maps, which was also a great experience for students to see how far they were reaching!


Over the course of the day, we shared favorite books with Dan Callahan and Sarah Hayes’ class in Burlington, MA.  Eric Biederbeck’s 6th grade class in Essex, Vermont read us a favorite picture book, Bigger, Better, Best, that tied into our current study of Geometry. We read a favorite Cherokee cultural story, The First Strawberries, to a third grade class in Verona, New Jersey. A high school class in Sterling, Kansas, led by Carol Prather and Dean Mantz, even read a few of their favorite books to us.


What a great way to share and grow a love of reading!




Holiday Fun with Web 2.0

Are you looking for a creative and practical gift that you can share with everyone on your school’ s staff? How about one that is totally free? Check out this great Advent Calendar of Web 2.0 Resources created by Kelly Tenkely of iLearn Technology. Remember, you just get to open one per day!



The Sum of the Parts

Over the past few weeks, I have been disconnected from my regular PLN (Personal Learning Network). For reasons that are difficult to explain, I had to bow out of an online chat group that holds many of my dearest colleagues, friends and greatest professional supporters. I knew my disconnect would be temporary, and I knew that I would miss this interaction. What I didn’t know was what we would all learn from it.


I think I can sum up what I learned by saying “The value of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” This seems contrary to the traditional phrase of a similar nature, but seems to fit more along the lines of real life. Have you ever noticed that you can eat way more of those mini-candy bars than you would if it were just one regular sized one? It’s the same idea. When I left my online group, even knowing that it would be temporary, I left a parting note that I hoped to continue conversations with each member of the group. The dysfunction seemed, at that time, to fall within the lurking and misinterpretation of the group as a whole. From the moment that I posted that note and left the group, I was inundated with emails, messages and other forms of contact from the same people that I interacted with daily. I was still in contact with many of the same people that enriched my personal and professional life, yet something wasn’t right. I was carrying on a series of meaningful, individual conversations, but there was no longer a group dynamic for me. I realized that the power of this group wasn’t in the individuals that composed it. It was in the collaboration that stemmed from the group interaction. The sum of each individual chat was less than the value of the whole group. To find the same value I was seeking, I wasn’t able to carry on conversations, no matter how meaningful, with individual members of my group. It has to be the whole, not just the sum of the parts.


My friend, Melissa, wrote about some of the fall out of the experience at her blog, Technology: Figuring Out How the Pieces Fit.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/4273913228/


Reflections on a Lecture

Last night, I had the privilege to attend a special community lecture at Western Carolina University by Carol Ann Tomlinson, professor of education at the University of Virginia. I have been familiar with her work on differentiation for quite some time and highly recommend her books as informative, practical and “easy to read.”

Listening to Dr. Tomlinson speak passionately about the need for differentiation in our classrooms today, it reminded me of the many arguments I have heard for making the transition to 21st century classrooms. In this reflection, I would like to highlight on some of the points that she made and add some of my own thoughts.

1. Differentiation leads to self-confidence, a desire to continue learning, and greater understanding of content.

What struck me most about this statement was the fact that “understanding of content” was listed last. In fact, content was only a small portion of the evening’s information. The effects that providing student-centered learning offers for our students are far greater than a particular subject or test. Instead, when we find ways to meet the needs of our individual learners, we are communicating the idea that “You are important. What you need is valid.” Many children don’t get that validation in their homes and communities, so reinforcement of this nature at school is essential. By teaching students how to learn, we are offering them the ability to take those skills and apply them in many future contexts.

2. We need more pro-active differentiation, rather than re-active.

It is nearly impossible to plan for every possible scenario in the classroom. I have been teaching about writing friendly letters for 12+ years. I thought I’d pretty much seen it all. Last month, when I introduced them and asked my students if anyone had heard of a friendly letter, I got several responses. The first was “Yes. R. R is a friendly letter.” This incited a chorus of other letters that are apparently quite kind. I had to re-act in that situation, but you can bet that next year I will offer a better leading question. The ability to pro-actively differentiate can only happen in one situation – the one where you have taken a significant amount of time and interest getting to know your students carefully and deliberately. Knowing our students allows us to carefully plan for their deficits and have a plan in place to address them.

3. Our goal, in this time crunched school environment, is for students to learn as much and as efficiently as possible.

I love this quote and feel that it lends specifically to the use of technology in the classroom. When you are talking about learning content with efficiency and accuracy, computers and hand-held devices make it possible. Using technology to organize, track and monitor student progress overtime will definitely meet that need. It also goes back to the idea of pro-active differentiation. When I can plan need-based units of instruction for small groups of students or individuals, there are hundreds of free and small-fee programs available to help facilitate learning.

4. The skills that were once reserved for the top ten percent of learners are now required for all. ALL learners must be content creators.

Wow. The first point is especially poignant for me. Education has changed drastically. We, as educators, must keep up with the demands facing our students as they will enter the job market, whether right out of high school or with an advanced degree. It is not enough for students to regurgitate information and just organize old information. Students must be creators of content, both original and synthesized of already processed information.

5. ALL students need a pedagogy of plenty – high ceilings, high relevance and high personalization.

Love this. It should be a requirement in every classroom of every age. Period.

Dr. Tomlinson’s presentation from last night can be found at  http://bit.ly/dhDvLo.

A Commentary on Comic Books

I haven’t seen Waiting for Superman. I didn’t watch the report on MSNBC yesterday and the Town Hall meeting. I didn’t even follow the commentary on Twitter with my colleagues. I’m not sure what Education Nation is all about at this point. I don’t need Oprah to tell me that there are things about our public (and private) education system that aren’t working for our kids. Teachers, parents and students have been saying that for years. Yet, Superman isn’t the answer.

Now, I’m not a comic book person. I can’t see that I’ve seen any of the ump-teen Superman movies in their entirety, but I was a fan of The Justice League on Saturday morning cartoons. I will not argue the fact that Superman comes to the rescue and saves Metropolis countless times on the big and small screen and on newsprint pages around the world. But there are few things that I would like to point out about the idea of Superman that will certainly NOT save education.

Superman works alone. Superman doesn’t even have a sidekick. He hides his real identity from the world and toils away each day in a pretend job just waiting to be called to fix a situation. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his intentions to protect the world from evil, but this won’t work for kids. Over the past several decades, people, programs and propoganda have swooped in to save the day countless times. Not one of these theories has made a significant, long-term impact on the education system in the United States. No one person or idea is going to help our children.

Superman doesn’t share secrets. Superman can’t be everywhere at once, but if he would have found a way to share his powers and his secrets, imagine the greater good he could have offered. Real reform is going to come in the form of waves of citizen groups who stand up to fight for our schools together, not in anonymous isolation from one another.

The trouble always comes back. Superman doesn’t help stop the problems until they are already too big to be managed and the same issues keep arising. I mean, how many episodes does Lex Luther have to be in before Superman realizes that something he’s doing to eliminate the problem isn’t actually doing that? If Superman has to save the day more than once, he hasn’t really saved it, he has just prolonged the problem. If we put a solution for our schools into play, and the problem is only fixed for a few months, days or years, then it isn’t solved.

I am all for reform of public schools and education in the United States, but Superman isn’t the one to save us. If we are, in fact, waiting for Superman, we have a bigger problem than what we are facing now.