EdCampNJ: It’s GO time.

EdCampNJ is commencing this Saturday at the Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, NJ. My excitement level is Christmas-morning-ish, and I know I’m not the only one. Why am I so excited? That’s easy – Edcamp is free, democratic, participant-driven professional development for educators.

EdCamp is based off of the ‘un-conference format’. While the conference has organizers, the organizers are just that; they handle the logisitics. The attendees create the workshop sessions, create a schedule for such sessions, and attend what they want to. Its encouraged that if you show up at one workshop and realize that you’re no longer interested, you get up and go somewhere else. So awesome.

WARNING: If you’re coming to grandstand, brag about how much your District is awesome/sucks, or and have an ego that needs to be fulfilled with people praising your work, this isn’t going to be your up of tea.

Find out more and register for free at the EdCampNJ website: http://edcampnj.org/

If you can’t make it, check the website or my Twitter feed; we’ll be streaming live and tweeting around the event all day.

Hope to see you Saturday.

5 Educational Leaders I’m Thankful to Know & Follow on Twitter

As we gather around tables all across the US this to celebrate Thanksgiving, we are certainly reminded that there is much to be thankful for. While I personally am thankful for so much that has happened to me personally this year, I’m thankful for meeting / re-connecting with a whole new group of leaders within education. If you are an educator, but not on Twitter, I don’t know what you’re waiting for already. Sign up over the holiday break, go to this ‘cheat sheet’, and start poking around. Oh, and follow these 5 educational leaders:

  • Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal ) – simply put, the man is a rock star on Twitter. With over 30,000 followers, Eric is a lightning bolt of information for technology, school administrators, and educators all over the world. The coolest part about it? He’s incredibly personable (most are on Twitter) and will respond to you with just about anything you ask. I met Eric at the 2012 NASSP Conference in Tampa this year after seeing him on the TV show “The Principal’s Office”. I saw the show while I was completing my educational administrative program, and was rather impressed with his style. Meeting him in person was awesome, and I’m thankful for his wealth of resources.
  • Scott Rocco (@ScottRRocco ) Before being known as the Co-Founder of the Saturday AM Twitter group known as #SATCHAT, Scott has arisen through the teaching & administrative ranks in Hillsborough, NJ. Scott was also one of my instructors in my administrative program. I’ve had the chance to re-connect with Scott over the past six months through Twitter and, like so many others on here, offers a plethora of information and insight. If you’re looking for information on safety, security, or operations, he is your go-to guy.
  • Brad Currie (@bcurrie5 ) – A co-founder & co-moderator of #SATCHAT with Scott Rocco, Brad is currently a Supervisor of Instruction in Chester, NJ. I finally met Brad face to face at the NJPSA Fall Conference, and was glad I did; he too has an arsenal of resources for teachers, administrators, and parents that are looking to utilize technology as both classroom tools and communication output. Have a question about how to use technology in your classroom or use 21st century technology for communication? Tweet & follow Brad.
  • Dr. Spike C. Cook (@drspikecook ) A Principal hailing from southern NJ, Dr. Cook has a great background, and uses all that he has learned in education and technology and applies it to his everyday life. His blog offers great insight on everything from how a school can give back to the community to funky videos he created using Apple software (now addicted, I’m trying to make my own) – the sky is the limit with Dr. Cook.
  • Nicholas A. Ferroni (@NicholasFerroni ) – Nick and I first met in 6th grade. All new to the school (all 6th graders use to go to one school together before breaking off into two middle schools), the class of 1997 merged for the first time in 1990. 6th grade, is well, 6th grade; everyone is trying to find themselves and see who they really are, what they really like etc. Nick was a leader; wearing such hot commodities as Z. Cavaricci pants & shirts and Ewing shoes (yea, I went there), Nick was determined to stand out and lead by example. While we went in different paths in high school, we eventually both ended up teaching history. Nick continues to be a leader in his own right; over 10,000 followers on Twitter and a national blog on The Huffington Post. I hope that one day Nick and I will reunite in some type of educational capacity (though I still think he hasn’t forgiven me for transcending to “the dark side” {school administration} like many other teachers) If you’re looking for some inspiration, some real-life classroom instances, or to smile, follow Nick.

If you haven’t picked up on the pattern, these fine folks above are all from the great state of New Jersey. Why did I choose all NJ leaders? Simple: I’m a Jersey boy, too.

I hope everyone in the US has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Thanksgiving celebrations in schools after Super-Storm Sandy


… and the normalcy is schools is finally returning.  

Granted some schools in NJ are still cleaning up, some are trying to figure out how to make up days lost, but, to be selfish, I was most happy to see so many schools maintain the tradition of the annual Thanksgiving Dinner in both the classroom and cafeteria.  For my entire educational career, and most likely for the rest of my career, the ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’ served in school cafeterias is by far the most scrumptious meal of the year.

When I first began teaching, I worked in a parochial school of around 300 students.  The staff took this meal so seriously that the kitchen workers showed up to work at 3:30 AM to fire up the ovens and start cooking turkeys and all of the fixings.  Families were invited to eat with students, teachers brought in some of their favorite sides, and the Principal stood at the helm carving away.  Some saw it as chaotic; others ate like they have never eaten before. It was one of my favorite memories of working there.

In my other schools districts since, I have happily collaborated with cafeteria staff and faculty to create the same experience.  With the recently revised food guidelines for schools, we had to get a bit creative with some of the foods, but that was the least of my concerns after this evil storm by the name of Sandy came along.

Several schools now have displaced students in them; some staff members were still living in hotels, and that normalcy of gathering around a table in your home to celebrate with family was simply not there.  As an Administrator, I see my school as a family, and in times like these, I need to create those positive family moments where I can. So in addition to getting my school back to normal in routines and classes, I was determined to have that Thanksgiving Dinner.  

The first goal was to keep this as simple / normal as possible, so having the dinner during cafeteria times was critical.  I did not want any more instructional time to be compromised.  Next, I sent out an email with a link to a survey to see what families would be interested in attending and who would be up for donating some supplies or foods (the catch with foods – they needed to be recipes that the Nurses approved, all allergy-free for the student/faculty body).  After seeing such a strong response, it was easy to sit with my cafeteria manager and discuss our game-plan.  It was simple: serve a Thanksgiving-like lunch (while offering the traditional school lunch alternatives). We were lucky, as much of the items were ordered before the storm, and our freezers didn’t lose power. We were even luckier, as it was still possible to make many of our meal items from scratch (often difficult to do in with 1000 people to feed)!  I advised her that there will be a side table that students / Staff can approach for additional side dishes and desserts, which would be manned by parent volunteers.  With everything set, we were ready to rock-n-roll.

The meal was served yesterday without a hitch. The amount of excitement from students, staff, and parents was barely containable. The food was spectacular, the parental support was amazing, and most importantly, my family of students and staff were given smiles, laughs, and full bellies…all apart of Thanksgiving.  

You can’t take that away from us, Sandy!


A Thanksgiving classic & staple in US elementary classrooms

You can’t have Thanksgiving celebrations in schools without a little bit of Charlie Brown Thanksgiving! I’m pretty confident that you can tie CCCS / Common Core standards from every academic subject (and certainly character education) into this classic. If you haven’t had your celebrations in your classrooms yet, make sure you double-checked your food allergy lists and your Administrator is aware if food is apart of your celebration.

‘Historically Illiterate’ students- – 5 tips to address the problem


As a former middle school social studies teacher, I was appalled to hear (but not too surprised) that historical author David McCullough said on the CBS show “60 Minutes” that American students today are ‘historically illiterate’. He went on in great detail, as McCullough typically does, as to what we can do to address it.

I’ve come across those various media clips where people can name more Simpson’s characters than Supreme Court Justices, can name The Three Stooges, but not the three branches of government, etc. This was different; something struck me when a college student approached McCullough after a lecture and admitted she thought the 13 Colonies were in the middle of the US and not on the east coast. I cringed, and immediately began to think of my old lessons and activities, trying to assure myself that this was not one of my students!

In most cases, the social studies curriculum is very broad. In most states, social studies starts in Kindergarten, with the family and learning about each other. Each year, this propels in into lessons on the community, which progresses into the town, state, and, eventually the basics of the Revolutionary War in 5th grade. Middle Schools in the US typically begin with a year of world history followed with two years of American History, and, depending on your track for post-high school, courses are selected.

One issue has continuously arose with students not performing well is boredom. Boredom can and will lead to historical illiteracy. McCullough made several indirect references that students often get bored in class, often leading to apathy and loss of connection, hence becoming ‘historically illiterate’. Here are five staples that I used in my classroom daily to curb boredom:

1. Integrate technology. Social Studies teachers typically live & die by the textbook. While textbooks have totally evolved within the past three years, it’s time to stop using them as the end-all-be-all. There is a plethora of technology than can be used in a classroom today, form student cell phones to interactive websites. Make sure your district has a policy / regulation pertaining to cell phone usage, and start searching the web!

2. Build a common vocabulary. Social studies classes are fortunate enough that a certain group of vocabulary words are used over and over for the entire course. Start the year / unit off right by utilizing those words and use them daily. If you have the same historical vocabulary vocabulary in play, all in attendance won’t feel like outsiders when they hear these words, and will follow along with your lesson.

3. Switch it up! Learning Stations, PBL units, skits, newscasts, webquests, cooking demonstrations, art analysis, music sampling, museum trunks – – – you get the idea. The more you differentiate, the bigger your audience, and hence more student attention.

4. Remember – this is THEIR CLASSROOM. A 21st century classroom educator is more ‘guide on the side’ and not ‘wise sage on the stage’. From students developing their own class rules to students asking other student’s follow-up questions, student engagement is paramount – and will keep all on their toes (and hence pay more attention).

5. Seek feedback from peers and Administrators. I’ll admit it – I had some lessons that crashed-n-burned. I also had lessons that were so awesome that others teachers did the same lesson the next year. Your peers are boards of input, and since most schools are utilizing the PLC format, it’s a great place to share, reflect, and change. Making those small changes (or scrapping all together) shows you openness and your willingness to try to reach others.

None of the above is easy – but this is education – nothing is easy. I hope you can try something new, and alleviate this historical illiteracy that is cast upon us.

Link to the McCullough segment on 60 Minutes: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57547353/david-mcculloughs-heroes-of-history/?tag=contentMain;cbsCarousel

#NJED Disaster Relief for Schools

NOTE: The Original post can be found at Teachercast.

Dear Friends,

The last few days have seen some of the most heartbreaking photos and videos coming out of the state of New Jersey. Even days after the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, over 1 million New Jersey residents are still without running water or power.

Today, we are announcing, along with other great educators across the state the #NJED Hurricane Sandy Supply Relief program.

This program demonstrates the positive power of Social Media and it’s effectiveness in helping those during their time of need. School Districts affected by Sandy can simply fill out the form on the website listing supplies they need in order to get back on their feet. School Districts, business, or individuals looking to donate can contact those in need directly to provide assistance.

Please help us and spread the word of this event by linking our #NJED Badge to your website or blog

Thank you for your time and consideration for this great cause.

We are also looking into creating a place for donations to be made for school districts/students in need. If you could help us create such a place, this would be much appreciated.

For more information: #NJED Disaster Relief Hompage


Normalcy is paramount for a steadfast return

For those in the Northeast, we are just beginning to return to some stages of normalcy. Power is being restored, cable/Internet is making its way back, and commerce is beginning to open its’ doors. Surely we will be taking significant detours and planning some driving habits over the next few weeks, but towns will try to return to some kind of normalcy.

That being said, it’s crucial that your school try to establish your daily routine as quickly as possible. Having special schedules or anything that is different “just because” is not needed. Normalcy is needed for students and for staff. Everyone in the school has gone trough the natural disaster together, and having a normal routine will help all.

Naturally, you’ll have some students and staff that will be still effected by the storm. It wouldn’t hurt to reach out to your counselors and offer some resources to aid in assisting those in need (links will be below). Also, local hospital or clinics tend to offer grief or trauma counseling services free of charge after natural disasters. If your school needs it, make a phone call and see if they will.

Some post-crisis links:

Jerry Blumengarten’s disaster link webpage

teaching after a disaster

10 ways to help your IT department recover

helping students cope after a hurricane

hurricane stress & distress handouts