Click Barns, Sock Puppets & Troll Factories

The 2017 YouTube video #Socialnomics has recently reported that we are preparing almost 30% of students for jobs that don’t exist yet.  I’ve always wondered what kind of jobs they could be.  Sadly, we are learning about them in today’s times.

I was exposed to three new terms this year that didn’t exist years ago:

  • Click Barns
  • Sock Puppeting
  • Troll Factories

For those that don’t know about these, I wanted to share them, as these terms are creeping into education practices, but have been more prevalent in politics and news.


A clickfarm.| image credit:


Ever wonder how something gets so many website hits or how it’s ‘liked’ by so many people? Look no further than a click farm. Click farms are offices/apartments that house hundreds of cell phones and thousands of SIM cards.  People and/or businesses that are looking to have search terms rise or fall can get click farms to change how you view products or people. Knowing that 90% of people do no go past the first page when a google search is conducted (Wressics, 2016), “pushing down” a search term is easier than ever.  Here’s the catch – it’s illegal; you’re manipulating data to reflect a false impression.  There are people now dedicated to finding the patterns of this practice and working with police to eliminate them.


Sock puppets in action. |image credit: 


If you ever watched the Showtime television series Homeland, you heard about sock puppets in the 2016 season.  Sock puppets are groups of people hired to create accounts (like the click farms above) of every rang of social media known to us as we know it, and then comment on various articles, news websites, blogs, and other topics to boost a search topic or sway an image. This may sound familiar, as Russia has been accused of doing this to sway the 2016 presidential election. You can watch sock puppets in action by clicking here.


A troll farm in Europe. | image credit:


The third term that has and is causing quite a problem in the online world is troll farm. Troll farms are like sock puppets, but their goal is not to just sway opinion, but incite hatred or anger. Troll farm employees are hired to deliberately cause/create conflict on a website, blog, or online forum. They do this by posting comments that are provocative or inflammatory. Troll farms have been confirmed on national news websites that typically show news in one angle (i.e. Fox News, MSNBC) and have been found to be at local news online stories as well. It should also be no surprise that all of the names that are created are just that; names. Less than 2% of people use their actual name as a username online.

A New Jersey Education Association executive once told me that education has changed more in the past 6 years than 60. I thought it said a lot coming from her; educators, in general, don’t like to acknowledge change, especially when they are comfortable in a routine (I know firsthand, I was one). With these new job creations, we all need to be cognizant of these changes so that our learners are aware of these things. The learner today has had the internet and social media presence in their lives for 100%. Scary as it may be, it is what it is, and we must be ready; our future depends on it.


Blockbuster, Redbox, Netflix, & __________

The AASA Digital Consortium met in the last week of July in Roseland, Illinois (right outside of Chicago). The group consists of superintendents from around the country who are looking to continue to expand on services provided for our students while seeing true innovation and leadership by example. We were in Chicago last year and had our socks knocked off; this year did the same.IMG_0248We jumped right in and began to review the ISTE standards for administrators from 2009.  While we were all impressed that the standards did apply to today’s times, I had a fascinating conversation with Dr. Nick Polyak, superintendent from nearby Leyden, IL. Nick and I were talking about the above slide and how, while some things change, there will always be folks looking back to the past and wanting to use what was comfortable to them before. Nick used the great analogy of how we had once had thisdownload-1 and then this download-2

and now many do this,download-3 and in the future we’ll be doing something I can’t list because it’s not in existence yet.

Now, Blockbuster isn’t entirely dead.  There are still stores in Alaska (a great story done by CBS Sunday Morning if you haven’t seen it) and there’s a great video from The Onion as well.


The moral of the story is that we in education need to adapt, just as the rest of the world has. Education is one of the few (if not only) professions where the times have changed, but we are still implementing a system that was designed by a group of rich white guys from the 19th century, placed in facilities that are largely from the 20th century, and occupied with students who are in the 21st century.

Besides this brain-exploding moment I had, other highlights of this gathering included

  • Learning about all of the wonderful happenings in CCSD59 and how the focus in on employees, learners (who attend a year-round program in this school), and shifting from the traditional education system to learner-active classrooms (Pics below are from the year-round school’s media center / makerspace).
  • Exploring how Rolling Meadows High School offers its students design challenges The chair below was made with $20.00 worth of supplies and had to hold up to 40 lbs and how their physical education program will change the rest of the country. I firmly believe this.  Not only did they build an indoor track and gym under their main gym, but they are using technology to track everything from student recovery time to how students are using velocity to lift weights!
  • Speaking with recently graduated seniors from Wheeling High School‘s NANOTECHNOLOGY LAB to see how their studies have changed their lives.  Not kidding! This lab has millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment in it.
  • Examining future possibilities from the CoSN’s learning matrix.

In all, this was a superb gathering that showed everyone in attendance how education continues to evolve for the communities and learners we serve. I can’t wait to see what Seattle brings us in October!



To The Moon

I always go into a school looking to see what our future is creating. Seeing students show their progress and intellect is, by far, one of the best parts of my job. Much student work I get to see is the result of class projects. I was introduced to a class project that was a bit different last year; out of the box is an understatement. I was approached by a science teacher who said we can send a science project to space. For real; we can send a science project to SPACE!

It took me a good three days to process that statement. Upon doing some research, we found out it would cost quite a bit. $23,000.00. That’s quite a bit.

After further reviewing the project, there is an opportunity within the program that partners us with a national foundation who does a great deal of soliciting on a national level. Out of $23,000.00, national companies have allocated $11,000.00. National companies, who don’t me, my schools, or my district, have allocated thousands to a project that has nothing to do with them. I find that to be amazing in itself. However, we still have $11,000.00 to raise.

The teacher and I began collaborating immediately. This was going to be more than a bake sale and selling some magazines. While we have been fortunate enough to have a dedicated Home & School Association and a community that is constantly being solicited, they keep responding. We are going to do some unique fundraisers, including collecting lightly worn shoes, selling poinsettias and fruitcakes, and some tricks up our sleeve. All in the name of science. All I’m the name of space!

We  are also seeking crowd funding. Over the years, crowdfunding has contributed to some wonderful projects. While there are many websites, we went with GoFundMe. Feel free to donate to our cause by clicking this link.

Any and all donations would be appreciated!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for helping us get to space!

Chicagoland: science, STEAM, and sheer awe

The following was published on the BAM radio network and on the AASA website:

In late July, I had the opportunity to participate in the AASA digital consortium summer meet up. The consortium visited two superb districts (Leyden High School District 212 and Deerfield Public School District 109) as well as one Titan in its own class (the Chicago office of Google).


The symposium started with an overview of the Leyden school district. A diverse, blue collar town, Leyden has a little bit of everything to offer. What was most impressive was the fact that Leyden truly understood the necessity to prepare young adults to be adults in the workforce.  Not that they weren’t preparing for college prep too, but it’s always fantastic to see what schools are doing for the student going into the workforce. 

Tours like this always start with “the nickel tour” (tour of the building),  which was immaculate. The building itself was over 70 years old, but you would never think it. I later found out that the entire maintenance team are non-outsourced employees, which we all know leads to high quality work and investment in work. When I say immaculate, I could have eaten my lunch off of the floor.

We then saw two specific programs that were essentially turnkeying students for the workforce. One program focused on CNC machinery (tool & dye) and the other was computer repair. You may think CNC machinery as odd, but there is a large CNC plant in town, and the district collaborates with the plant in creating and maintaining the program. The epitome of win-win.

The computer repair program was a variety of mini-stations: a student-lead technology help desk, a chromebook repair station, and a coding station. All stations were oversaw by a teacher, but all work was being completed by students. From diagnosing computer problems to 3D printing parts for said computer problems, it was a well-oiled machine. 

The next day was spent at Google’s Chicago office, where Superintendents from around the country gathered to brainstorm and work through problems. This was all done in one of many conference rooms that Google has. And yes, before you even think about it, he offices were amazing. Part IKEA, part arcade, part diner, and part cubicle, the offices were amazing. All of the things about the Google office that I heard were correct, including:

  • Funky furniture
  • A manicure/pedicure and massage office
  • Fully stocked kitchens on every floor
  • Nap pods
  • Ping pong
  • Some of the most creative minds I will ever come across.

The third day was focusing on another Chicago suburb school district, Deerfield. The district, the almost polar opposite of Leyden, is a K-8 district focusing on preparing students for college prep classes in high school. Most impressive was the newly built science wing, which took three years to build after scads of tinkering to perfection. To be honest, words can’t really begin to describe the detail and quality of these science rooms. The pictures below speak for themselves. Every single aspect of the room was focused on; no stone was left unturned. Highlights of the wing include:

  • Floors that had scientific Equations embedded in them, as well as state of the art seating

  • Monitors all around the room are are connected to one camera in front of the teachers station, so the teacher can model as students partake in labs

  • Rain collection stations for fully functioning aquaponic workstations, along with camera equipped bird houses
  • A hallway designed with RGBOYV for studying purposes, along with monitors that are reporting outdoor temperatures and scientific data

The tour also included a new STEAM lab and was loaded with students talking about their daily experiences. 

In all, three amazing days this summer. Superintendents need to see this – it shows all of us that work needs to be done in our home districts, and also shows us that all of the dreams and thoughts that run through our head everyday are indeed fully capable of becoming student reality.

I’m looking forward to the next collaborative venture. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

5 Books for the Educator this Holiday Season

The holidays are here again!  You’re in search of that perfect gift, but you don’t want to buy a fruitcake, mug, or poinsettia for the educator this year.  You’re tired of the same stuff, and you want to give a meaningful book this holiday season to someone who is an educator and WANTS to read something related to it.  No ‘chicken soup’ or feel-good books; books that will help an educator, won’t break your wallet, and will be appreciated this holiday season.

(Note: all images were procured from


Connecting Your Students with the World

by Billy Krakower / Jerry Blumengarten / Paula Nagle

An easy read combined with methodical steps, I bought the book for every teacher in my District. The book offers an easy path to give your students a more interactive, authentic learning experience, shows you how to use web tools to get K–8 students in touch with other classrooms worldwide,and helps you find and communicate with other teachers and classrooms and even design your own collaborative online projects. The book also includes detailed instructions for each activity and connections to the Common Core, ISTE, and Next Generation Science Standards.  Order it here.

The Power of Branding: Telling Your School’s Story

by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis

Yes, Tony and Joe are my friends, but their book is to the point and easy to implement upon first read. You get  step-by-step guidance through the process of using tech-based tools to inform, engage, and support your school community. The book also examines the benefits of branding and will help you create an action plan for sharing the excellent things unfolding in your classroom, school, or district. Perfect for the teacher or administrator who’s still dipping the toe in the social media water. Order it here.

Worlds Of Making:  Establishing a Makerspace for your School

by Laura Fleming

Simply put, Laura is a rockstar. The book is perfect for the librarian / GT teacher / administrator who wants to hop on the MakerSepace Express and get something up and running.  You don’t needs scads of cash; just junk and some shoeboxes!  From inception through implementation, you’ll find invaluable guidance for creating a vibrant Makerspace on any budget. Practical strategies and anecdotal examples help you create an action plan for your own personalized Makerspace and also helps one to align activities to your curriculum standards. Buy it here.

The Prize  by Dale Russakoff

A few years ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced to a cheering Oprah audience his $100 million pledge to transform the downtrodden schools of Newark, New Jersey, then mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie were beside him, vowing to help make Newark “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” But their plans soon ran into the city’s seasoned education players, fierce protectors of their billion-dollar-a-year system. It’s a prize that, for generations, has enriched seemingly everyone, except Newark’s children.

This book has it all: drama, celebrity politics, big philanthropy, extreme economic inequality, the charter school movement, and the struggles and triumphs of schools in one of the nation’s poorest cities.   Not the feel-good book of the year, but for those that like politics and like to think, this is for you.  Order it here.


Leaders Eat Last  by Simon Sinek

All teachers and administrators get leadership books, and lately get their fair dose of emotional intelleigence (EI) books as well.  How do you siphon through them all to see what works and what does not? Imagine a world where almost everyone wakes up inspired to go to work, feels trusted and valued during the day, then returns home feeling fulfilled. Today,  great leaders are creating environments in which people naturally work together to do remarkable things. The book delves in to by leaders who create and cultivate rockstart teams, where they are able to trust each other so deeply that they would literally put their lives on the line for each other, with the concrerte being “leaders eat last”. This principle has been true since the earliest tribes of hunters and gatherers. Sinek stresses thoroughout the book that it’s not management theory; it’s biology. To quote Sinek, “We thrived only when we felt safe among our group. Feeling safe leads to stable, adaptive, confident teams, where everyone feels they belong and all energies are devoted to facing the common enemy and seizing big opportunities.  When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leader’s vision and their organization’s interests.” This was an awesome read.  Order it here.


On Slow Bus Ride to China: 3 Initial Takeaways

Ella, please don’t be upset that I procured your song title, but for those that didn’t know, there’s a lot of traffic in China. A whole lot.

I can’t even begin to summarize how amazing my trip to China was. Surrounded by fellow Administrators, Superintendents, and BOE members, we had superb conversations and saw things in ways our educational eyes are trained to.  

So much to share, and most of my pictures will do the talking. Here my big three initial takeaways:

the ELL class had about 60 students in the room!

1. Nobody cares about your party planning. I’m into details when planning an event in school. I want everything to look perfect / reflect education, feel comfortable, yet professional, and if I am having several people in for a meeting, I want decent food and coffee. All of that in China does not apply at all. Sure, we ate food, but never at the schools. Most buildings were dilapidated at best, and cleanliness was not the priority. Why?

 Because the focus is on learning. 

What does a coat of paint have to do with teaching? You’re cold? Wear a coat. Hungry? Bring a snack; it’s not the set of Iron Chef. These are my interpretations of what I saw. 

one of the arenas where PE classes were held

2. Some of those “elite” private schools that wealthy US folks pay to get in? They’re hogwash in China too.  Educators know when they see good lessons and gobbledygook. To quote one person from the trip, “Every teacher we saw in this Private school was on the B-Squad.” By far, some of the poorest instruction and class management I’ve seen. These “educators” wouldn’t be on the B-Squad; they would have been on the unemployment squad. The worst part? I’m pretty sure that the parents that have them in the school think some mind blowing education is taking place. Nope. I truly felt bad for these high school students. We all know that some of this malarchy is happening in US schools, but I can’t imagine the hoodwinking is that bad.
  3. Kids are kids…anywhere. This may sound a bit offbeat, but I was under the assumption that we’d see all seriousness and silence from sunrise to sunset. We saw smiling and laughing, some bored and “playing school”, and even saw kids just being kids. Thousands of miles apart,  compiled with a very different culture, and kids are still kids.

More to come on this with collaborators for an EPUB from Glenn Robbins and Spike Cook later on. Until then, I’ll be drinking my coffee, watching scads of awful television, and working on this whole Ed.D thing. 


More China:


#ISTE2015 — my brain STILL hurts, but in a good way.

my bade got its’ fair share of wear and tear!


This is so hard. I have been trying for days on how to lay out my takeaways from ISTE this year.  In two words:  AMAZING & OVERLOAD.

Let’s start with the amazing:

I started on Sunday morning at 8:30 with TeachMeet ISTE. In the first presentation alone, Chris Alvies blew my mind.  I literally had 19 windows open, and I went into overload.  I had to get up and take a walk outside.  Not kidding.  His presentation was off the charts.  You can see his presentation by clicking here.

Finally meeting Jerry Blumengarten face to face!


I then got to catch up at lunch with several friends from Twitter; it’s so great to meet people from around the world that you’ve been chatting with face to face.  Yes, I’m a geek, but I don’t care 🙂  Twitter has made me an outstanding educator, and those I follow and follow me are to thank for it.  Anytime I can thank them, I can.

Everyone loves meeting BrainPop!

I next headed to the BrainPop seminar on becoming a certified BrainPop Educator.  Before you go and say it’s just a site with videos, a robot, and assessment, there’s been WAY more added.  Check it out yourself.  

OnCourse Systems rented out the entire Constitution Center for an eveing event. It was amazing!

After that – EdCamp Global.  A great meet-up with all sorts of great people doing great things.

Following that – the keynote with Soledad O’Brien. The biggest takeaway; Soledad said that education in our country is the next civil rights movement, and I couldn’t agree more.

John LaRose and I pledged together in a fraternity over 15 years ago. He lives in Hong Kong these days; only at ISTE can you get reconnected!

It was 8:00 PM, and while many were heading out to get their party on, I needed to go home and pass out (I live 14 miles away). I was exhausted.

The next three days were just as intense. I was trying to explain to some non-education friends that this is not just going out and partying — this is WORK!  The workshops, the convention floor (the convention floor took me TWO DAYS to cover!  TWO DAYS!!!), the conversations, the meetups, the collaboration, and yes, the intense learning.

Some of the takeaways that are worth sharing (in my opinion):

If and when I can recover, I’ll be happy to share more.  Until then, when in doubt, seek out Gandolf & Curious George.


Mic Dropping at The White House

75 of the best and brightest from the government, companies, and education together for the Maker-Movement cause.

Yep, you read the title correctly; I dropped the mic at the White House.

Our agenda for the Roundtable

This whole event happened very, very quickly. I got an email last Tuesday about a MakerSpace event at the US Patent and Trade Office in Alexandria, VA. The Sunday afternoon event (and very random date and time, even for the unconference crowd) peeked my interest, as it was one of the rare times where the federal government was dipping their toes into murky waters.  I was on the fence until I got another email from a colleague working at The White House. The email was a simple one; come join us at the White House for a conversation with other leaders from around the country, focusing on the Maker movement.

The proclamation signed by President Obama

As the proclamation states above, this is the second year that the President has claimed June 11-18 as the National Week of Making. The Week of Making is an important one in education for many reasons; most importantly, showing that ingenuity is the catalyst for growth.  Small minds are creating for big problems.  The maker concept (maker-space, mobile-maker, STEM, STEAM, digital shop, whatever you wish to call it) is allowing our learners to create, engage, and explore with their hands.

Our view from our meeting room in the EOB.

Several teachers, librarians, principals, and superintendents had the chance to partake in the actual process and model on Sunday at the US Patent & Trade Office in Alexandria, Virginia. While it’s always cool to see such a variety of folks together for a common cause (ranging from DC librarians to teachers from Alaska), it was a great surprise to see so many of my PLN from Twitter in person!  Mike Lubelfeld, Nick Polyak, Matt Miller, and many others; it was a GREAT time.  The USPTO asked what was our biggest takeaway was — mine was learning about the USPTO Education & Outreach program.  Did you know that the USPTO offers a whole PD program for teachers AND students?  Inventions and making go hand in hand with the patent.  Please check out what USPTO have to offer by clicking here.

Nothing is cooler than meeting your Twitter PLN in person; here is Superintendent Mike Lubelfeld, one of many colleagues I met in person.

Then comes the big morning. After walking to the White House and getting through the myriad of security (side note – all of those security snafu’s you hear about at the White House  – hogwash.  It’s one of THE MOST intense security measures you can go through) and boom… it hits you.  We are in THE WHITE HOUSE!

It was a superb morning of conversations and sharing from the Department of Ed, EOP officials, funders, administrators, and, of course, teachers.  We got to give some summaries in the end, and well, I did, in Jay style.

Before you knew it, it was time to go home.  I still don’t think I can process what happened.  By far, one of the BEST days as an educator, period.