2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Monday, November 23, 2015

PBS Teaches Us Symmetry

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
                        --William Blake

Symmetry can be found all around us. You need only look in the mirror to find evidence that the human body is symmetrical. If you draw a line down the middle of your body, you will see that one side is the mirror image of the other side; this is called bilateral symmetry (a.k.a. reflection symmetry or mirror symmetry). 
This is EXACTLY what "fearful symmetry" looks like!

Another common type of symmetry is rotational symmetry. If a figure can be rotated a certain number of degrees about its center and look exactly the same, the figure is said to have rotational symmetry. 

You call this rotational symmetry.  I call it weird.

Plants and animals that exhibit symmetrical features are thought to be healthier than asymmetrical members of their species. In this video segment from Cyberchase, students will learn how symmetry reveals itself in nature. When Bianca wants to learn why her plants keep dying, she turns to a plant expert at the New York Botanical Garden for insight. The expert shows her some patterns in plants, including bilateral and rotational symmetry, before discovering the pattern that may be killing her plants. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1O7BVjg

Sunday, November 22, 2015

My Day at the WVIZ Ideastream Conference

Tuesday, November 17, was an exciting day.  I battled morning traffic on 77 North to get to the PBS WVIZ Ideastream Conference, and I arrived early enough for a Starbucks treat. When I checked in at the registration table, the nice lady said, "Oh!  You're Stephani.  You need to go see that gentleman at the next table."  Worried that something was wrong, I introduced myself, and he told me to follow an intern.  Next thing I knew, I was in the television studio, the same television studio where I took my students to see Tom Hanks and John Lithgow.

The studio seats about 200 people.  Soon it would be packed!
This time, I would not only be lucky enough to sit in the front row, but I also was honored to present after the keynote speaker, Dr. Susan Finelli.  My name was on the web page and in the program!

There I am!
As I waited, a nice lady fitted me with a body microphone--how surreal is that?  Then we rehearsed until we broke the computer.  I blithely posted selfies while the tech people sweated bullets trying to figure out the problem.

A photo posted by Stephani Itibrout (@itibrout) on

I took a selfie with Jay Wise, History teacher at Copley Middle School and fellow 2015 PBS Digital  Innovator.  The best part is that he is my daughter's teacher, so I texted the pic to her to freak her out.

A photo posted by Stephani Itibrout (@itibrout) on

 Then Jay and I received certificates for being 2015 PBS Digital Innovators, and I got a cool mini-guitar!

Let me say that it was difficult to follow such an interesting speaker (Dr. Finelli), but I breathed deeply and dove in.  Here is the link to my presentation on Community Service in Blended Learning.

I think it went well.

Later, Shannon Conley-Kurjian and I presented a session on using YouTube tools to explain complex concepts.

I attended some great sessions from Stephanie DeMichele, PBS' NewsDepth, and Ann Radefeld, who challenged us to beat some elementary school kids in a game of Mystery Hangout.  They kicked our butts.

After lunch I listened to IdeaTalks from Morgan Kolis ("How to Start a Maker's Club in Ten Steps"), Stephanie DeMichele ("If You're Going to Fail, Make It Epic"), and Eric Curts ("The Big Blank Wall").  The speakers from all of my sessions were so dynamic and so full of information that I felt like I could go back to my school with takeaways I could use immediately.  That doesn't always happen at a conference.

Thank you so much for an amazing day, WVIZ and PBS.  Your conference has inspired me to strive to hone my craft.  I will be back.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

True Grit Revisited

What’s the best predictor of success in a person’s life, including success in education? When it comes to predicting the latter, psychologist and former educator Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth says we need to better understand students and learning from a motivational and psychological perspective. “In education, the one thing we know how to measure best is IQ,” Duckworth says. “But what if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily?” Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, studies non-IQ competencies, including self-control and grit that predict success both academically and professionally. Over the course of her research, she says one characteristic emerged as the key predictor of success – GRIT. So what exactly is grit? Find out in her TED Talk. http://to.pbs.org/1l9YkmD

It takes a lot of grit to finish a half marathon in hot weather and 80% humidity.

Want to read more about grit in the classroom?  I learned an important lesson in my Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition class; click here to read the full post on True Grit.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

PBS Honors Veterans

Military veterans are extraordinary — their bravery inspires us and their sacrifices secure our freedoms. 

The man on the far right is my Uncle Frankie.  He was sixteen or seventeen (I've hear conflicting stories) when he lied about his age and joined up during WWII.  His biggest problem (he told me) was that he was tiny, and he had to "make weight" to enlist, so he gorged himself before weighing in.  Is this true?  I dunno.  Uncle Frankie had a lot of great stories, and my grandmother ( his big sister) tended to discount most of them, but I didn't care. I loved to listen to him.  Seeing this picture, knowing that Uncle Frankie was involved in an air battle and survived, reminds me that we are so lucky to enjoy the freedoms we have.  I am grateful to all veterans.

This PBS LearningMedia collection of videos, images, and lesson plans allow you to bring their compelling stories from the battlefront into American history and world history classrooms. Students will explore the similarities and differences in veterans’ memories of World War II and Vietnam to uncover how these wars shaped American culture. Your class will also learn about everything from the experiences of men on the battlefield during D-Day, to the decision to drop the atomic bomb, to the events in Somalia in the early 1990’s that inspired the book (and movie) “Black Hawk Down.” EXPLORE: http://to.pbs.org/1MubiHH

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cherokee Language and Nature

The Cherokee believe everything in the environment, from crops and animals to creeks, mountains and even the wind – all have an intelligent spirit and play a central role in daily life. The Cherokee do not view themselves as separate from the environment. Rather, they see themselves as part of it. Their language reflects that. 

“Language is the core to any culture because it is what that culture expresses itself with and it is the dynamic mechanism through which that culture continues,” says Tom Belt, Coordinator of the Cherokee Language Revitalization Program at Western Carolina University. 
Cherokee Syllabary

In this lesson from UNC-TV, students learn about the link between Cherokee language and culture, how it was almost lost to history, and how Western Carolina researchers are working with the Eastern Band of Cherokee to study, preserve and grow the language once again. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1LYh823

Monday, October 26, 2015

Frankenstein Comes Alive

"It's alive!"
That memorable line was in Frankenstein the movie, but it wasn’t in the book. 

I prefer this version.

And many think of Frankenstein as the stiff-armed, fabricated monster, but that was actually the doctor’s name.

Boris Karloff as the monster

 In this episode of “Crash Course,” John Green introduces your class to Mary Shelley's famously frightful novel. Students will learn about the Romantic movement in English lit, of which Frankenstein is a GREAT example, and how Frankenstein might just be the very first SciFi novel. As it often does, literature comes down to just what it means to be human. John will review the plot, take the class through a couple of different critical readings of the novel, and discuss the final disposition of Percy Shelley's heart. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1RhBa7E

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Why is it important to protect the brain? Are boy’s brains different than girl’s brains? How does your brain interact with your body? 

Zombie wants to know this : Why are brains so yummy?

Your students can explore these and other important discussion questions as they probe the power and mystery of the brain. In this video from The Human Spark, Alan Alda talks with Dr. Todd Preuss on the subject of the brain and how it functions. Preuss studies the brain with the help of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI machines, which reveal the sophisticated circuitry of the brain’s cortex. 

Students will learn how the cortex differs in individuals and how those differences could relate to how people think or act. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1j60gf5

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Eyes Have It

Humans, like most other mammals, are primarily sight oriented, which means that our eyes are our dominant sense organs. The reason we rely so heavily on vision most likely lies in our evolutionary history. Millions of years ago, the way of life of the ancestors of Homo sapiens favored those with good vision and selected against individuals who could not see as well. 
Nice eyes!

Frightened eyes
Alice Cooper eyes
What the heck???

In this lesson based on NOVA’s "Mystery of the Senses: Vision,” students explore how their eyes receive visual information from the world around them, and how our brain makes sense of it. This lesson pieces together the components of human visual perception, and includes a fun and engaging classroom activity that allows your class to view optical illusions and further investigate the human visual system. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1M15DXU

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hispanic Heritage Month at PBS

Who were the people that lived here before Europeans first explored America? In this episode of Crash Course, students get an enlightening U.S. history lesson presented by John Green, who talks about the Native Americans who lived in what is now the U.S. prior to European contact. Green starts the lesson by shedding light on the established way of life of American Indians prior to colonization, and later, discusses what life was like during the first sustained European settlement in North America by the Spaniards. As Green describes, the Spanish have a long history with the natives of the Americas, and not all of it was positive – they were not known to be peaceful colonizers. Green then teaches students about early Spanish explorers, settlements, and what happened when they didn't get along with the indigenous people. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1L3FclF

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Antiques Roadshow Teaches Me History

I don't watch tv.  

Wait--that's not true.  I watch Dr. Who, and that's it.
This is my Doctor.

Wait--that's not true either. Sometimes I will pretend NOT to watch Antiques Roadshow when my husband is watching it, but we both know better.  I don't care about the ugly paintings people bought at garage sales, although I still catch myself exclaiming, "Ten thousand DOLLARS??? For that ? WHAT???" before going back to mindless clicking games on my computer.  What I do enjoy are the stories.  There are so many fascinating histories made personal with a trinket or a spoon or a chair.  Sometimes you catch a doozy of a story:

During the Civil War, Union soldier Fernando Robbins was captured by the Confederates and imprisoned. Robbins kept a diary while in prison, writing about the conditions he faced and the people he met. He collected numerous other artifacts during his time in the South, including a small Confederate flag, a stencil of his name, and several pieces that he carved while in prison. These items were passed down through the Robbins family, along with a photograph that shows him in uniform. 

Share this video from Antiques Roadshow with your class as they examine some of these artifacts alongside appraisers. This “unique archive” offers an illuminating historical glimpse into the experiences of a Union solder who served time as a prisoner of war. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1JBI2Hp

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I'm not a Biologist, but I Can Blog about Marine Biology and Ecosystems!

Whales fascinate me.  I've always thought about how graceful they are despite their size.  Ever since seeing the crew from Star Trek use George and Gracie, two humpback whales, to save Earth, I have yearned to see a whale in the ocean.


This summer my family visited Boston, and we booked a whale-watching trip.  It was incredible!  We found two humpback whales, and for at least half an hour we watched them blow water and air, fluke, and dive right next to the boat.  It was a very moving experience for me.  My kids thought I was insane when I brushed tears from my eyes.

On August 31, I was lucky enough to catch PBS's video of a blue whale returning to a part of the ocean where there hadn't been whales in many years.  I could explain what that was like for me to watch and for the host of the show to witness, but instead I'm just going to share the link with you.  See for yourself! 

Did you cry?

I loved how the host explained how the whales were just starting to come back because the ecosystem was healing.

In healthy island ecosystems, living things and the natural resources surrounding them are in balance. This balance creates resilience. A resilient island has a greater ability to bounce back when forces outside its control, including climate change, disturb it; however, if an island’s ecosystems have been weakened because of harmful human activities, the balance is lost, which has a negative effect on living things and makes it much more difficult for them to recover.

In this interactive activity, students explore Pacific high island and atoll ecosystems, learn about the threats to island resources and residents, and discover how communities are preserving their future. They also learn about the services these ecosystems provide and how they become compromised by change. EXPLORE: http://to.pbs.org/1L9Xlxm

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Let Your Students Design Apps!

I am fortunate to work in a BYOD school where all my students have access to wifi and technology.  Almost every student I teach owns a smart phone, and the students who don't own smartphones own tablets or iPods.  For the students who don't have access to these devices in class, I provide access to a class iPad or class Samsung tablet.  Now, just because the students bring these devices to class does NOT mean that they want to use them for academic purposes, a topic about which I posted here.

Wait--you want me to use these TO LEARN SOMETHING????  Are you out of your mind?

I insist on my students using their phones as a research tool. After all, won't they need to do this in college and for their jobs?  In fact, can my students create jobs using their cell phones?  Consider the app:

According to the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of teens have a cell phone, and almost half own smartphones – and those phones are likely filled with apps. Teens don’t have to be limited to the role of consumer in today’s digital marketplace. All they need is a little know-how and they can solve a real-world problem from the palm of their hand by creating their own app!

In this activity, students will design an app idea to tackle a problem related to public art in their community. For inspiration, show your class the accompanying series of videos of students presenting their app ideas, and then walk them through the Mobile Design 101 lesson as they find app-based solutions to community challenges! EXPLORE: http://to.pbs.org/1Ugsp03

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Teaching Forgiveness and Self-Acceptance to Children

I have a 13-year-old and an 8 year-old.  With the younger, my challenges involve listening to elaborate strategies in Pokemon and Minecraft, getting him to put his cereal bowl away, and blocking out the whining.  
Do you have any idea what the heck this is?  Me neither.  Now imagine faking your way through a conversation in which you must weigh its strengths and weaknesses against other weird characters.

With the older, well, let's just say that thirteen is a difficult age.  Middle school is the time when children don't feel like children.  They have opinions; they have hormones.  They express themselves in sarcastic internet memes.  It's all a way of finding an identity.  Unfortunately, so much of that search is unpleasant for those of us who share the experience.

This is my mantra when my daughter scolds me for not knowing a thing about "Supernatural" yet daring to talk about "Dr. Who" at the dinner table.

Adolescents are often pulled in opposite directions by the desire to alternately conform and be an individual. As they struggle to find out “who” they are as a person, some may become uncommunicative, uncooperative or rebellious at home. At school, others will become willful and opinionated, or confused and hesitant to speak up. 

I try to be a good mother; I try to listen more than I talk.  I remember what it felt like to be a teenager: My dominant emotions were rage, black depression, and unbridled euphoria.  There was no in-between.  When I was a teenager, I believed that there was no reason to share myself (my true feelings) with any adult; I believed I was "alone" and "nobody understood me."  

"Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?"

I can't really pinpoint a moment where my mindset changed.  I think that I still have moments of extreme emotion, and I know that there are many times that I am decidedly unlovable.  As I've grown older, I've taken more responsibility for my own happiness, and I realize that happiness with others is not possible until I am happy with myself.  And so it goes with teens.

As young people begin to be themselves and love who they are, they will find the confidence to not only learn better, but contribute to the world around them in positive ways. In this lesson from WGBH, students watch videos about self-acceptance and forgiveness. After watching, help them explore how these qualities relate to personal growth and leadership potential. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1DrjxL7

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Failure is the Mother of Invention

My last post reflected on the importance of curiosity and risk-taking to creativity and invention.  I touched on failure as a risk, and it got me thinking: Why is failure a risk?

So many times my students see their writing as a "final project."  They put something down on paper (or on a screen), and they call it a finished project. There are two sayings that students often hear in my classroom: 1.  You can't just vomit your thoughts on paper, say it's done, and then expect me to admire it.  I don't admire vomit.  2.  There is never a finished project in writing.

My intent is to make writing, all writing, continuous.  I want students to constantly reflect on their writing, their learning, and their processes for that writing and learning.  My role is to help that reflection by providing formative feedback, and I do.  A LOT.  The problem is that students (and parents) are so used to seeing feedback as a final decision, a grade, that they are devastated if that grade is lower than an A.  Why should it be an A?  I have never done something right the first time (including writing these blog posts).  I am used to failure because I fail every day.  This doesn't mean that failure is final.  Failure is a step in my growth.  Why did I fail?  How can I fix it?  How can the next attempt be better?

Last year, I had an incredibly bright student--let's call him Joe--who was working on a digital storytelling project in my AP Literature and Composition class (click here for a link to the description of the project).  I had given guidelines and rubrics for the outcomes, but the instructions on how to achieve those outcomes were purposely loose.  I wanted the students to have freedom of creativity; I didn't want to keep them on a leash.  Joe worked happily in his group on the project, but the submitted "final" result did not meet the requirements of the rubric.  I used the rubric for my feedback, and Joe was upset with himself and his group because they didn't pay enough attention to the rubric.  I told him not to be upset; just fix the project and resubmit.  His face lit up, and he said, "You mean I can redo it and make it better?"  Of course; that's the point.  Learn from your failure and make it better the next time.  Joe's next product was MUCH better because he analyzed his mistakes from his first attempt (based on my formative feedback) and corrected them.

Now, I've been writing about, well, writing, but this can apply to anything. Ask a mechanical engineer to describe his or her career path, and you’re likely to hear something along these lines: I built this cool thing, but it didn't work, so I had to take it apart and try again.  And again.  And again. Failure is tool for learning; no inventor gets it right on the first try.

In this video profile, students meet mechanical engineer and inventor Nate Ball, who explains his big invention – a rope-climbing device named the Atlas Power Ascender that is employed in search-and-rescue operations. He describes the process used to design, build and test the Ascender and discusses the role of failure, which is not only common in engineering but teaches valuable lessons. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1ea3ScA

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Boredom and Mistakes: Necessary for Invention

Sometimes my favorite thing to do is to ground my son from electronic devices.  Because he is eight and mouthy, it is a rather frequent occurrence.  During this time, I forbid him to tell me he is bored (and when he does, I give him a chore to do).  
Sigh.  Okay.  I guess I'll play in the fresh air with my gazillion toys AGAIN.

When he tires of reading and writing, he starts inventing, and that is where the fun really begins.  He has created countless robots, TV screens, computers, and machines, which he stashes in his room.  We are not allowed to throw out cardboard boxes or milk jugs in this house, and my son has big plans for the stack of wood in our basement.  
This tree house is in our future.

There are at least two things that are necessary to cultivate an inventor: curiosity and mistakes.  Boredom is a plus to spark curiosity, but it isn't always necessary.  Children naturally want to know how things are put together, which is why they spend so much time taking things apart.  

I am trying to do a better job of encouraging my children to invent both at home and in the classroom.  One way is to give them freedom to meet the goals of the lesson in any way they choose.  "You need to show me that you have an understanding of Ralph Ellison's depiction of the Harlem Renaissance.  How you do that is up to you."  

Freedom can be exciting, but it can be frustrating, too.  One way to encourage invention and relieve that frustration is to allow mistakes in order to grow.  We all need to make mistakes; otherwise, we never question what we know.  Inventors make LOTS of mistakes; that is how they improve their inventions.  What if we taught our children that mistakes are something to embrace instead of something to fear? What could our students accomplish?

Are your students curious about how things work? Do they like to come up with new ways of doing things? Then they have what it takes to be an inventor!

In this MARTHA SPEAKS interactive story, students learn how new devices are developed. After inventors come up with an idea to improve life, they test it out, make changes as needed, and then work to refine and perfect the invention. From that, students will learn how to experiment as well as learn from their mistakes, and ultimately, create something that solves a problem! EXPLORE: http://to.pbs.org/1AhKFN1

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Educating Body and Mind

Can you sit still and concentrate for more than seven hours? How, when, and where do you do your best thinking and planning?  
How long before your back starts hurting?  An hour?  Two?

Chances are pretty good that your first answer was "Heck, NO!" and your second answer, either through preference or necessity, involved some sort of activity.  I am a high school English teacher, and while I love reading in bed more than I love chocolate, I would not be able to fully concentrate and function for more than seven hours without some kind of physical activity.  I can't even function for more than one hour without moving or stretching. As for where I do my best thinking and planning?  That would be in the middle of a run.

This is EXACTLY how I look when I am planning lessons. . .and finishing a half marathon.

The thing is, if we can't sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, why do we expect our children to do so at school?  Standardized testing is taking over our schools, and strapped school boards are cutting physical education and recess, what many people initially considered "gravy," from their school curricula in order to spend more time with test preparation.  Is this good for kids?  If you asked your students if they’d like to have more P.E. time, do you think they’d say “yes”? Of course, they would! 
This is what schools are losing.
Good news for them – lately, a different kind of “movement,” one that goes beyond a focus on testing and raising academic performance, has been catching on. 
Active learning incorporates strategies like dance and play to help students concentrate better, navigate social situations and practice leadership and patience. 

Teachers and administrators who create the right balance of academics and play report promising results in their classroom. Using this PBS NewsHour video, help students understand why physical activity is important to both the body and the mind. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1LLjwsA

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Teaching Healthy Food Choices in School

As a runner, I'm pretty aware of what I eat and drink.  I try to include as many fruits and vegetables as possible in my diet, and I do track my nutrition on myfitnesspal.com.  

My children at home and my students at school are aware of my eating choices; discussing food and exercise is just a way of life to me.  I try to show them that moderation is the key to healthy eating, and I try to demonstrate eating to fuel my body rather than bingeing to compensate for an emotional need.  

One thing I do with my Blended Rhetoric and Composition class is food blogs.  I demonstrate with my post about making butternut squash quesadillas, and then I bring in the quesadillas to share with the class.  In my blog post, I write about taste, texture, and nutrition.  Sometimes this hits home with the students when it is their turn to write posts and share food, but more often than not, it just gives our class an excuse to eat brownies.

Not healthy, but oh, so good!

Different foods provide different kinds of nutrients, and some foods are more nutritious than others. That is the basis of this multi-media lesson from WGBH that teaches your students the fundamentals of nutrition and how essential it is to our health! 

The lesson begins with an activity in which students consider two plates of food – one composed of healthy choices and one composed of “less healthy” choices. Students then watch a video about healthy eating habits, and discuss the role of fruits and vegetables in a wholesome diet. Your class will also investigate snacks and learn about the difference between "everyday" and "sometimes" foods. 
Everyday food
Sometimes food

Finally, they’ll participate in a hands-on activity that challenges them to make healthy choices while preparing a plate of food for a friend. EXPLORE: http://to.pbs.org/1H4azqZ

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Love from PBS LearningMedia

As a PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator, I get really cool stuff to share with you each week.  This week the theme is "Backyard Summer."  Each week I will share links and material with you to help you in your lesson planning.  Here is the video for the week of July 6:

Do you like slugs, spiders and beetles? In this video from Wild TV, students learn about many different kinds of insects, and gain a healthy reverence for them. They’ll see that some insects crawl like spiders and centipedes, while others fly, walk on water and even flip and “click.” 

Students will also learn the names of some interesting-looking insects, like the dobsonfly. They will discover how to be safe around dangerous spiders and how some use escape reflexes, like the click beetle. As they listen and watch closely, students will observe how the speakers in the video feel about the various insects by the way they react to and talk about them. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1ICx6Jr

Like what you read?  Follow me on Twitter @itibrout.  I will share a new link each day.  Some will be useful for elementary school teachers, some for higher levels.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I'll Meet You There.

Sometimes teachers who incorporate technology into their teaching can't understand teachers who don't (or administrators who don't encourage technology use in the classroom).  I hear the frustration from teachers who say, "It's a new era of teaching.  Why won't people just give it a try?"  I get it.  We have discovered a new world, one that is both stimulating and frightening, and we want everyone to get on the roller coaster.


Roller coasters can be more than scary; they can be dangerous.  They can make you sick, or at the very least give you a headache.  The key is knowing what you can handle and taking one. tiny. step. beyond that.  Unless you are like me, and you just jump in the front seat and strap yourself in with that flimsy lap belt.  Jump first; panic later--that's my motto.

This is what ed. tech. looks like.  Does it frighten you?

There are times when I talk to my colleagues, and I mention projects I'm doing in my classes, and they are horrified.

"You let the students USE THEIR PHONES?  All the time?  Why would you do that?  They are just texting."

"I couldn't spend all that time putting notes and lessons on Blackboard.  If the students want the notes, they have to pay attention when I present."

"Why should I spend all that time creating an online quiz/game when we all know the site will go down as soon as I need it?"

"What do you mean, you let your students re-do assignments until they have 'mastered' them?  How much grading do you do?  How do you keep students accountable?"

I get it.  I do.  Sometimes I say the same things.


I think those people secretly want to get on the roller coaster.  I think they are afraid of failure, that failure of a lesson means they are failures.  I know this feeling, and my goal is to help my colleagues overcome it.  The question is. . . how?

This month PBS Learning Media informed me that I am a 2015 Lead PBS Digital Innovator.

Stephani Itibrout



Read the Full Bio
Stephani is an English teacher and blended learning teacher at Medina High School in Medina, Ohio. Stephani knows that learning is messy, and Blended Learning is especially messy. She loves seeing the light bulbs illuminate above her students' heads when a seemingly chaotic project suddenly clicks into place.
Favorite PBS LearningMedia resource: Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure: Paris

This means that I am lucky enough to join twenty-nine colleagues who are committed to learning more about effective integration of ed tech in the classroom.

It also means I get to attend the first day of ISTE!
Because I am sure I have impostor syndrome, I have been asking myself why I have the honor of receiving this award.  I went over and over my video and essay submissions, and this is what I have decided:  I am a 2015 PBS Learning Media Lead Digital Innovator not just because I want to share my digital learning discoveries with my students, but also because I desperately want to share the roller coaster fun with my colleagues.  I've figured it out: one tiny step beyond your safety line, that's all it takes to hook you.

I'm going to try to hook you by meeting you where you are, just like I do with my students.  You like to lecture?  Ok, let me show how to backchannel using  Today's Meet, a great way to collect students' questions and reactions during your lesson.  You can archive the whole thing--no risk.  If it doesn't work, dump it.

 Do you like bell work?  Let's talk about Answer Garden; you can poll students online before class and discuss their answers as soon as the bell rings.

My point is this: we "digital innovators" need to realize that baby steps are necessary.  Offer one thing only, and if that one thing works. . .offer another.  Years ago, my very wise department head told me, "Students can only really process one lesson at a time.  Teach them ONE THING.  When they have mastered it, move on."  And so it is with teachers.

Where are you on the path of digital innovation?   I'll meet you there.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The "New" Paper

My sophomores finished their persuasive research papers in February, and they presented them as speeches in March.  This took more than a month of preparation: how to research, how to document sources, how to prep a paper, how to edit and revise, and finally how to turn a persuasive paper into a speech for a cause.  It was exhausting for all of us but totally worth it.  I feel confident that my students have practiced good research and writing technique, and I hope they will tap into this process the next time they have to write a formal paper.


Our next composition is a comparison paper, and I thought, "What do students normally compare and why should they care about it?"   The answer is this:  Students are consumers, as any marketing agency knows, and they compare EVERYTHING.  What kinds of research do students do before they make a purchase or use a product?  They read reviews on Amazon, or they watch them on YouTube.  So, I decided to tap into their natural curiosity about the products they consume.  Our comparison paper became a comparison consumer review.

The easy part was teaching them comparison format, and the fun part was showing them embedded YouTube clips of comparisons of fast food.  See James Norton, who used to be Supertaster for Chow.com, review burgers in this clip:

The students loved watching Norton review peanut butter, hot chocolate, you name it.  I loved that we could talk about the structure of his comparisons: Does he use block style or point by point?  How does he remind you of the purpose of his comparisons?

The students also had time to browse written consumer reviews on the web to see what was interesting to them as readers and helpful to them as consumers and what was not.

Then the writing began, and honestly, I thought this would be the easiest part.  Oh, they did a great job with outlines and research, but when it came time to put it all together, they started constructing typical five-paragraph essays.

"Hey!  What are you doing?" I asked the class after seeing students type up neat paragraphs with good topic sentences and quotes from sources to support their points.  "Is this what you would like to read online if you're researching products?"

"Well, no, "they replied, "but isn't this how you write a paper?"

This. Isn't. A. Paper.

It took a class period for me to convince them to support their ideas in other ways than quotes and parenthetical citations.  I reminded them of the pictures and video clips they saw when browsing reviews.  We practiced hyperlinking for the consumer who might want more information.  Finally, I saw some light bulbs going on above students' heads.  Finally, the consumer reviews became relevant to them.

Our next step is publication, but we aren't there yet.  When the editing is done, the students will load their reviews into our Blackboard blog, where they will see all the posts and comment on them.  My hope is that seeing their blog posts online and seeing comments from peers attached to those posts will drive the point home that writing is relevant, and not all writing has to be a formulaic five-paragraph essay--although I'm not knocking formulas or five-paragraph essays; those definitely have their place in the teaching of writing, just not every kind of writing.

Oh, and there is one last benefit to writing comparison consumer reviews:

I don't have to lug these around with me.
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Monday, March 16, 2015

What I Learned at the Learn 21 Conference

First, let me say that it was going to be so perfect, so relaxing.  Shannon and I had prepared our presentation Teaching in Beta: How Video Killed the Red Pen, and we were going down to Columbus early so we would be fresh and ready to deliver at the Learn 21 Conference the next morning.  This was our agenda:

  1. Leave school
  2. Go directly to Starbucks (Frappucinos!  Yes!)
  3. Drive ninety minutes to Columbus
  4. Check into the hotel
  5. Go to a nice place for dinner
  6. Rehearse the presentation
  7. Early bedtime
    You know you want it!
When the car behind us on the highway slammed into us and pushed us into a water-filled ditch, we realized that everything would not be going according to our agenda.  Luckily, nobody was hurt, and we live in the age of cell phones, so we were able to get help.  Lots of help.  Three hours, one policeman, one firetruck, one EMS attendant, and two tow trucks worth of help.  This wonderful team made sure we weren’t in danger, reassured us, investigated the situation, protected us from the cars whizzing by on the highway, and finally pulled us out of the ditch.  It took three hours.

Getting in and out of the car was fun.  It was even more fun for the tow truck guy.  Photo credit:  Shannon Conley-Kurjian

Flash forward to the next morning:  We arrived at Ohio State University’s Student Union with plenty of time to spare, and we started to boot up our devices and plug them into the wireless connection.  Between the two of us, we had brought a Dell, a Chromebook, a Macbook, two iPads, and two iPhones, and NONE of them would connect.  I started sweating as I texted Christina, our tech integration coach, to leave her session and come help us, which she promptly did.  Of course she did the same thing I had been doing for ten minutes, but it worked for her.  Grrrr.  

We plugged the working laptop into the thingy with the cord (sorry for the technical jargon), did a test run, and realized that the sound wasn’t working.  Our room started filling up as flop sweat gathered on my upper lip.  Shannon found some help, and once again a team came to our rescue.  

After all that, the presentation went really well. Click here to see our slides about Teaching in Beta.

I started this post with the intention of reviewing the sessions I saw at Learn 21, but now I realize that those sessions weren’t really the focus of what I learned at Learn 21.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m still going to write a post about Gamification, but that will be for another time.  The most important thing I learned from my two days is the importance of a team.  Shannon, Christina, and I are a team, as you can see from reading our previous posts.  Shannon and I supported each other not only through planning the presentation, but also during the car accident and its after effects.  We found a way to laugh at ourselves and our situation when we had to stop to buy duct tape to keep the back end of the car together on the way home.
Classy, right?

We assured each other (and the other driver) that we were very, very lucky.  Christina offered to pick us up off the highway and stayed in touch with us when we said we’d stick with the car.  I’m not going to mention the fact that she was eating a giant cream puff from Schmidt’s while we were standing in the rain by the side of the highway.  Oh wait. . .
I guess I did just mention it.  Photo credit: Christina Hamman.  Ahem.

When we had trouble connecting at the conference, Christina was the first one there to help, and her calm demeanor kept me from gouging out my brain.  

Danielle Tymitz from Learn 21 hooked us up with fabulous chair massages, which honestly kept me from having to go to a doctor after the accident.  All that tension melted away as the massotherapist kneaded my neck and shoulders.  

The teams of people who took care of us before, during, and after the conference (our techie sound-guys, the tow truck drivers, Medina people, Learn 21 people) turned what could have been a frightening situation into a lesson on support.  

We all need a team.  We need to work together to move forward and sometimes just to hold on to each other to keep from slipping backward. How many times have you decided you were going to give up on a project/student/lesson/administrator and someone talked you off the ledge? Living in Beta means taking risks and being uncomfortable. I feel a lot better knowing that I can take risks in my teaching when I have a team at my back.  I’d like to thank all the members of the teams who helped us to realize this at Learn 21.

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