Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chris Lehman and Robert N. Lee in a Dialog about Teachers

In a dialog that in and of itself is an argument for school unblocking Facebook to allow teachers to participate in this kind of thoughtful discourse, Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy Principal Chris Lehmann posted to Facebook this morning a link to his "Practical Theory" blog post, "What We Should Remember."

Very worth reading, too, is the thoughtful and soul-searching response Facebook (not on the blog, so teachers in workplaces where Facebook is blocked will of course miss it) comment from Robert N. Lee. My heart goes out to him, especially since some of my own experiences as the parent of school-age children mirror some of his, with the qualification that they have not all been public school experiences. His depiction of some teachers as can't-do civil service hangers-on will rile many of my readers, but I'd defy them to prove that those teachers don't exist. On the other hand, I add my own belief that they are in the small minority. It's just that when one of those teacher's detrimental practices impact your own child, it doesn't matter how small that minority actually is, does it?

I surfed on over to read his post, and since Chris is a cherished member of my PLN and since I highly value the information he shares (information is the new currency of the new economy, of course), I read it carefully. He's a good writer, and his thoughts approximate some of my own musings over the past year. They're well-intentioned, personal, and almost confessional expressions of his belief that teachers' most important role is caregiver. I did take exception to his suggestion that distance learning cannot provide that "hand on their [students'] shoulder." Indeed, in the kind of Virtual Learning program, perhaps even Virtual "School" that I am helping to envision, design, and implement, that is an essential component. It's just how that will look that's still up in the air. If anyone knows of a program that "gets that right," I'm all ears. I suspect that Florida Virtual School does to a large degree, but I also suspect that other programs off my radar are making the effort to form strong caring relationships with their students. Comment here if you have one to suggest.

All that is to say that my travels today, part of our program's effort to establish and maintain relationships and support, took me to three public high schools to talk with four students and four counselors today. I'm actually in the waiting room at my last stop right now, waiting for the School Counselor to come from a "Student Exhibition" of his or her work over the last 9 weeks. That's a feature of the Nashville Big Picture High School, and another example of the innovative work going on in MNPS. At my first stop the overworked counselor dialed up the student, a 17 year old senior at home who should have graduated last year but is missing two credits, one of which he's taking via the district's A+ credit recovery program, online, and one of which he signed on to take from our program. I have no way to check his progress on the former, but I can say that he's not put in more than 6 minutes on the latter, despite repeated outreach efforts. He's given up. It's tragic. So close to that diploma, and so far away, as evidenced by his falling asleep while we were talking. I gave him a pep talk, made him repeat after me "I can do it," and we disconnected. Again.

At my 2nd stop, the first meeting was with a counselor and a student and the student's parent. It was truly inspirational. This student came into public high school in the ninth grade from homeschooling, has worked hard, and as a junior still just doesn't like school. She wants to graduate early and is willing to work at a superhuman level to do it. For her, that means taking not only a full course load at high school but also taking not one, not two, but four courses full time throughout the remainder of her school year. This could be problematic in that the student fell seriously off pace in the past couple weeks, so much so that we were alarmed. But guess what? She dug back in to her Econ and Government classwork and has all but completed it. Not only that, her parent is willing to pay for the extra courses next semester--she has that much confidence in her child's ability. We're going to weigh this one carefully, because we don't want to set the student up for failure, but we are also going to do everything we can to do what we do: "the next right thing for the student."

The next counselor and student were a breeze. This child has plowed successfully through her Economics course on pace, has just a couple more tasks to complete in it, and we scheduled her proctored final exam for Monday. That's the way it should work.

My final stop is to talk with a student who's taking Spanish and is seriously behind. His counselor emailed for instructions last week for proctoring his final exam, but I'm here to remind him personally that unless he finishes basically the final half of his coursework over this weekend he will have no final exam to take, since its unlocking is tied to completed coursework. Is it possible? Possibly. If not, there's an F in his future.

My point here is that we are working to support our students, we are refining our course offering introductions to make expectations clearer: We're actually looking at ways to pre-test for disposition to online learning, ways to build in support on the front-end. Sometime support means denying acceptance, doesn't it?

Just another reflection from a struggling learner.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November Reflections

Organizing my punchlist today I find myself musing about our first three months of work, its successes and its less-than-successes, and I'm promising myself that I'll do some reflective journaling right here, and soon. Watch for it. Meanwhile I am thankful for our growing team, our full schedules, and our dedication to do "the next right thing" for our students no matter what.

Watch for Kecia Ray and Barbra Thoeming at the Tennessee Educational Technology Conference this week. I may make an appearance there on Friday, I'm hoping...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What, indeed, has changed...

...since mid-May, 2008, when this clip was uploaded to YouTube? That's the question former ISTE board member Gordon Dahlby asked in a Facebook share of this video just today. What do you think?

I'm collecting here to support some budding professional initatives. Pardon my mess. ;)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Web 2.0 for US! Session at Martin Professional Development Center 101910

I had a great time yesterday facilitating an all-day Web 2.0 (and beyond) session for 18 MNPS teachers. The participants were a very nicely balanced mix of elementary, middle, and high school teachers and we got right into it at 8:37 a.m. The class was supposed to get underway at 8:30 but my watch (this has never before happened) inexplicably stopped at 8:16 and I kept glancing at it thinking, "we have a few more minutes" until I thought "It's been 8:16 for quite some time. Has time stopped?"

Off we went. The session was guided by the PowerPoint/GooglePresentation embedded here and underscored by dialog in a live chat room at http://chatterous.com. I have now pasted the chat log into slides at the end of the pressie and added a few replies to questions or comments I didn't see because I was sharing my little heart out up front of the room. The final slide shares a bit of my own reflection on the day's work.

Please take a few minutes (11, which you will not regret) to view the Ken Robinson presentation we started the day with, because as I said, "I want you to know where I'm coming from..."

Thanks again to all my wonderful new colleagues and my hearty encouragement to you to keep the faith and keep your change moving in the right direction. On of our main support structures at Virtual Learning is "Do the next right thing for our students." You know what it is. You are good teachers.

Here is:

Cross-posted from scottmerrickdotnet

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Presentation for High School Counselors, Sept. 14, 2010

High School Counselors are our first line of contact with our students. Barbra and I sit down tomorrow, the day after the posted deadline for application to take one of the 1000 available half-credit courses, to set up for enrollment. All MNPS Counselors met yesterday for a day of professional development at Martin Center and Kecia and I had the opportunity to speak to some of them in our breakout session "What Can Virtual Learning Do for Your Students?"

Friday, September 3, 2010

The First Week of Classes

Friday is a favorite day of mine. Happy Friday! My days are filled with small planning or student monitoring meetings punctuated by training sessions on various management platforms, presentations at larger meetings, and an hour or two here or there in my cozy corner cubicle working on an urgent need for the program. We presented yesterday for the Principals of the MNPS Antioch cluster, Kecia opening our session with an overview of Instructional Technology for the school system, Barbra stepping in to provide details on our Virtual Learning program--its inception, its plans for the future--and me in a support role, adding a little icing to Barbra's well-baked cake. I believe we were well received. No one in the room, and there were around 50 hard working high school Principals, could fail to see the benefits of offering quality online educational opportunities to the children of our school district.

That said, there are some things we need to change. Tennessee, as you may or may not know, is bordered by more states than any other state in the union. Each one of the seven states surrounding Tennessee has a Virtual School. We do not. It is, in fact, against state law for there to be a "virtual school." Huh?

Until we can get that law changed we are a "Virtual Learning Program." And we cannot reclaim homeschooled students, or those who have chosen private schooling, into the public school system by providing them online learning opportunities because of a law that states a child cannot access online learning programs if they have not been enrolled in a public school the previous year. Huh?

My Friday half-day (I work longer days early in the week to allow myself household responsibility afternoons on Fridays) will be mostly consumed by training in A+ Learning, a system MNPS has in place in schools to provide a credit recovery means to students who have taken a class and failed it. This is elearning, but it is not virtual learning, mind you, but even though the distinction is clear to me it does provide an  opportunity to students that would otherwise not exist, and I'm happy to make it part of my focus for that reason. I'm diving in, with Barbra, to know it inside and out in order to help bring more fidelity to its implementation throughout the school system. We'll do that, hopefully, with teacher training and by building some community amongst the teacher facilitators at each school. Stay tuned on that!

On with Friday!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Laying out the "Campus"

Okay, I know it's real-life residue, buildings that look like buildings, but I'm beginning to work on the design for my kids' new virtual campus in ReactionGrid and I'm beginning with an OpenVCE .oar file from which I deleted some stuff, moved some around, and replicated some in ways that the makers likely did not intend for them to be replicated. I love the OpenVCE setup because it seems just the right mix of land and water and it features that wild water-filled volcanic pit mountain with the landing zone level cap. I wonder what we'll end up putting _in_ the mountain? A soda shop? Skateboard park! That's IT! Both!

Here's a first draft map after only about 3 hours total inworld design time:

and I'm sticking to it (at least for now). In the lower right hand corner, the "Dorms" are stacked 5 high (will be 7 high, and contain a ground level computer lab meeting place where kids can sit together and login and do their online class work while chatting. There's a big drawing board in one window, a Jeff Lowe Brainboard in another, and there will be sprawling stations with relaxing poses on the Persian rugs I laid out. I'm just beginning, you understand, and the idea for dorms, places each student can call home, just came to me yesterday morning. I may change those to more residential-looking OpenVCE domiciles, but I'm thinking the open floorplan will serve us better in the beginning.

I haven't locked down anything yet to building , and I'm sure that I'll need to at some point, so the mountain feature sports a big sandbox with a filled texture giver for building. Offices for the admin team will be in the center right building, and the open roofs will give some flexibility for take-off and landing. Campfire stations in the open green, a dance area which will have music, and an ampitheatre round out the place for now. 

I haven't heard any complaints from neighbors, but the two-megaprims each walls around the region's perimeter are intended as much to save my neighbors from the sprawl I hope to maintain in my region as it is to tidy up the horizon for my students. They are coded phantom, so fly right through and visit anytime!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The (closed) wiki post about what's going on

This is a post that's copied from a wiki that is hopefully the way we'll communicate with our "pioneers" at MNPS Virtual Learning. I'll introduce the wiki to our first students this coming week. This blog is open and is intended as a reflection journal. I hope it serves.

Here's the first post at my personal page at our new (private) wiki:

I'm Scott Merrick, and I have a long job title, "Virtual Learning Curriculum Specialist." I was brought into the Virtual Learning Program as the second hire, right after my colleague Barbra Thoeming, who leads us as "Virtual Learning Coordinator." As Coordinator, Barbra "gets" to go to many more meetings than I do, and she has intricate mastery of the big picture for us. We worked together with Jack and Sherry the first week of employment, which began August 2nd, to create the foundations for what we envision will be a gigantic leap forward for Tennessee schools. Out of "virtually" nothing came our website, MNPS Virtual Learning, our beginning course offerings, and our procedures for enrolling our first students, both full-time and part-time.
One of the first things I did was to customize the lighting in my little Dilbert cubicle.

It's great to be here, and I look forward to serving and working and enjoying the service and the work! Here's my space, which a colleague has dubbed my "Cozy Corner." Nothing like unscrewing a few fluorescent light bulbs to make a place comfortable!

More Students Need Laptops--USA Today

In my email inbox from Keith Bennett, Litton Middle School Technology Educator, with the little message, "Thought this might interest you," was a link to a USA Today article about a laptop program in Walled Lake, Michigan's Consolidated School District that points to the future, driven by perceptive administrators and educators, and is well worth the read. Staff writer Stephanie Steinberg gets to the point with a quote from a participating school principal:
""We would never send our own kids to pediatricians that were practicing medicine from the '70s or '80s," says Mark Hess, principal of Sarah Banks Middle School in Wixom, Mich. "Why would we send our kids to schools that are practicing instructional techniques that are decades old? If we did that, it'd be educational malpractice."
Indeed, although hundreds of thousands of parents are in that unenviable position not out of their own choice, but  because they are beholden to the policies of schools and school districts that are not so forward (or even present) thinking. Enjoy the read at  More Students Need a Laptop...

In other news, we now have 9 of our first 13 MNPS Virtual Learning students enrolled in their courses. Barbra and Sherry have worked tirelessly with Theresa at Middle College High School to understand each student's needs and to craft a schedule for them that will challenge them but not discourage their completion of coursework. We will watch closely and offer every bit of support we can muster, as we continue to build this program, toward building this school, underneath them. Please, dear Powers-That-Be, let our Blackboard P.O. burst out of the procedural entanglements and into the hands of Blackboard so that we can get going on our Learning Management System!!!

My mantra for the day: Let me know the next right thing, then do it, and do it well for...

Monday, August 2, 2010

First Day on the Job

This is going to be interesting and challenging. I've already issued a blocked site override request for Second Life, which I consider an essential tool in my mission to create and implement a virtual school. Hippo stalled in efforts to get to ReactionGrid and Science Sim, so I'm imagining we need to get some firewall port action working as well. Use of virtual worlds in this school is likely a year off, at best, but that doesn't mean exploration and investigation doesn't need to be happening. I'm on it.

I'm spending the day with Blackboard and course vendor introductions and getting settled into my little cubicle. Nice people, helpful people, and my little USB fan is buzzing away. Not wonderfully happy about the lighting, but I can learn to live with it. I'm rambling. Back to work!

Friday, July 30, 2010

From my Facebook announcement of the new position:

Scott Merrick That's done. Resigned from USN, accepted the new MNPS "Virtual Learning Curriculum Specialist" position, paperwork at Metro tomorrow. Change is in the air. I largely owe my PLN and all my colleagues for this exciting new opportunity to build a virtual school like no other. On we go.

Tuesday at 7:01pm  ·  · 
    • Kathleen Norris Congrats! I know you will be fabulous as this new position!
      Tuesday at 7:04pm ·  · 
    • Laura Nicosia Congratulations, Scott! I'm sure you're going to find fulfillment as you tackle this new position. They're lucky to have you.
      Tuesday at 7:16pm ·  · 
    • Cynthia Van Gilder Garrety Congratulations!
      Tuesday at 7:34pm ·  · 
    • Teryl Magee Congrats, Scott!
      Tuesday at 7:35pm ·  · 
    • Jan Maier Oh wow!!!!!
      Tuesday at 7:39pm ·  · 
    • Caren Levine Wow! Can't wait to follow this new adventure of yours!
      Tuesday at 7:55pm ·  · 
    • Jessica LaQuee Brogley That is awesome! I'll be looking forward to following your adventures!
      Tuesday at 7:56pm ·  · 
    • Brian Smokler Wowza!
      Tuesday at 8:03pm ·  · 
    • Lindy McKeown WOW!! Totally awesome Scott. You'll WOW us all I am sure.
      Tuesday at 8:06pm ·  · 
    • Jan Zanetis This is great news. Way to go, Scott!
      Tuesday at 8:23pm ·  · 
    • Scott Merrick Thank you all. I am so looking forward to the future. Putting on my shades.
      Tuesday at 8:39pm ·  · 
    • Lisa Phelps Linn W00T! I'm soooooo happy for you!
      Tuesday at 8:41pm ·  · 
    • Michelle Weigle Brown Congrats! I have to say though, there's three little Brown children that are not at all happy about this. Elise in particular would like a word with you :)
      Tuesday at 8:48pm ·  ·  1 person · 
    • Jo Kay Congrats!!! ;)
      Tuesday at 8:55pm ·  · 
    • Debbie Grooms Ooooooooo awesome!
      Tuesday at 8:58pm ·  · 
    • Noreen Strehlow I'm so jealous but I'm also really, really happy for you Scott! I wish we were moving towards the future like this all over the country!
      Tuesday at 8:59pm ·  · 
    • Kecia Ray YEAH!!! Metro Schools is so lucky to have Scott and Barbra on our team to build a virtual high school! Thank you Scott for taking this leap with me!!! Hang on for the ride of your life :)
      Tuesday at 9:49pm ·  ·  1 person · 
    • Lee Ann Merrick I am so proud of you and proud to be by your side always!
      Tuesday at 10:44pm ·  ·  2 people · 
    • Noreen Strehlow Do you need any out of town art teachers????
      Tuesday at 10:47pm ·  · 
    • Carolyn Rains Congratulations!!!! Have an awesome time!
      Tuesday at 10:54pm ·  · 
    • Jon Paul Hooper Seems you have custom tailored wings!! Way to jump!!
      Wednesday at 12:28am ·  · 
    • Josh Scouten Congratulations Scott!! I didn't realize the what the big smile on your face was indicating when I saw you in the hall today. You will be missed but know you will do some amazing things in your new role. Good luck!!
      Wednesday at 12:29am ·  · 
    • Scott Merrick Michelle I have to say that the hardest factor in the decision was losing the chance to be with "my" children. It still is, and is likely to remain so. Tell Elise I'll be helping to make Nashville a better place by helping other kids to better learning. I know that won't make up for my absence :) but it may help. And tell her to "Be Good and Have Fun."
      Wednesday at 5:20am ·  · 
    • Andrew Wheelock Yeah Scott

      Go get 'em tiger!
      Wednesday at 6:14am ·  · 
    • Dr. Zsuzsa very exciting--good luck Scott!
      Wednesday at 6:47am ·  · 
    • Bronwyn Stuckey Well done - and I hope these virtual scholl students will find their way into Quest Atlantis to come play with us. All the best of warm wishes for an exciting new future there matey!
      Wednesday at 7:10am ·  · 
    • Knowclue Kidd OMG! One step for Scott, a GIANT LEAP for educators!
      Wednesday at 7:30am ·  · 
    • Kyle Gomboy Bring it on!
      Wednesday at 8:47am ·  · 
    • Jennifer Bostwick Owens Congratulations, Scott! You and your work will be missed at USN!
      Wednesday at 9:27am ·  · 
    • Peggy Sheehy Oh Boy! GO GO GO GO !!!!!!
      Wednesday at 9:52am ·  · 
    • Doreen Pugh Congrats, Scott!
      Wednesday at 12:20pm ·  · 
    • Scott Merrick Thanks, all, I'm still in shock. But setting up my new iPad, just issued to me when I stopped into my new workplace to confer about schedule, helps ;)
      Wednesday at 12:45pm ·  · 
    • Anne Despres-Thorp what a great opp, Scott! They made a great choice in you.
      Wednesday at 1:28pm ·  · 
    • Lucy Gray Wow! So exciting! Congratulations!
      Wednesday at 2:27pm ·  · 
    • Esme Qunhua That is so cool. Looking forward to hearing more about the job.
      Wednesday at 4:10pm ·  · 
    • Barbie Thoeming I am so excited to be part of this adventure with you and Kecia! When is your first day?!
      Wednesday at 6:19pm ·  · 
    • Terra Sieberman Woo hoo! Congratulations!
      Wednesday at 6:31pm ·  ·  1 person · 
    • Scott Merrick Barbie me too! I'll be there Monday in a very flexxy week. We're already cooking up some stuff related to A+ and I'm hoping to do some Blackboard explorations this weekend.
      Wednesday at 6:55pm ·  ·