Monday, July 7, 2014

An Inspirational Student!

I have been to 11 graduation ceremonies at Hopewell Valley Central High School since 2003. It took 7 years before I started to see students walk across the stage who were my students at Bear Tavern Elementary School. It took until this year for me to tear up at a graduation ceremony. Please take a moment to see why and watch the video below of former BT student and CHS graduating senior, Andrew Niederer. It will touch and inspire you.

Video courtesy of HV-TV

If you ever need a reminder of why we do what we do, this is it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

#ISTE2014 Newbie: With A Little Help From My Friends

image from
I just attended my first ISTE Conference & Expo!  Did you hear me? I just attended my first ISTE Conference & Expo! Sorry, I'm just very excited and energized after my time in Atlanta. So much so that I wrote this post in the airport as I waited for my flight home and on the plane. If it rambles a little, bear with me.

Over the past few years, since I started building a PLN via Twitter, I have been watching the stream of tweets with the #ISTE conference hashtag as my school year would come to an end.  As I read all of the tweets going by with links to amazing resources and nuggets from thoughtful sessions, I knew that eventually I would have to go myself. This year, I was able to attend in Atlanta and it was an exhausting, rewarding, learning, connecting, type of experience.

image courtesy of
Fortunately, I got by with a little help from my friends. I was able to hook up with members of my PLN from the moment I got there and they helped show me the ropes. A big thanks to Billy Krakower (@wkrakower), Kyle Calderwood (@kcalderw), Liz Calderwood (@liz1544), Kate Baker (@KtBkr4), and, of course, Jerry Blumengarten(@cybraryman1).  There were many people that I met and had the opportunity to talk with because the folks above took me under their wing and mentored me during my time at #ISTE2014.

Everyone told me that the informal conversations are as valuable as the sessions themselves and I truly understand what they meant now. The learning and connecting can take many forms; a brief chat with Nathan Stevens (@nathan_stevens) and Jenny Grabiac (@techgirljenny) at a social event, a conversation with Jessica Allen (@jessievaz12) over dinner, a dialogue about a project from one of the poster session presenters (they are GREAT) in the Galleria, a warm, wonderful hug and words of encouragement in the Blogger's Cafe from Paula Naugle (@plnaugle), a
me and Paula Naugle
great opportunity to go to lunch with Jerry, Billy, and Kathy Bloomfield from Readworks, or a quick conversation in the conference hallway with Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) to remind that "You Matter!"  These real life connections are part of what make the virtual connections via social media so valuable. 

#ISTE2014 was also filled with fantastic sessions. The biggest problem was deciding which ones to choose because there were often several sessions of interest to me at the same time. I came away with some great ideas from Kyle Pace (@kylepace) and Michelle Baldwin's (@michellek107) session "Full STEAM ahead: Cultivating connections with the arts." I learned that I can start a maker space in my school and classrooms and I don't have to break the bank from the folks at Digital Harbor Foundation's (@DHFBaltimore) session: "Classroom Makerspace: Your Guidebook to Inexpensive Making in the Classroom". I was inspired by the session
Levar Burton speaking to a packed room.
with Levar Burton (@levarburton) whose Reading Rainbow has helped so many children over the past decades. That barely scratches the surface of what I have learned (fodder for more posts).

You never know what opportunities will present themselves at #ISTE2014. I arrived on Saturday and that evening received a message asking if I would help out in a session as a Twitter Mentor. So my first professional development opportunity at the convention was actually working with Elana Leoni (@elanaleoni) from Edutopia and Kyle Calderwood in their session "Saved by Twitter: 10 ways to use Twitter to Connect" (#savedbytwitter) as they worked with a room of 150 new Twitter users to show the power of the social media platform for connecting and professional development. Awesome! The next night I went in to support Jerry Blumengarten and Susan Bearden (@s_bearden) in their session "Twitter 101: Build Your Personal Learning Network" and was asked to do something similar. 

I'm going to stop now because now that I have my initial thoughts down I need to process them a bit more. I am sure there are more posts coming when I collect my thoughts.  Stay tuned...

So, a few takeaways from this post....

1. Go to #ISTE2015 in Philadelphia if you can

While there:
2. Talk to people, they will talk back
3. Take a risk and leave your comfort zone
4. Take the time to explore the Expo floor. There are some wonderful things there and a great deal to learn (I didn't even mention that above!)

But, Right now:
4. Get on Twitter and start to connect with the amazing folks out in our education community.
5. Follow all of the people I mention in this post, you won't regret it!
6. Leave a comment and let's start a conversation here or on Twitter

P.S. Thanks to all of the educators with whom I've interacted during the last several days. It has been wonderful.
Me, Nathan, Kate, Aaron, Liz, & Kyle

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Learner Appreciation Week?

May 5th through May 9th is Teacher Appreciation Week, with May 6th being Teacher Appreciation Day. As a school leader, my thinking on Teacher Appreciation Week has evolved over time. Don't get me wrong the teachers with whom I work are dedicated, amazing professionals who should be recognized for their important work during this week (and every week). However, I feel as though the focus may be slightly askew.

I have found that Bear Tavern Elementary School's teachers are some of the most voracious and excited learners that I have ever met. During this school year our teachers have inundated me with conversations, comments, tweets, emails, and observations that demonstrate a dedication to learning, changing, improving, and never being satisfied. This is what makes them a truly special group of professionals.

Our Kindergarten through Second Grade teachers embarked on a journey to relearn how they teach Reading and Writing through the Workshop model. As a district, we did it correctly by providing continuous professional development and our teachers responded by taking the leap, trying new things, collaborating with one another constantly, and understanding the power of making an attempt and tweaking lessons (continuously). At the beginning of the year, the entire LA block was turned upside down and the teachers had to trust that these changes would benefit the children. Nine months later (yesterday), I stood in the cafeteria with members of the first grade team who were marveling at how far their students have come and the quality of the writing that they are producing. AND... the joy with which the students have embraced this work. Similar conversations are happening in Kindergarten and Second Grade. Why? Because our teachers have embraced the idea of learning a new curriculum and new strategies. I believe the best teachers are avid learners and it is clear that I work with many of those. I look forward to rolling this up to third grade next year!

Our entire school has embarked on developing a true understanding of "transfer of learning." Particularly in our 3rd grade through 5th grade (the testing grades), this has become a theme for the year. Last January I wrote a post after we had a faculty meeting with Grant Wiggins (read it here).  Here is an excerpt from that post:
It seems simple to say that we want our students to understand what we teach; however, our discussion of this topic was truly enlightening.  We explored the things that "a student who understands" can do and the things that "one who knows a lot, but doesn't understand" can do.  Take a step back and think about that for a moment.  It is a powerful distinction.  The examples that Grant Wiggins provided and the vibrant discussion of the staff helped to flesh out this concept.  I have to say that the level of interest, thought, and participation on the part of the faculty was inspiring; especially after teaching a full day!
This led to a discussion of the importance of transfer and what that means for children and assessment.  It is one thing to make sure things get covered and standards get checked off, but it is another to have proof that students understand what has been taught and can transfer that understanding to a variety of situations.  In particular, it is important to ensure that they can do this without the supports provided by the teacher or the scaffolding of a question that provides all of the information to answer the question.

This meeting sparked a discussion about how we design instruction to assist children in transferring their learning from the skills and concepts we teach, to application in a "real world" or at least more realistic environment. The work that our PLCs have done this year is reflective of a collaborative culture that has truly made inroads with this concept. Students are better able to understand their learning in a greater context. I mentioned that these are the testing grades earlier because often it becomes tempting to teach to the test; however, a teaching for transfer mindset is more likely to produce real learning that will ALSO be reflected on the test rather than narrow learning that is MAINLY reflected on the test.

Again, this work in the upper elementary grades is reflective of a culture of learning that consistently gives me a sense of pride to be a part of this community of learners. Additionally, the entire staff has done this while learning a very involved new teacher evaluation system throughout the year AND working to integrate our technology resources into the classroom AND working to share our story with the community via social media and other avenues AND...

I guess the point of this post is to recognize the importance of teachers as learners. The only way to continually improve and be the best at what we do is to continue to learn! I feel as though the highest compliment that I can pay the teachers with whom I work during the upcoming Teacher Appreciation Week is that I am honored to be a part of such an active community of learners.


Happy Learner Appreciation Week!
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

#NJED Chat - Grading and Grading Practices

This week's #njed chat was a lively discussion of grading. In this post I've included some of the thoughts of the participants as well as the resources that were shared during the chat. If you haven't participated in #njed chat, be sure to check it out at 8:30pm EST every Tuesday on Twitter. The seven questions asked were:
Q1: What do you believe is the purpose of grades? #njed
Q2: How do you grade students'  - individual Work? #njed
Q3: How do you grade students' work when it is done collaboratively? #njed
Q4: How do you grade late work? Why? #njed
Q5: Do you have experience with Standards Based Grading? If so, your thoughts? #njed
Q6: What is your favorite formative assessment tool and why? #njed
Q7: (How) Does effort/homework/behavior fit into your grading #njed 

These led to some great discussions about why we grade students. It is interesting to see that many educators are grading students based upon district practices that pre-date their employment and don't necessarily jive with their educational beliefs or philosophy. Another salient point that was raised is the idea of Standards Based Grading as a best practice as opposed to traditional grading.  Following are some thought-provoking tweets from the chat:

These 12 tweets only give you a taste of the wonderful conversation that took place. I encourage you to check out the archive of the entire chat!

Here are some resources that were shared during the chat:

Ed. Leadership - Starting the Conversation About Grades -

Best Practices in Grading -

Grading Practices: The 3rd Rail -

ASCD - 7 Reasons for Standards Based Grading -

TOOLKIT for Evaluating Alignment of Instructional and Assessment Materials to the Common Core State Standards

PARCC Condensed Scoring Rubric for Prose Constructed Response Items (DRAFT)

Grades That Show What Students Know (Marzano)

Standards Based Grading - @RickWormeli YouTube video

Joe Bower posts on Grading/Abolishing Grading

Why Schools are Ditching Traditional Grading

Doug Reeves on Toxic Grading Practices (YouTube)

Doug Reeves - The Case Against Zero

If you feel moved to do so, please provide your thoughts on grading and grading practices in the comments. Also, please join us each Tuesday at 8:30pm EST on Twitter using the hashtag "#njed" as we discuss topics that are important to New Jersey educators and educators from around the world. We enjoy and welcome participants from near and far. Join us!
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Telling Our Story on Social Media

Recently I have challenged the staff at Bear Tavern Elementary School to engage in a variety of technology related activities to help expand the idea of technology as a curricular tool. The specifics of that challenge are fodder for another post; however, I would like to highlight a fantastic by-product of the challenge that has been playing out over the last several weeks.

One of the things that I asked the staff to consider is using Twitter for either personal professional development or to share the amazing things that are happening in their classrooms and the school. I offered several "sessions" on setting up a twitter account and following educators of interest. These sessions were well attended and various staff members who could not attend set up individual times to sit down and learn. For me, personally, this has been very rewarding because it has helped to provide an additional opportunity for me to teach and learn with my colleagues.

One of the major points that I have made in discussions with the staff is the idea of writing our own story. Our school has had the experience of reacting when others have written our story. Often these stories are negative ones relayed by those who are unhappy with something. While there are always going to be these types of stories, if they are the only ones out there, then that is the reality of what the world knows about your school. With this in mind, I have been encouraging the staff to tell the story of the amazing things that are happening inside our walls each day, one tweet at a time. It only takes seconds to post a note or a picture and a caption to relay the magic that happens constantly within our school. This message truly hit home for me after reading  Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) and hearing him speak on the subject this winter. We want to be the authors of our own story!

As of today the following Bear Tavern teachers are on Twitter and many are actively sharing the things that they are doing in their classrooms.

Jill Leestma - @MrsLeestma
Ana Lopez: @atlc_a
Joslyn Johnson: @artrocksbt
Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase
Liz Machado: @lizmachado68
Phyllis Bernard: @BernardALRALMEA
Lori Ayres: @MrsAyresClass
Paula Muhlbauer: @IheartDewey
Lori Drake: @lbdteach
Janiene Baxter: @baxtersbuds
Shannon Mann: @SM_TeachBT
Kim Niefer: @MrsNiefersClass
Breanne Scullin: @MsScullin_BT
Connie McCann: @cmccannbt1
Jill Novak @jillnovakBT
Mandi Perez: @letsgo2lbi
Britt Dominick: @brittmariemusic
Bruce Arcurio: @PrincipalArc

Bear Tavern: @beartavernes

Not all of the above are actively tweeting on a regular basis; however, they are easing into it and I applaud them all. There are also several of the above mentioned teachers who have joined the Bear Tavern Twitter Team. This is a group who also have access to the Bear Tavern twitter account (the last one listed above) and help me tweet out things happening all over the school.

Twitter is not the main communication mode for our school. We still use the traditional channels for that (email blast, virtual backpack, online calendar, etc.); however, Twitter is becoming a way that parents and the community can get a real time glimpse into the day to day learning that is happening at our amazing school. For those who have not jumped into the the Twitter stream YET, we have also placed the school's twitter feed on our school webpage. I encourage you to follow any and all of the Twitter accounts above!

Now I look forward each day to see what amazing things get tweeted, because I can't be in all places at all times either!
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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Integrating STEM in the Classroom: Resources

This past Tuesday, February 25th, we held our weekly #NJED Chat at 8:30pm EST. Our topic was: Integrating STEM in the Classroom. I was very excited about this topic because we are in the planning stages of opening a 4th Grade STEM Magnet Class for our district at Bear Tavern Elementary School.  I will be writing various posts about our progress as we continue to move forward; however, after the chat I received this tweet:

The easiest method seemed to be on my blog. So here is a list of the hyperlinks that were shared during our chat. It is a pretty good list of resources for anyone interested in STEM Education; HOWEVER, if you have others, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE share them in the comments below so that we can all benefit.

Why Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy went MAD!
Framework for 21st Century Learning
Don't Squelch the Creativity #SAVMP
Falling isn't Failing
Infographic: The Value of STEM Education
12 Steps to Great STEM Lessons
If school is supposed to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t it look more like real life?
NASA Explorer Schools

Also, here is a link to the entire chat archive. I encourage readers to peruse the chat because the interaction between the participants was rich with insight, suggestions, and ideas.

"Integrating STEM in the classroom" #njed Chat 2-25-14

Please join us each Tuesday evening for our weekly chat. Our topics are varied and focused on what we do as practitioners. We welcome participants from all over the country and all over the world!
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Friday, February 7, 2014

#DLDay: The Verdict is...

I know, Digital Learning Day was February 5th, but on the 6th I got to be involved in a fantastic example of technology tools being used effectively to break down the walls of the classroom and allow students to learn and connect with students and teachers beyond their school.  I was fortunate to be asked to judge a Virtual Debate! South Orange Middle School sixth graders debated with Lower Alloways Creek sixth graders about the merits of homework.

Before I talk about the technology, let me first say that these boys and girls were wonderful. They were prepared with strong arguments, they formed coherent rebuttals, and they presented convincingly. I was impressed with the amount of support that was cited on the subject from people like Alfie Kohn, Robert Marzano, Harris Cooper and other researchers in the field. The students understood that presentation is an important part of debate and they worked to put forth a compelling and convincing argument for their given side. The only part that was unfortunate was that I had to fill out my rubric and decide on a winning team. They both did such a remarkable job. If you don't believe me and you have about an hour, you can check out the debate here .

I was invited to be a judge by Melissa Butler, one of the teachers involved in the project. Here is the first instance of technology playing a role. Melissa (@AngelinaShy) is a member of my PLN. We connected through twitter and are both part of the planning team for #edcampNJ. Using twitter as an avenue for professional learning, growth, and connection has afforded me various wonderful opportunities (like this debate) and introduced me to some of the most amazing and passionate educators. Melissa co-teaches with Elissa Malespina (@SOMSlibrary) (another #edcampNJ organizer), who is also the media specialist at South Orange Middle School. They were connected with Ruth Williams' and Kristen Ayling's students in Lower Alloways Creek, NJ through another twitter connection, Jay Eitner (@iSuperEit) (you guessed it, #edcampNJ organizer), who is the Superintendent of the district and a strong proponent of technology as a tool for learning.

The students used various methods to research their arguments. It was clear during the debate that the boys and girls were using laptops and desktops to quickly get information to use in their rebuttals. I can only assume that with their teachers facilitating the process throughout, the students utilized resources in the schools' classrooms and media centers, including books and web based tools.

The debate, itself was held using Google Hangout. This is a personal favorite tool of mine. We use it often to hold meetings in the evenings to plan. However, the debate illustrates an amazing use of the tool to allow students to interact with people from other locations. Of course, there were their adversaries in the debate who were several hours away in another part of the state. In addition, the judges consisted of:

Tim Charleston @MrCsays - District Technology Coordinator of Green Brook Twp Public Schools - NJ

Tom Murray @thomascmurray - Director of Technology and Cyber Education for the Quakertown Community School District - Bucks County, PA

Annie Taranto @tarantoannie - Literacy Consultant for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University, NY

Frances Ann Squire @FASquire - Jr. High Technology and LA teacher - Prince Edward Island, Canada
******Her entire class viewed and served as judges!

Bruce Arcurio (me) @PrincipalArc - Principal of Bear Tavern Elementary School, Hopewell Twp., NJ

As you can see by my highlighting above, the Google Hangout allowed these two schools to debate with judging from 3 states and a Canadian province! This was a wonderful example of
how technology serves as a means and not an end.  The tech was NOT the ultimate goal. The goal was to allow the students to research and conduct a debate using persuasive techniques. Technology served them in their research and presentation. It allowed for a connection between schools.  In addition, it provided an authentic audience with judges bringing their expertise to the process. It is unlikely that these students would have been able to debate for a similar judging panel live. However, in my case, I was able to close my office door for an hour and participate fully without the time and schedule juggling of going to one of the schools.

I was thrilled that technology allowed me to be a part of this experience and hope to participate next year. As far as I am concerned, the verdict is... Everybody wins in this situation!

What did you do to celebrate Digital Learning Day (#DLDay)?

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Evernote, Backchanneling, and Tabs, Oh My!

George Couros
I just read a short post entitled, Stating the Obvious, by George Couros on his blog, The Principal of Change. Basically, the post is about the penchant of adults to complain about how kids are so distracted by their devices, yet when it comes down to it, they are simply doing what adults do when they are bored. I agree with the sentiment that this is stating the obvious; however, it is amazing how many people complain about this phenomenon and don't realize the hypocrisy of it. I guess my post is just expanding upon the idea in Stating the Obvious. By the way, if you don't follow The Principal of Change blog, you should start. I have learned a great deal from reading it.

All of our minds have wandered at meetings and we've opened up our email on our handheld device, tablet, or laptop. When I do that I am generally not engaged in the content of the meeting or session. But, I also want to note that I often use a device and may look as though I am distracted or not paying attention when, in fact, I am actually more engaged than others who may appear to be listening and attending to the teacher or presenter.

First, there is simply using an electronic device to take notes. I hate writing with a pen or pencil. After about the third word, my hand cramps up (likely psychosomatic) and I stop. So, when I am typing on a device, there is an excellent chance I am taking notes in Evernote. This is evident from the blog posts that I have written from my notes after sitting in sessions at Teachers College during their Saturday Reunions. (#TCRWP Saturday Reunion - March 2013 - Laurie Pessah's Workshop, #TCRWP - Cornelius Minor Session on the BYOT Movement, or Depths of Knowledge (DOK) is More Than an Acronym!)

Second, there is backchanneling! Generally, when I am at an #edcamp or #TCRWP session (or any other for that matter) I look for others who are having a conversation about the topic behind the scenes. I find that backchanneling  has provided me with a renewed ability to focus on the points that a presenter is making. When I can tweet out or use some other backchannel to converse about the topic as it is being presented, I am able to better digest the material, wrestle with it, and ultimately engage with it in a deeper way.

Third, I am often finding resources that a presenter is mentioning. There are sessions that I have attended where I have actually ordered a book from Amazon as the presenter had it up on the projector screen. When presenters mention other thought leaders, bloggers, and researchers on the topic being presented, I generally like to pull up a tab in my web browser immediately with the blog or connection so that I can easily find them when I get home.

While I realize that our students in school may not be doing the things I mention above. I think that we should find out what they are doing before we get upset. If they are productively engaging in their own digital way, then we should probably let them keep doing what they are doing. If they are just playing around and doing other things, we should probably try to figure out if it is our instruction that is lacking before we blame the devices.

How do you "pay attention" at meetings and conferences?

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflections - Post #1

Last year on Super Bowl Sunday I decided that the following day was going to be a new start for me. I was
mainly referring to my health, weight and other related things. However, in making that decision last February, I have found that the past year has provided me with an amazing "refreshed" outlook on life, work, and family.

I wrote a post on December 2nd that gives some detail about my decision to make some changes in my health entitled, HATS,Goals, and Me. This post is a reflection upon the ten months or so leading up to running a 5k on Thanksgiving morning, the satisfaction of reaching that goal, and how it fit in with our school theme this year. The process of the last year has truly made me assess my goals and priorities throughout all aspects of my life.
By Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon  via Wikimedia Commons

I had to sit down and take a look at all of the things that are on my plate and decide what things are vital to me and what things need to fall by the wayside or need to be postponed.  As I reflected upon this and made a list (I love lists, especially digital lists!); here is what I came up with:

Vital (these are not in order after the first two)
Personal Learning and Growth
Inner Peace/Faith
New Experiences

Postponed/Wayside (these are not in order at all)
Doctoral Work
Some Home Improvements
Toxic People
Sweating the Small Stuff
Stuff, in general - clutter

Please note that these are fairly broad categories and each has more specific subtopics on my personal list. This post is an introduction to a series of posts I am going to write about the items on the lists above. As I have always said, this blog is a place for me to learn with others by reflecting upon my life and work. So, this may get personal, but I hope that working through these topics here will provide greater clarity for me in the year ahead and maybe ignite a spark for someone else to look at things differently or make a change. As I work through these posts over the coming weeks/months I reserve the right to add to or modify the list as any evolving, reflective thinker might.

On some level this post and those that follow are inspired by @DrSpikeCook. This year he committed to writing a post a day for 365 days. I am not ready for that challenge (maybe next year); however, I wanted to commit to at least a series of posts that would provide direction and focus this year. This is my start. I am sure I will have posts about other things in between, but look for the title, "Reflections" and the post number for the ones in this series.

Please join me and comment along the way. I would greatly appreciate it.

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