The “Teacher in Space” – Still Touching the Future

Christa McAuliffe and The Space Shuttle Challenger

I’ve seen numerous “tweets” today, on the 30th anniversary of the event, from people sharing where they were when they witnessed or heard about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. I was teaching 7th grade in Oakland, California, and our principal called my classroom to make me aware of what had happened since we weren’t watching live. We tuned in and watched the coverage for awhile and then discussed what had happened. The fact that Christa McAuliffe, the “Teacher in Space,” was a crew member added layers and significance to the discussion.

Twenty some years later my class had the privilege of having Grace Corrigan, Christa’s mom, visit our classroom. (the link takes you to a post about that day)grace4.jpg

We only had one day to prepare for her visit so we learned a bit about Christa and the history of the Challenger, including watching video of the tragic liftoff, but then spent the rest of our limited time writing questions to ask her. We were told Grace would love to answer questions so that’s what we focused on. What to ask and what not to ask  … what is appropriate and not. It was a more powerful learning experience than I expected and the students (4th graders) did a great job. Earlier in the year we had worked hard on speaking up and not showing nervousness, as much as possible anyhow, and that really paid off. You can read about the day we had – here and here

One of our major takeaway’s however was realizing how much we learned about incorporating technology just as part of how we learn and work. When my class first went 1:1 with laptops … it was all about the laptops and what they could do … they were a shiny, bright object students couldn’t stop staring at. But now, however, because they had easy access and used them routinely, the technology had become more like a pencil … just things we use when needed without thinking about them much. And that was true of the other technologies and applications we commonly used – video-conferencing, cameras, blogs, wikis. The shiny-ness and bright-ness hadn’t totally worn off, but now more often than not, partly because of ubiquitous use, they are just powerful tools we utilize in our learning.

As part of Grace’s visit students researched the questions they were writing and wrote them out on their laptops and our printer. We shared her visit live on Skype (audio only) with collaborators in Virginia and New York. We recorded and posted her visit as a podcast and video-cast (I recently changed internet providers and will have to re-post those at some point). Students took the photos that illustrate this post and the other posts I’ve linked to. And, as we often did, we blogged about the experience as part of a process of debriefing and archiving learning we were finding valuable. GraceCorBlogPost


We did all those things not so we could use the technologies, but because using the technologies helped us learn and made it possible to share and collaborate on our learning globally.

An incredible learning experience meant for 28 students broke through the walls of the classroom that day.

A great day and way to learn and share about history and science! (and so much more) Christa’s legacy and message continue to “touch the future.”

Learning is messy!

Leaving Their Mark – Redux, Redux

This is a first I think, a second repost of a post on my blog. I’m doing so because of my appearance on NBC’s Education Nation Teacher Townhall. I talked about things my students have done and an innovative pedagogy, and although this post is 2 years old it shares many examples of that innovative pedagogy.


The end of the school year is always tough. Lots still to do, lots of emotions, lots of memories. This one is tougher than most because not only are we closing in on the end of another school year, we are coming to the end of 3 years together. As I was reflecting upon this the other day it occurred to me just how large a legacy this class is leaving behind.

This has been my first experience in a 1:1 laptop classroom. It certainly isn’t all about the technology, but the technology really has leveraged what they have accomplished because it has connected them easily to so many and allowed them to share and archive those connections easily along the way.

It started in fourth grade when we began blogging and learning about being understood and being careful with language so it meant what we meant and was clear to the reader. Their blogs became a way to share their stories, but also what we did and learned and what we accomplished- and we accomplished a lot. When I broke the news to them in December of 2006 that we had a student that showed up on my attendance over a month earlier and that we had never seen her … but that there might be a way to include her in our classroom using Skype video-conferencing, they were intrigued and awed that we might do that. After our first experience we decided to share it with the world and in just a few short weeks the students had designed and produced a video that taught the world just how powerful these new tools can be.  Their video has been downloaded thousands and thousands of times. (Update – about a million times now)

Not only did we use Skype most days to include our classmate, we also began making connections with others. We were interviewed over Skype by Lee Baber’s class in Virginia about our experience and made connections with other classrooms about science and other topics.

We were very fortunate that our classroom was chosen to have a special guest. Grace Corrigan, the mother of Christa McAuliffe, the  “Teacher in Space” who died tragically when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch, visited our room, and we Skyped out her visit to classrooms in Virginia and New York and they were able to take part in the question and answer period Grace agreed to.

To finish off that year we visited a local animal park, Animal Ark, and afterwards designed a wiki page to help further anyone’s learning about the animals there and included a lesson and video about designing your own animal.

In fifth grade as we continued to blog about our experiences, my students’ exploits became known to others and so we would get contacted by schools to participate with them – usually because they didn’t know of anyone else that knew how. One such experience was Skyping in George Mayo’s middle school class from Maryland. They had made some short videos and wanted us to watch them and give them feedback. It was easier for them to have us do this than the elementary school NEXT DOOR because they were at lunch when this class met and they couldn’t work out the details. We watched  and wrote our reactions to their videos and gave them feedback when we Skyped, and they asked us questions about including our classmate.

I was contacted by Skype about making a short film about our “Inclusion” experience. They sent a film crew to our classroom to shoot a mini documentary about how we did it. Even though our classmate was now with us in the classroom, they had her stay home one day and do school from her computer. They hung lights in our room and shot video all morning as we did what we usually do. They interviewed students and then packed up and shot in the afternoon from our classmate’s house. They produced 2 versions of the video. Here and here.

We continued to blog almost every day either writing new posts or reading and commenting on others. We built relationships with a number of classes around the world and to help keep track we began adding links to them on our class wiki page. Most of my students are second language learners and when we started blogging it would take most of them a week to edit a post into publishable quality. I don’t require my students to have zero errors on a piece before it publishes, but my students’ writing skills were very poor in general. They used poor English and grammar, and punctuation was almost nonexistent in some students’ work. They left out the details that made meaning for the reader, and we won’t go into spelling. At first students would write their posts by hand on lined paper and edit them several times before word processing them. Next they would print them out in a large size, double spaced to have room for editing. Many students would have 5 or more copies of their story all marked up by me in 1:1 meetings with them before their work was “publishable.” That’s why it took a week. By the end of fourth grade about half the class would publish in 2 days. And by the middle of 5th grade some students were publishing the same day as the assignment was given, and almost all were publishing in 2 days. We killed a lot of trees the first year, and I (and they) felt bad about that, but the impact it had on their English, spelling, punctuation, style and more was worth it. And the students continue to write and write and write (but we don’t print very often anymore).

During fifth grade, I believe initially over Twitter, but then in email, a fifth grade teacher in New York, Lisa Parisi, mentioned to me how much she liked the comments my students left on her students’ blogs. I explained that we had really been working on the quality and substance of our comments, not just saying, “Nice post” or “I liked your post” but also explaining why. Our students began doing more reading and commenting on each others posts.

Lisa and I wanted our classes to do a project together and so the “Mysteries of Harris Burdick” writing project was bornThis book, written by Chris Van Allsburg, is the ultimate writing starter I’ve ever seen. After reading and discussing the book in class our students wrote collaborative stories using Google Docs so they could work at the same time on their stories even though they were thousands of miles apart. They even discussed things over Skype so they could meet their co-writers and have discussions about where their stories were going. Other teachers joined the project and paired their classes. The project won an award.

This year we participated in 2 projects that stressed being safe online. We talk about safety fairly often, pretty much anytime we use a new application – blogs, wikis, Flickr and so on and anytime it comes up in the news we tend to review the issues and what the people involved did right or wrong that caused or helped the problem that came up. We participated with a bunch of schools all over the world in the “7 Random Facts” project … sharing seven random facts about yourself without revealing any information that could identify you. By request we followed that up by participating with another class in another safety project where the students wrote vignettes about someone NOT being safe online and then wrote a moral to the story. We shared them in a Skype session with the other class. During this time students in my class shared that they had MySpace and other sites that they were really too young to have and that they had taken down inappropriate information about themselves.

The “Around the World with 80 Schools” project this year has been incredible in how it has made my students more aware of world geography as they met and talked with students on almost every continent.

Most recently we are finishing up our Reno Bike Project, project where we are helping a local non-profit organization that rehabilitates old bikes and sells them inexpensively, spread the word to get people to donate bikes to them. The Public Service Announcementand web pages they designed were just published and we are doing some other activities to help get word out.

I’ve left plenty out here to save space, but the point is these students have left a mark, a legacy that will survive their graduation to middle school and beyond. Not only have they done community service that effects their community, but they have participated globally and left the archive for others to ponder and I hope improve on. Most importantly they have vastly improved their writing, research, communication and numerous other skills along the way. They were only held back by my limitations and the limitations of the system.

I’ve learned at least as much as they have and I believe I’m a better teacher for it. I’m chomping at the bit to take what I’ve learned and share it with my new class. As of this writing I’m being moved down to 4th grade again to begin a roll up to 5th and hopefully sixth grade again. I’m really going to miss this class and I want them to know that and to know they have made more of a difference in this world than they realize. They can be proud!

Learning is messy!

My TEDxNYED Talk – Posted

Several weeks ago I had the honor of taking the stage on the 40th floor of  7 World Trade Center in New York to participate in TEDxNYED,  “…  an all-day conference focusing on empowering innovation in education, … being held in New York City on Saturday, March 5, 2011.”

I’d like to thank the organizers that brought me there, they were an incredible group that saw to it that things ran smoothly: Karen Blumberg, Co-Curator The School at Columbia University – Basil Kolani, Co-Curator The Dwight School – Dan Agins Pawcatuck Middle School – Sean Freese Lawrence Woodmere Academy – Kiersten Jennings Chou Independent Curriculum Consultant – Tamara McKenna The Elisabeth Morrow School – Erin Mumford – Nightingale-Bamford School – Jeff Weitz Horace Mann School

As I watched the presenters the themes that were reverberating were change, student centered learning, creativity. Find them here.

I’m afraid I went over my allotted time, a minor glitch with the timer, my fault for not noticing as I started, I take solace in that I’m not the first to do so.  : )

Learning is messy!

Shuttle Launch Experience – What Are The Possibilities For Student Learning?

In my last post I shared that I have this fantastic opportunity to watch the Space Shuttle Endeavour launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida next month. One of the ways this new pedagogy changes things is in how my students can be included in my trip.

If I really manage to go (at best a 50-50 possibility because of budget freezes here) my students would learn about the Space Shuttle program, Cape Canaveral and other topics associated with the trip before I ever left. We would travel there through photos, but also via Google Earth – Where is this place? – why did they choose the eastern Florida coast to launch spacecraft from? We drop right down on the roof of our classroom and travel to locations and back when we Skype to build those geography skills and schema, so we would do that for this trip too. My students all have their own blogs, so I can post photos, videos, blog posts about what I am learning, topics for them to do research on. I will be able to post all my photos and even video on our class Flickr page (often within minutes of taking them) – the students could be asked to make a slideshow – write captions for the photos or any number or possible writing projects or research projects.

NASA is asking me to be there to use Twitter to report out what I am doing, seeing and learning. But I would blog about it and would hope to Skype back to my class to share with them, answer questions and maybe do on-the-spot interviews with some of the people I am supposed to meet there. My students are used to taking notes during Skype-conferences and when we have guests in our class, and this would be no different. I could have it set-up with my substitute that I would call the school and let them know to get on Skype and expect a call.

Students could even have pre-written questions to ask – what would they like to know if they get to interview an astronaut or scientist or anyone else that works there? If NASA would allow it I could use a video streaming application like USTREAM to broadcast out so other classrooms could take part … later they could even share blog posts and comments about what they learned with the classes we connect with all the time. All those students have access to our Flickr pages as well – so they could utilize our photos for their learning.

The point is, my students would not be waiting for me to return to find out what happened during the trip – to learn during the trip … they would participate before, during and after. I can comment on their blogs (even grade them), think of new assignments to give them while I am still in Florida, and my students are learning about a place they can only imagine about now. There are so many other possible ways to include them (and feel free to think out loud in the comments). And we do these things often, so this is not pie-in-the-sky – this is what we do as a big part of our learning. Things really have changed since we went to school haven’t they?

Learning is messy!

Come Join Me On WOW2 Tonight!

Women of Web 2.0, Cheryl Oakes, Jennifer Wagner, Sharon Peters, & Vicki Davis have asked me to be a guest tonight on their live webcast. On their web site they describe themselves as:

“…four women who not only love using the tools of the Internet but also love sharing the tools with others.”

I’ll share what my class has done and is doing right now using Web 2.0 tools and more. That’s tonight (Tuesday) 6:00pm Pacific Daylight Time – 9:00pm Eastern.

Vidcasts of Grace Corrigan Visit And YouthBridges Skypecast

Here are the links to video of Grace Corrigan’s (Christa McAuliffe’s mom – the teacher in space’s) visit to our classroom. Well worth the time. You will see me occasionally intrude into the presentation because I put the laptop running the Skype feed in the best possible spot if I wanted it to be in the way. In my own defense It’s where it is when Celest joins us and it just didn’t occur to me I know dumb.

Full disclosure – I edited out the 5 minute plus – “school announcements” that overwhelm Grace’s presentation. I also cut it into 2 seemingly obvious chunks. The first is Grace’s presentation to the students – although I didn’t get the camera turned on right away so I missed the beginning – the 2nd part is the question answering part. I think you will agree that Grace connects well with the students.

Thanks again to Lee Baber and her students at YouthBridges who Skyped the event for us and added their questions. All in all a great experience. Enjoy!

The sound is not real loud (but not bad either) because the camera was in the back of the room. I boosted it as much as I could but depending on your speakers, you might need headphones.

Click the photo below to see the vidcast of Grace’s presentation: 13 + minutes

Click the photo below to see the vidcast of Grace’s question and answer period: 24 + minutes


A Grace – Full Visit

Update: 4/29/07
Find a link to the podcast below (my first ever podcast btw).

Friday, Grace Corrigan “graced” our classroom with a visit, and that might seem like just a cute play-on-words, but if you had been there you would agree. Grace is Christa McAuliffe’s Mom (Teacher in Space tragically lost on the Space Shuttle Challenger debacle). I was told to expect her about fifteen minutes after school started and she appeared about fifteen minutes before school started, so much for my, “We’ll get the students in and settled first” plan. But it didn’t matter. They came in and found their seats, some said hello – I had explained to them the day before that because we were Skyping her visit and trying to record it and video tape it, that I would be busy and they would have to monitor themselves and each other – they did a great job!
Lee Baber and I (mainly Lee) got the Skype connection to work – we had planned on meeting over Skype the day before to check the connection and discuss what to expect etc. –  but both of us were so busy that that never happened. We did manage to connect about an hour before, after I managed to interrupt another Skype session her students were doing.

We had a bit of a tentative start, I intro-ed from my end and then one of Lee’s students did an intro for the podcast they were doing – and Grace was off – well for a few minutes anyhow. Right as Grace was engaging the students, our school’s morning announcements began. But that didn’t stop Grace, she just kept on going right through – today’s lunch menu, Thought-for-the-Day, and a scolding for leaving too much trash outside after, “outside lunch” the day before. I noticed at this point that Lee had sent me a text message on Skype, “Brian, we seem to be picking up some kind of noise; what is that? “Just morning announcements,” I texted back. “Oh,” replied Lee, who I’m sure was really impressed at this point at the professional manner in which the presentation was going. And that impression was reinforced a few minutes later when the office called me over the loudspeaker to tell me to do my attendance (even though it was done). You have to understand that we complain all the time how loud things come across our PA system, but there is no way to adjust it or turn it off.

Anyhow, undeterred Grace continued – she showed them a short film about Christa and continued on her theme of  “Reach For The Stars!” She took questions for about 25 minutes, took a photo with the class, shook hands with any student that wanted to, autographed a picture of Christa for us, and was gone. I scanned the picture and printed out a color copy for every student in my class. 18 of my students were able to ask her a question, and at least half that number of the YouthBridges students asked a question too.

I want to thank Grace Corrigan, Lee Baber and her students and Paul McFarlane a high school English teacher that started and runs the Lumiere Film Festival – and he teaches our school district’s Digital Video Class with me – he chose my class as the one for Grace to visit.
My class began blog posts about the experience and their field trip the day before to Animal Ark. Lee emailed me that she thinks the recording went well – thanks to her and her students. All-in-all a super experience for all involved. As soon as the podcast is edited I’ll put a link to it here. Once I get a chance to edit the video, and if it is any good I’ll post it. I just wish Celest could have been a part – a few students mentioned that too.


Podcast – Click here for podcast of Grace’s visit.

Recorded 4/27/07 Length: 31:51