YouTube Storytelling

This summer I attended the ISTE conference in Atlanta.  Besides experiencing the Bucket of Love at Sway Restaurant and singing “Love Shack” to hundreds of people, I came back with lots of ideas to try in my classroom.

Believe it or not, this happened BEFORE I sang "Love Shack" in front of hundreds of people.

Believe it or not, this happened BEFORE I sang “Love Shack” in front of hundreds of people.


The most intriguing (and entertaining) hourly session I attended was “Digital Storytelling through YouTube” by Steve Dembo (@teach42).  Steve is an excellent speaker, and he kept the crowd engaged for an hour with his rapid-fire narrative delivery and his videos of goats.  He had me at goats.  Here is one example of what kept my attention: Taylor Swift Sounds Better with Goats

I was very excited to try Steve’s ideas for digital storytelling through YouTube.  There were so many great projects, but three particularly resonated with me:  Draw My Life, Swede It, and One Minute/One Take.

Anyone who is around children knows about Draw My Life, where an artist draws scenes from the voiceover narrative in fast motion on a whiteboard.  Click here for an example.  Better yet, do what I told my students to do: spend some time browsing YouTube for good and bad examples of Draw My Life.  What made the good examples interesting?  How did they keep your attention?  What were the themes that you took from them?

Swede It is a little more difficult to explain, especially as I am not a Jack Black fan, but here is how I understood it:  There is a movie called Be Kind, Rewind that stars Jack Black, whose character runs a video store.  For some reason the video tapes are damaged, and the owners need some money, so they re-do some of the movies using the cheap materials and equipment they have on hand.  A customer rents Star Wars from them, and upon returning it says that it was the most bizarre version he had ever seen.  Jack Black responds, “It’s the Swedish version.”  This is a long way to go for a YouTube fad, but there is a Swede It trend where people try to copy scenes from major movies in the same manner (cheaply and probably in a silly manner).

One Minute/One Take condenses major movies into–you guessed it– one minute done in one take of the camera.  Click here to see one version of Forest Gump.

Steve presented these projects as remakes of movies, but he immediately put them into a digital storytelling perspective:  How would your students present the Fibonacci numbers as a One Minute/One Take?  They must condense something very complex into one minute.  What do they consider important in that minute?  What about the Cold War as a Swede It?  What version would the students re-enact with the materials they have on hand?  How can students convey the concept of Absurdism through a Draw My Life?

Inspired by the creativity in the project, I decided to jump right into a project of my own about. . .you guessed it: Absurdism.  My Advanced Placement Literature and Composition students had read Albert Camus’ The Plague and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle for their summer reading, and we had tied those works into Camus’ treatise on absurdism, The Stranger.  I was tired of assigning papers (almost as tired as my students were of writing them), and I wanted to know what my students understood about absurdism as it applies to these three novels.  This is what I came up with after much discussion with my Blended Learning Colleagues:  Click here for a view of the whole project, including the rubric.

The Big Picture

You have read three novels that share the philosophy of absurdism.  Your task is to portray absurdism in all three novels using the lens of nonconformity, religion, or human suffering/endurance.  You will work in groups and present your project as a YouTube video.  Here are the details:

The Questions:   What is absurdism? How does the authors’ use of one thematic concept convey absurdism?

Thematic Concepts (choose one):   Nonconformity, Religion, Human Suffering/Endurance

The Vehicle:  Choose one of the three:

                           Draw My Life                  One Minute/One Take               Swede It


The Method:

Day 1:  Choose teams.  Explore examples of the YouTube tools from the embedded links on the webpage.  Discuss strategies.

Days 2-3:  Research and gather evidence of the portrayal of absurdism through one of the three thematic concepts.  Use Google Spreadsheet (Create-Spreadsheet) or insert a table in a Google doc (Insert-Table) to track your page numbers for the references in each novel.  Share the table/spreadsheet with me through Google. (20 points)

Day 4: Storyboard.  Use paper or a tool or app:  Powerpoint, Google Presentation, Prezi, Lucid diagrams (Go to Google Drive, Create, Lucid), or any that suits you.

Day 5:  Storyboard.  Embed your storyboard in the discussion board by the end of the day.  If you used paper, take pictures and embed them. If you used a Google app, share it with me. (30 points)

Once your storyboard is ready, you have one week to make your video, submit it to YouTube, and embed it in the discussion board.


The students enjoyed this project, and I heard some very insightful discussions during their collaboration time.  The timeline was perfect; what I like best about it is that I turned the students loose to make their videos on their own.  I find that when it comes to tech, it’s better that I give the students a goal to reach  without telling them how to get there.  In this case, I knew the students would find the resources that worked best for them to create storyboards, load them into a discussion board on our LMS, film the videos, load them to YouTube, and embed them in the LMS.  It would be counter productive for me to require them to use any certain tool or format to achieve the end result.  I did spend some time teaching the concept of storyboards, and I think with younger students, it would be a good idea to give them some examples of storyboards or maybe create some together before letting them work in groups.  Here are some of my students’ projects:

Absurdism through Religion:  Draw My Life

Absurdism through Human Endurance/Suffering:  Swede It


What I like about using these three tools is that you can do this without technology.  No access to storyboarding digital tools?  Paper or posterboard will work just fine.  You don’t have the means to make a video?  Why make one at all?  Challenge your students to a live session of Swede It, One Minute/One Take, or Draw My Life.  It beats the heck out of listening to the same speech over and over, and I bet your students will get just as much out of the collaboration and presentation as they would doing the project digitally.  Plus, you don’t have to grade papers!  How genius is that?

While I truly believe in the value of sustained analysis (yes, my students still have to write papers), I think that condensing information down into its true essence (which may be different for everyone) is a valuable skill to teach our students.  YouTube Digital Storytelling is one way we can use the tools they often already play with online to allow them to create meaning from complex ideas.

Plus, it generates funny bloopers.

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ISTE: Finally, the Ugly

You’ve had the Good, the Bad, and more Good again.  I needed a break from the commotion inside my head before I could come up with the Ugly.  This conference was definitely intense, and I have so many links and notes to look through so that I can organize everything that I learned.  Of course, at my house the best way to get one’s head straight is to do the five days of freaking laundry that had spilled over the baskets and onto the floor in my absence.  Seriously, did nobody see that?  Also, my kids had not touched a bar of soap while I was gone.  While I was glad to see them, I knew I had my work cut out for me before I could even get back to my reflections on ISTE 2014.


This is EXACTLY what the laundry pile looked like in my house. I guess if you don’t EVER SHOWER it is necessary to change your clothes five times a day.




At first, when I wrote the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I thought I was just capitalizing on a known movie in a cute way.  This is usually how I write my race recaps on my running blog, Run away from Trouble.  After writing three posts (with more good than bad), I thought about the Ugly, and it turns out that it is much uglier than I imagined in the first place.  So, drumroll, please.  What is the Ugly?

It is the inability of ISTE to accommodate so many people at the venue.  It was the lines and the waiting and the crowds and the lack of everything.

Right now you are saying, What?  Seriously?  That’s all you’ve got?  Just bear with me.  I’m going to take you on a bit of a journey, so fasten your seatbelts.  If heights dizzy you, close your eyes when I get on my soapbox.

I was horrified when I arrived at ISTE on the first day.  The crowds were huge, and the lack of space in all available rooms made it difficult to get into sessions (even ticketed ones) or to get within hearing and sight distance of any of the poster sessions.  I had favorited many sessions on my app in order to have many options.  I looked at the poster offerings, and I favorited those, too, so that I could remember to find them at the right time.    I learned that it didn’t matter what I favorited; I would not be able to see any of those presentations.

I also would not be able to go to the bathroom, sit down, drink water, or purchase any food or beverages during a normal meal time.  Twenty thousand conference attendees meant long, long lines to get up and down stairs and escalators, get into sessions, and God help us, get into that first awful Keynote.  The few times I did try to purchase food and water, I found after standing in a long line that there was none available.  I am not exaggerating.


This is EXACTLY how we looked as we tried to pack ourselves into the bathrooms and the sessions. Just kidding. This is the Tokyo subway, of course.

I talked to many people about this, and the reactions varied from furious (usually me) to annoyed to resigned.  The reaction of resignation is the Ugly in this conference.  Why did ISTE believe that it was acceptable to allow twenty thousand attendees when they couldn’t accommodate all of those people?  I’ll tell you why:  because it’s just teachers.  If you are an educator, you know what I’m talking about.  There is a horrible culture of teacher bashing in our country, and even in the best of circumstances, teachers get the crumbs of what the corporate world enjoys.  In the case of the ISTE conference, we couldn’t get crumbs or drops.  At some point, ISTE believed that the teachers who paid five hundred bucks to attend and  stood in line thirty minutes to buy a bottle of water only to find out that there was no water would simply shrug their shoulders and get on with their day.   Many (most) of them did, and that is Ugly.

Would your surgeon have endured a situation where there was no food or water available, even for purchase?  Would your lawyer have attended a conference where he had to stand in cattle chutes hoping to get into a session that he reserved ahead of time?  What about a judge?  Why do we allow this?

The answer is simple:  We allow it because we don’t want to rock the boat. We play into the teacher-hating by thinking we don’t deserve a normal or even great experience.  We don’t want to anger people, hurt their feelings.  You know what hurts?  Not being able to go to the bathroom between sessions because the lines are too long.  You know what makes me angry?  The fact that a bunch of people in suits who took my five hundred dollars couldn’t be bothered to have a conversation about whether their conference could accommodate me comfortably or safely.

What can we do about this?  Well, for one thing, I have decided to become more vocal.  I am mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.  When someone assumes that I deserve nothing because I am a teacher, I will correct that assumption.  I will not shrug my shoulders and think, “Oh, well, I’m sure it wasn’t his/her fault,” because it decidedly IS someone’s fault, and that person doesn’t care about me or my needs.  When a well-known actress and would-be politician accepts money to speak in front of twenty thousand people and WINGS IT (I’m looking at YOU, Ashley Judd), I will not say, “Oh, poor thing.  She meant well,” because that isn’t true.  She meant NOTHING because in her views, we were nothing.  She is wrong.

We are educators, and guess what?  We are consumers, too.  We deserve more consideration for our money.   Wake up, ISTE.


After this post, you realize that I am the one with the devil horns. We’re getting the band back together.


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ISTE: This Just in: There is More Good!

I know I promised the Ugly in this post, but after today’s Keynote Address, I just had to write a new post.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of snark in me; I’m just not ready to unleash it yet.

Christina and I were almost ready to skip the Keynote today after the debacle of opening day, but the Universe steered us toward getting to the conference center just in time to walk in and find a good seat.  I would like to take this moment to thank the Universe for that manipulation because HOLY SHMOLY!

Kevin Caroll opened the conference today, and let me tell you, he makes up for every minute I sat and stewed and endured Ashley Judd.  He was incredible.

Kevin Carroll, founder of Kevin Carroll Katalyst, pointing to what got him started


Kevin Carroll is a consultant, the most dynamic, positive, and non-specific consultant you can imagine.   Nike paid him for seven years to just be himself.  During that time, he created his job, the position of “Katalyst,” someone who serves as a creative agent for change.  I’m not going to copy his whole biography here, but I will give you the link to his page so you can learn about him yourself.

In yesterday’s post, “Yesterday was the Good, Today is the Bad,” I wrote that ISTE should have considered three requirements of its Keynote Speaker: 1) good public speaking skills, 2)knowledge of education issues, and 3) knowledge of education technology issues.  In my post I wrote that the Keynote Speaker should meet at least two of the three requirements.  Mr. Carroll is a stellar example of someone who was able to tailor his brand to fit the needs of his audience.  He talked about the importance of education–in and out of school.  He talked about embracing play as a way to learn.  He talked about embracing curiosity and the joy of life.  I could go on and on, but I won’t.  I encourage you to check out his sources and come to your own conclusions.

Mr. Carroll made me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time.  Most importantly, he made me proud to be an educator and reinforced my desire to strive to be a better educator and leader.  Thank you Kevin Carroll, and thank you ISTE.


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ISTE: Yesterday was The Good. Today is The Bad (and Still some Good).

Quick recap:  Atlanta is beautiful.  I love pie.  Read yesterday’s post here.

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

THE BAD:  I’m going to try to be as kind as possible with this one, which is so unlike me, but I’m writing this after my first two cups of coffee, so just roll with it.  THE OPENING KEYNOTE.  Were you there?  ‘Nuff said.  Ok, not really because apparently somebody has to say something since ISTE has NO IDEA who would be appropriate as an opening speaker.  Really, we only needed to fulfill two out of three requirements:  1) Good speaker, 2)  Involved in education, and 3) Involved in education technology.  ISTE is zero for three on this one.  To be fair, I blame ISTE for the choice of speaker, but I blame the speaker herself for that trainwreck of a keynote.  We can’t fault ISTE for assuming that a professional actress would be on her A-game for a speaking engagement.  Ms. Judd did not do her homework, and I think that is insulting.

She looks so poised and professional here. What happened?


By the way, ISTE, you had a Keynote Speaker right there the whole time:  Why no LeVar Burton?  Judging from the Twitter-clamoring to get into his small session (not to mention my own starstruck wishes), I’m betting that not one person at this conference would have left that hall before the time was up.  We love you, Mr. Burton.

Look at that man. LOOK AT HIM and tell me he shouldn’t have been the Opening Keynote Speaker!

I am snarky, but I am not a heartless bitch, so I am going to finish this post with a bit of the good.  Yesterday I attended a double session  on using Twitter to engage students.  Adam Taylor gave us some tips on teaching students to connect with professionals through Twitter.  I use Twitter quite a bit, and while I’ve thought about having my students “interview” writers and other professionals in the language arts field, I’ve never really thought about how and why I should do it.  Mr. Taylor was very engaging and knowledgeable, and he gave me a lot to consider in teaching my students to leave a presentable “digital tattoo.”  Shannon Wentworth led the session on using Twitter to collaboratively write stories, and this is something that I honestly never thought of doing.  I love this idea, and I plan to use it as part of my icebreaker exercises.  I think her session really started me thinking of ways to creatively teach students to use Twitter in my class.  I also love that both sessions emphasize that we need to model professional digital citizenship to our students.  Thank you, ISTE, for giving me the opportunity to participate in these sessions.

Next Post:  The Ugly.


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Days 1 and 2 at ISTE: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I had a decision to make, and it was tearing me up inside:  Should I go to Blackboard World in Las Vegas, or should I attend ISTE in Atlanta?  Before you hit me over the head and scream, “LAS VEGAS, YOU MORON!” in my ear, hear me out.

I have attended Blackboard World in 2012 and 2013.  In 2013 (Las Vegas, also) I was a co-presenter and a VIP blogger, so I felt hyper-involved in the whole conference.  I loved the conference both years.  This year Blackboard decided not to go with bloggers, and I didn’t prepare a presentation, so I felt like maybe I should try something different.  I had heard lots of buzz about ISTE, and I was very interested in the posted sessions, so I thought I should attend.  After all, I often complained that I didn’t get a chance to really see the sights in either of the cities because Blackboard does a fabulous job of keeping attendees busy from early morning until late at night.  I started my days at 5:30 am to work out and get to the first session by 8:00, and my nights usually ended around 11:00 pm because of Blackboard social networking events, all which were included in the conference fees.  Why should I choose the conference in Vegas if I don’t get to see Vegas?

Anyway, I arrived in Atlanta yesterday, and I’ve experienced two days of ISTE, so I have some ongoing observations, which I have sorted into The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  In today’s post I will focus on my good experiences in the first two days.  Let’s get to it, shall we?

The Good:  First of all, Atlanta is a beautiful city.  Last night I strolled through Centennial Park where I saw the Olympic torch and a gigantic Ferris wheel.  Children laughed and splashed in the dancing fountains.

Centennial Park


My sessions were informative and engaging.  I learned how to use games to engage my students (Brain Pop and Minecraft), Twitter to link my students to professionals and each other, and video to tell stories.  I will write about what I learned from these sessions and others in future posts.

The best part of my first two days in Atlanta has been a surprise.  Christina (the Technology Integration Coach on this blog) and I were tired and cranky, and we wanted pie a la mode.  After walking to a diner to find out that it wasn’t a diner but a bar, we came back even crankier than before. . . until we saw the counter of pie in Sway restaurant at the Hyatt Regency.  Sway is a nice place, and we weren’t sure they would want to sell us pie a la mode to go, but boy, were we wrong!  The hostess offered us the Bucket of Love, which was a box that we could fill with any dessert we wanted.  It was only nine bucks and it came with enough ice cream for both of us.  Click on the link to see  our Bucket of Love .

While I have enjoyed the Bucket of Love, and I highly recommend that you get one if you ever come to Atlanta, the absolute best part of ISTE so far has been spending some time with Christina, whom I don’t get to see as often as I would like.

I will leave you with a happy thought because remember, today is The Good.  Tomorrow I review The Bad.


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Get Kahoot!

No, I did not say to get “in Cahoots;” I said, “Get Kahoot!”

Kahoot is an online game quiz that I learned about at the Learn 21 conference this year.  Gamification is the new buzzword in Blended Learning, so there are many apps and websites that incorporate gaming into the classroom.  I try many of them when I’m not overwhelmed with life and work, and Kahoot is a new one that has great potential.

There are many apps that use a quiz format for kill-and-drill.  Quizlet is an early app that my students and I use to create online flashcards that students can study through quizzes like Space Race.  My students and I like the app because they can share their flashcards online.  One possible drawback to Quizlet might be that the quizzes are always individual.  I believe that group activity in review adds excitement and relevance.  This is where Kahoot comes in.

Kahoot allows any user who registers for a free account to create, save, and possibly share online quizzes (multiple choice format).  It is important to note that a central screen/projector is necessary to play this game.  The teacher goes to to access his quizzes (or Kahoots).

Teacher screen Kahoot

This is the screenshot of my collected Kahoots.



He launches the Kahoot, and the students see a PIN, which they log into their devices after going to

Student screenshot kahoot

This is what students see when they receive the PIN for the quiz (Kahoot).


Students log in with the PIN and they create user names to join the game.  Note:  if a student uses an inappropriate handle, the teacher can boot her with a click of the mouse.  When all students have joined, the teacher starts the Kahoot, and the fun begins.  Students read the question and possible answer choices off the main screen.  Each answer choice is linked to a color (yellow, red, green, blue), and the student simply taps on the color of the correct answer on her device.  The interesting part about this game is that the answer choices do not appear on the students’ devices; they must look at the main screen to access the questions and the choices.  This creates a group dynamic that is often missing when students use their devices for quizzes.  Students must focus on one point together rather than look down at their screens individually.  To reinforce this group dynamic, Kahoot flashes a leader board after every question.  Students get points for the correct answer and for speed.

I have used Kahoot many times this semester, and the students have loved it every time.  They discuss the questions and the answers, and I see a real motivation to get the correct answer and get on the leader board.  The best part is that I have the students create my Kahoots after we play the initial game.  They work in groups to create questions and answers for future Kahoots, which strengthens their review of the material and makes less work for me!

Give Kahoot a try–you may find decide to replace some of  your Jeopardy-style review games, and your students may be more motivated to learn together.


Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition

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A Walk with Blended Learning: Community Service

This morning I ran almost seven miles in Sand Run Metropark.  It was beautiful, hilly, and fast.

This morning I saw eight deer.

I’m not going to write about those experiences.

This morning I joined some of my students to participate in the Medina Walk out of the Darkness Suicide Awareness Event.  A large crowd showed up at 9 am on a chilly but sunny morning to walk 4.5 miles.  That crowd raised over nine thousand dollars, and my students were a part of it.

Part of the philosophy that I embrace about Blended Learning is that it facilitates community involvement.  I want my students to strive to be good citizens of their school, their community, their state, their country, and their world.  Students in my Blended Rhetoric and Composition class chose to fight back against suicide, a heart-breakingly relevent issue in our community.  What I had originally imagined to be a quick project in making videos turned into a large-scale community outreach complete with publicity, fund-raising, donations, interviews, research, and lots of writing.  Click here to see the video my students created to Stomp out Suicide.

Our walk today was a way for us to process everything the students have accomplished this year and to reflect on their involvement in the community and their year in Blended Learning.  I try not to always lead the class; I want them to lead themselves, each other, and me.  It was in this spirit that I encouraged my students to lead the way on the walk.  As they talked, I listened.

The students talked and laughed about Prom.  They poked fun at each other and at me.  Then, as often happens on walks or runs, they got serious.  One student told me why she was glad that she took my course.  She told me that she learned how to be more independent and responsible.  She said she learned to enjoy literature.  Another told me that she felt that our class had bonded more than any of her other classes at the school.

Every one of those students told me that they were so glad to get up and walk together in the sunshine at nine in the morning.


It was perfect.



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The Power of Collegial Coaching

Last night I edited my last few lines of my final paper for my graduate course, hit the submit button, immediately checked to see that I actually submitted the damned paper, checked again, and then poured myself a glass of wine.  Whew.

Error Message

This is EXACTLY what I was afraid I would see just as I submitted my paper.

It was a bumpy ride, this course on Mentoring and Leadership, but I have to say that it was completely worthwhile.  I have been thinking a lot about Leadership lately.  I am currently a mentor for a second-year Resident Educator in Ohio, and it’s a big responsibility.  I remember every mentor I’ve ever had, and it just occurred to me before I took this course that all of my mentors have retired.  Sure, I still visit with them, and they still offer great support, but who is currently my mentor at school?  This is the first step to realizing that I am old.

This is EXACTLY how I look when I realize that I am an old teacher.

This is EXACTLY how I look when I realize that I am an old teacher.




See the resemblance?

The model that I often use in my mentoring experiences is that of Cognitive Coaching.  The premise of Cognitive Coaching is that my colleague has the answers to her questions/problems already, but she needs some help to bring them out.  I first learned about Cognitive Coaching when I helped to start our Mentorship Steering Committee in my school district about fifteen years ago.  I find that truly listening and reflecting back a colleague’s thoughts gives that person the chance to discover his own truths.  When a teacher can find his own answers, it builds that teacher’s sense of efficacy, and that is a large part of the goal of Cognitive Coaching.

Through my Leadership course I learned about Collegial Coaching, a process where two or more colleagues work together to form their own professional development.  This may include reading groups, reciprocal observations and critiques, and group discussions designed to improve teaching and learning.  The premise behind Collegial Coaching is that teachers know what they need to do to improve their classroom performance, but one can not force professional development on a teacher.  Professional development must be relevant, it must be authentic, and it must be clear in its payoff in the classroom.  Overall, teachers want to do what is best for students; if professional development does not offer immediate improvement in this area, teachers will not value it.

My colleagues and I have been formally and informally practicing collegial coaching for years; we just didn’t know it.  Rob, the English teacher, sends out a group email at least once a week in which he attaches an article about educational practices or trends in education.  Some of his colleagues meet him for lunch for a lively discussion about the article; the rest of us (who don’t eat during that time) weigh in by email or Google docs.  Our Blended Learning Pioneer Team meets weekly to discuss Best Practices in Blended Learning.   This is a practice started by our original  Tech Integration Administrator (Shout out to Stacy!), and our current Instructional Tech Coach (Christina) continues the practice.  Shannon (the Blended Learning Social Studies Teacher) and I meet nearly every day, or every night in a Facebook chat, to go over our trials and tribulations (See my post Snookledorp Means Camaraderie.) and rehash our day in the classroom.  In all of these practices, we continually challenge ourselves and each other, and the discussions can get heated.  The best part about Collegial Coaching in my building is that it all comes down to one question:  How is this good for kids?  We may have differences of opinion about many educational topics, but we all agree that our ultimate goal is to be the best teachers we can be to serve our students.

Last week Christina and I participated in a professional development session at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati.  We saw a group of dedicated teachers who were in the same boat we were in three years ago: they can see the headlights of the big Mack truck that is called Blended Learning, and they want to drive the truck instead of getting run over by it.

My name is Blended Learning, and unless you can drive me, I'll mow you down!

My name is Blended Learning, and unless you can drive me, I’ll mow you down!


We spent the day listening to them, and we heard our own voices from three years ago.  The difference now is that we know we have something to share with these teachers.  Three years ago we didn’t know what the hell we were doing, and it seemed like there was no mentor for us.  Today I am thankful that there is an ever-expanding Blended Learning network in Ohio and, via Twitter, in the world.  This is what we were able to introduce to our colleagues, mentors who are willing to encourage, critique, and share.  What we saw at Purcell Marian was the beginning of great Collegial Coaching.  These teachers have the will to examine themselves and their practices with a critical eye, and they have the sense of efficacy to know that they can create a learning environment that is good for kids.

My colleagues at Purcell Marian made me hopeful for the next step in Collegial Coaching in our own district.  How can teachers provide even more leadership through professional development?  How can we be the leaders we need in our classrooms, our schools, our district?  How can we continually question our practices with the idea of what is good for kids?

This is an exciting thought for someone who believes in encouraging efficacy, who believes that she and her colleagues can create their own intellectually and creatively stimulating environment.

Rock on, Purcell Marian Friends.  You have inspired me to fight the good fight in education.

Stephani Itibrout

Blended Rhetoric and Composition

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Change Is. . .

This week I was part of a team of teachers who led a professional development day at Beaver Local School District.  Even though I have presented at three conferences, a board meeting, and a podcast, I was nervous as hell.  A dark secret we all know is that teachers can be the worst audience.  They can be critical, disinterested, or downright rude.  There are many reasons for this, but I attribute the main reason to the fact that professional development offered to us usually sucks.  There, I said it.


Kent Polen, Superintendent of Beaver Local SD, invited us to present for his waiver day.  He gave us very open-ended instructions, but one thing he told us really interested me:  Beaver Local is building a completely new school district.  Their teachers and students are highly involved in the whole process, from working with the architects to researching programs and technology for future use.  Kent told us, “We can’t create a completely new building on the outside and do the same thing we’ve always done on the inside.  We need to change with the times.”  There is nothing more fearful and at the same time exciting to me (and many other teachers) than those words.

Change is good.  It is exciting, stimulating.  Change is bad.  It is stressful, worrisome.  Oh boy, I know this.

Three years ago, I started a wrestling match with Change called Blended Learning.  My principal asked me to be a part of our Blended Learning Pioneer Team, and I said yes.  I didn’t even know what Blended Learning was, and so I started a year of research.  The whole time I was convinced that I was learning to develop technology in the classroom that would eventually replace me.  What changed my mind was good professional development:  Blackboard World, OETC, Learn 21, Twitter, and the fascinating blogs and articles written by my colleagues.  I learned that there is a time and place for technology, and I learned that sometimes I can relinquish control of my students’ path to learning.  I am learning to be a guide who participates in the journey rather than a travel agent who delivers a completely planned itinerary.  Three years later, I am still here, and I am still teaching and learning right along with my students.

Back to the professional development session.  I taught three sessions about using Web 2.o tools (see our Google site with links here) and one session on Google docs.  The Beaver Local teachers were outstanding: kind, eager, energetic, and FUN!  I gained some experts in my Twitterverse (@Kentpolen, @AmyWolski, @mrjcongo), and I learned to expand my thinking about instruction to other subjects and grade levels.

I would like to thank my colleagues at Beaver Local School District for reminding me how scary and exciting change can be.  I would like to thank Kent Polen for being on the cutting edge of change for his school district.  Finally, I would like to thank my Medina colleagues for encouraging change.  When Christina (Technology Integration Coach, formerly The Math Teacher on this blog) told us about this opportunity, I said, “I don’t know what I can offer.”  She and Shannon (The Social Studies Teacher on this blog) looked at me like I was insane (shhhhh. .  .Let this one go.) and reminded me of things I had learned that, instead of taking for granted, I should be sharing with my colleagues.  Thank you for reminding me that I do contribute.

Change is. . .Necessary.


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Blended Learning and Service Learning

Today I am exhausted and humbled.  Yesterday, I was exhausted and nervous as hell.

Yesterday my Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition students organized a community event to record a video for the Medina County Stomp out Suicide Project.  They have been planning this particular scene for at least a month.  This means that I haven’t had any sleep for at least a month.  Let me backtrack a bit. . .


One day my students and I were discussing possible research projects when I came upon an online flyer for the Stomp out Suicide Video Project.  “Hey, do you want to make a video for this contest?” I asked.  “You could win a thousand bucks.”  The students jumped all over it, but in the way that seventeen year olds think about how cool it would be to make a video without doing any of the work to make a video.  We downloaded the information and the students half-heartedly discussed ideas.

That day the unthinkable happened:  our school lost one of our own to suicide.  That evening, one of my students emailed me.  “This just got very real for all of us, ” she wrote.  “We need to get serious and do something to make a difference.”  And so they did.

The students created storyboards, recruited two videographers, and started shooting.  They researched statistics.  They assigned responsibilities.  One idea they all agreed on was that they needed a community crowd scene.  “Our theme is ‘You are not alone,'” they said, “so we need to show that nobody is alone.  We need the community.”  They created a Twitter hashtag (#MedinaStrong).  They created waivers and flyers.


Flyer Small



I watched with pride (and honestly, a whole lot of angst) while my students made appointments with administrators, safety forces, business owners, students, and community members.  “Beth,” a student who had always been a bit shy and quiet, volunteered to meet with our school’s administrators and book the high school stadium and the gymnasium, in case of inclement weather.  “John,” another student who previously hadn’t been much of a go-getter, managed to secure free pizzas, pop, and all the napkins and cups we needed for a large crowd.  He also volunteered to plug our video on the school’s morning video announcements.  My students wrote invitations to school board members and our communications director.  They papered our hallways with posters.

What was my role?  I tried to stay the hell out of their way.  I bit my tongue. . . a lot.  I showed them how to log their “business meetings” and all the documentation for the video into a wiki on Blackboard.  I retweeted them.  I took pictures. . .and I held my breath.

Yesterday, I watched my students organize a crowd of ninety students, EMT’s, police officers, and community members into a meaningful event.  They presented an opening ceremony, they directed all of those people, and they sent them away feeling that they contributed to something important in the community.  Oh, and they collected money through wristband sales to donate to the Battered Women’s Shelter of Medina.  Here are two newspaper articles describing that day:

“Video: Teens, think twice about suicide” from the Medina County Gazette


“Medina High School students create suicide prevention video” from


In my last post, I described my job as a shepherd dog.  In this particular case, I learned how a blended learning class is really supposed to work.  My students were inquisitive, and they were willing to do the work.  I was lucky enough to point a finger and gently nudge them from time to time.  When I can take a moment to exhale (we aren’t finished with the editing process of the video), I will be able to reflect on how this project helped the students ( and me) to learn and grow.  More importantly, I will allow the students to reflect on their learning.  I want them to tell me what they learned, not just for the sake of the Common Core Standards, but to give them the opportunity to realize what a fabulous moment they shared.  This is something I will remember forever, and I certainly believe they will, too.


You are not alone.  Photo:  Sydney Campbell

You are not alone. Photo: Sydney Campbell



Stephani Itibrout

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