Interview with Wired Educator

I had the good fortune to spend an hour talking with Kelly Croy about what it is I do and think about.   Here is the interview on the Wired Educator Podcast.

WEP 0077: An Interview with Julie Willcott


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What does STEAM really look like?

First it was STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) as an educational buzzword and now it is STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math). What does STEAM look like in the classroom?

I am sharing this video – created with the amazing new Apple app, Clips – to give a peek into my world of STEAM learning.

Download here

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A Sense of Belonging in A Digital World

“A student’s sense of belonging is not confined within the walls of the classroom. As teachers, we are reminded to teach our students to be mindful of their digital footprint and its permanency and to emphasize the importance of appropriate and responsible behavior online. These are critical lessons. As teachers, we must also acknowledge the positive use of our students’ digital tools in fostering a sense of belonging. …”

I am excited to share my recent blog post for Sevenzo – A Sense of Belonging int a Digital World.  It contains my thoughts and experiences with balancing my student’s sense of belonging within the classroom with their sense of belonging within the digital world.




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Highlights of my visit to the White House

I was honored to be selected to attend South by South Lawn: A White House Festival of Ideas, Art, and Action on October 3rd.  The day-long event was both a celebration and a call to action.
After multiple security checks – it is 2016 after all –  I entered through the White House to the music of several inspiring – and rocking – bands including Black Alley and Gallant.
The celebration continued onto the South Lawn where the crown of 2,000 was joined life-size Lego figures.


In a tribute to what is possible, sustainably produced food was served.


And in recognition of what is possible,  a giant wall of post-its invited people to contribute their future actions.



Interactive booths invited attendees to explore Yosemite with President Obama through virtual reality, to create light-up pins in the spirit of the maker movement, to discover robotics with Sphero, and more.
 By mid-afternoon, a series of panels addressed explored how leaders in art, technology, food, innovation, and social change are helping to move the country forward.
As I sit down to learn about how we can feed the future, the rapper Common took the stage.  He delivered a powerful message about the incarceration of black men in the United States – it’s magnitude and it’s negative impact on America society.

The panel about how we will feed ourselves sustainably in the coming decades included Will Allen and Caleb Harper.  Will Allen of Growing Power has been working for social justice through urban agriculture for four decades.  Caleb Harper of the OpenAG initiative at the MIT Media Lab is pushing the boundaries of modern agriculture with the use of open-source data.  The message was one of serious challenges mixed with an optimism that we have the power to address these challenges.  And I had the chance to talk with Will Allen, who had just been to Maine for the Common Ground Country Fair.


The celebration and call to action continued into the evening.

The  Lumineers took to the main stage followed by Leonardo DiCapro, President Obama, and Dr Katherine Hayhoe, who discussed importance of protecting the one planet we’ve got for future generations.   The evening concluded with a preview of DiCaprio’s new climate documentary film Before the Flood.  
It was an incredible day that touched both my head and my heart with positive innovation taking place and moving into the future.

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Reflections on Not Returning to School

At the end of the 2014-15 school year I left my twenty year “gig” teaching high school science full-time.  I wanted to step out and focus on my work helping teachers and pushing forward best practices for the use of technology in the classroom.

It has been an amazing 15 months.

I haven’t completely left the classroom as I continue to teach sustainable food systems and chemistry as an adjunct faculty member at Kennebec Valley Community College.  In case you missed the news, amazing things are happening at community colleges which provide post-secondary educational opportunities that are often more affordable, more agile, and more connected to the workplace.

And I continue to work with student interns as the Lead Academic Advisor for a Sustainable Year-Round Agriculture project.

But much of my time is now spent training teachers across the country on the use of Apple technology and on the immersive virtual reality of zSpace.


Travel has filled my soul as well as my camera roll.

My New Classroom: Travel has filled my soul as well as my camera roll.

I have presented in Italy, Mexico, Austin, Boston, Denver, and at home in Maine.  My presentations have allowed me to share my love of science and creativity through such topics as robotics and coding, creating special effects, making sound visible, fostering empathy in the classroom, and using mobile devices as portable makerspaces.  I have more presentations scheduled in upcoming year with a focus on bringing science and its cousins (STEM, STEAM, and STREAM) to digitally active classrooms at all grade levels.

The latest addition to my consulting world is my appointment, along with fellow independent educational consultant Audrey O’Clair (@audreyoclair),  as an EdSurge fellow.  It is an honor to work with EdSurge connecting teachers, administrators, and others interested in education and technology with information that allows us all to move forward in service to students.

So I am not sitting in the traditional back-to-school faculty meetings, setting up my classroom, or attending Open House nights.  But with September comes the promise of new beginnings and exciting new experiences in learning.

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Moving Beyond STEM

Over the past few years, there has been movement to transform science education into STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) education.

At iPadpalooza and ISTE this June, I noticed, with great delight, an increased emphasis on the importance art and creativity in learning.  I have brought art including creativity, design, music, and visual art into my science teaching.






So I have been thinking about STEM and its role in education. The STEM movement has at its core the identified need for more workers in these fields and the importance of education, including early education, to provide training and interest.

What got me interested in STEM was the integration of curriculum across content areas. And once I got started with cross-curriculum integration, it was hard to stop. I have moved beyond STEM to STEAM (science-technology-engineering-ART-math) and STREAM (science-technology-READING-engineering-ART-math) and STHEAM (science-technology-HUMANITIES-engineering-ART-math).

I think cross-curriculum integration can engage all learners while meeting their unique needs and interests.  It also prepares all learners to be citizens of the future where the real world is not kept in discrete content areas.

I would love to hear your thoughts.



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What should learning look like in a technology-rich world?





As the best education prepares students for the world beyond the classroom, this question should be the starting point for decisions on incorporating technology in the classroom.



Learning in today’s world should be based on clear specific learning objectives (the teachers role) and on  asking questions (the students role).  With this model, the teacher brings wisdom and the student develops understanding.

Good questions cross content areas and so should good teaching.

IMG_1130Learning should be collaborative as problem solving requires working together, whether we are teachers or learners.

Learning should incorporate those aspects of technology which are most important in the “real world” – ready access to huge amounts of information, visual and audio content, mobility, and sharing.

The ready access to huge amounts of information should certainly not be confused with knowledge or understanding.  Through education, students should be learning how to analyze, i.e. make sense, of the information so readily available to them through the Internet. Students will thus develop a skill that will be absolutely necessary in the world beyond the classroom.

Information and analysis in today’s world is no longer limited to words or numbers or even well-drawn graphs.  It is possible, and even easy, to capture high-quality still images, videos, and sound bytes.  With this rich content, students can create a wealth of digital content including graphics, movies, books, courses, and apps.  Creation is another skill that be important in the world beyond the classroom.

Computers are no longer limited to devices which sit on a desktop.    Powerful computing devices are now mobile.  This mobility of devices allows learning to take place anywhere and anytime.  Learning will move out of the classroom walls and into the broader community where  students will live out the future lives we are preparing them for.

Human knowledge has only advanced when information has been shared.  If digital content is created and not shared, does it exist?



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The Beauty of Circles as expressed with Circuits






Copper tape, along with batteries and LEDs, can be used to incorporate electricity into writing.  For me, this illustrates the potential of integrated learning, learning that crosses the boundaries of curriculum.









Here is an example of my recent writing using these tools.



The beauty of circles is that they have no end,

that they are immortal.

Recently I have been observing

the circles in my life,

circles spanning over decades,

circles in travel,

circles in agriculture,

& circles in chemistry.


What are the lessons in this for the classroom?


It takes time to learn from

our experience – life experience,

certainly, but also classroom experiences.

The beauty of life & learning &

experiences is that they will circle back around.

They will be there when we need them and when

we are ready for them.


We never know exactly when the lessons we prepare will circle back around and connect.


With connection there is illumination – in electricity and in life and, certainly, in the classroom.



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A World of Learning

In 2013, I became an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE).  It is no exaggeration to say that this honor opened up the world of learning in new ways for me.  I became part of an incredible groups of educators around the world you are changing how students learn.  By hearing their stories, I learned new ways of teaching.  By sharing my successes – and failures – I have been supported toward my goal of inquiry-drive learning where individuals are empowered to take education into their own hands – often holding mobile devices in those hands.

In March of this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy as part of a Challenge to Change team of educators (Ugo Falace, Kevin Morrow, Alberto Pian, and Katie Morrow).

IMG_1354 In four day-long workshops, we presented innovative teaching practices being used in the United States to a new audience, educators in Italy.  Participants were challenged to introduce technology into classrooms and were introduced to methods and tools for inquiry-based learning. 


Italy 2015 - Torino  Challenge to Change #3 - Turin (Torino)

Italy 2015 – Torino Challenge to Change #3 – Turin (Torino)

My world of learning was expanded through

– the opportunity to closely collaborate with these fabulous educators

– the creation of an iTunes U course in two languages, only one of which I speak


– the incredible hospitality and support of Italian educators, who have the courage to challenge traditional education into more inquiry-based learning.

I am excited to announce that in November Challenge to Change will return to Italy with four more presentations.  You can find out all the details here.



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There is Honor in Finishing Last

My summer kicked off with amazing professional learning at both ISTE in Philadelphia and the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) Institute in Miami.  I have many, many memories of shared time with incredible colleagues as well as inspirational presentations and conversations. But what stuck with me the most was something Jason Hall, founder and community organizer of Slow Roll, said.

There is honor in finishing last.

Jason made this statement in regards to his volunteer riders who stay at the back of the ride and make sure that no one is left behind.  This statement got me thinking about the value of finishing last.

In our classrooms, finishing last means honoring all learners.  It means staying with those who need more time.  It means finding a way to help those who learn differently – which is all of us, really.

Finishing last means not going for the quick fix; it means doing the hard work.  The riders at the back may be pushing harder than the ones at the front of the pack.  There is honor in persisting.  This is a valuable lesson in bike riding and in education.  We need to work hard to provide educational opportunities for our learners.

And finishing last means taking time to listen to the stories of others.

Much of the ADE Institute focused on storytelling.  Randy Nelson captured beautifully the art of storytelling; he reminded us that it is experience and reflection that create education.  My fellow ADEs told incredible stories of their classrooms, their students, and their experiences.   These stories made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think.  There was joy in listening to their stories.

And now  I am home.   In my small town,  I go to the post office and am asked by the mail carrier about my travels and it takes twenty minutes to mail one box.    I am taking the time to listen to the stories of all those around me.  It is a honor.


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