Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting past printing

True story.  I recently spoke with a teacher who found an electronic text s/he liked online.  It was freely shared (no copyright issues), so s/he decided that although a slightly different hard copy version existed in the department book room, s/he would make Xeroxed copies of this online text.  So, each of his/her students in that particular course (~60) got a 30 page packet of this text.  This version of this text was already in hard copy form in the book room.  This version of this text was already in ONLINE format, probably with links that are completely useless in hard copy.

As a tech. coordinator, I feel various levels of frustration at various times.  For the past year or so, though, my frustration level with printing has not only been constant but has, in fact, increased rather dramatically.  I wasn't really able to articulate why I was getting more & more frustrated until I read Will Richardson's "Get. Off. Paper" post this past week.  Here's a direct quotation from his post:
"Yet just about everywhere I go where groups of educators are in the room, paper abounds. Notebooks, legal pads, sticky notes, index cards…it’s everywhere. We are, as Alan November so often says, “paper trained,” and the worst part is it shows no signs of abating."

To be honest, I do respect the fact that some people will simply remember something better if they have "written it down."  Most of us who are teaching today grew up in the "get out your pen & paper" classroom, so that is what we know & how we learn.  I get that.  My problem is not with taking notes in paper form.  My problem is with hitting the print button.

Yes, there was a time when the only way we had to get stuff to our students was via the mimeograph (YIKES) or copy machine or textbook.   That time has long since passed.  We can now project amazing video content, we can access incredible information via the web, and we can share our thoughts and work electronically.

We must begin to ask ourselves why we (and our students) are printing. If we really begin to examine our practice, we will discover that we are needlessly printing things that could be shared another way.

Do your students print electronic versions of their papers to you can grade them?  Why not use GoogleDocs & grade their work electronically?  Are you printing out articles for your students to read for homework?  What about giving students the link and only making copies for the students who may not have access at home?  Are you printing out your syllabus?  How about posting it online so that it can be accessed throughout the year, not lost in the depths of the high school backpack?   Find a text that you want to use?  Have your kids access the e-version, where they can interact with links & content dynamically and share those thoughts with the class.  Our students should be interacting with content in a way that taps into their curiosity, their skills, and their world.  Hard copy is not it.

Richardson's point is a great one.  We need to get off paper.  But I think the first step to making that shift is getting away from the print button.  I'll close with Richardson's final thought from that post:  "are you doing as much as you can to get off paper?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Using GoogleDocs for "Unobtrusive Collaboration"

I came across a blog post last week from Tom Barrett in the UK ("Unobtrusive Collaboration in GoogleDocs"), which mentioned a great use for GoogleDocs when kids are writing: commenting and giving feedback while they are constructing drafts.

Commenting on drafts is nothing new in terms of the writing process, of course, but most teachers I work with who teach writing collect hard copy versions of a draft, make comments, have kids re-submit (via hard copy), make more comments, etc. This is not a bad approach, by any means. It can be, however, inefficient for both the teacher & the student.
cc photo courtesy of Found Drama

How many of us who teach English have gotten a draft, only to see that the student got off track very early on and has to redo most of the paper? For me, that has happened often. What Tom points out in his post is that if students are using GoogleDocs and the document is shared with the teacher, the teacher can actually check on the progress of each draft as the students are crafting it, real-time.

I tested this out with a teacher who was doing a research paper this week, and it was very successful. To begin, we had each student create his/her draft in GDocs and share that with the teacher (this could also be shared with other students for peer-editing). Then, as the students were in the lab, the teacher was clicking on various drafts to see the progress of each student. She made comments as the kids were working, even "encouraging" one student to get back on task as he had hardly written a thing.

She loved it, and the kids had the benefit of feedback at different stages of the draft. One more benefit: because the teacher could check the revision history, there was no need to print out & hand it anything. Everything was assessed electronically.

One tip if you want to try this out: use the footnote feature instead of the "insert comment" feature in GDocs. The "insert comment" feature is great for asynchronous feedback as it won't overwrite what the student might be typing. The footnote feature puts the comment in the right margin, which won't interfere with the student as s/he is working.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Going Google

As Christine, Alicia & I have been planning our summer thing (at times called "camp," "institute," "workshop," etc.), we have decided that we are going to really push using the collaborative tools available with a free Google account.

Why use Google tools?  I'll be honest -- it's partially selfish.  When Microsoft made the Office 2007/2008 upgrade earlier this year, it made our lives pretty miserable at the school level.  Kids would create documents or .ppts at home and then find that they could not open them at school.  We found this crazy workaround with Adobe Illustrator, but it only works with documents, not .ppts.

When I looked into upgrading our 1000+ machines at SHHS to the latest version of Office, I discovered that it would cost us $50,000.  And for what?  So that we can continue to use a product that we already have, with some additional features?  To what might that money translate?  That's 50 desktop upgrades or ~100 projectors or ~130 document cameras or 50 laptops (which would upgrade 3 of our mobile carts).  We simply cannot put that $ towards Office 2008 when we have so many other pressing needs.

Will GoogleApps do everything Office will do?  No, but it gets very close for the majority of tasks for which we use Word/Powerpoint/Excel.  And, for our students, it gives them the ability to access their work from anywhere that has an internet connection.  No more jump drives, emailed documents, etc.  The other huge plus is that it allows a teacher to collaborate on the same document with a student and see all revisions without the need to print.  Or, it allows students to do some peer editing activities that are currently not possible.

So, Smoky, say hello to GoogleApps.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer Tech. Camp Reflections & the 4th “R”

Well, we just finished day 2 of our summer tech. camp, and I am trying to objectively look at how these two days went.

This was my first time doing any kind of summer camp/institute/thing, and (while exhausting) I think it was one of the most positive and rewarding things I've experienced as a technology coordinator. I must acknowledge that I was extremely fortunate in being able to collaborate with other tech. coordinators in my district, so I wasn't flying solo. I can't imagine putting something like this on myself.

But having taught classes before, why did this particular experience seem so much more fulfilling? I think it has to do with something Rodd Lucier mentioned in one of his podcasts ("Achieving the Fourth 'R' through Archeological Twine"). In addition to the "usual" Rs, Lucier asks what teachers do about the "4th R," relationships with students. We, as staff developers, should ask the same question. Are we building relationships with our teachers in addition to building knowledge & skills?

To me, the absolute best thing about doing these sessions was being able to spend time with some outstanding teachers (& tech. coordinators) both from my building & from other schools. (BTW, the group from my school is a fantastic group of people -- I honestly couldn't have hand-picked a better group.) There's just something about being together as a group (outside the contract day) that is magical. That is what made the difference for me.

The two parts I miss most about the classroom are a) having relationships with a class of students and b) having professional relationships with colleagues. Teaching is an isolating profession; being a technology coordinator is even more lonely. But for two days, I got to experience that connectedness again.  Totally worth it.

We have Day 3 in August, and I am very much looking forward to getting together again.  I expected to feel satisfied with the sessions that we presented, but I didn't anticipate the camaraderie.  So, a big thanks to everyone who made my first summer tech. camp feel like "camp."  See you in August!

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Borg of Education (Trek, not Travian)

I was reading Liz Davis's blog post on "Collective Intelligence" and was thinking about writing a related post. My husband jokingly told me that I should title my blog post "The Borg of Education" (I laughed out loud). For those who didn't follow Star Trek, here is a definition from Wikipedia:
The Borg are depicted as an amalgam of cybernetically enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organized as an inter-connected collective with a hive mind, inhabiting a vast region of space with many planets and ships, and sophisticated technology. They operate towards one single-minded purpose: to add the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to their own, in pursuit of perfection. This is achieved through forced assimilation, a process which transforms individuals and technology into Borg, enhancing individuals by adding synthetic components.

The Borg were a collective, which is why Liz's title caught my eye. I think that there are teachers who view people in my position (technology integration specialists) as the Borg of education, trying to assimilate them & their ideas into the collective where they will lose their creativity and individuality to technology.

How can I/we help teachers see that being part of the collective, especially in technology integration, actually expands the horizons of creativity and gives each of us a place to add our own unique voice & perspective? Do they see assimilation where I see adaptation?

Sometimes technology tools do force us to conform. Wikis are sometimes rigid in layout options, for example. Electronic gradebooks force us to work within certain parameters. Search engines (used effectively) require a certain syntax. However, the ways we can use these tools are dynamic, robust, & infinitely creative. And when we can share what we are doing with "the collective," the collective itself becomes more dynamic, robust, and creative.

Perhaps I am part of the Borg of education, not in the ominous Star Trek way but in the collective intelligence way that Liz Davis has mentioned. I believe we're stronger when we share, and I believe that we have the power (as a collective) to make sweeping changes in an antiquated system. I believe that enhancing what we do with technology is incredibly powerful for learning because kids are already "wired."

And, ultimately, I believe that "resistance IS futile." ;-)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Semantics of Staff Development

Having just caught up (whew!) with my backed up GoogleReader feeds, I saw a couple of postings that grabbed my attention about the term "teacher" and its negative connotations. One was from Ewan McIntosh (Does the word "teacher" create a barrier these days?) and one was from David Warlick (Telling a New Story). Here's a quick quotation from Ewan's post followed by a quotation from Warlick's:
"As adults we rarely refer to those who teach us how to work better as 'teacher'. We've invented a plethora of other words to avoid this: coach, mentor, facilitator..."

"I would suggest that this is too easy. Language is useful. It helps us to form images, and sometimes, new images. But the word, teacher, is not the problem."

This discussion got me thinking about the terms that we use as coaches, mentors, facilitators, etc.

CC Image by jovike

How many of us are calling summer sessions "camp" instead of "summer school for teachers"? That's really what it is, but "camp" is much more appealing, isn't it? How about "workshop" vs. "training"? Isn't "workshop" more positively perceived than "training session"? I've even seen recent events billed as a "summit" rather than "conference" or "study group" rather than "class."

With respect, I have to disagree with Warlick when he says that "the word, teacher, is not the problem." Warlick suggests that we need to "retell" the story of teaching; I like his idea, but I'm afraid that there are some terms too mired in tradition to allow for retelling. In situations where we have to positively sell what we do and create buy-in, language is everything. It's why we have to create a "plethora of new words" and find creative ways to describe learning and teaching.

Maybe if we begin calling ourselves by a name other than "teacher," we might begin to break away from outdated pedagogies & embrace learning in new ways. And, just maybe, it will break down the barrier of negative perception. Like it or not, that's the power of semantics.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A blog posting about blogs

Blogging About Blogs

In thinking about using blogs, one of the questions we need to ask is how this particular tool could be used, either with students or with peers & colleagues. Before we even get to thinking about the applicability of the tool, though, we probably need to take a closer look at the tool itself.

What is the definition of a blog?

Check out these links for clarification on the term:

Here's another great little handout on 7 Things You Should Know About Blogs.

In what ways can we use blogs in the classroom?

What about blogs for professional development?

See blogroll at right-hand side. These are all blogs that I follow to a) keep up with what I do and b) get great ideas from great people. If you want to do a search for blogs in your content or interest area, try Technorati.

See for yourself . . .

Using the links above (or by doing your own search), check out some examples of blogs used in classrooms or those used for professional development. After seeing a few and how they are used, pick 3 - 5 that impressed you or made you think in some way. Then, post a response (or comment) to this post, including the URLs of the blogs & the reason why you picked them. How do you think you might be able to use blogs, either with your colleagues or with your students?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Teaching good instruction AND the technology tool

A recent post from coolcatteacher ("Get Past Teaching Apps") got me thinking about how to approach technology "instruction," but it's honestly been something that I've been thinking about for awhile. Her post is about what she does with kids in the classroom, but with our upcoming summer technology workshops, I am wondering if we should shift our focus for teachers.
from the 1980s ACOT report
Seems like we offer a lot of workshops on tools and not as much on instruction. And I think a lot of that is driven by our participants. I hear a lot of teachers say to me, "Wow, I really need to take a class on Powerpoint." Based on this graphic table from Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow report from the 1980's, I think people assume that this is the progression. Not sure I agree, though.

What I'm considering is that "traditional" classroom practice piece. How do we move teachers from adaptation to appropriation? And what do we do when faced with the barrage of new tools? Should we, as professional developers, try a two-pronged approach where we simultaneously explore moving away from traditional classroom practice and using technology tools? Should we follow Vicki Davis's example and look at various student classroom tasks instead of focusing on a tool? Will that allow teachers to move more seamlessly in their own practice?

With all the talk of transforming education rather than reforming education, maybe we should use technology workshops as a way to look at "new" methods of instruction based on brain & learning research. A great quotation from Wesley Fryer's article called "Intelligently Promoting Technology Integration":
Technology integration should not mean simply fancy PowerPoints and lots of video clips shown to students in the classroom. Those uses of technology can be more engaging and beneficial than some alternatives, but we shouldn't stop at merely digitizing the transmission-based education experience for our students. Learners need to remix their learning and use technologies to both explore and represent their understandings of complex ideas. Additionally, learners need to regularly collaborate with others outside the four walls of their traditional classroom as well as within them.

I hope that our workshop can get teachers to move beyond just digitizing a stand-and-deliver model. But do we need to start there to get them integrating?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

“Culturally” (ir)Relevant Instruction

Our district (in trying to address the achievement gap) is currently discussing what culturally relevant instruction looks like. I'm not part of the cadre getting trained on these strategies, but from what I gather, it involves trying to embed concepts & activities that are culturally familiar to students from differing ethnic backgrounds.

We are totally missing the boat by not focusing on technology, which should be the great equalizer when looking at equity.

I don't know how many cultures are represented in our district. I do know that there is no way that we can address every culture that we have represented, though. What we can address is what is familiar to all of our students: technology & web-based tools.

If we really want to impact the achievement gap for all of our students, we should focus on things (like technology) that impact engagement for all learners, regardless of ethnic background. Until our leadership recognizes that, we will be implementing culturally irrelevant instruction.

For more ideas on this, see the "Did You Know" video from Carl Fisch's blog.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cheating by Example

I've yet to meet a teacher who isn't concerned about plagiarism and cheating, especially these days. Kids can so easily copy & paste content that our concerns about legitimate authorship have increased exponentially. So, schools have invested quite a bit of $ in services like to help kids analyze their documentation of sources. What has really struck me as I've been forced to become more knowledgeable about copyright law (though) is that we, as teachers, do not necessarily provide a stellar example of the respect for intellectual property. Ouch.

I've made many Powerpoints using images I've gotten online. As of late, I've tried to be better about actually citing the origin, but have I attempted to get permission to actually use and cite that source? And that's just one example of my misguided understanding of "fair use." How many of us have been short on textbooks & have made copies of sections or chapters for the kids to take home & use? Have we used music for slideshow presentations that have exceeded 30 seconds per composition? Have we shown DVDs in the classroom with copyright laws in mind? Have we used the quotations of others (either peers or "famous" folk) without acknowledgment? Even worse, have we encouraged our students to do similar things within the guidelines of a presentation assignment?

If we, in the classroom, are not modeling that fundamental respect for the work that someone else has created or published, how can we honestly get upset when kids use someone else's work and turn it in as their own?

The advent of the Creative Commons license has at least given all of us the opportunity to use what has freely been shared. Will it have everything that we want to use in the classroom? No. But if we demonstrate to our own students that we are paying attention to "the rules" and respecting the wishes of those creators, perhaps the plagiarism conversation will have a more realistic context.

I would encourage everyone to start searching for "shared" content or create from scratch when preparing something for use, either personally or professionally. The Creative Commons website is a great starting point. Let's start with ourselves as leaders in the classroom and encourage our students to think about what they create as well.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spelling Words

My son is not stoked to study for spelling tests, so we tried something new tonight. We recorded his words into Garageband, and then I put it onto his MP3 player. Because it took a couple of takes for a few words, he was studying the ones with which he had trouble without even knowing it.

It's about a minute & a half long, and it probably took us 15 minutes to do. He was VERY excited to put his words onto the computer.

Will he listen to his words to study? Probably. But is that the power of approaching his homework this way? Nope. The act of practicing those words by using Garageband gave him automatic engagement for something he dislikes. He already was talking about what music loop we should choose for next week's words. Wait. . . So he's looking forward to studying his spelling words?!?

We'll see how he does on Friday's test, but the fact that he enjoyed practicing his spelling words is enough for me at the moment. What else could we be doing to help kids enjoy learning?

Here's the words of the week:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Digital natives? Nah, I don’t think so . . .

If you have been anywhere near educational technology in recent years, chances are you've heard the term "Digital Natives." If you look up that term in Wikipedia (and really, what other source of information would contain such a term?), you'll see references to Marc Prensky. According to this idea, if you were born before a certain time, you are a "digital immigrant," being a foreigner to the digital age. If you were born after a certain time, you are a "digital native" or native to the digital age.

Semantically, the term "immigrant" is politically charged, but aside from that, I have some problems with this theory.

I have been working with kids & computers for several years now, and I think people sometimes confuse competence for comfort. While most kids have a comfort level working on the computer, it is amazing to see how much they don't know about using either hardware or software. This has led me to think that perhaps they aren't "native" thinkers when it comes to the technology. Kids have also been traveling in cars since birth, but does that make them automatic drivers just because they've grown up with them?

What about their "presentation" preferences? Do they like more visuals and more interactive activities? Sure, but is this new? I remember the days of the manually advanced filmstrip, then the days of the reel to reel, and then (WOO-HOO!) the VCR. I hated the manual filmstrip! It's probably akin to the way kids now view an old school overhead projector compared to a computer projector. This preference for motion and graphics has little to do with when a person was born (in my opinion) and more to do with the fact that our brain (regardless of year of birth) is designed as a very efficient image processor.
Perhaps the biggest indictment of the "digital" native theory has to do with the aptly-termed digital divide. A student with little exposure to technology is not going to be born digital, regardless of his/her birth year. I recently watched a student who had never handled an iPod try to figure out the click wheel. He did not look any different in his handling of the device than an adult who has never handled an iPod. Do kids born in third world countries have some sort of inherent understanding of digital devices simply based upon when they were born? Absolutely not.

Some recent posts from people like David Thornburg, Jamie McKenzie, & Matt Croslin flesh out some solid arguments for why the "digital native" term is both misleading and a misnomer.  If we must label generations, we should perhaps advocate terminology like "millennials" which is more indicative of era than ability and eschew terms that are deceptive and fallacious.  End rant.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Find your tool & go with it

I've got a friend at another high school who has never been particularly interested in using technology. We would talk about different things, like CPS or projectors or whatever, and he would always sort of shrug and say, "I just can't see how I'd use that." Fair enough. And I have been rather underwhelmed by the tools available for math anyway.

However, after seeing the video from Johnny Lee about using the wiimote for whiteboards (see my earlier post on the wiimote project), he found something that he could use and he has totally taken off with it. Within a week of me showing him how this worked, he bought his own wiimote, built several IR pens from scratch, and has shown this to his entire department. He went from 0 - 60 in 1 week, mostly because he found something (FINALLY) that made sense for his instruction.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I heard him describe was the reaction of his students. Not only does he have students (not his own) stopping by his room to see the "cool wii thing," but he watched his typically unmotivated Geometry class get absorbed in content by using the wiimote whiteboard. He might just be a believer now in the technology-engagement connection.

Perhaps the most sobering thing he experienced was the reaction of his department. According to him, they seemed politely interested, but not a single person asked him to help them use it or try it with their own students. He couldn't believe it (but he has seen plenty of tools with a polite eye). My response was "Welcome to my world." Guess it just wasn't their tool.

This was eye-opening for me for a couple of reasons. A) I had basically given up on ever convincing my friend to use technology for instruction and B) people still need to be convinced that engagement increases when technology is involved. I wonder what the reaction of his department would have been if they had seen the response of the Geometry class?

Bottom line: find your tool and go with it. Not sure what your tool is? Maybe feeling like you're "just not sure how" you'd use technology? Maybe you've tried it and something just hasn't clicked? Find the technology person in your building (or from someone who you know uses technology effectively) and talk about what you wish you could do. Chances are, it's out there. And chances are you'll see a totally different class of kids when you use it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Finding podcasts via our online databases

This has already been covered in hard copy (see the most recent Books N Bytes publication from our stellar librarians). But I tend to collect stuff electronically so that I can get to it from anywhere. Right at this moment, my hard copy version is on my desk at school so I can't read the article. I'm going to post this here for my benefit and for the benefit of those who might be at home prepping for tomorrow (and who left the hard copy version on a desk at school).

There's no question that powerful content is available via podcast. The trick is, how do you carve out the time to wade through everything to find the classroom gem? I was thrilled to see that some of our online databases are linking podcast, video & audio content to searches. Instead of trying to find something in iTunes or another podcast directory, you can do a search in our databases and find multimedia content.

The latest edition of Books 'n' Bytes highlighted the Thomson Gale databases, but you can also find some great stuff on ABCClio, the Library of Congress, and CultureGrams. Honestly, I found the search for multimedia to be easier on the Thomson Gale database, but if you can learn some quick tips, you can find video & audio content on the other databases.

If you have time, stop by our library and chat with one of our librarians. Not only can they recommend the right database for what you'd like your students to research, but they can also help you learn how to search effectively. Best part about these databases? Get to them from anywhere. I love that our library is no longer confined within walls.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Geek Factor 10: Getting text messages from Google

* This post was originally published on the Smoky Hill Blogosphere blog before the move to Blogger.

I know, I know. Cell phones are banned in our school (and probably most other schools). However, a cell phone is one device that almost every kid I know has. Kids with cell phones are experts at receiving and sending texts with thumbs & number pads only (being old school, I needed a cell phone with a qwerty keyboard). But, to my knowledge, few of them use the cell phone to get information. That's where Google text messages could really be a powerful tool.

This functionality is not totally new, but it is not widely used. Here is how the process is described on a blog posting about Google (TextEverything: Google SMS):
"From any cell phone, you can send a text message request to Google's short code GOOGLE (i.e. the phone number 466453, corresponding to G-O-O-G-L-E on a standard phone keypad), and you'll get back an automated text message in a few seconds with an answer to your request. Google has a lot of info available, including yellow pages, movie listings, flight status, translations, and a lot more."

A user has to know a few basics for getting a text message from Google, like what kinds of information is available and how to request that info. via cell phone. (I'd put in a link to Google's info. page about this service, but it is blocked by our district filter (!). So, kids, you can get this information from home:

Highlights for educational use from Google's page:

  1. To find definitions on the Web, enter 'define' (or 'd') followed by the word or phrase (ex: define ubiquitous, d network).

  2. Enter a fact-based question or query to get facts (ex: india population, who wrote hamlet).

  3. To get translations, enter 'translate' (or 't') followed by the expression, 'to' and a destination language (ex: translate dog to french, t new to german).

As mentioned in the blog quoted earlier, other functionality is there, including directions, maps, weather, sports highlights, etc. There are some schools who are even starting to look at using text messaging as a way to get out emergency information or announcements.

This inevitably leads to another post on using cell phones for learning, but I'll save that for later date. For now, try it for yourself!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Online writing: the power of hyperlinks

* This post was originally published on the Smoky Hill Blogosphere blog before the move to Blogger.

I read this great blog post from Bud the Teacher this week called "Thinking 'bout Linking." I always get something meaningful from reading Bud's blog, but this particular post was timely. It came closely upon the heels of the recent definition of 21st Century Literacies from NCTE which made it even more germane.

I just spent some time working with kids on a research project/paper. The teacher & I decided to turn the assignment into a mini-wikipedia. Since all of his students had researched a topic, we created a page for each student so that s/he could make a separate entry into the mini-pedia.

To be honest, what I thought was pretty cool was the fact that they could read each other's research, make comments, and basically see their work online. I'd forgotten how cool links can be, probably because I'm used to using them in writing.

However, when I showed the kids how they could link their embedded citations to the actual page where they got the information, I saw some lights go on. It really struck me that kids may be used to seeing links, but they have little practice in writing their own. This is one powerful way to make citations come alive, and you can only do it if your paper is in electronic format.

Sure, you can do this in Microsoft Word. However, what I see most kids do is type in Word, hit the print button, and give the hard copy to the teacher. When we made this assignment web-based, the context of the writing totally changed. After all, the wiki is a web page. In the eyes of a student, Word lives on a computer somewhere. Why would you connect words in MS Word to something online? Chances are, the link will go unnoticed since the page prints in b/w.

Kids read A LOT of web pages, and they know what links look like. Bud's post reminded me that online writing taps into a different conceptual area in the brain, and it reiterated the fact that our brain actually works in a hyperlink way, not a linear way. I hope that I can see this happen more often in writing assignments. Why are we not doing this more?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Share and download iQuiz trivia games for iPods

* This post was originally published on the Smoky Hill Blogosphere blog before the move to Blogger.

I stumbled upon (not using stumbleupon, by the way) a podcast called Learning in Hand today, and it had 10 mini lessons on using iPods for education. To be honest, I didn't think I'd find anything totally new, but I should have known better. The gem I got was about the iQuiz game.

When I first got the set of Nanos for school, I was sort of bummed that you couldn't delete the games from the Nanos. However, my son & Mike played iQuiz first thing when they saw it. What I learned from Tony Vincent's podcast is that you can create your own quizzes for recent iPods using a piece of free software called iquizmaker from Aspyr. Here is the link:

From what I gathered, people are just now starting to use this game to create quizzes because all of the Nanos come with the game installed. If you have a 5th gen. iPod, you can buy the game for $.99.  If you go to, you can see and download quizzes that other users have created.  Not a huge list at this point, but I did find some stuff on geography & history.
Older pods can't handle it, only 3rd Gen. Nanos and anything after 5th Gen. iPods, but the cool thing is that you can create a quiz and simply email it or make it available for download for students. If students have newer iPods, they can use iQuiz to take your quiz.

Sure, it's multiple choice and a bit limiting in terms of what you can do, but like many other things, I think it's just a matter of time before something even cooler comes along. It will be sort of fun to test it out with our new class set of Nanos.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Geek Factor 10: Zamzar’s YouTube Converter

Probably one of the most frequent complaints I hear is that YouTube is blocked by our district web filter. According to a recent discussion on the CDE TechNet listserv, YouTube is blocked by virtually every district in the state. Most other districts, however, have access for teachers. Why we don't have a workaround for teachers is beyond me, but what we do have is a home workaround.

Zamzar is a free converter service that anyone can use from home (and it's EASY to use). While they also offer "paid" memberships, the free version does most of what we need. Here's how to do it:

  1. Go to Zamzar's website ( Click on the "Download Videos" tab. You'll see a place to paste in the web address.

  2. Find the YouTube video you want and copy the web address from your address bar in the browser.

  3. Decide what format you want your file to be in. For most of us @ SHHS, choosing .mov is the best option because it converts it into a QuickTime movie.

  4. Enter your email address.

  5. Click the "convert" button.
You'll receive an email with a link inside to download the file onto your computer. That converted file will be available for you for 24 hours. So, if you found something on YouTube that you wanted to show your students, you could use Zamzar @ home and get the email at school so you could download the video.

This is not a bad thing to share with students, either. I've had many kids come to our office & ask for help getting something from YouTube for a class presentation. This is a great way to give kids a workaround without having to mess with our district filter.

Caveat: the free version of Zamzar does limit the amount of video you can convert at a time. Keep an eye on your limits as that can be frustrating.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

It’s almost time for baseball in the Rocky Mountains . . .

I had my orientation meeting @ Coors Field last night, and it was the first time since I've worked there that there wasn't a single new hire. Here's what this means: those of us who worked in the Ticket Office last year were so swept up in the magic of Rockies baseball that none of us quit; and I couldn't get any of my friends jobs who actually wanted a summer job.

That being said, one of our managers reminded us that 3 years ago at our orientation meeting, we were subjected to a Powerpoint of the players because none of us knew them. In that entire Powerpoint, I recognized only Todd Helton. Names like Holliday, Hawpe, and Atkins meant absolutely nothing to me. Today, they mean everything. And let's not forget Tulo.

So, it's March and Spring Training is in full swing, and the season is full of promise. To shamelessly quote Bull Durham, "it's a long season, and you've got to trust it." We are all in 1st place right now. But this season, my shirt says, "National League Champions." And I'll be watching a National League Pennant wave in the breeze for the entire season, along with every other NL team who visits Coors Field.

So, basically, what I'm saying is, "Play ball." And GO ROCKIES!!!!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

NCTE’s Definition of 21st Century Literacies

As an English teacher, I found this pretty interesting.  NCTE posted this on their website last month, and it was really rewarding for me to see this organization acknowledge that the needs of today's learners have changed.  Here is the link, if you want to see it for yourself, but I've pasted in their definition below.
"Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of
• Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments"
Definitely food for thought . . .

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Simplify . . . (?)

I wish there was one tool that could do everything we need (or everything we will need in the future).  As exciting as new, free tools are, it is hard to keep track of them all.  I spoke today with a teacher who is participating in our district's Computer for Teachers program, and he was lamenting about the avalanche of tools he feels buried under (my words, not his).

Imagine what our students would feel like if several different teachers used totally different tools for instruction:  pbwiki, wetpaint, edublog, blogger, weblog (CCSD server), Blackboard, ning, voicestream, GCast, etc.  While I think that students enjoy extending their learning onto the web, how could they possibly keep track of each teacher's unique set of web tools?  And I don't know of anything that does everything we need, so what can we do?

We'll be offering a tech camp this summer, and I think we may to decide which tools we are using & be consistent.  Given the tools that Google seems to come up with daily, I think it's a matter of time until Google fits our needs.

I still wish we had a better solution.  And how hard is it to provide a web presence for the teachers in our district?  I have a feeling that I'll be fighting this battle for years.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Geek Factor 10: Parallels Desktop for Mac

Having come from a PC school once upon a time, I have had to learn the Mac platform. And I have learned to love it. I consider myself bi-polar, as I can argue passionately about either OS. But when the intel-based Macs came out, a third party developer came out with a program that lets you install Windows on your machine, and it runs simultaneously with the Mac OS.While I do like working on the Mac side, there are things that I can only do in Windows. All of our district data is only available using a PC plugin, and at this point, I have to use a PC to manage Active Directory. For someone like me, whose job requires both platforms, Parallels is the bomb.

Parallels costs about $80, and a license (through our district) for WinXP is about $45. So, I can have two machines in one for an additional $125.

There is another product out there for about the same cost from VMWare (it's called "Fusion"). I played with it briefly, and I prefer Parallels. However, I think that's only because I used it first. Anyway, it's worth checking out. Ultimately, I see us using free tools that aren't software or OS dependent. But in the meantime, what a slick solution!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Geek Factor 10: Wii Remotes & Whiteboards

On the geek factor scale, this is nearer to Ludicrous Geek. If you are someone interested in interactive whiteboard technology, you gotta check out this site from Johnny Lee, a guy from Carnegie Mellon.I first read about this on Will Richardson's blog. Basically, Johnny wrote a program that allows a wii remote to sense an IR pen, making any surface interactive. Best thing about the program, besides the geek factor? It's free. So instead of spending $1500 - $2000 on a SMARTboard, you can spend about $40 for the remote & download the software for free (Mac & Windows currently). And because it's open source, there is now an entire community dedicated to tweaking the code to make it even more functional. You can see what's going on with the project here: have plenty of teachers who ask about getting a SMARTboard, but on a limited budget, it's just not practical. I had faith (seriously) that something would come along that would be a cheaper option. I have to create my IR pen still to see how functional this is, but this idea GEEKED ME OUT.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Podcasts & iPods for instruction

I hosted a podcasting/Garageband class last night here @ SHHS, and for me, in continued to prove that iPods in the classroom should be much more the rule than the exception. While I think people were able to try Garageband & see what it could do, I think that the power of the class was in looking at what you can do with an iPod in the classroom with kids . That's what got people talking.
On a policy note, someone asked about whether or not administration would be okay with seeing iPods in an instructional setting. My answer was that if it is clearly being used for learning, I didn't feel that our ad team would have a problem with it. But boy, I hope I'm right. Now that I think about it, I asked Jeannine about this idea but not the other administrators. If it gets kids engaged, why wouldn't we capitalize on that?Honestly, I'm not sure I did a very good job in explaining what makes a podcast a podcast. My hope was to have people create a podcast in the class setting so that I could upload it to the district's server. It's that RSS feed that makes it "subscribable," but that's hard to demonstrate without actually showing it. Luckily, one of participants made a great little podcast sample, and I was able to upload it this morning. It was a canned script that I made for the class, but she did a great job with it! I was pleased.

So, thanks to those who came last night. It's just so hard to hang in there after a full day, but I'm hope there was something useful. If nothing else, I got a sample podcast to upload & test out! Thanks, Angela!

* This post was originally published on the Smoky Hill Blogosphere blog before the move to Blogger.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Seeing your stuff online - whoa. . .

As the web "master" as SHHS, I am used to seeing content that I put together online. That being said, what is posted on the website isn't my voice but rather a reflection of information deemed important, usually in the words of others. There is really something powerful, though, in seeing your thoughts online, which is so clearly evident in the blogging tool.

Here's an example of this power: my husband, not a techie at all, is absolutely passionate about music. He recently bought an album from iTunes from someone I've never heard of (do we still call it an album? what is the correct vocabulary term?). He decided to post a comment/review on iTunes about this artist -- Gary Louris, for those who may be interested. He could not get over the idea that his review was ON iTUNES!!! We have probably visited that album's reviews on iTunes at least 4 times since he posted, just because it is a thrill to see his stuff published. He has even called friends/relatives to have them go online to see his review. Did I mention that he is not a techie?

Seeing his enthusiasm made me think about something I heard/saw Alan November say on one of his vodasts: kids are social creatures, and they like seeing their work in a social context. They will revise & revise to make sure it is "good." (FYI: this is not a direct quotation, but rather a summation of what I took from his presentation.) If my husband was excited to see his writing online, how would a student feel? Would a student feel the same passion & enthusiasm?

Why am I just now seeing that this could be such a great tool with students? How can I pass along the power of this tool to teachers who are willing but aren't armed with time? And how does this type of writing support our writing goals?

My hope is that if my own blogging experience is indicative of some kind of natural progression, I can encourage teachers to commit to blogging just for their own thinking and maybe they'll have a similar a-ha moment. Maybe.

* This post was originally published on the Smoky Hill Blogosphere blog before the move to Blogger.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I think we should look at other things . . .

. . . that also fit writing. One thing I like about the wiki is the option to have something collaborative. However, given that you can't have more than 1 person editing a page at a time, it is difficult to apply in the confines of a classroom setting.

Well, stop the WordPress. Just after I'd typed this blog entry, I read a cool idea for using wikis on David Warlick's blog . He referred to a teacher who was using a wiki for multiple drafts of a piece of writing. I thought this was a great idea - and I wondered why the heck I hadn't thought about that application. Since you can see the "history" of a page, what a great way to teach revision & peer editing. I'll have to try that . . . someday.

GoogleDocs is cool, too, but it's yet another tool that I just haven't had a chance to a implement for myself.

My other question is about using other blogging servers, like EduBlog or blogspot or blogger. Do those tools have some options that might be a better fit?

And where does Blackboard fit? I think I like the discussion feature in terms of layout more, but Bb can be daunting to a user. I don't think it's intuitive. If you were only going to use the discussion feature, it would make things easier. But if it's not public (ever), doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose of a blog?

* This post was originally published on the Smoky Hill Blogosphere blog before the move to Blogger.

This time of year (February) is always lame

* This post was originally published on the Smoky Hill Blogosphere blog before the move to Blogger.

So, here I am. It's after President's Day weekend, and I always feel my energy draining at this point in the year. It doesn't help that we have been short-staffed for technology support at school, but I think that I feel low every year at this time. Just me? Maybe, but I don't think so.

So what I'm thinking is that I need to design something "innovative" for myself every year at this time. Maybe it's trying to use something I haven't had a chance to explore. I have been talking about blogs, even training people on how to use them, but I have not yet used them myself on a consistent basis. And that is going to be my chosen tool for this year.

My goal: I'm going to try to post something on my blog at least weekly and see what it's like. I need to get a firm grasp, for myself, on how these technologies can change instruction. How does a wiki differ from a blog? Why would a blog be a good tool and for what? Should we be encouraging kids to create their own or should we start with them commenting on a post? If they do create their own, what things do we need to consider in terms of public access?

Hopefully, by the time I begin seriously working with our English 9 and English 10 teachers, I'll be able to speak to using blogs with a bit more comfort and expertise. We'll see . . .