Friday, December 14, 2007

3D Printing "Democratizing Innovation"

Perspective Before Three Weeks Of Holiday Break Part 1: Marathoning and Apprenticeship Education

I haven't posted in awhile, not because I haven't had anything to say, but because things here have been busy. The way my school's schedule works pretty much the entire semester needs to be wrapped up (please excuse the holiday pun) before winter break. When we come back in '08, we get about a week of class before finals week begins.
In the time between my last post and now, there have been a series of events upon which I'd like to reflect and that will hopefully provide me with somewhere to start when I come back from the mainland in January.

1. I finished my 3rd marathon on Sunday. While I was running, I couldn't help thinking about the experience as metaphor for the work I've been doing this year, and for the past 7 years, actually. The Honolulu marathon is known as the people's marathon. It prides itself on not having a finishing time limit. This year, the last finisher came in somewhere around 14 hours. While the winning time was around 2:17. The frontrunners would have eaten 3 meals and gone to bed by the time the last finisher makes it across the finish line. This is a lot like the experience of education in the 21st century. What I enjoyed most was making my way back to the finish line after crossing it myself and encouraging runners still on the course. And I think that's an important part of being an educator. It's a people's endeavor. Some are well trained, some aren't. Some finish sooner, some later. But the runner's high is the same. The feeling of accomplishment bonds all finishers.
This year, there was another interesting twist. It seems that the timing system failed, meaning everybody's times might be incorrect. And this really has made me think about the reasons I run. At mile 23 this year, I really didn't think there was any reason to run another marathon. But by today, now that I can walk down stairs unassisted, I'm already thinking about another race. In an undertaking like a marathon, does time really matter? It's just a way to measure what you've done. But is it measurable to anybody but me. This year I wanted to run a personal best, since the last marathon caused an injury that kept me from running for over a year. I missed that time (by my watch, not the official clock) by about 2 minutes. But I still feel like this was a much better race. I think I trained more efficiently, at healthier, enjoyed the experience, finished feeling good, and have been enjoying the recovery. Another metaphor that I want to remember as I encourage my students and colleagues.

2. Last week, after connecting via Twitter, I hosted Wes Fryer and Dr. Dana Owens for a day on our campus, meeting with Technology Resource Teachers and Director, as well as working with teachers to incorporate more authentic learning experiences. The conversations were, of course, excellent and edifying. But there was something else about that day that's been ineffable for me until I was able to juxtapose what I learned from them about their WWII Digital Storytelling project with several conversations with colleagues here. What Wes is doing, and what technology allows us to do is bring education back to true experiential learning: apprenticeship. Thanks to Lisa for articulating this idea. Wes has involved 8000 students in collecting the stories of veterans from their communities. Commercial news would be hard-pressed to collect 8 stories. Students are apprenticing as archivists, storytellers, community activists. This is also what's happening over at Students2.0, where students are apprenticing as educational writers and thinkers. Lindsey and I spoke earlier this week about how meaningful the experience has been for both of us. I wish I could have her apprentice as an educator. For more visionary thinking on the idea of education as apprenticeship, check out The End of Education by Neil Postman.
Part 2 coming soon...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Students 2.0 In 3 Days!

The edublogosphere has developed me professionally more than any other experience in my teaching career so far. And Clay's Student 2.0 project is cranking this whole thing up several notches. The idea of having conversations with students around the world about effective learning has changed the way I interact with my class here, and the way I think about the role of young adults in education. Get ready. Check it out in 3 days.
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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Checklist Stoke: Creating A Caring Classroom

There are some new bloggers and seasoned bloggers writing less about tech-tools and more about classroom instruction and anecdotes. And they're getting me stoked every time I open my reader. On of those blogs is Slam Teaching (is there an Edublog award for coolest title?). There, in a post about the fundamental calling of teaching, I found the following checklist that after a few frustrating tech-filled days centered me again. Besides, a good list to check always makes me feel better.

* I provide opportunities for success to each child in the classroom, encouraging growth from wherever they start.
* I assess student ability and adjust instruction to maintain an appropriate level of challenge for each.
* I offer students a variety of ways to demonstrate their knowledge, intelligence, and mastery.
* I attempt to build interpersonal skills, positive social behaviors, character skills, and resistance to failure.
* I attempt to accommodate a variety of interests, motivators, modality strengths, and learning preferences in my directions, instructions, and assignments.
* I attempt to accommodate tactile, kinesthetic, visual, verbal, and auditory learners.
* I make sure kids have ample opportunities to move around and help them learn to maintain an appropriate level of alertness without disturbing others.
* I avoid using humiliation, sarcasm, ridicule, anger, impatience, or manifestations of disappointment in dealing with students.
* I honor students' needs for respect, dignity, purpose, success, acceptance, attention, and motivation.
* I model standards of behavior, language, and tone of voice that I expect from my students.
* I work to eliminate prejudice toward students based on racial or cultural background; physical appearance; sexual orientation; academic, artistic, or athletic competence.
* I strive to stay aware of put-downs or slurs expressed by students or staff, responding immediately.
* I sometimes allow and encourage students to make decisions about their learning (what, where, with whom, how, or how much).
* I sometimes allow students to create, design, or renegotiate assignments to make them personally meaningful.
* I motivate through access to positive outcomes, rather than avoidance or fear of negative outcomes. I emphasize the positive consequences of cooperation.
* I consciously anticipate what students, teachers, and parents will need in various situations in order to prevent problems from occurring.
* I follow through immediately, avoiding warnings and threats.
* I make students and their parents aware of changes in behavior or performance that could affect grades or promotion.
* I utilize parents, administration, and support staff for feedback and support (not for punishing students).
* I attempt to meet students' needs for attention in positive, constructive, and proactive ways.
* I reinforce positive behavior with positive outcomes.
* I communicate with parents, regularly and frequently, about what their children are doing well.
* I respect students' affective needs and am committed to listening and supporting their feelings and problem-solving skills in positive ways.
* I respect confidentiality to the degree that doing so will not put anyone in danger.
* I immediately respond to incidents involving any form of bullying, harassment, or threat to safety.

Flickr Credit: I Na Aina E
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Literature Circles 2.0

When I'm at my best as a Technology Resource Teacher I'm thinking about instruction first, technology second. I tried to use this approach in a new literature circle group project that I assigned my class this week.

First, I put together groups of four, arranging students based on learning styles and learning strengths. Then, they had to figure out who was going to do which of the following jobs within the group: (I had particular students in mind for each job; it was interesting to see who picked that job and who didn't)
*Lead Designer
In these jobs and the descriptions I attached to them, I was trying to use conceptual age framework based on Pink and Gardner.

Each group was assigned a 2-3 page section of what we've read so far in The Woman Warrior.
From there, I told the groups that they needed to create a multi-sensory resource for their section of the story (each 2-3 page section equates to an small episode within the story). We've been talking about vision and design all semester so I reminded them to think about the product before thinking about the tool. All the while the documentarians are recording the groups' process and dynamics.
We just finished the second work session, and here's what's different from literature circles as I used to use them:
*Create a resource instead of collect information.
*Design holistically instead of focus on small parts.
*Technology as a tool instead of...well, there was no technology before.
*Authorship (we're publishing to a wikispaces: link soon) as ownership rather than grade as accountability.
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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Some Inspirational And Sustainable Design

One of my goals this year is to start to consider how English curriculum can be centered around collaboration, flexibility, individualization, and sustainability. Thinking about inspiration, there have been a number of books and thinkers that have changed the way I think and behave personally and professionally. One of the latest is Cradle To Cradle. I described Mcdonough's design ideas to my students, and they wanted me to post his TED talk. So here it is:

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New Edition To Our School's Blogosphere

...that makes five blogs. Check out Laura Davis's blog Flint To Spark.
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Monday, December 3, 2007

Another Creative Video About The Power Of Blogging

I came across this video on Rachel Boyd's blog. Once on YouTube I found that there's a whole series of "...In Plan English" videos.

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The Best Meeting Ever: Visualizing A 1:1 School

I think it was because I was fresh from an hour with James Toole, learning to take advantage of the fact that we use language to create the world around us, framing everything using the questions: what's right with this? how can we do more of it? But last week, I was in the best meeting ever...

The purpose of the meeting was to have a proactive discussion about our school's laptop program. There were two questions that framed the meeting:
1. What do we hope for our students in a 1:1 environment?
2. What is the story of the laptop program?
The reason the meeting was so good was because it was about dreaming. Here are the dreams, in no particular order:

-Prepare students for 21st century workplace, including media and information literacy.
-Enhance existing learning environments.
-More engagement.
-See learning as more holistic vs. departmentalized.
-Employ and develop conceptual age skills.
-Develop confidant user, willing to take risks.
-Student and environment are more collaborative, individualized, flexible.
-More ability to personalize assignments around learning strengths.
-Foster online responsibility.
-See technology as a tool.
-Model all this as a faculty.
-Share and collaborate outside our school: "private school with a public purpose."
-Teachers and students collaborate.
-Technology as facilitation of communication.

I'm thankful for all the ideas my colleagues generated. Looking forward to implementing them.

Flickr Photo Credit: Matthew Clark
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Monday, November 26, 2007

Learnerblogs Blues

In the name of blogland security, I've been trying to make decisions, as Technology Resource Teacher, that represent my school's interest in carefully dealing with the privacy-security-student-blogging-online-learning-environment issues. So I went with Learnerblogs (I have really started to dig WordPress) instead of Blogger, which I used last year with little to no issues. My school has Moveable Type on our server. But it has proven hard to set up, difficult to customize, and all together pretty inflexible and inconvenient. But now that we're up and blogging, Learnerblogs is beginning to disappoint. I like to move from my Google Reader to original posts for commenting. And I want to comment on nearly every post that my students write. But, man, Learnerblogs is so slow, both to load and to post comments.

Restructuring Homework In My Class, Starting Today

The philosophy, practice, and dividends of homework are perpetual topics of discussion at my school. For me, they meld with other questions of what it means to be a serious student, what it means to be a learner, and what it's going to take to be successful and happy in the 21st century. To move beyond discussion, I decided to make some fairly significant changes in the way I assign, collect, and assess homework. The seed for this change was planted a couple weeks ago when I was in a meeting listening to a proposal for a 'hybrid' course, which (at my school) means less class time, more independent work and individualized instruction via Moodle and various chat and videoconferencing tools. Personally, my favorite hour of the day is class. I couldn't do less of it. But what occurred to me was that homework in an online course is inherently more independent, individualized, and flexible. These are the values that drive our school's technology initiative. And I want my homework assignments to embrace these values. So here's what I changed:

*First, I set up every student with a Learnerblog and Bloglines account (for more on this, see Clay Burell's post visionary student blogging). Each student put together their own blog reading list consisting of 5-10 feeds, and proposed a purpose or topic for their own blog.

*They are required to publish one thoughtful post a cycle (our 6-day version of a week).

*In addition, during class time each cycle, they meet in small groups to report on their reading of feeds.

Okay, here's the homework part:

*On the first day of each cycle, I post 5 items to our class Moodle page:
1. A prompt for this cycle's post. (They can use it or not).
2. Required reading and viewing. This cycle, for example, I posted a TED talk, a YouTube video, and a link to an educational post.
3. Cool Tools. I post links to tools they might like or find useful. This cycle: Quotiki and
4. And a mini-lesson. This cycle is commenting on blogs: why do it, why not to do it, and opportunity to practice.
5. A forum for discussion of any of the cycle's homework activities.

What's in it for me:
*I feed their posts to my reader and leave individualized comments.
*I can see when and how often they access the homework activities in Moodle. Doing this allows me to monitor and coach students in the art of time management.
*Now, we all do the same kinds of homework, which creates a different kind of learning environment.
*My class time is freed up to do the things I always feel I don't have time to do, like sit in a circle and read literature together, slowly (10 pages in 3 classes - this is a good thing) and critically.
*I always know they've done the reading (no need for punitive quizzes:)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Resource Teacher Outreach: Freshman English Moodle Workshop #1

The hardest part of being a Technology Resource Teacher is outreach. It's easy to work with other teachers when they come to me with a specific questions or ideas for using or integrating technology into their classroom. But how do I present ideas to others without adding to peoples' plates? This blog, I hope, is one way.
Another idea that came to fruition yesterday was to plan and host a Moodle Retreat for all Freshman English teachers. So my Department Head arranged for them to have subs for half a day, and I put together an agenda, examples, and test courses. Here's what the half-day looked like.

1st Hour: Moodle Basics And Demonstrations

* What is a course management system?
* The vocabulary of Moodle
* How it works: basic functions and navigation
* Demonstrations of English I and other courses in Moodle

2nd Hour: Putting Together Test Courses

* Examples of each activity you might use and how to create them from scratch
* Create resources, activities, and 'blocks' in your own test course (blog, wiki,
forum, glossary, quizzes, etc.)
* Experience Moodle as a student

3rd Hour: Translate Your Next Cycle Plan Into Moodle
(please bring unit/lesson plans that you already use, tech or no tech)

* Collaborative planning
* One-on-one Moodling
* Time to work

30 minutes to reflect and/or use the time however we choose.

I'm hoping to debrief with everybody and get suggestions on how to improve the workshop. Overall, this was a very successful way to create time for teachers to learn new tools. I also had four other TRTs with me to support. Thanks to all involved.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blog Reading Level Or Student Writing Level

I've always struggled with teaching grammar and vocabulary in and out of context. I don't know if this tool could be helpful, but it's sparked a few ideas to help students direct their own mastering of these necessary communication skills. I ran across the Blog Readability Test on Jeff Utecht's blog, and I think it could be an interesting feedback tool for student bloggers. Although, I'm suspicious of it's calibration.

What Is A Serious Student?

Every other week, the English department meets a large group (largest dept. in the school) to discuss courses, initiatives, school business, and overarching questions. Yesterday, we revisited a conversation about homework that's been going on school-wide for a few years. How do we use it? Why do students gain from it? Could we get by without it? And so on. And we ended up discussing what some of us perceived as a move towards a school culture that doesn't foster serious students, specifically in English. Physics and Math maybe a different story?

Many great questions came out of the discussion:
*Is there a difference between being good at something and being a student of something? Waterpolo was the analogy.
*How do we balance encouraging the skills of a good student with the necessary pace of the curriculum?
*Should we expect all student to have passion for English? For example, do we expect all student in orchestra to be serious musicians?
*Is being a serious student, a mastery of skills or an investment in content?

So I left the meeting thinking about these questions, and thinking about how I might present some ideas in a post here at WatsonCommon. Considering myself a serious student of several things, English, leadership, educational technology, surfing, mountaineering, racquetball, marathoning, I thought I'd take inventory of all the things I do as a serious student (maybe learner is a better term).

1. I keep a small notebook with me at all times to quickly jot down ideas, reflections, and observations. This is also where raw ideas are born. Often, what's written here is in the form of lists, pictures, webs.

2. I write in a personal journal, at least 10 minutes a day, for nobody but me.

3. I keep a professional blog and read blogs of people who do similar work, creating a network of creative collaborators. Before blogging, I documented all my work and organized it in binders and folders, ready to reference and share.

4. I try to build a professional library of thought-provoking reading. I think this too is encompassed by the read/write web.

I'm probably missing things. But these are the habits (I wouldn't call them skills) that I believe make me serious. Is this what we expect of students? Or is it something else? Something more?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Different Take On Teaching The Thesis (With Just A Little Technology)

To oversimplify and make a generalization based on not much, English and Language Arts instruction seems to follow one of two mantras when working with the thesis essay. 1) The 5 (or however many) paragraph model: Thesis, supporting statements, evidence, and discussion, and some kind of conclusion. Or, 2) Rejection of this kind of formulaic writing with something more narrative-based or creative in its place. I've tried both, and I've tried teaching from somewhere in the middle, but that gets tough because of the inherent contradictions. Where teaching the middle worked well was in an upper-level composition course (one of my favorite courses to teach). For this post though, I'm thinking about teaching the thesis to freshman.

The context is that my class just finished reading The Odyssey with which we did some very engaging writing about names, family, self, home, journey but neglected to work on anything that resembled thesis writing or literary analysis. So as an afterthought steeped in guilt, I decided to run what I called a "Group Thesis Challenge Relay."

1. I divided the class into 5 groups of 4 and explained briefly that a thesis is essentially identifying a literary device and its impact on something thematic or character-based. Other traits of a thesis might be that it's disagreeable and beyond a summary.
2. I gave them this stem: Homer uses _________ to show _________.
3. The groups had 10 minutes to dig through the text and compose as many workable statements as possible.
4. I determined a random order for the groups to present then had them designate a spokesperson.
5. The first group presented their thesis statement.
6. Any other group could challenge the thesis. They had to provide reasoning behind their challenge. And the challenged team gets a chance to respond. Challenges had to be justified by the text.
7. Unsuccessful challenges result in loss of points (I had just watched NFL Sunday).
8. After each challenge, the whole class revised the thesis. I word-processed and projected the statements. With highlights, comments, and revisions, I'm going to post the document as a future reference.
*This activity segued into a discussion of a wiki document we've been working on to examine the differences between blogging, journaling, writing for school. They saw the connection.

Throughout the thesis activity, I was increasingly impressed by the student-led challenges and discussions. In order to make valid challenges, students discussed how an essay would be constructed around particular statements, why a statement wasn't specific enough, how to revise, what parts of the story support and/or disprove statements. The activity became much more than an afterthought.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Students Starting To Blog And I'm Considering Critical Thinking, Creative Commons And Innovative Mash-Up: A Couple TEDs To Juxtapose

My latest side project idea is to start to put together a presentation for my school's sophomore English teachers in anticipation of our 1:1 laptop program moving into the 10th grade next year. I'm working on this in conjunction with the work I'm doing with the four other technology resource teachers, which is to determine a set of hardware and software functionalities necessary for our students, as we begin the process of renegotiating our laptop lease. So I want to try, in this post, to connect these two projects, and point to a couple powerful TED videos.

Our sophomore English course, along with all courses at our school, values critical thinking and writing skills, and asks students to exercise these skills while exploring these essential questions: What kind of world is this? How should I live in it? In my presentation to the group, I'm hoping to show how the critical thinking skills translate to all the elements of keeping a self-directed, academic, student blog, much like the long-standing sophomore English assignment of the commonplace book.

The difference being that all that collected, hyperlinked, referenced, reorganized information is being shared publicly; copyright must be an issue. And the connection to my school's functionalities selection process is that our Director of K-12 Instruction suggested that we seek a tool that allows students to create and design "innovative mashups--empowering students to interact with traditional curricular content in ways that will nurture and develop and expand their creative and innovative capacities." So here are the TED videos: first, innovative mashups; second, creative commons.

Monday, November 5, 2007

1001 Flat World Tales: Honolulu, Seoul, Denver Winner Tales eBook Available

Last year's 1001 Flat World Tales writing project on a wiki was a huge success. Now, the eBook is available. Read more and get involved in the project here.

Another Differentiated Quiz: Quick Observations

My class is almost finished with The Odyssey. We've discussed and written about the themes of self, name, reputation, and home. Now, we're starting to talk about the idea of the journey, which is an appropriate segue to keeping blogs as a way to think about where they've been and where they want to go. So today I set up what I called a quiz/activity (funny how tagging assignments changes them so much). It was a quiz in the sense that it checked their weekend reading; it was an activity in the sense that it introduced and helped them think about their own journeys through school and life.

The quiz:
-Identify important stops in Odysseus' journey, cite the Book in which they occurred.
-Draw comparisons to events from your own journey. (My example: Odysseus is stuck on Calypso's island at the beginning of the story. This is sort of like the girl I dated for way too long in high school, which led to us both missing out on things).
-More specific = More points.
-No required amount of events.
-Use whatever tool you feel is most appropriate to the task.

-5 students used paper and pencil.
-8 students created some kind of mindmap using Inspiration.
-5 students wrote in narrative form.
-2 students used Excel charts.
-2 students used web resources (after I reported my observation to my students, many said, "we didn't know we could use the internet." I hadn't said anything about it.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Software Applications vs. Web-Based Tools: How Do Schools Choose?

For the last two days, I've been working my way through a PDF document that Bruce emailed me. It was created by Ben Wilkoff of the Douglas County School District as a concrete list of useful web tools, software applications, online resources, and authentic learning environments. From his list of 101 tools, I pared down to a list of 30 that I'm going to explore further. But that's not exactly what I want to write about in this post.

This morning I attended a presentation of DyKnow, an online synchronous classroom tool for 1:1 tablet environments. The software allows for communication with student computers, screen control, private notetaking, session playback, document exchange, desktop sharing, anonymous polling, among other features. During the presentation, I kept saying to myself: almost all these features are available for free on the web (most documented in Ben's PDF).

Our school, being in the first year of a laptop program in the high school, but a program that's been in our junior school (a separate area of the campus and a different culture) for better than 5 years already, is trying to navigate through all the questions of privacy, security, and pedagogy on its way to policy. And I'm on the steering committee and planning a M.Ed. proposal around this process. So how does a school decide when to go with purchased software and when to go with web-based tools? Here's a quick comparison chart I sketched out during the meeting:

*I've been reading and listening in hopes of adding to this cursory list. I'm hoping edubloggers from schools that have been through this can offer some feedback.

Purchased Software:
-Managed and supported within school IT dept.
-Content is owned and archived on school server.
-Maybe this software is more powerful and reliable.
-Easier to drive initiatives.
-Universal tools across classrooms and grade levels.

Web-Based Tools:
-Take 'em or leave 'em.
-Exists outside school.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Designing Rubrics For 21st Century Assignments

After starting to grade the digital essays my student authored (I'd love to share them but...), I realized that it was going to be hard to grade them because the process was so transparent, making it easy to see the challenges each student faced and the ways they negotiated those challenges. Of course, as an English teacher, I've graded piles of essays, according to six-trait rubrics, mode-specific rubrics, holistically, summatively, formatively, insert any assessment tool you like. And in digital essays I'm still trying to accurately assess the effectiveness of communicating ideas and having a voice, but the vehicle drives differently now. So what else could I do but ask the students to help me design a rubric for digital essays, and we're working together on it using a wiki. This activity in addition to the structured reflection I ask them to complete shows me a lot about what they value and what they expect from themselves when it comes to using the digital tools on their iBooks. This could be very valuable for teachers in my school who still aren't sure what they can expect from students with these tools.

The way I started the wiki was to simply list the six-traits of writing, then ask my students what an "A" looks like, what a "B" looks like, and so on for each of the six traits. They've already started to talk about voice, pace, matching pictures to written content, having music in the background to emphasize mood, clearly signposting ideas and using visuals to reinforce. We're not finished yet, but at the end of the week, I'll post the rubric.

The next step will be to compare their rubric to NETS for students and revise accordingly, then consult NETS for teachers and rethink the assignment.
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Friday, October 26, 2007

An iPod Instead Of That Stack Of Essays

I've posted several times about a digital essay project my students have been working on. Well, today it was due. Since it could be either an iMovie or an enhanced podcast, I gave them several options for turning it in (maybe one of them I actually knew how to do; I figured they'd help me figure it out, which they did).

The options:
*stream it to their page on Ning.
*email it to me as a quicktime video.
*burn it to disc.
*export to iTunes, then zap it to my video iPod.

The last is now my favorite. I have a few essays as enhanced podcasts on my iPod. These run for about 4 or 5 minutes. Forget the stack of essays!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chang-Rae Lee Visits My Freshman English Class

This morning, Chang-Rae Lee visited my freshman English class; he's our scholar-in-residence this year at Punahou. I asked him to talk to my students about writing, specifically, writing about themselves, their home, their parents. The timing couldn't have been better since my students are in the final stages of a digital essay about the idea of home. The process of the digital essay was as follows:

1. Freewrite about places that are 'homes.'
2. Mini lesson on photography.
3. Take pictures of places, items, people that are 'home.'
4. Fine tune the piece of writing, work through 6 trait revision process.
5. Record audio essay using Garageband.
6. Use either Garageband enhanced podcast or iMovie to sync pictures with words.

Before his visit, Chang suggested we read his New Yorker essay "Coming Home Again," and the students should generate questions for discussion. So we read together in class, then spent two days in a Moodle forum fleshing out ideas and questions.

I rue that I didn't podcast or take video or even pictures of Chang's visit. But I can say that there have been 4 times in my life when I've been able to hear a celebrated author/poet read their work then have a question and answer session with them. And each time, I'm enthralled and inspired. I'm glad that this time my students could have that kind of an experience. I did have my little Moleskin, and I jotted down some of the ideas he left with us about writing:

*Stories are catalogs of pictures purposefully chosen to address a particular feeling. A piece of writing doesn't just come out and tell readers what they should feel.

*Be a reader of your own words.

*Anticipate when a reader's curiosity will be piqued.

*Keep coming back to what's dramatic.

*Have a clear sense of purpose or the feeling you want to write about, but allow the writing to go where it needs to go. He analogized planning a piece of writing to planning a road trip. You can map it all out, but you might get somewhere and realize you need to go somewhere different, and you might arrive at the same destination using a different route than first anticipated or planned.

*Endings aren't summaries; they might do that a little bit. They should leave you with a feeling. And a reader shouldn't feel that the story has ended. It should continue to live on.

*Don't try to come up with great words. We all have a great sense of storytelling. Use it. Write it like you would tell it.

*Don't tell a reader what to think, instead, offer purposefully chosen observations. "Just look around in the museum of your life."

As an aside, I'd like to add that Clay Burell (Chang's former student in Oregon) and I used an excerpt from Chang's novel Native Speaker last year as an example for students working on the 1001 Flat World Tales Project.

Mahalo Chang

Friday, October 19, 2007

Essential Functionality: Desktop Sharing

A couple weeks ago, I sat down with two other teachers to play with Yugma. Clay Burell realized the potential of desktop sharing a long time ago, but it's taken me awhile to figure out how to enhance existing curriculum with this particular functionality. Today, I set up my students on Yugma so they'd be able to collaborate and peer edit a multimedia essay they're publishing with iMovie. In the name of efficiency, I had one student start a sharing session early, invite me, then we projected on a screen for the rest of the class to see. Ten minutes later, everybody was signed in with a free account. The whole class was humming with excitement over the possibilities, and I overheard a lot of great ideas for how this tool could be used in my class and others. I can't wait to see the collaboration that happens over the weekend and the resulting products. Next week, I'll post student reflections and ideas.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

1:1 Learning Management: SchoolVue

One of the initial challenges of transitioning to a 1:1 high school has been classroom management. Conversations about managing the online learning environments, both in classrooms and on the web, are happening in many areas of the school. There are so many variables to consider: planning using 1:1 tools, seating arrangements, modes of learning, teaching laptop behavior, honesty and integrity. The conversations will continue...
In the meantime, I ran across CrossTec School Vue on Wes Fryer's blog, software that integrates all computers in a classroom. In addition to making laptop class usage more transparent for teachers, School Vue offers some interesting collaborative features. Here are some screenshots from CrossTec's website. They might be too small, but they show a teacher screen monitoring all student desktops and a list of applications and sites visited by students.

"A Vision Of Students Today"

This video came to me in an email from one of our IT programmers. While watching, I was reminded of the Web 2.0...The Machine Is Us video, reinforcing the power of technology and web2.0 in classrooms and education. Then, I scrolled down to read some of the comments, which I've pasted below. Not sure what to make of them.

these college students struck me as direction-less in life. maybe thats why they feel like they're wasting so much time?
what was the point of this video again? no more technology in the classroom?

It's not ironic but sad that instead of doing your homework *YOU* choose to come on to youtube and waste your time.

Interesting video, but I spent the whole time wanting to yell at the students holding up the 'averaged' responses. I would say its an accurate representation of most of the college students in the three different universities I went to over the last 8 years. The sad part is that so few students care/try. It would be better if they didn't bother. They don't learn anything and they slow the whole academic process down.

I like this video,it basically says(to me) that college is just another perk to put on your resume.You don't even learn much about things in real life anymore,just bookwork and research papers.I've learned more things by doing my own research than what I've learned in school. I've often thought about whether college is a waste of my time or not.

Public Education - where information is transferred from the teacher to the student without passing through the minds of either.

And private education is where they tell students what to think and what to believe, all based on ancient mythology and pseudo science. Curricula of public education are based on reason, logic, and real science.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Maps Of War: Interactive Maps That Lead To Inquiry

I believe that the power of a lesson or unit is established within the first five minutes of its introduction. So, everyday I employ an opening set, bell-ringer, warm-up, whatever you want to call the activity that sets the tone for the class or unit, gets the students engaged, and stokes the questions that will lead to inquiry, exploration and learning. This year, I've been using YouTube videos (Homer Simpson on the River Styx), New Yorker comics, Ning forums, amongst other things. Today in my Reader, I came across Maps of War on Open Thinking & Digital Pedagogy. The post linked to a 90 second interactive map of the expansion of world religions. From there, I watched Leadership and War (embedded below) and explored several other maps. These, I think, even though I haven't taught a history course in a few years, make for great opening sets.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Hate Reading Quizzes, But They Seem Unavoidable; Here's A Collaborative Workaround

Discoverer's Day holiday kept us away from class yesterday, so I figured that I needed to keep my students accountable for the readings from The Odyssey that I assigned over the weekend. Typically, we have a reading quiz once a week or so, and I always try to not make them about memorizing arbitrary details from the text. Instead, I have them retrieve quotes and write responses that connect the quotes they've chosen to the themes under discussion.
Pretty effective on a couple levels.
Other times, I'll ask them to list 5 events from the chapter in order and explain why each is significant to the rest of the story.
Still I'm not satisfied with the differentiation of these approaches. In an ideal world, we'd read everything in class, explore all of it together. But I only see my class 4 of 6 days for 50 minutes. Hence, the reading quizzes. Yet, the Ning question from my last post kept nagging me to change up the quiz format. Can a quiz still hold students accountable if it's collaborative? Can a student's comprehension be shown in something other than written paragraphs?
The quiz:
Create a timeline of events in the two books.
Create a piece of artwork representative of characters and/or events from the books.
Identify uses of figurative language, explain its effect.
Design a set of critical questions for further exploration of the ideas in the books.

Everybody has to contribute. Ten minutes to get it done. One minute to present each products. Reflection on contribution.

Reflection With Class:
We discussed the division of labor and how it accorded with learning styles and intelligences. We were also able to discuss ideas from the books that the students found interesting and of value. I also segued to the Ning makeover discussed in my last post.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Moodle Is Great; Ning Is Different: Managing Learning and Creating Learning Managers

More and more of my course content is on my Moodle page, and I'm feeling guilty about neglecting my class Ning, where I saw so much good thinking and learning happening at the beginning of the semester. While in the process of reading a couple of Innovate articles on the subject of social networks as course management systems that a colleague forwarded me, I had some ideas for different kinds of Ning activities, exercises that take advantage of the power and uniqueness of a social network as learning environment. Starting next week, I'm going to assign each of my students a cycle (our version of a week = 4 class meetings) when they will be in charge of running some forums and exercises on our Ning page. They'll meet with me initially to discuss their ideas and go from there. I'm hoping to take advantage of the fact that Ning is owned by all of us, as opposed to Moodle, which is owned by me. Updates to follow.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ironing Out Wrinkles In Digital Peer Editing

After a little over a month as a 1:1 high school, one of the most popular uses of the laptops in my department (English) has been the ability to peer edit in real time using a variety of forms of feedback. Teachers have made use of several tools, including: Google Docs, Wikispaces, Moodle Wiki, and passing laptops with Word documents open. Surprisingly, the last option of physically passing laptops has been most seamless. While Google Docs and the wiki options seems most geared for the activity, they're not yet real-time and without face to face coordination of editing, material and formatting gets erased and lost. The activity still works, however, if students have two documents open, only one of which is collaborative, and before any edits are made to the latter doc., it's refreshed, and only one student edits at a time with a little 5-10 second buffer before and after. Maybe a bit to manage in a classroom full of freshman.

In search of a more effective tool, I sat down with Bruce and another 1:1 English teacher, Ben, for our first Yugma session. Wow, I'm not sure if we figured anything out, but this tool is impressive. We took turns being what Yugma calls "The Presenter," which means this person's desktop is shared with the other collaborators. Everybody has control of the desktop, but Yugma only allows mouse controls one person at a time. So, instead of a shared document environment, students could be working on the same document in real-time on Word.

But for the "best of all," I need to back up a little and mention my dubious feelings about the peer editing activity in general. Whenever, I set up this activity in class (how can you facilitate an English class without some permutation of the peer edit) I always empathize with what I think we all experience, which is the gamble of peer editing. Maybe you get the best writer in class who's willing to give your essay the thought and feedback it deserves. But your chances are even better to get a "good job." at the bottom of the paper. Looking at it this way, the activity becomes more about teaching feedback than about a writer getting feedback that will improve their final draft. So Yugma's "best of all," only available if you pay, is that the entire editing session can be recorded, filed, and played back. That would make a great class lesson on giving feedback, even allowing a discussion of feedback that addresses different learning styes, i.e. voice comments, attaching visuals, working in a mind map, linking to a web resource, Visual Thesaurus, etc. Not to mention how much easier it would make the assessment of the process.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Best Practices 2.0: Collaborating With Clay

Speaking of multiple intelligences, best practices, and the power of planning and learning with collaborative tools, contribute to Clay's latest collaboration.

"Language Is A Way Of Negotiating Human Relationships": Students Really Get This

In yesterday's post, I listed the parts of a discussion-based lesson plan. During that discussion, the students identified several elements of the idea of "home." One of which was that members of a close community develop their own way of communicating. Certain tones and vocabularies are appropriate in communications between certain family (the example of a close community that we discussed) members, and all members of the "home" understand the intricacies of the language.
It wasn't until I attended a virtual Microsoft Sharepoint presentation later in the day, in which I was mostly confused because of my lack of understanding of coding and programming jargon, that I thought more about my students' observations from The Odyssey. Then, I chose a random TED videopodcast to watch today; it's Friday. And my choice happened to be Steven Pinker's discussion of the construction of language in which he states the quote I used as the title of this post and that "language emerges from human minds interacting with one another."

Now, this post is being written pretty quickly, and these ideas seem obvious and enormous at the same time. But I was already thinking about how lesson-planning is different with the ability to use social networking and collaborative software. Pinker's talk gave my thoughts a little more of a center. If we think about where language comes from and what its basic function is, I think students will be way more tuned in. But, usually, I think, we don't teach that way, there's a different, more convoluted message that's conveyed about the function of language, something that comes more from our, as English teachers, love of language. And we'd probably do more to appreciate communication based on different intelligences. More related material and more organized thinking to come...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On Developing And Differentiating Discussion Skills

I teach one section of freshman English at 7:30am, in addition to my position as Technology Resource Teacher. This morning, I was expecting an observation from my department head and principal. Our laptop program just rolled out to our freshman class, and they want to see how things are going in the classrooms. Although I work and come from a school culture of collaboration and classroom visits, I still was anxious to make their visit 15 minutes of high tech engagement. Well, they didn't show up, but I did put together a high tech version of a timeless, low tech instructional technique: Harkness Discussion. My problem with this method in the past is that it sets forth a set of high level hoops for students to jump through, essentially a checklist to be executed for a grade, things like: everybody talks, listening skills are exercised in order to exhaust one idea before moving onto the next, specific references are made to the text (in this case, The Odyssey). So the questions to myself became: how do I include more people? How do I scaffold the discussion properly to try to eliminate the hoop-jumping feeling that the students must have? How do I provide a way to effectively debrief and assess the discussion?

Before I explore these questions and describe the lesson plan, I want to mention that I'd pretty much abandoned the Harkness Discussion technique until reading Barbara Ganley's post about her talk at Exeter on Harkness in the 21st century.

The Lesson Plan:
1. Anticipatory Set: Individually, students were assigned two books from what we've read in The Odyssey so far (up to Book 9). In their assigned books they looked for any kind of reference to the idea of "home." (Home is an element of the essential questions for the course).

2. Using a Ning forum (I was dissatisfied with Moodle's wiki, otherwise it would have happened there), they stockpiled all the quotes and specific examples, cited parenthetically, of course).

3. In our class Moodle, I posted a text resource listing simple discussion guidelines, as well as discussion stems that I asked them to use. Basically, I'm asking them to do two things when they contribute to a discussion: identify who's idea they're responding to and paraphrase that idea, explaining how it leads to their idea. We discussed this quickly.

4. We sat on the floor in a circle around my Belkin-mic-outfitted iPod and commenced discussion of the elements that make up the idea of "home" as shown by Telemachus, Odysseus, and the people and places they've visited. This lasted about 15 minutes.

5. My plan was to post the audio recording of the discussion to our Moodle. (It didn't work due to the fact that the voice memo was 150 mb and our Moodle upload limit is 2mb). They were going to listen to it, find a place to expand and/or respond, and leave another, more developed audio recording of their response.

6. The next class, we're going to go back to these new comments, rate them, and identify what kinds of thinking they represent.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Technology Update: Ning, Moodle, Project Global Cooling

It's been awhile since I've posted, and there's certainly a lot to write about. The last couple weeks I've scudded past open house, Moodle meetings and collaboration, the first debate tournament of the year, the first grade reporting period, letters of recommendations for seniors, and planning for my own class. Feeling like a blog-slacker, I've reminded myself of what a colleague pointed out to my wife after she finished the 42-mile Molokai to Oahu outrigger canoe race last weekend: that no matter what, you're taking part in a world championship, like being in the draw at Wimbledon. So that's the analogy that's motivated me to get back to the blog this afternoon. Here's what been going on:

Visit The Global Cooling Collective
Project Global Cooling:
Here in Honolulu, we're starting a school club, which will be advised by me and led by a student who last year for the culminating project in my class, learned how to plan a concert for charity. So far, she's contacted local venues, met with our center for public service, and has started to make contact with others on the PGC Ning. I think both of us will join Clay's tutorial on setting up a website. In addition, students in my class have started to rally on our class Ning site and slowly move those conversations to the PGC Ning.

Ning Has Been The Thing:

In the last two or three weeks, I've helped four teachers at my school set up Ning communities for their classes for very different purposes. And I'm planning on presenting the ideas behind Ning (teaching using social networks) to this year's group of student teachers and mentors, and new-to-our-school teachers at the end of this week. So far, I'm using Ning as our class social network, for all the reasons one might join a social network, except it's an extension of our classroom community; a computer science teacher is using Ning for his students to share, test, and collaborate on their programs; another English teacher is using Ning as a course management tool; and in an English/Social Studies block course, the teachers are using Ning to run a simulation activity called Ada Valley in which three tribes have to successfully negotiate a government that fairly represents the interests of all groups (I'm planning a future post that will discuss this project more completely, including an interview with project creator, our own Dan Mindich).

Our school has been working through a "soft" pilot of Moodle for the last year or so. Now, we're starting to formalize, and Moodle is being used to bridge the gap between lower and upper grades, as well as being a solid course management system. My frustration so far is with Moodle's wiki. It overwrites and deletes work if students are working on a document simultaneously.

Random Thoughts On 1:1 And How Its Changed My Assessment Practices

I've been writing and thinking about the ways a 1:1 program changes the classroom experience, in terms of physical layout, and now, assessment. Today, I finished the first round of grade reporting, and I noticed a few things. It used to be that grades fell pretty much along a standard bell curve, a few outstanding students, most of the students in the "good" range, and a few strugglers. But planning with a 1:1 environment seems to have changed things a bit. I've really been trying to write lessons and assign homework that takes advantage of technology's ability to provide a more collaborative, flexible, and individualized learning environment. We work in forums a lot more, group work is much more transparent, the hard-to-assess quiet students' voices are being heard. Because of all this, the grades have spread out. They seem to me much more of an accurate report of what the student is learning and demonstrating. But there's a big problem with that: grades aren't perceived, especially in a competitive prep school, as a report; they're perceived as an evaluation of the "goodness" or academic worth of a student, or a statement of status and achievement. What should grades mean? Who are they for? And where do I, as the teacher, report authentic, individualized assessment, now that it's more authentic and individualized?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ways Communication Technologies Bring Us Together: Pangea Day

Probably, many people online know about Pangea Day. I didn't until a few minutes ago. Thanks Lisa. The idea of contributing and sharing powerful films globally is an adult version of collaborative student projects like 1001 Flat World Tales and Project Global Cooling. These projects are the most powerful ways to learn in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Animoto Test

I was cruising my Google Reader and came across a website called ANIMOTO in a post by Wesley Fryer. The webtool lets you upload pictures and music, then uses some magical algorithm to create a quick, unique slideshow. I haven't decided whether or not to pay the $30 for unlimited videos (for free, you can create 30 second shows), but here's a slideshow based on a recent surf trip to Peru. It took about 10 minutes to create.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Designing A Classroom For Digital Learning

The building where I teach and work was built in 1894, and, with the exception of paint, crown-molding, and air conditioning, not much has changed, in terms of classroom design. Obviously, optimizing a 1:1 laptop learning environment was not a concern. I've been thinking for awhile about how the physical dynamics of classrooms change when every student and teacher has a laptop, for that matter every student is a "digital native" and all the learning/working style implications that come with. But all of my ideas were pretty random and based on nothing.

Then, I came across a brief exchange in "The Talk Of The Town" in last week's New Yorker. (I marked the quote but left it at home, will post later). The discussion was about the renovation of newrooms, specifically The New York Times and Washington Post (if I remember correctly). The times had designed what they thought would be a workroom that encouraged the most collaborative and productive kinds of interactions amongst employees. The space was described as one huge room, no offices, no cubicles, just open table with work stations, and flat screen TVs and tickers all over. Sounds 21st century right? Vs. offices and printing presses, the scene from the movies, as the article reminds. But in the following issue, there was a response to the article, citing design research, which says that the big room design is, in fact, counterproductive. The most efficient 21st century space is more expensive, of course, and it is a perimeter of closed offices, looking into an open, middle space. The offices are for solo work, and the open space is for spontaneous and planned collaboration. I got excited and started to think about how this would look in a classroom.

So today, I married two ideas. The modern work space, and what I learned as a first-year teacher, which is that students at this level (in my case, first semester freshman) need to transition often to remain engaged, even if it's just breaking the same activity into several parts). First, we continued a small group activity from the previous class, which involved creating an Inspiration web of direct quotes from the story "Powder" and the inferences, observations, assumptions, questions, and connections that accompany them. These were posted as forum topics on our class Ning. Next, the students transitioned to solo work. We don't have private offices so we simply turned the desks to face out (we normally sit in a circle of desks). I also allowed them to plug in headphones and listen to music. The assignment was to read each group web, and build on the ideas in the forum, including a new direct quote that relates. What I saw was: every single screen at once and total engagement. Lastly, we moved from the formal, directed, solo work to the floor space in the middle for a more casual slide show I had put together about a man I met in Costa Rica who showed me the power of story. End of class.
As a follow-up, I posted a forum question about how the students liked the arrangement and asking them what other ideas they have for classroom design.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What's Been Going On This Week: Project Global Cooling

View my profile on The Global Cooling Collective

Visit The Global Cooling Collective

This week, I've been trying to get my school involved in Clay Burell's (I think he would object to it being called his project, but he started it. The idea is that it will belong to the students) Project Global Cooling (and here's the Ning link too--it explains everything and is where much of the planning is happening). Today, Clay, Gary in Kazakhstan, and I are going to Skype and discuss the project, as well as our similar roles as tech resource teachers in first year 1:1 Apple laptop schools. I think we'll Skype about once a week, inviting others, and these conversations will become resourceful (hopefully) and reflective (definitely) podcasts.

On my end in Hawaii, I've met with Econ teachers, our center for public service, my department head, and the other tech resource teachers. Our school is a big place, and we already have a sustainability initiative and annual fair, in addition to our middle school being named one of the "greenest" campuses in the nation. This year, sustainability is being incorporated deliberately into the curriculum. So I'm hoping that all the work that our students are already doing can be funneled and featured on Project Global Cooling.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My First Foray Into Second Life

I'm not a gamer, and I think the best technology allows us to forget about the technology and focus on community building. And, like many of the colleagues I've been talking to about Second Life, I don't know where it fits in, and I find some aspects of it a little troublesome (scroll down for a funny YouTube video). But after some encouragement from a colleague with much more SL experience, I decided to check it out.

Actually, I should back up a few steps. Part of my job is to meet with teachers, discuss, plan, and collaborate in the development of technology-enhanced curriculum. Recently, I had the opportunity to work with two teachers of American Studies (junior level block of English and Social Studies). They have an amazing, comprehensive project that culminates in student-created museums, showcasing their specific area of study and involvement. They're going to use a wikispace as a virtual staging area, and incorporate blogs as a commonplace of ideas, open for ongoing discussion. And they were wondering if blogs might also work as places for their museum projects to live. That's when SecondLife popped into my head, and that's when I started to consider joining and exploring.

So I joined a few days (it's taken me several days to put together my thoughts enough for a semi-coherent post about it), and after about an hour of learning all the basics of navigation and communication, I entered the virtual world. Dodging distractions is tough, but I made my way to my first stop: Vassar (this link has a nice description of Vassar's SecondLife involvement). I ran up against my self-imposed time limit and haven't had much of a chance to explore. More to's my list of places to see, feel free to comment and add: EduIslands, Harvard, San Francisco MOMA, Global Kids, Suffern Middle School's Ramapo Island.

Now, I'm starting to ask and explore more questions about Second Life's use? I'd love to learn more from anybody out there with experience. On my own, I started by reading the Vassar information (linked above), then I moved on to what Will Richardson had to say. He seemed to echo my own thoughts: it's fascinating. What's going to be done with it? Within on of his posts, I found The Story of My "Second Life," which I haven't had a chance to dig into but holds the promise of edification. I still have a lot of first and second life research to do, more to follow...

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Seven C's of Learning

The Seven C's of Learning  Annotated

  • Quote from article: Odds are pretty good that if you're talking about changes to teaching and learning that the new Read/Write Web is bringing about, many of the words you are using start with "C." There's a whole new world out there with a whole new set of skills our kids need to manage. I guess you could call it a "C change."

  • My comment: I like this quick explanation of the learning opportunities provided by Web2.0. Even more, the emphasis is on community engagement through communication and collaboration.

     - post by cwatson

  • Clipped from: District Adminstration

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Plug For Affect

This year my wife is working on a fellowship to help enhance differentiated instruction and reach all learners. She's familiar with blogging as her English classes were online last year. Now, she's joining the edublogosphere with her blog Affect. She's hoping to build a network with people doing the same kinds of work and research. Drop in and read about her work.

Universe By Jonathan Harris

Today, I was talking to a student in my office about the writing program he attended over the summer, the books he read, concerts he attended, and the writings of one of his grandfather's teachers, Masahiro Yasuoka. From there we started talking about thinkers and our mutual love for TED. Then he showed me a website called Universe that was featured on TED. I just started playing with it. It reminds me a little of Visual Thesaurus, and I think students will really like it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Here's An Example Of Why I Love My School

After seeing this motivational short starring our faculty, how can you not be inspired and excited to start building relationships with students and classes on the first day of school (tomorrow).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

First Meeting With First Time 1:1 Teachers

I'd like to open this post with a quote from Will Richardson's book, which I just started reading. I clipped this section because it got me excited about 1:1 computing and made me feel comfortable in not knowing exactly how everything is going to happen this year:

"Not every educator will use every tool discussed in this book. But every educator needs to understand the potential impact of these tools, nonetheless, because our students will be using them (or newer iterations) more and more, and because the underlying concepts they are built on are tremendously important. The social connections that students are now making on the Web, the ability to share and contribute ideas and work, the new expectation of collaboration, the ability to truly extend the walls of our classrooms…these ideas are at the core of this new Web. As educators, it's imperative we understand the implications of these capabilities for our classrooms…For most, however, the significance of these changes is just starting to be realized. We are no longer limited to being independent readers or consumers of information; as we'll see, we can be collaborators in the creation of large storehouses of information. In the process, we can learn much about ourselves and our world. In almost every area of life, the Read/Write Web is changing our relationship to technology and rewriting the age old paradigms of how things work. No doubt, these changes will take many years to process. In fact, as author Dan Gillmor writes, "the people who'll understand this best are probably just being born" (Gillmor, 2005)."

This morning, with two days until students arrive, I met with my freshman English sub department for two hours to discuss first day plans and questions, now that every freshman will have an iBook. And I came away with a list of great activities that I'd like to share. Thanks English 1 Team!

- Create a Ning community for the class using anagrams for each members' name, spend a little time customizing pages, list maybe 4 or so random facts (each student). This becomes a teachable moment to discuss how to decide what kinds of information is appropriate to put online. Then, spend time trying to figure out who's who, a little get-to-know-each-other activity.

- Follow this up by bringing in our librarian for a lesson on reliable sources and citations. Then, students find a poem, YouTube video, photo, whatever, that evokes some sort of emotion in them, post it, describe, and cite/link to it.

- Have students compose an introductory letter or something to that effect (about their summer maybe), then convert into ComicLife or ToonDo comic strip with narrative, or even use a different poetic form to describe each picture.

- We read The Odyssey, and ComicLife could again be used to illustrate several epithets about the self.

- And, Inspiration could be used to research and put together family trees as a pre-reading activity.

Anybody want to add?

Monday, August 20, 2007

I'm Officially Back Online

A summer spent chasing waves in Hawaii, Southern California, Mexico, and Peru was just what I needed to recharge my batteries after a challenging and busy 06-07 school year. And I'm back to my blog with a renewed sense of direction, not to mention that it is now my official job as Technology Resource Teacher to help teachers explore ways technology can enhance curriculum (now that the roll-out of our school's 1:1 laptop initiative is beginning with freshman). Last year, while teaching a full schedule of English courses, I feel like I just dabbled on my blog. This year, with the opportunity to visit classrooms in all disciplines and work with faculty on all kinds of explorations, I hope WatsonCommon becomes more of a resource and classroom collaboration jump-off point.

I'd like to start by addressing a question raised by a fellow freshman English teacher. Some context first. In our English department, blogs have been the starting point for most teachers when it comes to integrating technology into curriculum. It just makes tons of sense in English class. So last year, many teachers set up their students on blogs and used them for a range of assignments, from journaling to documenting project to commonplace books. But the students didn't have laptops. Things are a little different now, and I suspect the use of blogs will become even more integrated into classes, hopefully, beyond English classes. There are all kinds of questions for our school now. I'm not going to get into them in this post. But I will pose the questions I find most interesting and imperative. Clay Burellfirst brought it up with me last year during one of our first Skype sessions: How do blogs not just become another place to do homework? How can they not lose the sense of ownership that they foster inherently?

Sorry, all of that to get to the question raised by my colleague: Should we use Blogger or Moveable Type--which is hosted on our school's server and is, therefore, private? So my assignment became to create a simple comparison between the blog engines with which I had some experience. But the real question becomes where does the blog fit in the curriculum? For example, there are obvious reasons for maintaining secure, private blogs. But for my classes, the public nature of the blog is the piece that connects to the curriculum. So here's a rundown of the blog engines I've tried.

Blogger: I think it's the easiest to set-up and maintain. And once you have a Google account, Reader goes really well with Blogger. For most of the more advanced feature it lacks, there are free html badges. However, I've heard that setting up a private set of blogs, say a whole class, makes things a lot more complicated.

TeraPad: I started to play around with it last year. For the tech-savvy, I think it could be very effective. It can host files and forums, amongst other features. I don't know much else about it. Anyone?

Edublogs/Learnerblogs: I've gone back and forth between Blogger and Edublogs, and I've ended up at Blogger each time. The one time I had a class with edublogs, there were some problems with reliability. But those seem to be worked out. And WordPress is a great tool. It's also kind of nice to be on an education-specific blog engine.

I'd love feedback and/or testimonials on any of the tools listed and others.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

From Blog To Book

One of the most accomplished student-bloggers in my class sent me the link to this new book. Clay and I have been talking lately about his idea that student-bloggers should get recognition and readership beyond just being associated with a class of blogger. I think this is a move in that directions. We've also been wondering about how to publish the winning Flat World Stories. Now, if only the paper at lulu was tree-free.