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.