Embed 21st Century Skills

One of the sessions I attended at NECC was Building 21st Century Skills into Core Subjects. As much as I love learning about new tools, I purposely look for opportunities to explore specifics on how technology fits in to core curriculum areas. This session consisted of a panel of representatives from NCTE,
NCGE, NSTA, and NCSS to discuss ways to effectively embed 21st century
skills into core subjects.

I’ve been to the website, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The best way to explain this organization is to check the About page on the site.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has emerged as the leading
advocacy organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into
education. The organization brings together the business community,
education leaders, and policymakers to define a powerful vision for
21st century education to ensure every child’s success as citizens and
workers in the 21st century. The Partnership encourages schools,
districts and states to advocate for the infusion of 21st century
skills into education and provides tools and resources to help
facilitate and drive change.

The resources available from this organization are quite significant. The workshop was introducing the latest in a series of curriculum maps the outline concrete examples of best practices in Science, Social Studies, Geography, English, and Math. These documents are definitely worthwhile for any teacher or administrator who is making decisions on shifting the learning environment to gain relevance in these changing times. The curriculum maps are a little hard to find. Here’s the link to the page with all publications – scroll down to the bottom to find the maps.

Show Me Something I Can Use

Tammy Worcester did an amazing job presenting some really great tools and web based applications. She not only demonstrated how to use the tool but gave plenty of ideas about how students can use it in the classroom. I hope I can demonstrate in writing effectively enough to encourage you to try a couple of these ideas.
Jam Studio is really cool. It’s kind of a music making sandbox that allows the user, even a non-musical one to experiment with the program and create a really cool track – which by the way, can be used as a background track for a PowerPoint presentation, slide show, video, or podcast. Here’s the catch: You can create a track for free and without signing up for an account (in the case of students). In order to “keep” the track, you have to sign up for an account. Unless, you can use this nifty workaround: Record the track you have created in Jam Studio using GarageBand (for Mac) or Audacity. You could even record it using the audio recording feature in PowerPoint.
Vocaroo is a great tool to use as a way to enhance your wiki. Here’s a scenario that I think would be a perfect use for Vocaroo: Say you have a few links on your website or wiki that you want your students to use. You have written directions for your students about what to look for or what you want them to do with a particular activity. If you have students with special needs who may have trouble with written directions, you can record the directions to the assignment and create an embeddable audio player for the students to click on to hear you tell them what to do.
Once the student gets to the site, if the reading level is too complex for them to effectively use the site, the student can copy and past the text into the text box in VozMe. Once the text is pasted into the VozMe application, the user can create a downloadable mp3 that reads the text aloud. The user can download an mp3 to listen from a player like an iPod or from the computer.
Tammy presented lots of other tools at that workshop. I’ll show a few more in the next post.

Is Web 2.0 a Relevant Term?

On the third day of NECC, I attended a panel discussion led by Steve Hargadon the founder ofClassroom2.0. The panel consisted of 6 educators who are pretty well known in the educational technology world.


The general theme was to explore the topic of Web 2.0 and how effectively it’s being used in schools. Each of the panelists, along with many people in attendance are heavily involved in social media, using blogs and wikis, and belong to a huge Twitter community of educators. The discussion was met with some push back from an attendee. The panel was asked to define Web 2.0 and was chastised for focusing on the backchannel. It became quickly apparent that not everyone that not everyone was up to speed with the terminology and the impact on education social media has made. I’m not even sure if anyone who would be considered a “newbie” got the point of the whole discussion.

It’s the push back that helped me learn. Those of us who have been involved in social media, blogs, wikis, Nings, Twitter…have to understand that the terminology is confusing and the concept can be overwhelming. One doesn’t learn Web 2.0, and there is no real definition – only characteristics. The fact of the matter is at this point in time, the web is the web user created content so prevalent that anyone who uses the Internet uses Web 2.0.

Here are a few examples:
  • Check your email using Yahoo? Yahoo news features articles that have had the most “votes” and accepts comments on articles from the readership.
  • Purchase anything from online stores like Amazon or Target? Other shoppers can create lists and comment about and rate comments.
  • Looking for recipes? All Recipes is an extremely popular website that accepts recipes from members of the site along with allowing it’s users to organize their favorites.
  • Do you have family members that share photos online? Sharing photos online is a great example of a practical use of social media.
  • Have you ever seen a YouTube video? As of earlier this year, YouTube has 100 million viewers. That amounts to about 15 millions videos a month.
  • Have you used Google to research any topic, particularly pop culture or current events? If you access any Wikipedia article, you are accessing a site that is based on the “wisdom of the crowds”.

So here’s the thing: The term Web 2.0 has been used since 2004. Five years later, the Internet has transformed to include user created content, connectedness, collaborative writing, consensus building, and the wisdom of the masses. So it might be time for us to retire the term Web 2.0 – it’s just a confusing term anyway. It’s time to understand how we are answering the question, “How are we getting our children involved in opportunities to create content on the Internet and use Internet tools to collaborate and share information and media for instructional purposes?”

Final Impression of NECC

My intention is to write about the many things I learned about NECC09 in separate posts, but I’m writing my “wrap up” post first.

This is my second attendance at NECC – the first being in Chicago in 2001 as a new technology teacher. That conference was a blur for me since it was my very first experience of any ideas, concepts, or tools in the ed-tech world. I do remember being so extremely excited about all I learned that I created a 4 inch 3 ring binder with handouts and went through them with my principal in a meeting the summer before I started my position as technology coordinator. I must have been pretty enthusiastic and passionate during that initial meeting, because she spent the next several years quoting me, asking me to revisit things she heard me mention, and basically letting me develop an awesome technology program. I didn’t meet many people and I made no lasting friendships, but I saw amazing presenters (including Steve Jobs) that were influential and help me expand my knowledge and certainly my enthusiasm for all things Ed-tech. I remember being overwhelmed but not in a negative way. Soaking it all up like a sponge was more the feeling I remember.

I’ve gone in to so much detail about that first conference to make a point about this conference. After working in the ed-tech world for 8 years now, what I gain from this event is very different. First of all, I keep handouts in my delicious links or in a folder on my desktop – there are no binders. That’s not the important part though. I’m not a newbie anymore and I have to carefully select the sessions I attend so that I can gain something from them. That’s pretty tricky – more on that in another post. Here’s what the Conference meant to me.

  • I “hung out” with old friends from ICE, helping me further establish relationships that will help me with my contribution to my Illinois tech teacher community.
  • I was able to put a face with a name for people that I know through Twitter and blogs I read on a regular basis – although I didn’t do as well with that as I’d hoped.
  • I managed to go to several really interesting breakout sessions in a variety of topics, and although I claim to be an expert, I managed to take away something new.
  • I validated my disdain for anything commercial. Although I visited the vendor floor, I picked up no swag and made no new contacts. I didn’t even pick up my personally engraved flash drive. (If ISTE could send that to me – I’d really appreciate it!) If you’re looking for a pen or a T-shirt, I would not be the one to ask.

Here’s what I’m wondering……

Being that ed-tech has been around for so many years, evidenced by the fact that the conference has been around for 30 years, was there anyone there this time that was “soaking things up like a sponge”? Did educators leave with enthusiasm and passion for new ideas, tools, and strategies?

I’m in a much different place now, but I think I’ll go to NECC again. I’m still learning and I particularly like being validated by my colleagues in face to face chats and while listening to really smart presenters who I seem to connect with.

See you in Denver!

Goodbye Flowgram

When I learned how to use Flowgram, I thought it was the best tool ever! Where else could you combine text, images, perhaps PowerPoint slides, websites, and recorded narration to create an online presetation that was interactive? I created a couple of Flowgrams and the one on Information Literacy had several hits and I promoted it with my staff and in presentations I made for ICE. I’m not really upset that all my hard work is going to waste (I could, afterall, download it as a video from the site just before it goes completely dead.) These kind of presentations need to updated anyway. I am, however, looking for the next cool tool! I don’t care if these new fangled Web2.0 tools either start charging or cease to exist. It’s all about transfer of knowledge. I’ll use what I learned when creating my Flowgrams to create an enhanced Podcase in GarageBand – which will not go away anytime soon.

So, if you see any nifty new thing that needs trying, give me a shout! I love trying new things. (Just make sure it’s free.)

Did You Know a Mac Could Do That?

Carol Ann McGuire, the ISTE 2008 Teacher of the Year, and working on her current project RockOurWorld. Apple invited her to speak to a group of educators about her work with special needs students, particularly with students with visual disabilities. Among other things, she showed us a few really great video projects that her students have produced using Apple iLife. The videos can be accessed from here: Get a Clue: What We Can Do!

In addition, Carol showed us some features of the Apple that facilitate differentiated instruction. Here’s some tips and tricks that Carol showed us:

  • Using the application Text Edit (small word processing app similar to Windows Word Pad) – check out the Services menu.
  • Paste source text from a website, online book, or other text into a Text Edit document. Under the Text Edit > Services > Speech > Start Speaking Text. Let the computer read the text. Check out this screencast.
  • Take that idea one step further. If your students needs to listen to an article at a later time, create a podcast of a section of a book or an article. Take a look at this article about how it can be done.
  • The Text Edit program can summarize a large source text. After a set of text is pasted, highlight it, and then under the Text Edit > Services > Summarize. You can control how short the summary will be. High light a couple hundred words and the computer will summarize it into a sentence. Pretty amazing! Use this strategy to help students with reading comprehension. Perhaps it may also be a way to analyze their own writing. Use the summarize feature to check the message of an essay. Take a look at this screencast.
  • Both these features also work with Safari. Safari can read the text of a website as well as summarize a section of text.
  • Press and hold Apple+Control+D over any word in the Safari application and up pops a handy dandy Dictionary/Thesaurus.

  • Check out the Zoom in Feature. Under system preferences > Universal Access > turn on Zoom. You can also turn it on automatically by holding down option/command/8. This makes the screen zoomable by holding down option/command/+. This feature is a great way to present content, but for visually impaired students the zoom feature is essential. In addition, students can adjust the display colors and contrast of the screen to make it easier to see. It’s amazing how many of these kind of features are built right into the Mac.

  • There is an amazing capability to give your computer verbal commands. I haven’t figured out how to do it yet, but watch Brandon, one of Carol’s students explain it.

This document will provide more information about meeting the needs of diverse learners. diverse_learners_guide_leopard_version_2

My Brush with Greatness

I recently attended an Administrators’ Academy all-day workshop with Alan November. I have seen him speak a few times before and I have one of his books, so I was really excited to attend this conference. He was awesome! His message is compelling but it’s his style of presenting that makes spending the day with him so enjoyable. He is a passionate educator that filled his talk with anecdotal stories and case studies that really drives home his points. Here is an outline of his message along with some reflection about my own experience:

Technology is a tool that adds richness to teaching and learning. It allows teachers and students to do things that would have never been possible without it. It’s not technology for technology sake – but a way to make connections, develop relationships, collaborate, and express ourselves creatively.

The current curriculum should be “globalized”. We need to teach kids to be reflective and understand that everything needs to be viewed from many perspectives. He gave the example of looking at the American Revolution from the British perspective by accessing curriculum materials from the UK or even talking to a teacher or students from the UK to find out how they are learning about the American Revolution. An example from our district is requiring students from the Middle School foreign language classes to find articles about current events from newspapers and media sources from Spanish speaking countries – not just from our country’s media.

Rethink Assessment and provide opportunities to create content. Find a balance between focusing on standardized assessment tools and offering students the opportunity to develop higher level thinking skills with projects and activities that ask them to create, make decisions, and work with others. In our district, we can demonstrate many examples of how kids use creativity and problem solving skills. Sometimes they don’t even use a computer – but we are prepared to help them do things like create videos too.

Understand the concept of information literacy and know that using the web to find information is a complex process. With the help of the Library Media Specialist in our district, I created a presentation that combined much of the concepts from Alan November’s book as well as the Standards for the 21st Century Learner from the American Association of School Librarians. You can find that presentation here. Basically, we can’t ask students to “go find it on the web” without first considering how construct a query, locate information, and evaluate the source. Although many teachers disregard the complexity of the Internet and still expect their student to “google” everything, we are getting much better at providing better preparation for using the Internet effectively and efficiently.

Based on what I learned that day, I think the change I would most likely implement is to utilize the free tools such as Skype to connect our students to the world. Alan spent a great deal of time giving examples and making recommendations about how a simple thing like a Skype call in a classroom can really transform a learning experience. We used Skype twice this year to connect our students to classrooms in Canada and Texas. I know that was a fun experience. I will look for more opportunities for other classrooms to make connections to help students understand that the world is only a Skype call away.

In addition, I would facilitate more opportunities for students to create content for a wider audience – making sure that really rich projects are showcased on the web. I’ll start by showing teachers projects from YouTube, wikis, and blogs to demonstrate what is possible, then offer support so that projects don’t become “just one more thing”.

New Cool Tool – Glogster

I wish I could remember how I came across this site this morning, because I would certainly thank the one who passed it on. The site is called Glogster. On this site you use images, text, sound, video, and other cool stuff to create a poster-type thing-a-ma-gingy that probably a really cool way to dress up your myspace page. Since I have no myspace page, but instead a couple of wikis for the teachers and students in my district to use, I created this nifty page with screeenshots of all the great beginning reading practice sites on it. Since I’m not the most creative type, I really liked creating the page since the visual elements were so flashy and easy to use. It’s also important to note that the Terms of Use seem to indicate that they are concerned with content that is suitable for audiences under 18. I looked for inappropriate content, and although I found plenty of “posters” created by teens, none of them were of any concern.

Next Glogster: Math practice sites!

For Student Projects:

Create a scrapbook page for a famous person in history!

Technology Driven Differentiated Instruction

I’ve been following Vicki Davis’s blog and projects for quite a while. It was really cool to have her present at the Illinois technology conference. The presentation that I attended was Technology Driven Differentiated Instruction. I’ve done a great deal of research about differentiated instruction. My master’s thesis was a study on effective professional development strategies in order to implement DI into teaching and learning. I’ve read research by Carol Ann Tomlinson, who is the foremost expert on the subject. This workshop presented the content with a new twist. DI is a very complex topic and generally pretty difficult to do well at first. Vicki’s presentation provides some very specific recommendations for the use of web2.0 tools in the classroom and how the process, the product, or the content can be differentiated based on the teaching and learning experience. I need to take a look at her slideshow a few more times to get my head around the information. Pairing the implementation of web2.0 tools with DI is so overwhelming. I think that first teachers have to be comfortable with one concept or the other first before the two are paired. Clearly, Vicki has well developed technology integrated classroom, globally connecting her students using blogs, wikis, podcasting, and other tools. None of the teachers I currently work with are using web2.0 tools.

Here’s the slide show, and my big three.

  • Find a way to use ClassTools.net – I saw this site at Beth’s workshop too. It looks like a cool application for interactive white boards
  • Blog regularly – even if I can’t implement any of these “big three” lists, continue to write about what I’ve learned
  • Write a Big Three for the workshops from IL-TCE
  • Organize Intentional R&D – Use this name for the list of stuff I want to look at, learn, implement, inspire other with. This seems like a way to make the time I spend with new ideas and articles much more productive.

Building Personal Learning Networks – Engaging Adult Learners

This is a presentation by Vinnie Vrotny. Unlike other presentations, Vinnie tried to make it interactive by giving the group guiding questions to discuss for a few minutes to get us thinking and talking about personal learning networks. His goal was clearly to get us to network with others around us. The ICE conference is always a good way to network and I like to take advantage of the opportunity to meet other enthusiastic educators. The complete presentation can be found here.

My “Big Three”:

  • Set up a social networking or web2.0 application for parent workshops. Include videos, articles, prompt questions. Encourage engagement and for parents to be a guide and a mentor rather than a policeman.
  • Use twitter and the Ning network to extend my personal learning network
  • Facilitate personal learning networks with others in my district. I’ve discussed this possibility with a couple of staff members and was met with lukewarm response. I need to find a way to show them examples and demonstrate the value.
  • Set up a tool to develop a learning network for our chapter of ICE (ICE-COLD)

Has anyone noticed that my big three is usually more than three?