Thinkature – a very cool tool

One of my favorite ways to surf the net is to start with the and click on popular. I come across some of the coolest tools that way. I almost always save at least a few of the popular sites on my own list. I have over 1200 links that interest me. Once in a while, I come across something that I feel like I must use immediately. Today it was Thinkature. Thinkature is a really cool collaboration tool where you can create mind maps and brainstorming visual organizers. The other mind map tools that I’ve found include WiseMapping, Mind42, and MindMeister. Naturally, my favorite will always be the offline version Inspiration. (I wonder if they are developing an online version with all the cool features?) Thinkature’s features are really powerful. They include chatting and the use of images, either from your hard drive or imported from the web. Wow! It’s so cool! Here are a few ideas on how to use this in the classroom or as a professional tool for teachers.

  • With an interactive whiteboard
  • Recap a field trip
  • Create a timeline
  • Connecting ideas as a study guide
  • Prepare to write an essay or report
  • Prepare a presentation

I started a workspace, just to get a little practice. Feel free to add to edit it.

Read/Write Culture

I really learn a great deal from watching the presentations on TED. The speakers and the content of their presentations are really inspirational. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is one of my favorite educators. I frequently read her blog. One of her recent posts summarized this presentation by Larry Lessig. Watch the presentation not only for his message, but for his presentation style and use of PowerPoint (even though in this case he was using Keynote from Apple.)

What I found most compelling about his argument is this sense that the kids and the culture are progressing, but the laws are making it impossible for us (particularly the kids) to live within the law. The culture is progressing, but the lawmakers are not keeping up. Neither is education for that matter, but how much does really matter?

The Google Generation

I recently made a disturbing discovery in my school district. Students in the middle school have never actually been “taught” information literacy skills, particularly effective ways to find information. I helped a teacher check this history of a web browser and inadvertently noticed that the child was using complete questions in the search box of Ask and then presumably when he didn’t get a good answer, wrote the question in the search box of Google. I surmised from his history that he never used search terms that would help him drill down to the correct information. It appeared that he didn’t have any idea where to begin. He even tried the old “” technique. The history of his internet search disclosed a great deal, although I need to check with the classroom teacher to get the whole story. The student (along with the rest of the class, as verified by the tech-aide assigned to supervise the children) was assigned a task to research a broad topic. The goal was to prepare for a “geography bee”. He was given very little guidelines and no specific websites whereby to start gathering some background information. Not knowing where to begin and with very little to go by, he starts “asking” the search engines questions. The results that were returned were of little help. I checked and discovered that his question was answered with results that are completely unrelated and irrelevant to the original question. Now here’s the interesting part. Frustrated and clearly getting no where, he starts searching on google images of pop stars. He stumbles upon an interesting article on a web magazine which would qualify as completely inappropriate – and gets caught on this website. That’s why I got called in; to show the tech aide how to search the history of the browser to see where else he had been during the class. He is in big trouble now for not only being off task, but clicking in to a site that should have been filtered.

This scenario brings me to a little research. I ask the following questions:

  • What was the assignment or the task the students were required to complete during their time in the computer lab?
  • What guidelines were given to them to support the task?
  • How were the other students doing searches? Were they using key words, going to websites like wikipedia, asking for help?
  • Who taugh

t these students how to use a search engine to find relevant and valid information?

It’s no wonder the student was off task. The task was impossible. They were given a couple of example questions from the geography bee. No relevant websites were offered as a starting point. Most of the students were using the same ineffective search techniques. Basically, the kids were turned lose with about 6 billion websites to learn about a very broad topic.

This brought me to the librarian at one of the elementary schools. I asked her when or how are the children taught information literacy skills like searching and evaluating websites. Her response was, “They’re not.” Apparently the librarians in the district wrote an entire curriculum around these topics and somewhere down the line it was scrapped. Along with several other factors, there was some disagreement about who was in charge of teaching these topics, the computer teacher, the librarian, or the classroom teacher.

The experience of the middle school students demonstrate how imperative it is to implement some kind of instruction or at least support. I come to find out that the experiences of our students are pretty much right on target with the rest of this generation, coined the “Google Generation“. A study in the United Kingdom found that children really lack the skills needed to effectively use the internet. The report can be downloaded here and you can read a very thorough review here. It turns out that young people, who are extremely competent with technology, do not read for information on the web. They prefer not to read a great deal of text. They like to get information from multimedia sources rather than from text. In addition, there is a great deal of plagiarism taking place and information is “cut-and-pasted”. They know about intellectual property, but feel it is unfair and were unlikely to respect this issue of copyright.

It turns out that we’re not unlike all the others in the world, trying to understand what training is needed to teach our students to become effective and efficient information seekers.

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We Have to Know

In August 2006, Clarence Fischer of Arapahoe High School in Colorado made a presentation to his staff. His PowerPoint presentation was on his blog that week and I found it really compelling. His purpose was to get his teachers to really think about what students need in their learning environment to be prepared and successful in the 21st century. The message of the presentation is that we need to pay attention to factors such as the growing importance of India and China and globalization that has made our world “flat”. This shift should not be looked at negatively, but instead we need to recognize that this shift provides tremendous opportunities for our children. We need to reflect on our own teaching practices and attitudes in response to this change.

During the next several months, the Shift Happens presentation was seen all over the edu-blogosphere. They call that “going viral”. In the past year or so, estimates of over 10 million people viewed various versions of the presentation. What would that be like for Clarence, I wonder. How could a simple staff presentation become so powerful that millions of people have seen it, quoted it, wrote about it, and let the story move them? See the shifthappens wiki created by Clarence and Dr. Scott Mcleod for information about the presentation.

Although the presentation is essentially over a year old, it’s been reworked a couple of times to keep in fresh and clarify its message. His recent keynote at the K 12 Online Conference is worth a look. Anne Davis does a good job of summarizing his address. Here is Anne’s description of Clarence Fischer’s keynote at the K12 Online Conference.

Here is the video of the most recent version:

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