Tools for the 21st Century Classroom

Tools for the 21st Century Classroom

Based on an informal survey among my colleagues, there is a significant  shift from desktops to laptops for classroom teachers. In addition the trend is toward the use of LCD projectors, sound systems and document cameras .

The primary focus of these digital tools will how they will directly impact instruction. Teachers love the mobility of the laptop and how lessons are enhanced by the highly visual and interactive document camera. The potential for engagement of the students will be incredibly powerful, as our children live in a media-rich world and rely heavily on visual sources for information and understanding. As these tools help us shift the use of technology, particularly the computer from a productivity tool to an instructional tool, there are a few important things to consider.

Classroom setup
The teacher’s computer is no longer strictly a productivity tool. Initially, classroom teachers’ laptops along with the docking station will be placed on their desks. Many teachers have their desks positioned in the back of the class and out of the way of the students. However, in a few months, the docking station will also be connected to an LCD projector, sound system and a document camera. Teachers may have to rethink the placement of their desks or come up with an alternative surface to place the laptop/docking station so they can be in a position to interact with the students and allow for optimal classroom management. You don’t want to be projecting media from the back of the class and talking to the backs of your students’ heads.

Student engagement
The addition of this new technology into instruction will require a great deal of flexibility and “thinking outside the box”. It’s important to recognize how students become actively engaged in the learning process when visual media is used to reinforce concepts, and support comprehension. The availability of the Internet creates endless possibilities as teachers access images, video, maps, graphs, virtual tours, and other primary resources. In addition, access to teacher examples and student work helps visually demonstrate the process for writing, solving a math problem, or doing a science experiment. Keep in mind that students can lead instruction by using the document camera to manipulate objects and explain what they are doing. Using technology to devote more class time to students demonstrating their thought process, sharing their work, and gaining confidence in their abilities directly impacts student achievement.

Unexpected benefits

  • Decrease in copying expenses as content can be displayed on the projector
    • Place 1 copy of a quiz or worksheet that was scanned in and have the students write their answers on a piece of paper
    • Overhead transparencies are no longer needed as the computer/document camera can project the content (use the copy machine to create a scanned file)
  • Use the image capture feature of the document camera
    • show the steps in a process, various drafts of a writing piece, or create an image of an object that can be uploaded to the teacher’s website as a study guide or incorporated into a test – using a picture of exactly what the students saw during the lesson
  • Provide much needed background knowledge, particularly to our ELL students
    • demonstrate experiments in 3D – dissecting a flower, examining an insect
    • accessing real world examples from the Internet or by using manipulatives

There are so many wonderful examples of the digital tools of the 21st century classroom. I can email you some handouts that I’ve obtained from other schools if you want to explore this topic further. In addition, if you teach in a classroom that already has these tools, please email me your reflections about how they have impacted your students’ learning. I would like to compile some documentation about some of the great things our district teachers are doing with technology to enhance instruction!

Web resources!.pdf

A Look at Ning

There is a great deal of research which points to the benefits to a group when the members have the opportunity to engage in another level of collaboration beyond the face to face meeting. Positive results can be achieved if the members have a common purpose and clear goals. The availability of Ning can be a wonderful opportunity for creating on online community. Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks, which is a way for people to connect and collaborate together, working toward the same goals but perhaps different contexts. For example, administration can implement a Ning when they are looking for ways to network and collaborate across all schools in a large district. Collaboration in a professional learning community is one of the essential features of this online tool.

The value of the tool is only as good as the participants make it. Members will be compelled to participate when there is good information available that will help them do their job better or consistent interaction such as comments to a blog post or responses to a forum post. In order to really understand it’s value, members shouldn’t view it as “just another thing to do”, but as an extension of what’s already being done. When groups are already meeting face to face on a regular basis, specific goals emerge and follow up becomes important. That’s when the asynchronous nature of communication can really enhance the development of ideas and making plans for follow up.

This tool is not without it’s issues, although the issues are not so disruptive as to discourage the users from participating. First of all, it’s important to note that Ning is not Facebook, but it’s open to any group of people, not just educators. Some content or subject matter may be offensive to some. In addition, Ning is open to spam in the form of unwelcome requests for membership from people who are trying to gain exposure for commercial purposes. Access to the content and membership can be carefully controlled by the privacy settings, invitation only, and the ability to moderate by the Ning organizer. Finally, unless the organizer pays for premium service, Ning includes Google ads on the right column of the page. Some find the ads distracting.

Check out these rich communities that utilize Ning to collaborate with educators all over the world that have been set up by an organizer to share resources or help facilitate support for it’s members to enhance their teaching practices:
Smartboard Revolution – share tips and resources on using interactive whiteboards in the classroom
ISTE Commnity – The International Society for Technology in Education organizes this site for it’s members to collaborate
Teacher Librarian Network – developed for teachers and school library staff
The English Companion – very active community of English teachers who are there to help others
Classroom 2.0 – extremely large group of teachers who interested in using technology in the classroom, a great place for beginners
Fireside Learning – an opportunity for anyone to reflect on teaching practices and anything about education
Gifted Education – a community of teachers who are intereted in helping each other when working with gifted students
Art Education 2.0 – a global community of teachers who use Ning to facilitate the use of new technologies in Art class

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

The To-Do List

Summer is supposed to be a time for educators to regroup, reorganize, clean out, and do a little preparing for another school year. I have to admit I’ve been a world class slacker when it comes to cleaning up my digital life. As I’ve said before, I am a real digital packrat – meaning I love to collect stuff. I collect links to websites, blogs to read, and tools to use. I sign up for everything. Everytime a new tools is mentioned by my friends on Twitter, Plurk or a blog, I add it to my collection. In addition, when I meet an interesting educator online, I subscribe to their blog. A couple of weeks left to my summer (since I go back in the beginning of August) and I’m feeling like I need a plan to do some serious reorganizing.

When it comes to my real, meaning physical life, I love to purge. Nothing is more gratifying than pulling a garbage can up to a closet or cabinet and filling it several times. I’m thinking I need to purge my digital cabinets as well. I need a plan though. I don’t know where to start. Here are my big issues:

Google Reader is where I keep track of all the blogs I want to read. The problem is that I don’t get back to it often enough because I also use Pageflakes to keep track of blogs I want to read during my daily 15 minutes of professional development during the school year.


 is where I keep my bookmarks. With over 1600 websites, it’s been difficult to keep the tags effectively organized. In addition, I’m quite certain, many of my bookmarks are ones that I could probably delete, since I’ve been using for so long, I’m certain that there is quite a bit of overlap and dead links.


On the advice of my twitter friends a while back, I imported all of my bookmarks to Diigo. I know Diigo has some wonderful features such as annotating, sharing, categorizing, and discussion. I need some time to get to know Diigo well enough to organize my bookmarks. I have several friend requests, but since I rarely visit Diigo, I’m afraid I’d be a very uninteresting friend.


 Evernote is another cool tool. I clip pieces of websites and tag them for future use. Right now I’ve reserved the use of this tool to keep track of student work samples and specific strategies for teachers in my district.  

I need to prioritize this work, because eventually, I have to improve this blog. I have some wonderful resources for teachers, but there are far too many, making the lists overwhelming. Not to mention, there are probably a number of dead links. Most importantly, a bunch of website links is really useless unless they are annotated so the site’s best features are identified for the user.



Anyone have any tips or tricks. How do you organize your digital life?

It’s Hip to be Cool

I’m breaking my own rule about writing anything specific about my job, but my experience with a particular set of parents is worth telling. Recently, my curriculum director thought it would be good to hold a set of classes that would offer an introduction to computer skills. Although my friends ask me to all the time, I’ve never taught computer skills to parents, only to teachers. It turns out that there was such an enthusiastic response from our parent community that we had a waiting list. Anyway…I’m working with around 15 parents for an hour each week for five weeks. Here’s my digital handout. They are a wonderful and enthusiastic bunch of learners! If their own children are as engaged in the learning process, I’m sure they are straight A students. Here’s what makes them so cool:

  • They all want to know about blogging. At least a couple of the moms want to start a blog. (Along with showing them what the kids are into, let’s sign them up for a blogger account!)
  • One parent to another. “Just go on YouTube…it’s the greatest thing. Look up what ever you want. I like the laughing babies!” (Little do they know how pervasive YouTube is. According to David Jakes, it’s the number one thing that people spend time on the internet looking at – videos. With 78 billion videos, there are a lot of laughing babies. Let’s show them other good quality content.)
  • Opened gmail accounts. We had a long discussion about their children’s email accounts. How awesome for parents to sign their kids up for email accounts so they can communicate with family and friends. (I hope we have time to work on google docs – wouldn’t that be a good thing?)
  • The are very collaborative. When I’m going to fast, they jump up and help their neighbor. They ask each other questions and get input about how technology is used in their home. (Perfect for a social network.)
  • They see the value in the skills. What ever I show them something – they can think of scenarios of how they can use this or that piece of knowledge or information.
  • They practice when they get home. They even bring questions back to class. So cool!

I wish this class lasted longer that 5 weeks. Maybe at the beginning of next school year, I’ll drag them all back for “Parent Computer Class Revisited”. Maybe I’ll invite them to the teachers’ technology professional development days. Their enthusiasm might be contagious.

Pageflakes – the way to keep track of Intentional R&D

I came across a post from a blogger from the Teacher Leaders Network describing the educational use of Pageflakes. I used to have pageflakes set up as my home page, but it was really slow to load. My kids started to complain, and I just set it back to good ‘ole Google. After reading Mr. Ferriter’s post, I decided to work on my PageFlakes and even copied a few of his pages, like the educational bloggers page and the Accomplished Educational Leadership page.

Like Mr. Ferriter, the single most important form of professional development that I engage in on a daily basis is reading blogs. Creating a visual way to organize my favorites (who are also his) will make it easier to spend a few minutes here and there to read them and organize information that I get from them with flakes like notepad, and delicious.

I think when I show teachers how to read blogs, this form of feedreader will be easier to understand and perhaps I might be able to persuade more teachers to try this when I show them my pageflakes page.

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?

Welcome to F.R.E.E. Fantastic Resource for the Enthusiastic Educator

From Beth Buke’s presentation, which was hilarious. How fitting that it was held in Zanies. Her very energetic presentation had a smattering of technical issues, but she kept it moving. Beth worked very hard to put together an extremely informative presentation. Her presentation wiki can be found here. Her list of resources is very nicely organized and annotated.

Here’s my “Big 3”

  • Use googledocs. I already use google docs in a very limited way. My boss loves the idea of posting our curriculum maps to google docs and giving all the teachers access to make them living documents. I want to really develop the use with students and teachers.
  • Animoto: take photos, upload them and animoto – 30 seconds is for free, would be a great alternative to those very hairy iMovie projects
  • Jing: already use Jing regularly for screen shots, but to demonstrate how to do something in a movie, I should use this more often, turn off the mic, since I don’t like my voice.
  • – similar to powerpoint not quite as fancy very easy – maybe this would be a good tool to teach powerpoint challenged teachers
  • Screencast-o-matic – you don’t have to create an account, record what you want, and download it, check this out!
  • Voice thread – example Mrs. Joe’s class. Upload pictures and users make comments, Ridge has to use this!!! The power is the comments (different settings for privacy), public but keep it off of the browse – great idea, students create their identities within identities within her account to keep it safe and controlled, planning is extremely important – use a story board! Focus on the content.

I’ve heard of all of these resource and even signed up for every one. Beth has motivated me to get moving and use them.

IL-TCE – a great time!

The best advice from the Illinois Computing Educators Conference was from Vicki Davis. I attended her workshop on differentiated instruction using technology. She recommends that everyone “have a big three” from every workshop that was attended. Write down three things that will be done in the next seven days. That’s great advice! After attending this conference for the past seven years, I always feel overwhelmed, excited, energized, and have my head stuffed with new information. It’s really hard to process it all and make connections. This is particularly true when I am attending the conference as a professional development coordinator for the others in my district or my school. I not only have to fit pieces in for myself, but I have to have a handle on what the conference can mean to others that I work with – how I can disseminate information for others, how can I spread my enthusiasm for the new ideas, how can I inspire people. Start small. Write a big three for each workshop.

Why Web2.0 Is Critical to the Future of Education

The first session I attended at ICE was Steve Hargadon’s spotlight session at IL-TCE (Illinois Computing Educators annual conference). Click here for more information about his session. The highlights of his information are the ten web 2.0 trends that will have an impact on education and the shifts based on those trends. I hope that Steve annotates this wiki with more information. He was extremely passionate in the delivery of his message, I couldn’t take effective enough notes to really tell the story effectively. I’ll start with my Big Three and my Intentional R&D List for this session.

For my “Big Three” for this session, I’d like to do the following:

  • Check out diigo – Steve recommends this site as a way to keep bookmarks, annotate them, and collect information to use for collaboration
  • Use twitter – already looked at this and belong – kinda don’t get it, but I started using it a little during the two days of the conference.
  • Get the rest of my family to use Flicker
  • Start a Ning group for ICE – COLD (Steve is a consultant for NING. I belong to his Classroom2.0 NING.)
  • Use chatzy – create a chat room during at least of my parent workshops.
  • Look into using Skype in the classroom – can I find another class to collaborate with?
  • MedlinePlus Videos of surgical procedures – This is really cool, but might be a little much for elementary school.

(That’s more than 3…I’ll have to prioritize these.)

That list seems kind of weak, based on the compelling information that Steve explained during his presentation. My notes had a few good quotes, one of which is, “The Internet is becoming a platform for unparalleled for creativity. We are creating the content for the web.” The potential is there, but with few exceptions, we are not connecting content creating on the web to the educational experience of our students. Those teachers who provide those types of experiences are really the exception. One of the big reasons is because social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace were the first social networking sites. Educators didn’t get the jump on the whole phenomenon before social networking got such a bad rap. People who are producing content on the web are doing so with no guidelines and no rules.

“Web 2.0 is the cause of this tidal wave. Web 2.0 is the solution.” – another good quote from Steve. Examples of this are using social bookmarking sites to tag and share information with others. Another example is using a wiki to put together information about topics and collaborate with others to compile information and manage content.

Another example that works for me is tracking and reading bloggers. I follow about 25 bloggers and reading those blogs on a regular basis is the single most important professional development activity that I engage in. That’s how web2.0 helps me with the tidal wave.

Here’s something to look up….knowledge about career is obsolete in 3 years, meaning that the knowledge that one acquires for their profession is out of date in just a few years.