Our First Blogs and Wikis

These past several weeks, I worked with an awesome group of young people from Lewis University. The class is called Technology for Teaching and Learning. Here’s the course description:

“This course is designed to help pre-service and/or practicing teachers learn practical, effective ways to integrate technology resources and technology based instructional methods into everyday classroom practices.  The course will explore theories of learning and how computer technology can be used to address the diverse learning styles present in today’s classrooms.”

As we explored the impact of Web2.0 technology, I assigned the students to create either a blog or a wiki. They were also assigned to create a post making some connection to what we discussed in class with regard to teaching theories. (It was only a four week class, otherwise I would have required more posts, but with the other required work – I felt that would have been unrealistic.) I hope that this exposure to using blogs and wikis inspires these students to use these kinds of collaborative tool with their own students once they get into the classroom.

The final project for the class was to design a project based unit plan. Along with their unit plan, they needed to select a set of web resources that would enhance the unit, or help the students research the information they needed to complete their projects. Overall, they did a great job of selecting websites and annotating them. You’ll find their list of resources on their blogs and wikis.

Stephanie’s Wiki

Laura’s Wiki

Katie’s Wiki

Anthony’s Wiki

Jaime’s Blog

Kelly’s Blog

Amanda’s Blog

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.

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”.

7 Things You Don’t Know About Me

I’ve been tagged. How pathetic is to be asked to be tagged? Oh well…thanks Carol Broos for passing this on. 

Teaching is a second career for me. I have an associates degree from a trade school in fashion merchandising. I worked for Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) for 10 years, working my way up from stock person to the buying office. (I bought stationary, greeting cards, and flowers). My last position was in 1990 was in a newly created IT department, training buyers on a system of automating purchase orders. I hated it. I swore I would never work with computers for as long as I live.

I am an only child. My mom was an only child, and so was my dad. Even though I did not grow up with influences of siblings or even first cousins, my maternal grandmother had 4 brothers and sisters whom she was extremely close. I grew up with the love of many aunts and uncles. I saw all of them every Saturday night when they came to our house for a weekly poker game.

When I was a young girl, I wanted to be a dancer. I took ballet, tap, and jazz dance lessons from age 3 until after high school. In fact, I was registered to go to Columbia Collage of Performing Arts right after high school. My life got side tracked when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I still love to dance, although I’m pretty out of shape, but as soon as they come up with Dancing with the MIddle Aged Teachers, I’m there!

When I was 24, I was in a serious car accident. I was hit head on by a drunk driver. My leg was broken in 3 places and I had surgery to repair it with a rod, pins, and plates. To this day, I suffer the affects with arthritis in my joints in my right leg.

I married my high school sweetheart. I met my husband Jeff when I was 15. My friend’s boyfriend fixed us up because Jeff had a car and would have been able to drive on double dates. That other couple broke up a couple weeks later. We got married after dating for 9 years, and have been married for 22 years.

I love dogs. I grew up with a german shepherd named Kim. After Kim, when I was a teenager, I had a schnauzer named Max. My husband is not a dog person, but after 20 years, we finally got a dog. Her name is Tillie and she is the coolest golden doodle dog ever!

My dream job would be as a college professor. I didn’t get my college degree in elementary education until I was in my mid 30’s and I think that because of that, I have an enormous passion for learning and a great deal of empathy for learners. Even then, I knew at that time that someday, I would be a professor. I have a great deal to learn before I can do that though. My shorter terms goals are to someday be a school principal.

So there you have it….a few things about me. It’s been really fun learning about all of us. Check out this wiki to find out about others in our PLN. I’m afraid that I’m running out of people to tag. How about Ken Shelton, Mrs. Durff, Pam Eder,  Julie Squires, and Shannon Smith. If you’ve been tagged already, pass it on.



Free Rice Just Got Bigger

I’m not a big fan of “drill and kill” tools on the web, but there are some circumstances where student benefit from repetition when trying to master a skill. For example, I have a little friend who is trying to master his multiplication tables. When required to memorize, repetition is sometimes a good strategy. He plays lots of games on the internet and I’m going to add FreeRice to his collection. FreeRice has just expanded their subject list to include Art, Languages, Geography, and Science. If you have some free time, spend it at FreeRice, learning and contributing rice to the UN World Food Program

Give Them Credit

As far as students being responsible for writing a bibliography, there are a couple of ways to look at the issue. First of all, the point of the bibliography is to site the sources used in the information presented. If the teachers provide the sources, then the sources are known. Does the student use all of the sites that are offered? If not, then which ones? Do the students know how to identify the information required for the bibliography? Do they know where to find it?

I will say this: Creating a bibliography from scratch is RIDICULOUSLY LABOR INTENSIVE for little kids who don’t know a domain name from a carrot stick, and who can’t type more than a word a minute. If the teachers are unenthusiastic about doing a bibliography is because one has to weigh the effort/time issue. It can and does take an entire class period to find and type the information in the bibliography.

Here’s a thought: Very often websites and legitimate research provides a “site source” at the bottom of the page. One example of this is Answers.com. All articles from Answers.com have a “Site Source” list at the bottom because Answers pulls from several different research resources i.e. online encyclopedias. When one uses information from one of the many articles, he needs to use which ever one in the list he took the information from. Then all he needs to do is copy and paste the source because all the information is already put in the proper format for a MLA or APA bibliography (it’s indicated). (See Picture attached.) That was a long way of saying that maybe when sources are provided for the students, copyright information could also be provided for the students so all they would have to do is copy and paste the information like from Answers.

In addition, I think that since the high school and college kids all use bibilography maker tools, that we should be teaching elementary school kids to use tools like easybib to create their bibliographies. Here’s a list of tools to create bibliographies:
EasyBib – this is the preferred tool because you can complete the entire bibliography and then download the complete sources sited document.
OttoBib – enter the ISBN of books and the generator creates the bibliography entry – this is great!!!
Zotero – Firefox extension that helps collect source information for the bibliography
Citation Maker

Of course then the student has to be able to identify all of the required information to fill in the fields and then take the time to type in the author, date, sponsoring organization, etc. I’ve taught kids to identify those components and copy and paste as much as they can to save time.

Blog already…won’t you?

Since early 2006, I’ve been trying to convince teachers to blog with their students. It all started when Will Richardson spoke at the Illinois Computing Educators annual conference. After hearing him speak, I walked up to him, handed him a check and went away with his book. After reading it, I was totally convinced of the value of facilitating a blog for students. Since then, my personal blogging experience has been a bit limited, but really valuable. I have set up blogs for teachers that I have worked with, as well as facilitating a collaborative blog with a few middle school students. Overall, the process was really positive, but never really sustained. As I reflect on the process of using blogs with students, I would say that any opportunity to publish writing is important, particularly when students for these reasons:

  • They are publishing their writing for an authentic audience and really enjoy knowing that others are reading their work
  • We are giving them first-hand experience in a supervised manner to be content creators
  • Students must write all the time for all content areas – and this medium is flexible and engaging

I wish I could say I was an expert because of my personal experience, as some of my PLN blog with their class every year on a daily basis, but I can say that I’ve done a great deal of research. I have done numerous workshops with teachers, and administrators about the process and am happy to say that they have been influential. Here’s my page of presentation materials (although I’ll admit the examples are out of date), Blogging in the Classroom.

Recently, I came across a nice post from another educator, Patrick Higgins that pointed me toward some empirical data that supports how useful blogging can be in the effort to improve writing. Drexler, Dawson, and Ferlig’s research paper also covers concerns such as time commitment and keyboarding skills, so it’s worth a careful read.

Teachers have used blogs as a means to developing writing skills for a while now…what’s holding you back?

Looking at a Speech

…is quite different than hearing it. Speeches are really meant to be heard. The speakers mannerisms, voice, and body language is part of what helps the viewer understand the message. But what if, after the speeches have been heard, we could analyze their words in another way. Wordle is an application that counts the frequency of word used in text and presents the words in different sizes based on the frequency of use. Here is Barack Obama’s speech from the Convention. Looking at his speech this way, what evaluation can we do about his message? Comparing it to others’ speeches, can we more effectively compare the messages of each of the speakers?


Ideas for use in the classroom:

  • Find the text from famous speeches from the past and use Wordle to create a visual picture
  • Write an essay about yourself and worldle it – see if the images is a true reflection of you (great first week of school activity)
  • Summarize a story
  • Summarize an event
  • Describe a place

Flowgram – Another Cool Tool

In an effort to improve ways the our students learn the concepts of information literacy, the librarians in the district are working on a curriculum map of learning goals, objectives, and activities. We started with AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.   As we worked through the objectives, I knew that concrete examples of activities that the children would do to practice these skills would be really important. I knew I could collect a set of resources with activities, explanations of the skills, and teaching strategies. I worry a lot lately that a bunch of links, without some kind of explanation can be pretty overwhelming when we’re talking about complex material. Last week, I learned about a new tool called Flowgram. It allowed me to give a tour of the sites, adding narration, and notes. Here is my flowgram:


I used a custom page and webpages. The application also allows the use of PowerPoint. Thinking about the possibilities….

Ideas for using this tool with students:


  • Find visual images that represent a concept or a story and explain the significance
  • “Virtual” presentations, when there is no time to have students use PowerPoint in class to make a presentation
  • Present sources that were used for research project and explain why the resource was considered valid and reliable
  • Digital story telling using images from Flickr, Library of Congress, or other source
Can you think of any others?