Media and Information Literacy

I am working on a presentation for several different audiences. The theme of the presentation is “Rethinking Research – 21st Century Information Literacy”. Like the digital packrat that I am, I’m collecting documentation which validates the need for exploration of this topic in all schools. Here’s a clip from an article written by Howard Rheingold.

Writing, Reading, and Social Media Literacy – Now, New, Next via kwout

This statement disturbs me as a teacher, as I recognize that this falls under our roll to teach students how to find information, evaluate it’s value, and understand the impact of social media on every aspect of our society. This statement really disturbs me as a parent. I know my own children are not learning any of this! Just because they can maneuver around their Facebook page doesn’t mean they realize the power of social media as a tool and as a means for expression.

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?

What I Knew All Along

As most of you know, I am the mother of three awesome teenagers. My daughter is a sophomore in college; my middle child is a senior in high school, and my youngest is a freshman. I’ll throw my husband in the story, since he’s a kid at heart. Anyway, ever since I’ve been married, we’ve always had video game systems in the house. My husband bought Sega Genesis in 1991, and a couple of years later, a Sony Playstation. Since then, we’ve upgraded to Sony Playstation II, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Game Cube, X-Box 360, and Wii. There were also a few handhelds along the way as well. All these gaming systems, even the old ones are still operational. To say my children grew up playing video games is an understatement. When I was a young mother, studying to be a teacher, I got a lot of flack from my conservative mother friends for facilitating what was seen as the demise of my children. In the 90’s, the view was that video games were bad for children. They were too violent, too mature, and very anti-social. I guess I’m kind of a non-conformist, but I never really headed the advice of my friends and the media. I never really restricted my children from playing games because my observation about my own family was quite different than what I was hearing others say. These were my obeservations which convinced me that video games were good for our family:

Family bonding – my husband and my sons played together; they picked out the games, discussed the features, and spend a great deal of time laying on the family room floor with controllers in their hands – it’s the “together” part that seemed like it could only have a positive outcome.

More family bonding – my daughter who is outnumbered by the men in our family, has been known to actually be civil to her brothers on occasion – usually when they are playing video games.

Socializing – from the time my youngest could grasp an object, he had a game controller in his. His older brother would talk him through the process of finding a treasure, moving through the paths, slaying animated villians, and getting to the next level. Later, when my youngest was around 3, he was able to master games and he was the one explaining strategies to his then 6 year old brother. It was around that time that playdates emerged, and when the games were being played, they were always being played by several kids. From the next room, I could always hear non-stop chatter, yelling, cheering, booing….but never the silence of solitary play. “Video games make children anti-social,” my friends would say. Not in my house!

The development of higher level thinking skills – I will never forget something my older son said when he was around 10 about his younger brother who was around 7. “Only buy sports games. Rent adventure games – ‘cuz he’s at games where he has to figure stuff out – way better than me. He beats the games a few days after he starts playing them.”

Risking exposure to unscrupulous characters when they play online – The first time my older son played a game online, it was Madden (who knows what year) Football. He used a headset so he could interact with other players. In the middle of the game, he took his headset off with one hand and flung it to one side, still maintaining his concentration on the TV and his controller. When I asked him later about the headset he said, “I was playing with some “old man” (probably in his 20’s) and I was kicking his butt. I didn’t want to hear him swearing at me no more.” Ok…good choice. Since then, most of their online games are with offline friends who are across town, or across the hall in the dorm.

No impact on violent behavior – After a long news report about Columbine: “Mom,” my oldest son states when he was about 10, “I shoot video game guns with my thumbs, aiming at the television set. How does that teach me how to shoot a real gun with a trigger and want to kill my classmates?”

My kids are big now – really past the stage where my husband and I have much input on their gaming. I’m not the perfect mom, but to those way conservative parents who made me feel guilty, have you read this? I’m happy to report that my children are non-violent, well adjusted, honor-roll students, who have varied interests in sports and music and they all have dozens of friends. That is all.

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?




What I Did This Summer

Because I know how fortunate I am to have such a long vacation from work, it’s important to me to be productive.  I like to clean closets, the pantry, and my kids’ rooms (call me crazy) because purging these areas give me a real sense of accomplishment. Along with purging, I like to spend my summer gathering. I gather resources to use for the upcoming year, gather articles that will will help me learn about new research and best practices, and gather new tools that can be used in the classroom. In my opinion, it’s essential for educators to spend as lease some of their summer learing how to be a better teacher. If you can’t attend a conference in person, attend on online. If you can’t take a class, read a few articles. Don’t let your summer reading list only include trashy novels. Here’s a run-down of some things I did this summer that I think will make me smarter for the coming school year:

  • Engaged in discussions with my PLN on Twitter and Plurk
  • Read a few articles – among which are the following:

Building Better Instruction. How Technology Supports Nine Research-Proven Instructional Strategies

Web 2.0 Projects collated by Terry Freedman

CREATING & CONNECTING//Research and Guidelines on Online Social — and Educational — Networking

  • Followed NECC08 conference by reading blog posts, and attending several uStreamed conferences, and downloading presentations.

What did you do this summer to make yourself a better educator?

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?

Keeping up with my PLN (Plurk Learning Network)

I’m really big on bandwagons. I can’t help it. As soon as I learn about something new, I sign up for it. You might call me a digital packrat. The latest cool tool I’ve tried is Plurk. Briefly, it’s the new Twitter. I talked about Twitter in a previous post. Plurk is a 140 character micro-blogging application that allows the user to invite friends, which are people who can see the posts, as well as letting you see their posts. Plurk has a few cool features that have proven to be a richer tool for my PLN than Twitter. Plurk lets the readers of your post respond directly to the post in a drop down menu. This works really well for a PLN because conversations quickly develop and friends feel more comfortable or compelled to jump in with a comment. Coolcatteacher asked “So what are the coolest things about Plurk?” – the answers in this thread clearly explain the features of the application that make it great. Liz Davis created this video about Plurk basics early on. Here are a couple of examples of plurk conversations that happened on their own: (click on the image to see the conversation)

If you are one of my friends who I have just converted to Twitter, come over to Plurk. It’s way cooler!