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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My summer motto: Whatever you water will grow!

In April, I had three ferns. They were scraggly and brown with only a scant 3-4 slightly rancid green fronds sticking up from the middle. They were very sad. I had neglected to water them.

So although my May was crazy, I bought one more beautiful, full, lush fern for a special place on my back porch. And then, I resolved to water all of my ferns... just to see what happened.

For one month and a half I have watered all four ferns every day. Guess what has happened?

Now, I have four, lush, beautiful ferns. Every time someone comes to my house, they compliment me on these beautiful ferns. Three of them have moved from the back porch to the front and now I have bought three more.

As I have watched the transformation, I have clearly seen a life principle:

What ever you water will grow!

You may not think that is an epiphany, but it truly is! You see, life is not in the heroic carrying of an enormous log up a hill. Life is more like carrying a gunny sack of small rocks up a hill each day. You take those small rocks and add them to the one's from yesterday and the day before. Before you know it, you've built a castle, or a home, or a classroom, or whatever you planned to build.

The great feats are in what you do a little every day. That is who you become. Benjamin Franklin had his virtues that he worked on. Did he become perfect? Not by any means. Did he accomplish a lot with his life, Yes!

I become what I water.

I become what I do a little every day!

So, accordingly, as I have made my summer list for both me and my children, I have put in the most important things that I want to become. We begin with the end in mind. With a clearer picture of who I want to be, I can put the things into my day that help me become that person.

I feel that I become stronger with time for introspection such as this. This summer I am full of so many things to do and I still rise early. However, I will water those things that are important to me so that I can become more, contribute a little more, and leave perhaps a little more of a legacy.

Each summer I set goals and I have them for the last three years. I know what I accomplished each summer and end the summer with a value and a pleasure of knowing what I accomplished. Prior to this goal setting, I would finish the summer feeling upset and unsettled that I hadn't quite put my finger on the pulse of what was important to me.

So, this summer, think about what you want to grow in your life.

If it is a good attitude -- surround yourself with people, thoughts, books, and blogs of those who are positive influences on you.

If it is a certain goal -- set the goal and work on it a little every day, taking time to work on it in bigger chunks as possible.

If it is to increase knowledge - set your goals appropriately, make a list of books, and begin.

If it is to have some true relaxation - plan it, get ready for it, and when you're there, turn off the phone, ignore bloglines, leave the laptop and truly breathe in the fresh breeze of life that you are meant to live. I include exercise in this for there is nothing in the world like harnessing the power of endorphins released by exercise to boost your mood and make you feel like a million dollars!

If it is to reconnect with those you love - whatever you water will grow. Spend meaningful time doing fun things. Abandon the fussing and nagging and come up with a way for them to do their tasks without your intervention. (I create weekly lists with choices for my kids. The list nags, not me.) Do things to build up your relationship. Build traditions and memories. Life is too short and family is one of the most important things!

Whatever it is, water the things that are important to you.

For it is one thing to kill a fern, it is entirely another to kill an attitude, a goal, a dream, your health, and your relationships.

What are you going to water this summer?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Don't let the flux of technology make your curriculum irrelevant

I've begun my summer reading, and have completed my first book of the summer.

Must Read for Literature and History Teachers

How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill is an absolute must read for any teacher of classical literature or history. This is the first of the "Hinges of History" series and is not for the person afraid of a robust vocabulary. My father recommended the series and this is one time I'm glad I didn't go with the Amazon reviews which only gave it three stars. I loved this book!

World Knowledge suffers from whiplash

I have had several paradigm shifts as I've realized that world knowledge has not been on a steady sloped increase. Every so often society suffers from whiplash as the rapid acceleration of learning is halted by a collision with unlearned or repressive political take overs of those who want to control minds or simply do not value learning.

In many cases, hunger and over population are great enemies of knowledge. As we know from Maslow's heirarchy of needs, if one is hungry, one will not ponder the meaning of life.

The loss of the library at Alexandria: From Books to Bathwater

The uneducated who care only for their safety and their next meal are more likely to view books as firewood rather than as kindling for the mind. As I consider the events which served as precursors to the Irish "saving" civilization, I think of the final demise of the most priceless contents of literature, science and engineering in the library of Alexandria. This library was founded near the end of the fourth century BC as a repository of the world's great books and at its height numbered almost a half a million works, many of them original. Although the Emperor Theodosius had much to do with the destruction of part of the library, in met its final demise in 640 AD, when Arab legions swept through Egypt. The commanding general used the books were used to heat Alexandria's public bathwater for several months.

I wonder if the barbarians learned anything as they swam in the last vestiges of works by Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, or Aristotle?

The Flux and Stasis of Education

This brings me to ponder the two words that have been the focal point of my thoughts for the last several weeks: flux and stasis.

Education thrives in stasis
Education seems to do quite well in stasis. When things are orderly and quiet and there is time time for reflection, study, and lecture. However, when society enters states of flux it seems there is difficulty.

Technology is always in flux

This relates directly to technology. Technology by nature is in flux. Its very core is that of flux. This has thrown education on its proverbial ear as educators grapple with standards, best practices, and measurement tools to determine exactly the STATUS of our technological education.

Therein lies the problem: STATUS and Stasis share the same root. How can you determine the status of something not in stasis? Todays answer is irrelevant tomorrow.

Technological innovation IS FLUX. So how do we determine its status? How do we respond more quickly to innovation? Who determines whether an innovation is worthy of covering in the classroom? How do we continually make sure teachers are "educated" on current technology.

Can an educated person become uneducated?

I am fascinated by a quote from one of my students last week as we discussed DOPA. One student responded to our classroom discussion by calling the Congressmen who supported this legislation "uneducated."

I ask, here we have Congressmen, many of who are at the top of their field, and a tenth grader is calling them "uneducated." Why is that?

Forgotten knowledge versus unlearned knowledge

I had three semesters of Calculus at Georgia Tech. Can I sit down and do it right now? -- not without review. That is "forgotten" knowledge because I don't use it every day. However, this is not a matter of forgotten knowledge but rather of learning new, current technology. It is a matter of continuing education in a more real way than we've ever known it!

Education in a perpetual state of flux

If we are going to live in this state of flux created by our increasing dependence on technology, we are going to have to devise methods to "educate" the masses of people in this country and around the world.

It should not take two years to add information into the technology curriculum that will be outdated as soon as it is added. (I think a year is too long!) I believe that whereas the curriculum model may have worked relatively well for classical subjects, the technology curriculum (and technological tools used in the traditional core) need a delivery method that work well in a state of flux.


More blog readers
- I am thankful for our many educational visionaries who "tell the story" and we would go a long way if educators would just read the blogs of leaders, but that is simply not happening right now. To respond better to the flux of technology, teachers must be attuned to it. As part of continuing education, could blog readership and subscriptions be required and counted as part of the assessment of such courses? What can we do to push relevant blogs to those who need them?

Curriculum Wikis
- I believe wikis are going to become more important as we create a compendiums of information on various topics: English technological resources, History technological resources, Technology Curriculum, etc. If curriculum writers and approvers could become involved with teachers and industry, I believe that we could begin to make curriculum more relevant in a more efficient time frame.

Streamline the process - With technology changing at the speed of your voice, it is vital that we create methods to work within the framework of education to create current, relevant, exciting educational opportunities for children. The bureaucracy that did so well in stasis is beginning to struggle and fight within itself as flux has thrown it into a tailspin.

The alternative

What happens if we do not make education relevant? What happens if we do not graduate students who understand the real world of technology? What happens if we do not engage our students?

We risk another societal whiplash as seen in the Middle Ages. Education is vital, paramount, and essential to our future as a society and the future of our world. So much knowledge was lost in Alexandria, perhaps even discoveries we have not yet made. What would be lost this time?

I love what TeacherDudeBBQ from Greece said last Friday in his "Waves" post:

Now the secret to swimming with large waves is to know when to enter the sea. Go in too late and you get hit by the full force of the wave, which can knock you for six. Get it right and its like having your own personal carnival ride.

It occurred to me that this is a good analogy as far as using technology in the classroom is concerned, reading blogs such as Cool Cat Teacher, Ewan McIntosh's Edublog or EFL Geek I see teachers wading out to meet the huge changes that are rapidly approaching, preparing their students to deal with and even enjoy the such developments'

On the other hand those teachers and institutions that ignore the existence of such changes are going to hit doubly hard by the swiftness of the technological, economic and geopolitical wave that is coming our way.
Well said. Moving these important technologies into the classroom is important! Creating educated world citizens is important! Creating an intrisic value for education in our growing world society is vital to the very existence of education itself.

If you don't think it can happen, read your wake up call, How the Irish Saved Civilization. It is a wake up call for the modern day educator if I've ever read one!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Summer pursuits: Refill the empty pitcher!

Thank you to the many edubloggers for the best year of teaching I've ever had!

Now, if you are looking for something to do, the wiki how to has many random things that you can learn how to do.

However, if you want to do something meaningful, I suggest you speak out on DOPA, Read a good book, spend time with your family and for goodness sakes, blog about the things you've learned this year so the rest of us can be in the excitement.

Remember that we need a vacation just to remember who we are. You simply cannot pour water out of an empty pitcher. When we know who we are and are rested, we are better teachers in the fall.

So, fill up that pitcher. Rest without guilt and read with abandon. Blog, comment, and get some sun. Play frisbee and play with new technology. Prop your feet up and have a good laugh.

As I've been reading my first book of the summer, Thomas Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization" I am reminded that when the Irish saved civilization, they also preserved their own. For as they copied books, they would get sleepy. To stay awake, they wrote limericks, poems, and cartoons in the margins of books. They left their mark on their profession and in the history of their culture.

For this reason, it is perfectly acceptable to blog about other things in the summer time. Consider them the limericks, poems, and cartoons in the margins of your professional book over time.

Have a great summer!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Book Reviews: Night

School is out and my students have begun blogging. My "blogging" students who have set up independent blogs on blogger and wordpress have plans to blog and share this summer as part of their learning experience. The first post of summer vacation is Book Reviews: Night by one of my now tenth graders. She has four or five blogs and is doing an excellent job. I hope that you'll encourage her.

It is wonderful!

My Students Compare and Contrast Wikis and Blogs

My students have produced such excellent work over the past three weeks that I'll be sharing some of their insights well into June. They are such excellent learners and teachers.

One of my more recent assignments was to have students compare and contrast wikis and blogs.

Synopsis of their posts
The most meaningful point that they have brought out for me is that they see wikis as a place to share information and they see blogs as a place to share opinions and discuss.

In their words
Here are some of the more insightful answers.

Wikis and blogs are an essential part of a classroom. They are important because you can communicate with teachers and other students. Wikis are more of a way to share notes and homework with other students, while blogs are more of another way of to express your opinion on topics that they want to talk about. On wikis you can also have different pages on your hobbies, and blogs you can share information by your profile and you can talk about hot topics.

Wikis are very easy to use. They help you prepare for tests and exams. People can put the information you need to study on the Wikispace and you can print it out and use it to help you study. The downfall is two people can't make changes at the same time without one person's information getting deleted. Blogs are great if you want to comment on things other people have written about. The downfall is blogs don't help you study for tests and there is no spell check. Overall I like wikis better than blogs.

Wikispaces and blogs are similar in that they are both ways of communicating to other people. Blogs are more opinionated than wikis, because wikis are a collaboration of facts by every individual student. Both a part of the new Web 2.0 technology, they facilitate using the Internet. Blogging is more popular and more people are aware of it. Wikispaces are a fairly new concept which leads to not many people knowing about them. A wikispace is more of a discussion than blogging, because blogging is one person's opinion with other's comments on it. Wikispaces are also aimed more toward the "classroom" setting rather than personal home setting

Both Wikis and Blogs are part of the Web 2.0 revolution and allow a user to edit pages and place his or her comments on the Internet. A blog is similar to a journal on the Web. A person can discuss their thoughts on many different topics like music, movies, politics, etc. A wiki, however, is a website that allows its users to edit the content on that page. It allows users to collaborate with each other to make Web pages.

There are many similarities between wikis and blogs, infact many people would say there is no difference at all. This is not true, wikis are more like individual webpages, and blogs are just part of a webpage. Both can contain hyperlinks and pictures. Many people would say that wikis are mashups and blogs are not, but blogs can become mashups with hyperlinks. Wikis are also more organized. They are not just paragraphs of information like blogs. They usually have several different headings with the information for that little section underneath. Blogs and wikis are equally effective.

Note: I find it interesting how my students have incorporated the word mashup into their everyday language. They use this word now to mean anything from a variety of sources. I find it fascinating!

Wikis are I think alot more efficient than blogs. You can post and edit your homework and use wikis to study for test. The blog are great thing to write in but I think I would rather use wikis. For example, if someone else makes a study guide for the rest of the class to use and they leave something out you can go back and change and or put something else on there. Blogs are nice thing to use when you want other people from around the world to see, use, and or read . Wiki's are more of a class thing that I would not thing other businesses use because I have not seen any other people but students use them. I like both but if I had to pick it would be wikis.

Wikis are used for sharing information and sharing views on things. Blogs are ways to talk about you and give opinions on certain things. My class uses blogs to share information about ourselves and talk about things that interest us and shows our views on things. We use wikis to help with group effort, teach our classes how to do certain computer lessons, and other things.

Both Wikis and Blogs are used to bring people together and to share ideas over the internet. Yet, I believe blogs to be more advanced, though they do link you to people that you don't know. Blogging allows people not directly linked to you to access what you have to say. Though Wikis are ideal for classes and students, I suggest blogs for the everyday person to get his point across the internet. Between the two, blogs are more like newspapers. I would suggest blogs.

A wiki is a website that allows users to add, remove, or edit all content quickly and easily without the need for registration. A blog is like a journal entry where you can post entries daily about anything. One strength of the blog is that the most recent entry is listed first. One weakness of the wiki is that the content can sometimes be misleading. People add incorrect information on wikis. They are not always written by experts. A wiki enables documents to written together in a simple markup language. Wikis can be created and updated easily. A wiki weakness is that you do not have to register so people can mess around with your stuff.

Wikis and blogs are both very useful tools. They can help you organize notes and studymaterial or just post useful information. Wikis are usually better for organizing notes because it divides things into sections, but they take longer to make. The blogs are good for posting information because it is open to anyone with the Internet. The problem is getting other people to find your blog.

How I view wikis and blogs

I see wikis and blogs as two complimentary tools in my classroom.

One gives them information (wikis) and one gives them a voice (blogs.)

Asking my classroom to choose between the two would be like me telling you that you had to choose between fork and a spoon for all of your dining needs. They both have a different purpose and are good for eating different things, likewise with wikis and blogs.

I think that educators are really hitting on the strength of blogs for writing and engaging students in conversation.

However, I think wikis are a great untapped resource for compiling information. Wikis are a vital part of my classroom now and absolutely essential to teaching. (They are also very easy compliments to classroom discussions and note compiling.)

As you learn new skills for your summer, wikis should be high on the list!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My students weigh in on DOPA

For my question of the week, I'm shifting students to think.com. (See my post on how I'm using think this summer.)

My question of the week is a debate question:

Discussing DOPA
During our last few days of school, we are going to discuss legislation that has currently been introduced in congress called the Deleting Online Predators Act. It is your final assignment to look at this act and state your opinion on DOPA. Support your position with at least three facts.

Here are some of the more meaningful posts:

Madison L
I do not support DOPA.
Using the internet is a priveledge. The government shouldn't ban certain things like myspace, blogging, and wikispaces. Doing this will hinder America in advancing technologically. The government should worry about teaching people safe ways to use the internet, not blocking certain things. Stupidity is to blame, not predators.

banks w
I do not support DOPA.
Blogging, myspace, and all the new technology's are not the problem. Just because the predators are out there does not mean that we should get rid of blogging and all the other things. If people just use their common sense and only trust the people they know then we won't have a problem.

Rachel H
I do not support DOPA.
Using the internet is not harmful if you use it in the right ways. Scanning the internet for young innocent girls or logging in to people's accounts, are ways the internet is used harmfully. In contrast, the Internet offers many other aspects in life. It enhances technology and can also allow parents to monitor their kids better than at the mall. The government needs to realize that they are catching predators better by the internet than by on the streets.

Brandon Johnson J Brandon Johnson J
I do not support DOPA.
Using the internet is a privaledge. The Government needs to find ways to stop the predators and ask schools to teach their kids how to use the internet because a lot of kids do not know how. Stopping sites like Bloglines, Wikispaces, and myspace will hurt the advancement of new technology. So Congress needs to think about these things to try to fix the problem not to take away a need.

Grace Ann B Grace Ann B
I do not support DOPA.
Although DOPA may have started out as a good idea, it is not practical. Myspace and facebook are just a few of the things they want to get rid of but they only have a few bad people on them. They can't just get rid of the whole thing because of a few bad apples. They can't just stop everybody from using the blog pages; instead, they should just monitor it more closely.

Brittany B Brittany B
I do not support DOPA.
I don't support this because by passing this law the government in interfering with my rights. There are predators everywhere. So why should the governement be allowed to shut down a website or many websites? If they are going to shut down websites, they should also shut down skating rinks and arcades where kids also frequently go.

Kyli L Kyli L
I do not support DOPA.
I do not support DOPA, because kids need to be intelligent enough to not give out personal information. Not everyone on the Internet is a predator. I don't know if the congressmen and congresswomen really know enough to justify passing this legislation.

Ivy S Ivy S
I do not support DOPA.
I do not support DOPA. If the people who use Websites like Myspace were more careful and did not put personal information like their address and schedule on their pages, then it would not be as easy for predators to find them. Also, taking these Websites out of libraries does not do much good because they can get on them once they get home. If people did not do stupid things like agreeing to meet someone they don't even know, this would not be such a big problem.

The underlying theme of all thirty one students who have voted against DOPA in our class debate is education. They overwhelmingly feel that students should be educated not restricted.

Ignorance is more of the problem than predators.

What Congressmen and women must not forget is that many of these students will be voting in the next few years. I have a feeling that students will pay attention to the lawmakers who are involved in this legislation. In fact, I've seen many posts on myspace accusing DOPA of "shutting myspace down."

I hope educators will take time to weigh in during the summer months and will not tune out completely.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Assessments on the Westwood Wiki: Part 4 of the Interview with Stewart Mader

In part four of Stewart's and my discussion (1,2,3) of how we use the wiki at Westwood, we discuss authentic assessment and how it is used on the Westwood wiki. If you want to understand the nuts and bolts of how I use wikis in the classroom, it is worth a read.

If you're doing something different, often the questions from a good interviewer like Stewart help you self analyze and come to a better understanding of your own classroom.

Friday, May 19, 2006

PC Magazine's 101 Fabulous Freebies

PC World has announced their 101 Fabulous Freebies. (Hat tip to Jeff Utecht)

Some on the list that I'm already using:

Five on the list that I've got to try:

Hyperwords This Firefox browser plug-in renders any text--on any Web page--clickable. Highlight a word or phrase, and a pop-up menu lets you submit the highlighted text to search engines, reference sites, online merchants, and more.
I think this will help me find resources as I read blogs and am researching.
WriteBoard For collaborative editing, you can't beat WriteBoard. It lets you create, edit, and share documents with others--directly in your browser. You can even compare versions to see changes.
I'd like to see how this compares to writely and how I can potentially use it in my class.

FreeMind Psychologists say that an effective way to take notes is to put them in a Mind Map--a free-form tree structure that mimics the way your brain works. FreeMind does exactly that. It acts like an outliner--except that, instead of working with headings and subheadings, you create nodes and subnodes that branch from a central point. Each node can contain text, pictures, special icons, or colorful formatting. FreeMind is useful for taking notes in class, outlining books, or even planning a route to world domination.
I LOVE mind mapping. I am definitely trying this out as an alternative to my talk and chalk version of mind mapping!
Celestia When the world seems too small after all, launch Celestia. You can zoom through the solar system--and beyond--for real-time or accelerated views of planets, moons, comets, stars, and even the Hubble space telescope. Heavenly!
My son is a budding astronomer, we'll definitely get some learning time out of this over the summer!
Pandora Don't play the same song until you're sick of it. Enter the name of an artist or song you like, and Pandora will create a custom "radio station" for you that plays similar music, right in your browser. This service makes surprisingly good choices, and it uses your feedback to refine them further. And if you get tired of one station, you can just create a new one.
They also have a great roundup of Web-Based E-Mail, Blogging Tools, RSS News Readers, and Video Sharing Services. Keep your mind going and try something new!

Improving writing using think.com: A four year user talks about her success and how she did it.

Great podcast about think.com from a four year veteran
One of my favorite edubloggers dynamos, Wesley Fryer, commented on my post yesterday about how our school using Think.com for my summer assignments and pointed out his incredible podcast entitled Think.com and Digital Social Networking where he interviewed Cheryl Oakes’, an elementary technology facilitator who has used Think.com in Wells Elementary School in Wells, Maine. Last summer she kept think.com up and saw students using it over the summer.

He has some great show notes which includes Screenshots of the Think.com environment.

Telling the story
This is definitely one of those stories that we need to tell about the positive impact of social networking in schools. Cheryl talks about how the emerging "digital natives" that she is seeing in elementary school has caused the use of tools like think.com to "mushroom" over the past few years.

Observations from Wesley's and Cheryl's podcast

Here are some of the things that most impressed me about Wesley's and Cheryl's great podcast!

Positive things Cheryl has seen online:
  • She has observed great interactions from surveys and writing.
  • She starts very simply. (What is your favorite color, etc.) She talks about how surveys progress and as student results come from around the world from other students which give great opportunities for students to interact and understand people from around the world.
  • She has seen that after students start surveying in basic topics, that their use turns into more academic subjects. (Remember, she is talking about elementary students.)
  • She has seen significant improvements in writing abilities without any degredation into IM speak.
  • She is noticing a fascinating development in poetry writing where students around the world each write a line.

Her school has a "no strikes allowed policy." She allows no bullying and in the first year, she had three students lose theirprivilegess and think.com account. She did say that most of the comments were innocuous (on a scale of 1 to 10 she rated them a 1,) three students still lost theirprivilegess. She has seen no one lose their privilegess this year because of their immediate action.

Other Great notes!
  • Wes thinks it is important that kids need to make mistakes when adults are around so that they can get feedback and be steered correctly.
  • Wes also thinks it is so important to leverage the interest that kids have in using social tools to improve their writing.

On Selling the use of think.com to administration
Cheryl has been using think.com for four years! Wow! She had difficulty selling it to administration at first. The explained how limited it was and how easy it was to shut down. She has the children and parents sign an internet use policy. Cheryl has the students sign out their permission form and gives the parent the option to shut down the page after the school experience was done.

Cheryl also talks about how she has recently handled myspace questions that have emerged from parent teach conferences and how she addresses the concerns.

Privacy Protection
She also points out the think.com policy of no personal photographs on the site. Cheryl does enforce it (and I do to.) Every photo goes into the review queue and I have to approve them. That is where you stop the use of the photo.

Profanity Protection
She also points out how it handlesinappropriatee words. Students get a notice that they've usedinappropriatee language and the teacher is notified that the student tried to use the word and what the word was. The list is quite long and you can look at it in Think.com if you really want to look at curse words!

Digital Citizenship
They also have a great discussion on digital citizenship. She talks about how students from other countries may seem "rude" when they are typing in English as a second language. She also discusses the differing school calendars between hemispheres.

I love think.com

After a day of working on think.com with my students, they have responded very positively.

If your school is having difficulty with myspace and blogging, this is definitely a way that you can go!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mellon Foundation Open Source Awards

I thought some of the readers and collaborators out there might be eligible for this incredible award from the Mellon Foundation for non-profit open source software that benefits their constituency.

The Mellon Foundation is an amazing organization that does so many things to help others.

Your free Web 2.0 Study Buddy!

As part of our Computer Science portfolio, my students had to analyze a Web 2.0 app. There are several exciting new (free) services out there that can really help students.

The first one I want to bring to your attention is studybuddy.info. If you have a student who is struggling with SAT words, this is where to send them.

One of my students reviewed this in her portfolio and she simply did an incredible job. She did a great job reviewing the site, so I suggest you read her whole review. In her review, Kyli writes:

Goodbye paper notecards! Studybuddy offers an easy and effective way to study without the use of paper notecards. It also offers a way to test yourself using "notecards."

To begin you have stacks, which are stacks of virtual notecards. You can create as many stacks as you need. To add notecards to the stack you click on the stack name, and then click on new card. When you click to create a note card, you then go to the card editor. The card editor allows you to create a notecard by typing a question and answer. Once you have made all your notecards, studybuddy provides a variety of ways to test yourself.

They include the review mode, the classic mode, the printable mode, the direct answer mode, and the multiple choice mode. The review mode is good for reviewing or farmiliarizing yourself with the information. The classic mode displays you the question and then requires you to "flip" the card, revealing the anwser. The Printable mode allows you to print your note cards. The Direct Answer mode displays you the question and requires you to type in the anwser. The Multiple Choice mode displays the question, and then provides four possible anwsers for you to choose from.

With all these options learning the information should be easy, but Studybuddy still offers you 8 reasons to use their virtual notecards.
Intuitive Learning and Analysis
I am so impressed at her and the other student's abilities to analyze, review, and understand new technology. It is vital that they learn how to become intuitive learners. Notice that I did not "show" her how to use this website. She selected it from a list that I approved. Then, she had to set it up, use it, and analyze it.

It is so important in computers that we move away from scripting all of the answers and clicks and that we direct students to learn and teach themselves. I am very impressed with the outcome of this method of teaching and know that I have covered the subject more thoroughly than in my prior years of covering computer science. The use of wikis and blogs to discuss, summarize, and synthesize information is a very powerful tool.

No more "black hole" of post-grade assignments

The most exciting thing is that now, Kyli's hard work can benefit students around the world. No longer is knowledge lost in a knowledge "black hole" of already graded assignments. This work continues to exist and can be updated by others as more information comes to light!

Create Exciting Summer Assignments using Think.com

I think I've found a new love! While looking for something to use over the summer for blogging (that requires less maintenance on my part than class blogmeister), one of the classblogmeister forum participants recommended think.com.

Think.com is a free service for schools sponsored by Oracle. It has a whole range of interactive tools that are so very easy for students (and me) to use!

Strict Authentication gives protection to students
This is the part I like best, Oracle has a rigorous authentication process and a contract that the principal or lead administrator must sign about the school's use of their think.com account. I've been working on this for around four weeks now (it could take less time, but it is crazy right now.) The contract is extensive and requires a lead administrator's signature to execute. After spending a day setting it up and training students, it is worth every second!

In a world gone crazy over profiles and social software, this is the safest forum I could find
The Literature teachers and I will be using this to encourage writing over the summer.

How will we use this?
Students who do not read and write over the summer go "backwards." That is why so many schools are taking stabs at year long schooling. We have resisted that trend at our school here and I see think.com as a forum where I can encourage intuitive learning on topics.

In my first entry, I asked an open ended question and expect them to research and answer the question. I'm using my last week to familiarize my classes with Think.com and giving several assignments on there. (I take grades until the day before school gets out! Time is too short to waste a day!)

Think.com is so fun that they are excited. I'm requiring 10 entries, but many of them expect to do so many more. I will have topics for their posts and have covered my expectations for their behavior (and privacy) online.

Introduction of key concepts
I have thirty vocabulary words each year for each class that I emphasize. This is a technique emphasized by our curriculum director and it works very well. (I still have many more but we keep coming back to these thirty.) I will use these entries to explore ten of these words that I've designated for each class. (One word for each post.)

How do I get started on think.com?
If you want to use think.com, just go to www.think.com and click Enroll now. You will then be given a temporary password and information to use.

Think.com will give you a temporary username and password for your students as well.

Student set up
For students to activate their accounts tell them to:
1) Go to www.think.com
2) Give them the temporary username and password for your school.
3) Have them set up their information.

Then, you must add them to your school.
1) Go to www.think.com
2) Log in with your username and password.
3) Click on "Admin Tools" in the top right corner.
4) click on Manage Accounts (on the orange bar on the left of the page.)
5) Click on "Student Account Requests"
6) Check the students you wish to approve and click "Approve."

Add them to your class (if you're a teacher.)
You can then go add them to classes by clicking on "My Class", and clicking on "My Students" in the orange bar.

Remember, you can add other teachers to your school so you don't have to set things up twice. If you're the administrator, just go to Admin tools --> Manage Accounts --> Add Teachers.
You will then printout a username and password for the teachers you wish to add!

This is so easy and great! Once you're in, try to write something by clicking the write button. If you want to interact, then click the interact button. There you can do polls, post debates, post topics that will allow students to interact like on a message board.

Remember, that you can just allow your students to participate or you can open it up to anyone on think.com by clicking on "Edit Page Info" when you are looking at your page.

I think this is an excellent and safe tool (and did I say free, Oh, I think I did say FREE, but I just love FREE!)

I will still check the postings on think.com but I don't feel that I will have to watch it as closely because I'm not moderating every post and the world is not looking at their work. They will have a purpose and they will be writing (and learning.)

Engage them with new tools!
If it is engaging and exciting and gets them to talk about a subject in the summer, it should be done. I often wonder why parents (and teachers) automatically suspect anything that is fun. I happen to think learning is fun. I've always loved to learn! This helps engage those students who don't have that innate desire to learn.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

ePortfolio research

I will be fascinated to see the results of this nationwide study of the effect of ePortfolios on student learning, achievement, and engagement.

The study monitors about 5,000 high school students coast to coast and is sponsored by TaskStream, a New York-based software company that makes e-portfolios that students use for free.
The article makes it sound like the eportfolios are free, however, if you go to the website, there are subscription rates.

I do hope that the students are able to preserve copies of their ePortfolios. Imagine how demotivating it would be to create the portfolio and "lose" it somewhere along the way. (See my take on 100% digital portfolios.)

We need more research along these lines. I hope that neutral researchers at universities around the world are also looking at these topics so we do not end up with a lot of "hype." We need best practices (not just best software) amidst the maelstrom of Web 2.0 educational apps.

If you believe in wikis, blogs, and edublogging in America, speak up or lose it!

Do something to make a difference, participate in the DOPA Wiki created by Will Richardson. (If this is the first you've heard of it, you may want some background on my DOPA: From book burning to blog burning? blog entry.)

This afternoon, I spent around on hour on the page that I think is going to be most useful, the "Top 20 reasons not to support DOPA."

Already on the list:

20. This bill will increase the technology gap.
Blogging and the effective use Internet information is a vital skill for children to master. Only having access at home to these technologies will target our most at-risk populations by disallowing them to have access at all, since most disadvantaged kids use public libraries and schools for access to the very tools that will allow them to be competitive in the 21st century market place. Through this piece of legislation we will only further the chasm between the haves and have nots.

19. This bill will prevent the effective teaching of the Internet.
It is vital that teachers educate their students that what they post on the Internet is in a sense permanent--the follies of youth will haunt you in your thirties. Young people sometimes do foolish things; like sharing revealing pictures of themselves on the Internet. They think only the one person they send it to will ever see it. They often do these things without thinking about the consequences. (They are, after all, children.) They need to be educated how to use and access the Internet responsibly. Where better to educate them on effective Internet literacy and use than at school? DOPA would deprive them of the education that is increasingly important in the digital age.

I added a little to those and expounded on a few points other authors had contributed. Here are those points:

17. This bill will limit the sharing of best practices among educators around the world.
In a study commissioned by the National Governor's Association (NGA) in 2003, Harvard Scholar, Richard Elmore concluded that:

"Knowing the right thing to do is the central problem of school improvement. Holding schools accountable for their performance depends on having people in the schools with the knowledge, skill, and judgment to make the improvements that will increase student performance. (p 9)"

Educators, teachers, administrators, and others are journaling in online journals called blogs about their best practices in all facets of education. Because there is no standard platform for blogging but most educators use the free blogging tools available to them because they are fast, easy, and inexpensive. This bill would effectively remove the American public school teacher and administrator from reading about and sharing their best practices with the world. This would be to the detriment of American public school students who will be completely left out of innovations that emerge much more rapidly than they did even five years a go. Research papers are presented and conferences, published, and discussed via blogs all within days. This research would have to be disseminated via other means to public schools who wanted to improve based on the latest research. American education is in a crisis situation and our students need their teachers and administrators to be able to participate in the discussion. As leading educator, Robert J. Marzano said in his 2003 research paper "A Tool for selecting the 'Right Work' in Your school' , "The problem in low performing schools is not getting people to work hard, it is getting people to do the 'right work.'" (p 1)

By restricting access to blogs, wikis, and RSS feeds, efforts to keep children from being "left behind" will be stopped in their tracks as leading educators lose the valuable resources available to them through wikis, blogs, and other social networking tools.

16. This bill will prevent research into emerging technologies.
The system that teaches America's teachers focuses on research based methodologies. The technologies of wikis and blogs are very exciting and have produced a lot of anecdotal evidence to show that they work effectively. Basic research into these technologies is just beginning and would be halted before it reached critical mass. In America, we simply must re-engage our students into the education system. By limiting one of the most promising technologies, we could also be setting aside a technology that has the potential to move us forward and become competitive again with the world.


1. This bill will cause more predatory behavior because of the lack of education.
When threats to the safety of our citizens arise such as the dangers of tobacco and the dangers of the not wearing seatbelts, our country wisely seeks to educate our citizens. In our free country, our citizens can choose to participate in harmful behavior, but we hope they will do it with open eyes and and understanding of their choices. We have a mechanism to reach the majority of our children about the dangers of Internet predators and privacy: the public school system. To neglect teaching safety to these children is to be contrary to the beliefs that most educators hold dear. Rather than restrict access, we should focus on educating students. Rather than forcing students to log on alone, we should guide them onto the Internet at school. This does not mean they will be doing personal activities on school time, rather it means they will learn effective, productive, and safe methodologies of harnessing the newest tools to learn.

Participate in the conversation!
I've posted these because I hope that you've seen something that you're dying to change or add. If so, you can comment here, but if you really want to make a difference, contribute to the wiki! The password is DOPA. Don't be afraid that you don't know how to "wiki." If you can type, you can wiki, just go to the page and click edit. If you have trouble, let me know! I'm sure Mrs. Vicki will help you wiki!

Contribute meaningful, research-fact based information

I think this is about meaningful, fact based discussion. In college, I worked in Washington so I have a disdain for impuning the motives of others, for broad sweeping, emotional attacks. This is about what is best for children.

I really think there are a lot of people out there who are upset about what is happening in myspace. They want something done. It is the educator's responsibility to propose SOMETHING that will help improve the safety of children online. It is our responsibility to educate!

It is better to educate children about something that is not going away than to attempt an already-doomed effort to restrict access to something that is exploding in use. There are so many better ways to accomplish protection of the young than to ban myspace.

Why every educator should care!

Some ask why I care so much since I'm a private school teacher. Besides my convictions that these technologies improve the classroom and my desire for a better America, I learn so much from other teacher/edubloggers, most of which are public school teachers.

What would happen to our information exchange? What would happen to the knowledge I glean on a daily basis from some incredible teachers in the American Public School system?

Things are changing in education and edublogging has brought us closer. I would hate to see us step backwards. I would mourn for the lost potential I see in blogs and wikis to engage students in learning again!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How can we harness the power of the irresistible?

Myst improves descriptive writing in boys?

I've been reading with my mouth agape about how Tim Rylands uses the Myst computer games in literacy classes to rev up the descriptive writing skills of his students, particularly boys. In a newspaper article about Tim, they describe the learning process using Exile, part of the Myst computer game, as follows:

In the lesson, on the whiteboard, we started in a rocky terrain. You could see that it had been inhabited. Stone steps flanked by gnarled wooden railings led upwards to an ornate door. "Should we open it?" asked Tim.

"Yes," chorused the Year 6 children. The door slid back and, inside, the cave-like room was bathed with gold. That light flooded the classroom too and illuminated the children's faces as they sat enraptured by the images.

"Write down what you feel at this moment." They scribbled away. And so it went on as we traveled down corridors and eventually emerged on a cliff overlooking the sea. Should we climb into a pewter vessel that looked as though it was out of Jules Verne? We did and looked at the controls. An exploratory press on a button and the children gasped as the craft moved forward whooshing us over the sea to a nearby island. They scrawled their feelings and thoughts. The vivid experience jolted superb writing from the children.

What are they learning? Tim believes the quality of speaking and listening is raised. "They have a shared experience and, the way we work, 30 people can have a conversation without putting their hands up because they are listening to each other and respecting each other," says Tim. "They can observe the non-verbal communication. They are capable of taking turns.

When interviewed about this process, Tim says:

At first sight what Tim does is highly unconventional. "I am doing basic things in an off-the-wall way, but it gets results," Tim explains. "I am trying to create the magic, the enjoyment rather than just the basic skill.
The new Viper SRT-10: Obnoxious and irresistible
I've been considering this for several days now, and then my husband, an engineer, sent me an article from the Detroit Daily News about the new Viper SRT-10 entitled: Obnoxious and irresistible.

The author does a beautiful job of describing this car:

Whoa! Have you ever fallen in love with someone you knew to be crazy?

Getting heated up over the Viper SRT-10 is something like that. It's sexy, attractive and thoroughly nuts. It is woefully impractical. It ultimately will take from you more than it will give, but you become so addicted to what it offers that you can't resist. You are pulled in by the obnoxious roar of its engine, replete with the loud pop-pop racecar noises emanating from exhaust pipes cleverly integrated into rocker panels right and left.

Harnessing the irresistible in the classroom.
As I read the article, I was transported into how I picture Tim Ryland's classroom. I think Mr. Ryland has hit on something: he has harnessed the irresistible to teach.

Perhaps his children think they "shouldn't like to write" but he has used the irresistible (a video game) to engage his students in writing.

It seems to me that many educators fight the irresistible: the iPod, the cell phone, the laptop, the wiki, the blog, the podcast, and more. Instead, we should be harnessing the irresistible to engage students in writing, in reading, and in learning.
The power of the irresistible: Video Games that Teach
I've seen this in my own children. I have a ten year old who loves Civilization. (Read his blog entry.) In the course of playing this incredible video game, he has learned about all of the major forms of government as well as governmental structure. He has learned the importance of innovation in a society and about the balance required to run a government. Even more so, he has learned the importance of listening to advisors. I've played this game and it is full of meaning, learning, and is totally irresistible! Voila!

He is learning and he thinks he is playing! Its OK to have fun when you learn.

How else can we harness the irresistible to learn?

It seems to me that when we are working with children who have preconceived negative emotions about a subject, that harnessing the subject to "the irresistible" may serve as a magnet to draw students into the subject.

How Mashups became exciting to my male students

I recall when my students were discussing mashups. The boys in my class did not get really excited until they invented Hunter's Paradise. They looked at the various websites that they wanted to mash together and got very excited. These boys love hunting. Their love for hunting engaged them in a topic they were lukewarm about at the beginning of the class period.

That is harnessing the power of the irresistible for teaching!

It is happening all of the time. I'm reading stories about it in so many edublogs! I think this simple concept of transference is a powerful tool in the classroom.

I guess I've always used it from the early 1990's when I taught the Internet to older people, I would teach them to look up recipes, compare medicines, and look up health information. That was when they got excited! Teachers got excited about rubrics and gradebooks. Students got excited about myspace, iPods, and cell phones. What have we done to harness those tools to teach? (See my recent post on DOPA.)

How irresistible Legos teach programming!

I am seeing this as my students build robots with Lego Mindstorms as we conclude our year in Computer Science. They love Legos and their love of them transfers to programming.

The two or so intertwined that now they have practically self learned the concept of gear ratios as well as programming loops. Interestingly, seniors from last year (who are in their last three days of school) are taking time to show the juniors and sophomores techniques for improving the robots. They love the robots and are so very excited! The power of the irresistible to teach!

How do you harness the power of the irresistible?

Structure and Activities on the Westwood Wiki

Stewart Mader has posted part 3 of our interview concerning the structure and activities on the wiki.

Eighth grade begins to wiki!
I talk about how we use the wiki in computer science and computer fundamentals. I've also introduced the eighth grade to wikis this week. This is how I did it:

1) I added them to the wikispace and helped them join.
2) I created an 8th grade wiki work page and linked to their names.
3) I allowed them to edit and create their wiki and then go in and edit each others.

As things "happened" (simultaneous editing, for example), I showed them why that happened and how to look in the history. I showed them how to revert to previous wikis and how to compare versions. I also showed them the importance of putting comments on their editing.

Our summary activity for keyboarding
As a summary activity, I also have them take the 8 concepts of effective keyboarding and they are making up a story reinforcing those concepts.

To do this, I broke the class into two sets: writers and designers. The writers took index cards and my magnetic board and magnets and invented the story on the index cards. They used the magnets to hook them on the board in order.

The graphic designers looked through the Internet to find non copywrited graphics to use on the story. It is going to be a fascinating story when we're done! It also has had them talking about the concepts of effective keyboarding and serves as an excellent review of the semester.

All of these are things I've done before using PowerPoint or other tools. Collaboration has never been so easy. Learning is so very exciting using the wiki! It is very rare to find students off task using the wiki. Intrinsic in the wiki is a sense of being part of something bigger than yourself!

What is amazing is that after two days of classwork, they are virtually through with this project!

Look at their new wikibook about keyboarding! (We were having trouble with some graphics, but we should be getting those worked out tomorrow!)

Monday, May 15, 2006

DOPA: From book burning to blog burning, why it needs another look!

Should the DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act) (click here for PDF) pass, all access in public schools to ’social networking’ sites on the Internet would be banned.

Newsweek says:

The campaign to crowd out predators from MySpace.com is gathering steam in Washington. House of Representatives lawmakers proposed a bill on May 9 that would block access to social networks and Internet chat rooms in most federally funded schools and libraries.

I'm taken back to the early 1990's when I offered adult training classes on the Internet. A well meaning "little old lady" in town gave me her thoughts on my class:

"How can you call yourself a Christian and teach about the Internet? It is just terrible!"

My answer to her was, "Mam, how can you call yourself a Christian and go to Atlanta, there are prostitutes in Atlanta and people get killed there too?"

I proceeded to explain to her that there is not a difference between the two. Both are places. A place as big as Atlanta or the Internet is not inherently good or bad necessarily, however there are good and bad things that happen there.
Her mentality is the same one that now says, "How can you love children and give them access to myspace?"

Predators and the dishonest always congregate to places where there is not a lot of regulation.

With the birth of any new technology, a gray area of pseudo-non-regulation is born that attracts those who wish to hover below the surface of legality.

Additionally, predators and pedophiles congregate where teenagers congregate unsupervised. Period. (Whether it is the mall or myspace!)

When we have concerns about students getting assaulted, we teach them self defense, we would never dream of tying them to their beds! (Assault and tying to the bed are both considered abuse.) Likewise, we should teach Internet "self-defense" and not flagrantly restrict access to an environment they need for their future.

We must not mistake the content with the communications channel.
If you have a cell phone, you can use it to call an older person and cheer them up or you can use it to play mean-spirited prank phone calls. Same channel, two very different things.

It is easy to cast stones at a communications channel like "chats" "wikis" "cell phones" "text messaging" "blogs" because then it is easy to regulate. It becomes a proverbial on off switch. It is also something that will not hurt many adults and is very misunderstood at this point.

Ban paper!
Perhaps we should ban paper. Many bad things are printed on paper!

Why can we not use content filters and let them do their job?

Wikis and blogs are incredibly wonderful, engaging tools that really breathe life into the educational experience in the hands of a good teacher.

They are a vital communications medium that they need to understand and know about. We are supposed to be creating global citizens who can work in a global workplace, and we are not going to educate students on the tools that will let them cooperate with their counterparts around the world?

I am quite floored at this well intentioned but uneducated effort at protecting kids on myspace.

Wikis have transformed my classroom into a more engaging, more effective place. Blogs have restored a love for writing and made it more relevant for many students!

Its also about personal things being done on personal time.

Yes, kids should not be myspacing at school. But myspace could be blocked. Facebook can be blocked. It is similar to the difference between work and personal. Businesses frown on personal work being done on company time. Likewise, students should be discouraged from "personal things being done on school time."

However, I think to completely block the medium is short sighted.
Last week I actually unblocked myspace for a day so students could print out their blogs from myspace for their computer science portfolio. They had some good entries and I was glad I got to read them.

Bookburning to Blog Burning?
You would think that we could learn from book burning that the medium is not the problem.

Through such shortsighted broad brush practices in the Dark Ages, we lost many great works of literature and history.

If we are concerned about content, then let's put in a rating system and filter for content. I think people misunderstand that because it is called social software does not mean that the software is being used for socializing. (Perhaps we educators should rename it collaborative educational software if lawmakers cannot get past semantics.)

This debate of the "evil of technology" has been around since scientists were called heretics for having new discoveries that contracticted modern thought of their era. It is easier to condemn something and get rid of it than to understand it.

Parents should be involved in myspace

I will say that I'm disgusted at some of the myspace websites of my students. I've called some parents to make them aware of what their students are doing. I guess I'm most disgusted that parents allow their children to operate unsupervised in an online world. It is the disinvolvement or perhaps just the "technology gap" between parents and their children that has caused some truly tragic happenings in myspace.

What hurts more kids, tobacco or myspace?

Since I'm waxing rhetorical here, I'm also disgusted that some of my students also smoke. When we learned of the dangers of tobacco, did the government ban all tobacco? No, we raised the age for tobacco purchase and we put a lot of money into educating the public. How many more students are killed by tobacco than myspace?

The world didn't end with Y2K!

There is also a lot of fearmongering going on in the media as the newssharks smell a story. Anyone remember how the world was going to end with Y2k?

What websites would be banned?
According to a great article over at SEGA Tech, the following websites would be banned if this bill were to pass:

  • JASON Project Online: This amazing hands-on science website allows students to chat in real-time with scientists out in the field, discuss issues they are having with data and experiements, post their work, and ask questions to experts via chats, live broadcasts, and forums.
  • Blogger & Wordpress: These are the two largest blog-hosting companies on the web, and provide teachers and students with easy access to blogging - allowing them to engage in online discussions, post work, and speak to a real audience. More and more teachers are moving to blogs as their class website solutions.
    (Hey folks, that would mean that you could no longer read the coolcatteacher blog!)
  • Google Pages: teachers with Google accounts can create websites for free - easily and quickly, without software downloads.
  • WebCT, BlackBoard, or Moodle: these services offer email, forums, and chat to class participants
  • Many Educational Blogs, such as SEGA Tech, 2 Cents Worth, and Weblogg-ed. These allow visitors to register, share ideas, and collaborate. (And coolcatteacher!)
  • Google Talk, Trillian, Yahoo Messenger, etc: These chat programs often allow teachers to quickly communicate with each other in the building, or discuss issues with experts in thier county (such as tech support, admins, etc). Students can use these to chat with experts in the real world or work collaboratively in different parts of the school.
  • Many aspects of Google Earth, such as the Online Community, Sketchup’s 3D warehouse, and sites like Google Earth Blog and Google Hacks.
  • Wikipedia (any wiki for that matter): one of the most extensive and reliable encyclopedias out there. (Wikispaces, PBwiki)
  • Heck, even Georgia Virtual School would be banned, as it makes extensive use of chat and video conference tools.
What do industry experts say?

David Warlick says:

I have asked Class Blogmeister users (almost 2,800 teachers & 27,000 students) to try to find some time and write about the learning experiences that their children are having, and to be specific about what their students are learning, that they weren’t learning before. I will blog these stories as they come in, but would also be willing to make them available for other campaigns to tell this new story about teaching and learning in the 21st century.

I’ve just started a new blog, Online Community Works, where I’ll post the stories as they arrive.

Will Richardson says.
First and foremost, we have to teach. Not our kids, but our teachers...It’s the perfect opportunity to try to contextualize what’s happening “out there” and try to help them understand why they should be thinking about this stuff and asking these questions. And we should all look at this as an opportunity to move these discussions into wider circles, because, as I’ve said before, this is less an education issue as much as it is a cultural/societal issue.
Will has created a dopa wiki for us to edit and work together to create a letter to legislators. Doug Johnson prints a copy of his own letter. He makes three points that are worth repeating.

Children are best protected by:
  • Having adult supervision during all online activities.
  • Engaging in effective training programs for children, parents and educators that stress safe and ethical behaviors
  • Developing life-long strategies for insuring personal privacy.

Telling the story has never been more important. It is vital to share the successes and excitement of students who are being exposed to blogs and wikis. It is important that adults, educators, and lawmakers know that there are viable, important uses of these technologies.

Otherwise, we are about to enter the new Dark Ages when blogs are burned instead of books. Tell the story, it is more important than ever!
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