Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are Students Reflecting on their Future?

Do you have your students thinking about the challenges that lay ahead for them? Do you have them wondering what kinds of jobs will there be in their future? What tools will they use to do their job? What skills will they need? Here is a blog called http://www.21stcenturyquestions.com/ to get your students thinking about some of these questions and sharing their ideas with others. give it a try!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow!


Over at http://www.businessinsider.com/21-things-that-became-obsolete-this-decade-2009-12, you can see a great list of items that became obsolete this decade. It got me thinking about how many of them we are teaching kids about.

1. Maps - When are we going to accept the fact that teaching kids about paper maps is a waste of time. More importantly, NOT teaching them about GPS, online maps, and mapping using phones is a terrible waste!

Phone Books, Dictionaries, Encyclopedias - The days of guide words is gone. Let's get our kids using online tools instead of teaching them skills they will never need.

Paper - While this might be an exaggeration to say paper is obsolete, it is clearly headed towards being unnecessary in many instances. Let's save some trees and teach kids how to be more efficient with new tools at the same time!

What other tools have become or will soon become obsolete? Which will greatly impact what or how we teach?

Analog clocks?


Linear text?

What else?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Digital Coping Skills Continued

It is amazing how once you write about something, it pops up time and time again. It's like when you buy a new car and then all of a sudden you start seeing it everywhere.

I have seen so many examples of digital coping skills or lack thereof recently. One example that sticks out is the number of teachers who seem to believe that technology snafus only happen to them or that the snafus are their fault. I think this is a coping skill, recognizing that technology glitches are a part of using technology. This is much like accepting the glitches that come with other technologies. For example, if we run out of gas, we don't suddenly stop driving. If we cut ourselves with a knife in the kitchen, we don't stop cooking. If we get a bad grade on an assignment, we don't stop writing papers. So why do we let technology glitches become barriers to using technology?

Another example of digital coping skills occurred the other day when a group of teachers had difficulty logging into a web 2.0 tool. The chorus of "See? This is why we don't ..." was deafening. Really? Can I cite that old copy of Tuck Everlasting in my classroom library that has page 104 ripped out as a reason to stop teaching reading? Every year, in spring the glue sticks dry up. I guess the art projects will stop in March from now on.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the challenges that arise when using technology with students. I deal with them everyday. But we must begin coping with these issues as we do other issues in our classroom. While I am sensitive to the challenges of teachers, I am also sensitive to the needs of our students. They need us to develop these coping skills and accept the mess that teaching with technology creates. For all the mess, there is unbelievable opportunity!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Digital Coping Skills


I was having a discussion with a colleague today about digital coping skills. It got me thinking about the difference between analog and digital coping skills, especially as they relate to teaching.

In my opinion, teachers are excellent at coping with a lot of issues. Nothing in a classroom ever goes exactly as planned, but you don't see teachers throwing up their hands and saying, "Forget it!" They deal with misbehaving kids, running out of paper, broken pencils, messy chalk, fire drills, spills, interruptions, and much more. These things rarely phase good teachers. They take it all in stride and continue on. In fact, to the casual observer, they might not even notice that anything had happened.

Why then, do so many of these same teachers seem to feel that technological mishaps are such huge roadblocks? Why are digital coping skills so different from "analog" coping skills? Is it that they require teachers to do some troubleshooting that they may not feel qualified to do? Is is that they require teachers to have a comfort level with technology that allows them to switch gears in the middle of a lesson without missing a beat?


So how do build digital coping skills? We can't possibly teach all teachers all aspects of technology. We may just need to build them on the go. When I first started teaching elementary school, I was afraid to do arts and crafts projects with my students. I worried about the mess that it would create. I worried about the time it would consume. I worried that I was not artistic enough to give good directions or model effectively. No one taught me how to be a better arts and crafts teacher. I just jumped in and started working with paint and glitter. I still don't really like it, but I did give my students an opportunity to do something outside my comfort zone. Over time, I learned how to organize arts and crafts lessons better to minimize the mess. I learned how to show them tricks to make the projects easier, even though I didn't really know how to do them well myself. I learned that many of my students benefited from the opportunity to express themselves in a way that was different from my own.

Digital coping skills aren't really that different from analog coping skills. It's just that we are so good at analog coping skills that we take them for granted. It is time for us to develop our digital coping skills.

Jump right in.
Ask for help.
Expect mistakes.
Most of all, remember that your students might find value in something, even if you aren't comfortable with it.

Photo Credits:


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bringing Technology to the World of Formative Assessment

The other day, I had the pleasure of observing our high school orchestra. I spoke with the teacher about his use of SmartMusic with students. It was really amazing. I had heard quite a bit about it before, but to see how he used it in class and then seamlessly assigned the music to students so students could practice their part at home with accompaniment and record their practice session, get instant feedback, create a portfolio, and create a circle of communication between student, teacher and parent was unbelievable.

I also saw a PE class in which the students used exercise equipment to track their health. They exercised at their target heart rate for a period of time and then recorded their pulse, calories burned, etc...

It got me thinking, "How do we do this in other subjects?" Imagine students reading pieces of text into a microphone and getting instant feedback on their fluency and decoding! Then being assigned "just right" books based on the results and emailing the results to parents automatically. Imagine taking a math test online and then using the results to determine what lesson or unit that student should take next. Why can we do it in music and PE, but not in other areas?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

If it's that easy to cheat...

why do we care?

Thanks to a colleague for passing this along to me. I'm not supporting students having no regard for the rules in school. However, I think we need to ask the question, "If it is so easy to find the information online or through their social network, then what is the value of memorizing it in the first place? If we carry cellphones with us all the time and they are capable of connecting us to the information we need that readily, then maybe schools should be teaching students how to cheat. I know that when I am at work and I'm stumped, I either Google it or Twitter it. In other words, look online or ask my personal learning network. What are we doing to teach students how to effectively search for reliable information? What are we doing to help students develop a personal learning network so they can be learning from people around the world everyday?

Cellphone Cheating in Schools
This Kappan “Highlighted and Underlined” item quotes a Common Sense Media poll on the use of cell phone and the Internet by students:
- Almost two-thirds of students with cell phones use them during school, regardless of school policies against such use.
- Teens send an average of 440 text messages a week, of which 110 are sent by students while they are in the classroom.
- 48 percent of teens say they call or text friends to warn about pop quizzes.
- 52 percent admit to some form of cheating involving the Internet.
- 38 percent have copied material from a website and turned it in as their own work.
- 35 percent of teens with cell phones admit using them to find an answer to a test.
- Of those who use their phones this way:
• 26 percent say they store information on their phones for use during a test.
• 25 percent text friends about answers during an exam.
• 17 percent take pictures of a test to send to friends.
• 20 percent use their phones to search the Internet during an exam.
- 76 percent of parents say they believe some type of cellphone cheating happens in their children’s school, but only 3 percent believe their own child has cheated using a cellphone.

“Using Technology to Cheat” in Phi Delta Kappan, October 2009 (Vol. 91, #2, p. 6)

*Photo credit: http://www.textually.org/picturephoning/archives/get_image.jpeg

Friday, October 23, 2009

How are Teachers Like Rubber Bands?


Resiliency: The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy. (from http://www.thefreedictionary.com)

More and more, I see resiliency as a key skill for teachers. As change comes at us more and more quickly, we must recover from change. By recover of course I mean adapt to it, integrate it, prepare for the next upcoming change. There is no question that every new initiative, tool, standard, idea, philosophy, or concept brings about a series of important steps to handle this change.

1. Unlearning: A key part of resiliency is the ability to unlearn what you have previously thought of as an absolute truth. Many longstanding truths are being called into question due to rapid changes in our profession. For example, skills like cursive writing, alphabetical order, or interpreting paper maps have been staples in teaching for years. Today, however, they have become significantly less important. Tomorrow, they may go away altogether. We must be ready to question the relevance of what we teach and how we teach regularly.

2. Relearning: It is not enough to throw out old ways of thinking, we need to learn about new tools, new skills, new ways of doing things, and we have to do it in a very limited amount of time. The key to this is constant ongoing learning. Using tools like RSS aggregators and social networking tools, we must have a daily diet of reading and practicing new ideas.

3. Adapting: Once we have learned about these new ideas, we have to integrate them into our teaching. Too often, we talk about new ideas in the theoretical. They become cool, pie in the sky concepts that never make it into our classrooms. We must operate with a willingness to constantly try new things. We must become comfortable learning on the fly, understanding that there will be chaos and things will go wrong. It is from those mistakes that we will learn how to adapt these new ideas.

4. Restlessness: Finally, we must have a constant thirst for knowledge. We can not sit back and congratulate ourselves for setting up our first blog or posting our first YouTube video. We must simply consider these steps on an infinite staircase. Progress is constant and unending.

In the classroom, it was always apparent which kids were not resilient. They put their heads down if they got a problem wrong. They complained that things were too hard rather than trying it and seeing what happened. They gave up, checked out, and lost hope. We can not allow ourselves to become like those students. The rapid changes in technology and in our classrooms are simply like the math problems that feel slightly out of reach. Like we would say to our students: "Keep trying! I know you can do it!"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wired for Thinking


We know that kids are wired for technology. We use terms like Digital Native and Net Generation to describe that technology is natural to them. You won't get any argument from me on this. But my question is, " Are we using technology to engage students for the right reasons?" I have been a big proponent of SmartBoards in our district as well as student response systems. Their potential for engaging, interactive learning is powerful. But at the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves, for what purpose are we using these tools?

If these tools simply become another way to fill students up with knowledge that they spit back out, we are not changing anything. On the other hand, if we use them to engage students in learning that gets them thinking creatively, inventively, flexibly, collaborartively, then they are powerful tools. All this technology is about much more than engaging our students. It is about what we do with them once they are engaged.

I have observed the excitement that students exhibit when they get to use technology in their classroom. I have also observed what happens when the novelty wears off if students see that nothing else has changed. They are more than wired for technology. They are wired for thinking. Their future success depends on their ability to solve problems, work collaboratively, and continue learning beyond school. Let's take advantage of their curiosity, creativity, and social nature and let them use the technology to learn how to master these skills, not just learn facts.

*Image thanks to: http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/images/thinkingcapwhoa_color.gif

Friday, October 2, 2009

Frontline: Digital Nation

If you haven't seen any of the videos at Frontline: Digital Nation, I highly recommend that you check them out. The clips are generally short and to the point, but they address everything from Korean preschoolers learning netiquette to Arne Duncan's view of the Class of the Future to how video games are changing education. Check it out!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Enemies of Learning

Some unknown person (thanks unknown person!!) left an article for me in my mailbox entitled "Enemies of Learning". In the paper, the author, Charles Feltman, states that there are certain behaviors that "dull or kill our ability to learn." They include the following:

Our inability to admit that we don't know.

The desire for clarity all of the time.

Inability to unlearn.

Confusing learning with acquiring information.

Not giving permission to others to teach us.

Lack of trust.

There are others as well, but I found these to be really profound. I can't say I was surprised that these are on the list, but I was surprised to have them under the heading: Enemies of Learning. In other words, these things attack our ability to continuously learn.

I have to admit to being guilty of some of these things. I am known to ask a lot of clarifying questions. Not that this is bad, but sometimes, we need to start even when we don't have all the answers. Some answers need to come from our own personal experience. I also know that at times, I don't like to admit I don't know something. You might say I want to protect my reputation as someone who often does have the answers.

Still, I do know, even if it is deep down inside me, that when I fully embrace that I don't know something, I can be truly open to learning it. And when I wholly allow myself to give something up, I make space to learn something new.

These concepts are very relevant to me because technology is one of those areas that people seem to decide up front whether or not they are able to learn.

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently. It was not a teacher:) She told me she couldn't use her cell phone because it was too complicated. When I asked her to explain she said it was too hard to remember to hold the power button down for three seconds to turn it on or off. She has also told me in past conversations that she can not do email because she can't type.

This is a great example of how the Enemies of Learning are creating barriers for her to learn. She is not willing to operate without total clarity. She is unable to unlearn how she is used to using a landline phone. She also is afraid to look "silly" if she doesn't know how to do something. Think of the limitations she has put on herself in terms of communications due to these ideas.

What limitations do we put on ourselves? What can we accomplish if we are willing to address our personal Enemies of Learning? With so much change happening so rapidly, how can we afford not to address these issues?

**Source: Charles Feltman, Insight Coaching, 2008  http://www.insightcoaching.com/insight-papers.html

Monday, September 14, 2009

The V's of Student Internet Use


There is some really interesting information from the Pew Research Center on Teens and Internet Use. There is no surprise that the newest generation of teens has even more access to technology. It continues to make me wonder: Who is teaching them how to use these tools responsibly and effectively... and productively!

Here is the link to the presentation:

Monday, August 24, 2009

Let's Start from the Very Beginning...


A very good place to start!

As we begin a new school year, we are always filled with excitement and anxiety. A new year brings new students, new ideas, new curriculum, new district initiatives, and ... new technologies.

It is an overwhelming time of year. With so many new things to think about, we are often left wondering where to begin. Everyone might answer this differently depending on their perspective, but I would say we begin with our students. After all, they are the reason we are here. What are they looking for? How are they feeling at the start of the year? What makes them excited or anxious?

As I think about the answers to these questions, I often feel like a few simple changes to how we incorporate technology can make the classroom feel that much more exciting for our students. OK, so maybe they don't feel like simple changes, but think about the following questions:

Could I use the Internet more regularly to connect my students to the world outside the classroom?

Could I convert one or two projects to a digital project to allow students to demonstrate their learning in new ways?

Could I add one new tool for communicating with students, parents, or the community?

How might these changes impact the way your students feel about school?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Integration Conversations 3

In the third interview in the series, I interviewed Danielle Miller, third grade teacher at Birchview. Danielle used podcasting as a way to publish her students' research on animals. Danielle talked with me about how podcasting was a great tool for motivating her students. Sharing their work with a global audience helped them become more careful about their writing and their reading!

To listen to the podcasts, click here: http://digitaleyesblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/test2.pdfmiller/journey-north-podcasts/

If you have something to share that you are doing in your classroom, please contact me!

Summer = Rest, Relaxation, Reflection, and Renewal

As a teacher, I have always looked forward to summer for so many reasons. Of course, I always loved the relaxation of summer, sleeping in, traveling, going to the beach with the kids. I truly believe it is this relaxing time that helps us get ready for the upcoming year. Our new students deserve our best, and our best requires that we have time away to rejuvenate and come back relaxed and reenergized.

I also look forward to summer as a time to reflect on my past year. What worked? What didn't? What did I hope to try but never got around to? What do I hope to do next year?

I hope that in the relaxation and reflection of the summer, you all join me in reflecting on how education is changing and how we can move forward this fall in addressing the new needs of our students.

To that end, there are many opportunities this summer to learn and explore this. There is the Summer Tech Institute in August and the Assessment Summit in June. There are many great book study groups that center around 21st Century Skills and our changing students. And of course, there are always endless possibilities for online learning. If you are interested in any of these opportunities, please contact me for more information.

And most importantly, enjoy your summer!!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Integration Conversations 2

This is the second in a series of podcasts about ways in which teachers are using technology in their classroom. Hopefully these podcasts spark ideas for you as well.

In this podcast, I am interviewing Alex Papp, 3rd grade teacher at Plymouth Creek. He is using Voicethread as a tool for students to review books and share them with classmates. They are also having ongoing discussions about the books using Voicethread. Have a listen!

If you are interested in sharing what you are doing in your classroom, contact me to set up a time!

Alex was also nice enough to record a short video demonstrating how his students are using Voicethread.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Awesome Stories - A great source for primary sources!

I have recently come across the website www.awesomestories.com. This is a great site that links you and your students to primary sources related to a wide variety of topics. An author writes a summary story about an event which gives your students more information about the event. But within the story links are embedded to primary sources. It is a great way to help your students access primary source information. It includes text, images, videos, sound clips, slideshows, and even lesson plans. Check it out at:


Monday, April 20, 2009

The "How" Can Not Be an Excuse

Once the "what" is decided, the "how" always follows. We must not make the "how" an excuse for not facing and accepting the "what."

Quote by Pearl Buck

I recently came across this quote. It struck a chord with me. How often do we give up on a great idea, because we disagree on the "how."?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Integration Conversations

This is hopefully the start of a series of interviews with some of the amazing teachers I work with. I hope that hearing how others are using technology in their classroom will spark some ideas for you as well. If you interested in being interviewed, please contact me to set up a time.

In the first interview, I spoke with Carrie Ehrlich, a 3rd grade teacher at Oakwood Elementary School. She wrote a grant last year for two iPod Touches and has been using them with her students in a variety of ways.

Click here to listen:  carrieinterview2


Image from: http://files.lesterchan.net/images/apple/ipod_touch.jpg

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ouch! I'm having visual cortex growing pains!

Thanks to Carol Soma for her presentation at the Library Technology Conference yesterday. Carol spoke about how the brains of our younger generations are developing differently, in large part due to the amount of multimedia they are exposed to. Some interesting factoids that came out of her presentation:

  • The visual cortex in brains today are 20% than they were 20 years ago

  • Kids today are attracted to certain bright colors while ignoring black and white

  • A study of young kids watching Sesame Street found that those who played while watching retained as much information as those who only watched

  • Studies show that people master skills that they spend 10,000 hours practicing.

  • Kids spend 10,000 hours playing video games, using cellphones, watching tv

  • Less than 5,000 hours reading

These are fascinating facts. What do they mean for education? We can discuss the implications of our changing brains. There is no question that there are benefits as well as detriments to these adaptations. But it is equally important for us to discuss how our teaching must change to address these changes.

If kids remember things better when they are visually presented, how can we present more information in this way?

If kids respond better to certain colors, how can we present information in ways that are more attractive to them?

How can we use technology to encourage more reading? Deeper reading?

What is the appropriate level of multitasking among our students to allow for their style of learning while still promoting deeper reflection?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Great Content Debate

There has been a really interesting debate raging about 21st Century Skills and content in education. It seems that many in education think 21st Century Skills is counter to learning content. You can read about their views here:




It is an interesting debate. Both sides make good points, but I find myself stuck in the middle. Why is teaching content counter to the goals of teaching 21st century skills? I for one can not question the need to learn deeply about a topic in order to have relevant arguments. I believe one must understand their topic in order to speak, write, or present on it. But where I believe 21st Century Skills is more than just a fad is in the way in which it shifts our understanding of how we access that content, process that content, and communicate our learning about that content.

There is no denying that content is more readily available today than ever before. However, that content is hiding amid millions of webpages, ads, and other distractions. If we don't teach our students how to effectively sift through the morass of information that bogs so many of us down, we will instead limit our students to either ignore the hordes of valuable information online or give equal value to all the content online. Handing kids a textbook and asking them to ignore the topical, thoughtful information that is available 24/7 is like teaching kids how to write essays on slate boards. It doesn't prepare them for the world they are already participating in.

The challenge we have as teachers is we are being asked to use tools that are essential to our students future, yet somewhat foreign to many of us. In addition, we are struggling to find the time to explore these tools to create meaningful opportunities for our students to learn how to use them. At the same time, we are feeling a great deal of pressure to get up to speed quickly. We don't want to feel responsible for ill-preparing our students.

One thing is for sure, content alone will not prepare our students for a world in which technology is changing the way we access information, connect with others socially and professionally, and organize our lives. On the other hand, technology skills alone will not prepare our students to make deep connections, solve meaningful problems, or communicate in significant ways.

We need both.

Photo Credit: http://payless4textbooks.com/Eric/SpryAssets/textbooks.gif

Blog Tour for Literacy

Check out Share a Story - Shape a Future! It's a week long blog tour about issues connected to literacy. Each day centers around a theme. The themes include:

Raising Readers

Selecting Reading Material

Reading Aloud

Visiting the Library

Technology and Reading

What a great idea! Each day a group of bloggers will talk about one of these themes. You can easily link to all the blogs from this one blog:



Thursday, March 5, 2009

Educational Skydiving

You are more likely to behave yourself into new ways of thinking than thinking yourself into new ways of behaving.   -Michael Fullan

Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.  -Kobi Yamada

Thanks to my Personal Learning Network for sharing these quotes with me. I always learn so much from the people I work with.

As I read these quotes and discussed them with colleagues, I began thinking about how quickly things are changing around us. Our model of careful and thoughtful deliberation before making decisions is not practical anymore. We need to change first and consider the implications as we go.

Consider the first quote. We spend so much time TALKING about what technology means for education, but little time DOING the things that create actual change. Maybe it is time for us to start doing and see what happens. If we start using the technology, our thinking will follow. We will find the connections to curriculum and education. This is scary, but it works. When I started as a teacher, I didn't know about technology. I just started trying things. Slowly but surely, I learned how to use the tools, learned how they impacted my students, and learned why they are so essential.

This is hard for me. I am a ponderer, a thinker. I visit items many times before buying them. I consider ideas from many sides before forming an opinion. But sometimes, jumping in is the better road. Consider the second quote. How much more can we accomplish, how much sooner can we reach our goal, how much more can we learn from the mistakes we will undoubtedly make, if we are willing to leap first and figure out where and how we will land as we go.

Photo from: http://atlanticschoolofskydiving.com/images/ramdompics/6way.jpg

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Btw, W@ Do U Think @ 21st Century Literacy?

I recently read "Writing in the 21st Century: A report from the National Council of Teachers of English"

by NCTE Past President, Kathleen Blake Yancey. In it Yancey does a great job of looking at writing historically and framing how new forms of writing like email, text, Twitter, blogging, etc... have a place in education. She calls for educators to do three things:

Developing new models of writing

Designing a new curriculum supporting those models

Creating models for teaching that curriculum

This is a great challenge for us as educators. If we view writing as a powerful form of communication, we must begin to accept powerful tools as viable ways to write. Blogs, wikis, Twitter, and others allow our students to reach greater audiences, work collaboratively, and utilize multimedia effectively as part of written communication. We must explore these opportunities to maximize the potential of our students as writers. We must be open to changing formats of writing as well. The message must be clear for the reader to understand it, but we must make sure that our goal is to help students express their ideas clearly. How we look at conventions may need to change in order to accept this. I invite you to read Yancey's Report as well as Angela Gunn's article about it. I also invite you to comment here to participate in a continuing discussion about this issue.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Are you putting the networking in Social Networking?

I have been having a lot of conversations recently about the power of social networking. Tools like delicious, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others are everywhere we look. Radio hosts invite people to Twitter about their shows. Everyone advertises by saying, "Check us out on Facebook!" What does it all mean?

Many people I have spoken to are concerned that social networking is just online meaningless blabbering. I disagree. Think about how you converse. When you are talking to one or two people, everyone focuses on the same conversation. That is how email works as well. But what happens when 20 people are in a conference room? Multiple conversations start to take place. You, sitting in the middle, have to decide which conversation to participate in. Maybe halfway through, you decide to switch to another conversation. Such is the way social networking works. You don't pay attention to all of it, but choose what elements are relevant to you and ignore the rest.

So why bother with it? When I have a conversation with the people I know, I am limiting my audience. Some of my friends share my interest in technology integration. Others share my interest in soccer, or birding, or films, or my kids, or we share a common past. I can have a single conversation with all of these friends. They can choose to participate or not. The ease of sharing means I share more often. It also means I take part in my friends' conversations more often.

In addition, I can link to their friends, people who might share those same interests I mentioned above. Why do I care about these people if I've never met them? Because they often share information about topics I care about. I might learn about a new website, or soccer league, or bird sighting, or upcoming film from people I have never met. We are connected, or networked, by our common interests. It doesn't matter that we don't share other interests. We can ignore those parts of the conversation and focus on another conversation instead.

So what does this have to do with our students? This concept of social networking is intuitive to our students. They have no problem keeping up with multiple social networks and many people. What they are lacking is an understanding of the power of their network. They may use their network to talk about meaningless things. Why? Because they lack a purpose. Why did I spend hours on the phone as a teen? Because I lacked a purpose for how to use my time. It is our job to help our students learn to use these tools to work collaboratively, to communicate about issues of importance, and to draw upon their network to access information efficiently.

To do this, we must become familiar with these tools. Some are not appropriate to use with our students, but learning about them helps us learn how to find opportunities to teach our kids about their potential. Some social networking tools allow us to monitor our students and control who can access them. Tools like Ning, certain tools in MOODLE, and ELGG allow us to provide social networking in safe ways for our students.

To start to learn more about social networking, visit me at:




Monday, February 16, 2009

Ask not what technology can do for you. Ask what you are going to do with technology.

With my apologies to President John F. Kennedy, I think this is a question we all need to ask ourselves seriously. In my conversations with people, it often comes up, "What will technology do for us?" In other words, how will it make our test scores improve, how will it make my life easier, how will it make me a better teacher?

The answer is simple. IT won't. However, if we ask the right question, technology can be a powerful tool to help us improve our students education, make our lives easier, and make us a better teacher. The question we need to ask is, "What are we going to do with technology?"

If we use the technology to communicate with our colleagues, it will improve our lives.

If we use the technology to access information, we will become better teachers.

If we use the technology to creatively solve problems and communicate our ideas visually and in an engaging way, it will improve our students.

If we use technology to connect our students to people around the world, it will create an environment that improves the education of our students.

So, it's time to ask yourself, what are YOU going to do with technology?

*Picture from: http://www.thedctraveler.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/john-kennedy-ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you-inaugural-speech-1961.png

Friday, February 13, 2009

Timetoast - Digital Timelining

Timetoast is a great website that allows you to create online timelines. You can add dates, type notes, and even add images for each event. Then just mouse over a marker on the timeline and view the notes and image for that event. You can share the link or embed the timeline into your webpage. Timelining is a great tool not only for history, but also for sequencing events in a book, or planning to write a narrative story. Check out these examples below.




*pic from http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/7572

Thursday, February 5, 2009

More About Gaming in Education

I enjoyed a session today on Video Games in Education. On the panel were the following four people:

Jim Bower-Whyville
John Rice -IT director in Iola ISD
Donna McKethan-Director of Career Tech Ed at Waco ISD
Lee Wilson- Principal Consultant for Headway Strategies

The discussion was fascinating. It centered around how important it is to engage the students of today. Lee made a great point about how gaming has been a learning strategy throughout history. Kids have always learned through games. What has changed though is that technology has made the environment richer. One example of this is that gaming now includes a social element, which is extremely engaging for kids. Jim made the point that it is precisely the social element that is so important. He said that for the first time, video games and technology allow people to learn the way they naturally learn. I agree. Learning has always been deeper and more powerful when it is social and interactive.

Gaming allows us not only to engage our students but deliver content and get kids thinking in really meaningful ways. They can do research to help solve the problems within the game. You can lead class discussions about how students solved the problems and why one way works better than another.

I think it is important to clarify that when we talk about video games, we are talking about a new different kind of video game than what we (if you happen to be of my generation) used to play. It is time to revisit the possibilities of gaming in education. Keep in mind also that there may not be many games out there designed for education, but that will change and it will change quickly. It is also important to point out that the elements of gaming that are so important don't always have to do with technology. See my last post on gaming for more on that.

Also check out this link for a great blog on video gaming as well as a good starting point for good educational video games.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Google Earth-

I attended a session at TCEA today on Google Earth. I have used Google Earth quite a bit. I used it with grades 3-5 to students to study map skills and landforms. I learned a lot about new ways to use it. The presenters, Susan Anderson and Jim Holland, did a great job of tying the tools directly to curriculum and learning. Here are a few ideas:

Search for landmarks or landforms around the world so students can see what they look like.

Click on the icons to link to images, videos, wikipedia articles, and much more to get information about the location you are visiting.

Have students create placemarks on places they visit and add information about that location. For example, if you are studying volcanoes, have students place placemarks on specific volcanoes and then add facts they have learned about its height, history, or geography.

Use the placemarks to create a scavenger hunt for students to find locations or figure out their significance.

Use the measuring tool to measure the distance between places.

Use the path tool to draw lines to distinguish important aspects of a place.

In addition, many web 2.0 tools allow you to embed content into a placemark. Here are a few:

  • scrapblog- can embed it into google earth

  • voki- kids create podcasts about landforms

  • slideroll- slideshow embedded into google earth

  • timetoast-create timelines

  • slideshare- upload a powerpoint into google earth

One thing is for sure. This is an essential tool for teaching geography and map skills. Any other ideas on how to use it with your students? I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Are you preparing your students for your past or their future?

Daniel Pink speaks about the fact that we need to prepare kids for their future, not our past. That got me thinking. What skills or ideas do we teach that fall under the category of preparing kids for our past? Here are a few. What do you think? What would you add?

1. Cursive Writing

2. Learning map skills with paper maps!!

3. Learning historical names and dates that can be found online in seconds

4. Dictionary skills with a traditional dictionary

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How Video Games Do a Great Job of Assessing Students

I was at TIES today listening to 3 great presenters on video games in education. Colin Maxwell, Roxana Hadad, and Seann Dikkers spoke about teaching video game design as well as what video games teach kids. Seann Dikkers did a great job of sharing his research at UW-Madison on gaming. He talked about how video gaming deals with losing. Old games like PacMan had music at the end to make you feel defeated, but gaming designers have designed today's games to encourage kids to retry things multiple times until they figure it out.

He used the terms little l and Big L losing. In other words, kids are willing to go through a series of small losses if they know they will figure it out in the end. He talked about high stakes testing and traditional education models as Big L losing. We don't give kids the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. We don't allow time for the "messiness" of learning. I couldn't agree more. Imagine a classroom where students are encouraged to take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and try again until they get it right.

Dikkers also referred to the Pause button and Save button idea as key educational concepts. Kids need to pause the process when they get frustrated and come back to it later. They need to Save their progress and make learning a continual process throughout their education.

Finally, Dikkers spoke about the fact that in video games, we don't teach a bank of knowledge upfront. Instead, students are able to find the needed content when it becomes necessary. This is opposite of how we teach. We give kids content and tell them that they may need this information someday. Given the accessibility of information, we need to move to a different model.

We don't need to play video games to learn from them (although I think there are many great uses for playing and designing games in the classroom.) We can create classrooms that use the same concepts as video game design. For example, video games use a concept called looped mechanics. This means that the game learns how good the player is and adjusts accordingly. The game spirals up, getting more difficult as needed. In effect, it gives ongoing formative assessments and "teaches" the player at their level. Here is a short list of ways we can use video game theory in our classrooms:

  1. Give ongoing formative assessments to constantly adjust the level of challenge for our students.

  2. Don't teach everything upfront. Give your students a challenge and help them access the content as they need it.

  3. Use little l losses as an opportunity to encourage your students to try again and learn from their mistakes.

  4. Make losing fun so kids will be more willing to make mistakes and take risks. (Use music or video clips or games to lighten the blow of losing.)

  5. Use media rich lessons to engage students.

  6. Build in communication tools into lessons so students can collaborate.

If you would like to learn more about gaming in education, here are a few websites to check out:






*Image courtesy of http://whyfiles.org/255videogame/images/civ_screenshot.jpg

Monday, January 5, 2009

Let's Teach "Uploading" Skills!

Thanks to John Moravec at Education Futures for sharing this article about how teaching facts is becoming irrelevant. The article quotes Don Tapscott, the author of Wikinomics and Growing Up Digital, who states that "memorizing facts in the age of Google and Wikipedia is a waste of time." I especially like John's statement that:

"...education should concentrate on “upload” pedagogies, based on knowledge production by students and collaborating faculty, together with augmentations provided by a new category of community-based volunteers. Using the most advanced forms of information search engines, networks, early artificial intelligence, and the aforementioned volunteers, there is an opportunity to leapfrog education beyond any of the competition. This will require fundamental changes in the mission, structure, and curricula of education at all levels."

I couldn't agree more. We are teaching "downloading" skills. We are teaching our students to memorize facts that they can easily find in seconds online. Instead, we need to focus on how to quickly and easily access these facts and use them to produce new knowledge.

I think John's work, along with Arthur Harkins, at the Leapfrog Institute at the University of Minnesota, is extremely important. I would love to get more involved in working with them.

Thanks John!

Do you see the flaws... or the potential?

I recently came across this quote by Ellen Goodman:

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives . . ., not looking for flaws, but for potential."

I think this quote has so many applications to education. Do we look at our students' potential rather than focusing on their flaws? Do we look at our own potential as educators? I think it is especially relevant to technology integration. I believe that many teachers walk around focusing on their flaws. By this, I mean they are so concerned about what they don't know that they often miss out on opportunities to learn new ideas. Teachers often say to me that there is too much to learn or that things change too quickly to keep up. This is true, but we CAN choose to focus on what we CAN accomplish and worry less about what we do not get to.

I hope this year, we can all focus on our incredible potential as educators to try new things, learn new ideas, and most of all, have an incredible impact on our students.