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:

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

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!