Category Archives: web2.0

Blog Revival

The months since my last post have quickly gotten away from me.  A crazy summer combined with the usual frantic pace of the fall has driven me out of the blog habit – both reading and (especially) writing.  Today I’d like to start back up.  I’d like to bring my blog back as a source of information for the faculty and staff in my school for new tools, old tools, and many “how-to’s”.

dabbleboard_logoI thought I’d start by introducing this online whiteboard tool could be a valuable tool to many of my teachers.  Dabbleboard brings the whiteboard to your computer – when used with a projector in the classroom, it can do many of the things an interactive whiteboard can do.  The best feature I think is the ability to save work or templates for use in multiple classes or just in finishing up work from the day before.  Visit Dabbleboard, sign-up for an account and begin to play.

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A few tidbits

I haven’t had a lot of time to write these days.  School is winding down and end-of-year details are winding up: budgets, purchasing, NCLB applications, and many, many events.  I wanted to share a few things that I’ve read and watched lately:

The first, in following with the end-of-year theme, is the commencement speech by Barbara Kingsolver.  I’m a big fan of hers.  I really enjoy the humor she injects in to her writing (and this speech) as well as the content she writes about.  If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle yet, I highly recommend it.  Here’s a quote (from the more serious side of her speech):

In the last 30 years our material wealth has increased in this country, but our self-described happiness has steadily declined. Elsewhere, the people who consider themselves very happy are not in the very poorest nations, as you might guess, nor in the very richest. The winners are Mexico, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the kinds of places we identify with extended family, noisy villages, a lot of dancing. The happiest people are the ones with the most community.

The second piece is a video called “Learning to Change” by the Digital Arts group at the Pearson Foundation for CoSN.  It’s another video that you should show to  teachers and stakeholders in your schools.  Take a look:

2 New Tools

Just a quick post about 2 new tools that came up this week:

Google Sites – Google’s answer to wikispaces.  I haven’t used it yet but it seems to have many of the same features of wikispaces and I imagine in plays nicely with the other Google Apps.

Jottit –  An easy way to publish on the web.  Wiki-like but a much more simplified interface.  Seems to be good for text but you do have to add markups to add photos and formatting.

I’ll give these a try – I’m always game for new tools.

Have you tried Voicethread?

I’m working on an agenda of workshops for the rest of the school year. One tool that I’d like to get teachers excited about is Voicethread. I’ve now seen it used in a number of ways with a variety of grade levels and it seems that it can be a tool that can be added just about anywhere. I’ve been reading about many teachers using Voicethread successfully (and enthusiastically) with their students:

Jeff Utecht talks about Voicethread in Art classes.

Wes Fryer post about a Voicethread project in an elementary school in NY

This post using Voicethread’s commenting feature to gather ideas on how to use Voicethread

I think the classroom opportunities are endless:

  • In Lower School, classes can use Voicethread with their own class pictures to create a audio/visual newsletter. Especially in the younger grades where students cannot write yet, this would be a great tool for the kids to use in order to better express themselves.
  • In Science classes, students could use Voicethread to document an experiment – a kind of visual lab report.
  • In Math, students could use Voicethread to narrate their way through solving a math problem in order to demonstrate their understanding.
  • In English class, they can put original poems or short stories to pictures.
  • In Art class, Voicethread can be use a tool to reflect on their work.
  • In Foreign Language, kids can create stories or tours using Flickr images and narrate them in their language.
  • In History, they could use use flickr images in a digital narration of a historical event.

I am looking forward to teaching some teachers about this wonderful tool and getting some kids excited about using it.  What are some ways you are using it?

21 C Learning Goes Mainstream

Recess in the SnowA recent article in Time Magazine has brought the idea of 21st century learning to the mainstream media. The article raises the idea that the traditional school learning – in rows, listening, note-taking – is a very antiquated one, preparing individuals for an industrial world. The article goes on to say that schools need to adjust their expectations in order to produce global learners. This article is not news to many educators (especially those of you who read blogs), but it is a refreshing piece to see in a mainstream magazine – it caught the attention of some of my administrators.

But that article got me thinking: when I try to bring these ideas into my school, there are several obstacles to overcome (just to name a few):

1. Acceptance. Teachers must understand (and accept) that this is a real issue. They have to let go of the fact that the way they were taught is not necessarily the best or the only way to teach. I am constantly amazed by this attitude – I have found it in teachers of all generations.

2. Who should change first? As a college prep institution, we feel we have the responsibility to teach kids skills, habits, and techniques that will help graduates go on to college. This is a good theory but many college and university are teaching kids through lecture style and not incorporating any global learning/21st century skills. If we blink before colleges, will our students have trouble succeeding in college?

3. Transition. Once teachers accept that 21st century learning is important, how do we help teachers change their curriculum and pedagogy? Do we give them some sort of map that will help them begin to move their classes to the 21st century. Do we let them discover this? Whatever the answer, it will take time and that’s something we don’t have enough of in school.

4. Leadership. I fully believe that in order to make some of these changes, I need buy in from our administration (and I am not there yet). I don’t need a cheering squad – administrators that tell me I’m doing a good job and say they understand the developing 21st century skills – I need administrators who use this stuff, actually experience the importance of them first-hand.

The last obstacle is one that I am focusing on this year. I have requested some time with our administrators to do some trainings (or at least one) on tools that will help them with their jobs – RSS, GoogleDocs, Skype. I’d like to give them some tools to try and use and see the value in their own jobs so they can then see how they can contribute to student learning. I have yet to get that training time but I’m still working on it. Until then I will keep working with individuals on the faculty as they request it.

photo: “Recess in the Snow” (CaptPiper on Flickr )

Blogging in the classroom

I’ve read two posts today in support of blogging in the classroom. Yes, there have been many posts written about The first article, by Bradley Hammer a writing professor at Duke, on nj.com (via Patrick). Hammer writes:

As part of this change, technology has radically extended the spaces for academic debate. In real ways, blogging and other forms of virtual debate foster the very types of intellectual exchange, analysis and argumentative writing that universities value.

…But in my courses, students write blogs and few traditional papers. This isn’t just a gimmick to act young in an old game. They write blogs because we now live in a world where debate and publication happen predominantly in virtual spaces.

In addition to blogs, they maintain Web sites where they learn to interact with other writers beyond the isolating confines of the classroom. They defend their analyses and argue with real purpose be cause they are forced to be conscious of an audience beyond the limited scope of the instructor. Consequently, they are learning to think and write critically in ways that promote inquiry and genuine interest in writing and thinking.

Hammer goes on to talk about how this type of writing differs from the “traditional” writing currently taught in most high schools and colleges. I encourage you to read the whole article for yourself.

The second post came from Barbara Ganley from Middlebury College on her own blog.  I enjoyed reading her transcript/notes of her presentation to the faculty of Exeter Academy on the Harkness method and the 21st Century.  She did a compelling job of explaining how she made the journey in her own career from teaching as she had been taught (at Exeter) to her current use of blogs, social networks, and other online resources in her courses without losing sight of the strengths of the Harkness method.  You need to read her whole post because she does such a beautiful job but here’s a powerful quote:

The results of classroom blogging, as I will show you now, have been nothing short of astounding in my experience these past six years—this is now how my classes look and feel according to my students, who have become actively engaged with deep learning, developed their skills of critical and creative thinking and expression, their ability to connect and collaborate, and their confidence and skill using the digital technologies. It has been nothing short of electrifying. Staying the course for Harkness in the 21st century means evolving it to suit the needs and realities of our times, and to avail ourselves of the opportunities afforded by new ways of teaching and learning–online.

I really enjoy reading Barbara’s posts, in general.  But this one resonated with me because it captures the type of “good teaching” and learning that our school embraces.

Retreat Reveiw

It’s been a whirlwind few days with not much time to sit but I just wanted to write a few notes about our faculty retreat on Monday. Overall, a success. First off, the “technology” part of things went without a hitch – the network, the laptops, the email server. I had to do little or no tweaking along the way – major relief. Secondly, the day was received very well and most comments from the day were extremely positive.

It started with “Dialog A” – a conversation about Ken Bain’s book, What the Best College Teachers Do – we had that conversation in three different modes: a live, f2f conversation; an online chat, fishbowl style; and a group of “bloggers” responding to prompts on a blog.

In the second part, “Dialog B”, we had a live, f2f conversation with five people involved in the chat and five bloggers and they were talking about their experience in Dialog A. The rest of the group was split into 2 online chat groups, fishbowling that conversation.

Finally, in the last session, we had a live group talking about good teaching and how technology supports it while the rest of the group was blogging response to a summarizing post from our Head of School who had observed all facets of our first 2 dialogs. whew.

You can imagine the chats were a little chaotic – faculty members who had never been in a chat, trying to type and process all at the same time. They did well, some were frustrated and just sat back to observe; some tested the waters a bit and admittedly got better at it by the end. Those that happened to be in a chat group back-to-back said it got a lot easier by the second chat. I have to admit that we made the chat groups too big – there were about 9 or 10 in a group – there probably should have been 4 or 5.  Those that blogged really liked it and immediately could see it’s benefit in the classroom.

Of the comments we received at the end of the day, one really struck me. Part of their comment read:

I somewhat resent the fact that I read and underlined the d–n book and never got an opportunity to discuss it!

I guess for this person the day went right over their head – their idea seemed to be that if they weren’t involved in a live dialog, then no dialog occurred.  Oh well, I guess we can’t hit everyone the first time.

We had a wiki to record the day and serve as a resource for the school year.  Our hope is that the “good teaching” blog we set up for the day will serve us all year as a place to continue the conversation we started.  Take look.  We welcome and encourage outside voices to join us in this conversation.