Monday, August 31, 2009

Two more GREAT TED presenters

I was able to sit down today for a while and just browse. How nice that is to do, from time to time, eh? This time I took some time to again stop at TED, and I was able to watch two more outstanding presenters.

The first one I watched is one that you will HAVE to send to your art and music and Drama teachers. Natasha Tsakos presents part of her one woman show, a multimedia show that is just SO creative and ... amazing, you're going to have to watch it to see what I mean. Very cool stuff. Your arts kids will LOVE it! Here she is on Ted.

The second one, which I'll embed here, is another from Hans Rosling, the creator of that WONDERFUL site, Gapminder. You may recall his first presentation at TED a while back. Or maybe you saw this presentation. This time, however, I think he's outdone himself. In this funny and very informative presentation he uses his data to challenge our ideas about what it means to be a Developing country. As you watch this, think about how your students might be able to use Gapminder to make such a presentation. They'll have to do this in teams, I think, but I do think it would make for some powerful, long-term learning.

Here it is. Watch this from start to finish. Then share this with your favorite Social Studies teacher. This is GREAT learning!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

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  • 50 interesting and fun ways to start your class - a pdf

    tags: classroom

  • Once upon a time there was just ONE printing press in the world. Now anyone can have one (printer) or more. Today we hae to go to a store to purchase items we want. In the not-too-distant future we may all be able to just make the item ourselves. What does that mean to Business? What does it mean for education?

    tags: future

  • Some very interesting little tips for playing youtube videos

    tags: youtube

  • Nice site with videos on how to use Diigo

    tags: diigo

  • Youth Voices is a meeting place where students and their teachers share, distribute, and discuss their inquiries and digital work online. It's a space where teachers nurture student-to-student conversations, collaborations, and civic actions that result from publishing and commenting on each others texts, images, audio and video.

    tags: youth, wiki

  • If you're not familiar with this, take a look. Bookmark it for when you need it.

    tags: tools, photos

  • Underneath the image is a link that will step you through the word clouds for all the inaugural speeches. Each one is also printed so that you can read the full text. This is not only good for Social Studies, but also VERY good for English. My how our language has devolved over the years. Read Madison's speeches, for example.

    tags: wordle, socialstudies

  • A nice site for History Tours in Google Earth

    tags: history, googleearth

  • Embed this Google Earth player on your webpage. Point it to a kmz tour file. This is great!

    tags: gadget, googleearth

  • This is FUNNY! Social Media addiction. ROFL!

    tags: npr, socialstudies, twitter

  • Imagine! And they, too, are following the CIPA laws - the same laws that some of our schools are using as reasons to BLOCK all blogs!

    tags: blogging

    • Passage teachers have been encouraged to create an account on Twitter, an online social networking site that limits each posting to 140 characters. Teachers will attend a morning screening of the movie "Julie & Julia" and "live blog" the experience with their Twitter accounts. Rogers chose the movie, based on the experiences of two real people, because one character uses a blog as an education and communication tool.
  • Interesting article.

    tags:, research

    • Recent reports from the Pew Internet and American Life Project show that 93 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 go online. Of those kids, 55 percent use social-networking sites (like Facebook and MySpace), and 64 percent are creating their own original content (such as blogs and wikis). Unlike watching television, using the Internet allows young people to take an active role; this move from consumption to participation affects the way they construct knowledge, develop their identity, and communicate with others. "Technology, from my perspective, has created an opportunity for students to use new digital-media resources to express themselves in ways that earlier generations could never have imagined,
    • Students today "more quickly tune out a teacher or someone who doesn't relate," she adds.
    • This is something Jim Gates hears a lot. As a coach for Pennsylvania's Classrooms for the Future project, he works to make technology available to students and teachers. He's also got a blog of his own called TipLine. "There's a growing disconnect between how kids embrace technology and where teachers' skill levels are," he says.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Twitscoop - signs of the times

I'm sure that many of you have already seen twitscoop before, so for you this won't be anything new. But, for others it might be. I just think it's such a VERY cool idea. It filters through the twitter stream looking for commonly used key words, eliminating the's and and's, etc. Then it forms a tag cloud with those words. But the cool part is that this tag cloud changes in front of your eyes as the conversation in the 'twitterverse' changes.

There have been a couple especially interesting twitscoops lately, and those folks have made youtube videos of them. Here's one that shows what happened the day that the new of Michael Jackson's death started to spread. Watch as his mention comes in very small (fewer mentions) and then grows as more folks spread the word. Here's another (part 1 and part 2) of the day when there was an earthquake and Tsunami in New Zealand, as well as a plane crash making the news.

Wouldn't this idea be excellent if somehow you could sign in and it would make a tag cloud based on what is being said only by those whom you follow? Wow. VERY nice - if it ever happens.

In the meantime, here's a little widget that they offer. It's not as cool as the one on their site, but pretty neat, nonetheless. Of course, depending on when you look at it, it may have references to people or things that you wish weren't there. (Another reason to limit it to just those you follow) Still, it's signs of the immediate times. A visual reminder of how information is being transmitted and gathered every second of every day.

How are we helping our students make sense of all this?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wireless Electricity - Redux

Back in 2007 I blogged about an article on NPR about wireless electricity. I thought at the time it would be a good writing prompt for a science class, at least.

Today, when browsing through the Ted talks videos I came upon this video of Eric Giler demonstrating wireless electricty. This really is something that could truly inspire one of your students to set out in a career to advance this even further. This is HUGE!

Of course, we still have to HAVE electricity in order to send it wirelessly, but that could also be part of your newly inspired student's vision. I hope you'll send this to your favorite science teacher.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Looking forward to the new year

I've been hearing folks talking on Twitter about starting back to school and how excited they are for the new year. Some are starting a new position. Others are excited because of the challenge of teaching a new grade level. And others are excited because this year they are finally able to use a wiki or a blog, or maybe they've got their own Moodle server. Simple things, yes? But, it has taken years of effort to get to that point so they are rightfully excited about it. Here's to them. I can't wait to hear about all the great things that they're now going to be doing.

We KNEW it would happen eventually, didn't we? It was never a question of if it would happen. Only when. Let's just hope that it happens before the next big technological advancement renders today's tools obsolete, putting us right back in the same situation - but just with different tools.

I, too, am looking forward to some wonderful new opportunities. First, there's the fact that my role as a Mentor in the Classrooms for the Future program will be morphing into something new this year. The global economy and the struggles with PA's budget have put an end to the CFF program as we had known it. But, the principals of the grant were solid and will be still be promoted. The only question is what it will look like. CFF was about using technology to engage students, and to get students involved in activities that are truly meaningful in today's world - AND tomorrow's. So, the push will continue there, and I'm very pleased and proud to be a part of it.

And, I'm excited about the opportunities I have to work with schools directly in my business at I've got what I believe to be a very good set of timely and important workshops that I offer, as well as being willing and able to be a third party, independent observer to determine whether or not the huge investments in technology are making a real difference. We like to think that it is, but an outsider can see things more clearly, sometimes.

So, this will be a fun year for me, too. I'm a lucky man.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

News from Diigo

This is potentially some EXCELLENT news from the folks at Diigo. You may remember that a while back Kevin Jarrett and a few of us met online to experiment with the teacher-student roles in Diigo to really explore it. In that experiment Kevin discovered that students were able to see some of the groups that non-teachers had created, and some of those groups were less than appropriate for school. Teen love, etc.

Since that time both Kevin and I have been in contact with Maggie Tsai and her team of programmers there at Diigo as they worked to create a solution to this issue. Well, I'm very happy to announce that I just received an email from one of the programmers who stated that the issue is now resolved, and that students are only able to see other groups that had been created by teachers.


Now, I've not gone in, as yet, to experiment, but I'm confident that this is the case, and I again feel ready to promote Diigo as THE TOOL to help students and teachers manage the information that they find when researching the web.

Of course, Kevin, I'm sure, will be putting the changes to the ultimate test very soon (when he gets his labs set up ;-) ) but for now, I'm quite pleased with the announcement by the programmers.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

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Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A College Freshman's Lament

I know a young man who is starting his Freshman year at a major University in the south. We emailed a couple of times the past two days (you know - email? That thing that the kids use to communicate with old people? *sigh*), and I was asking about his classes and about what kinds of technology he's seeing.

He said that one Prof will be using online textbooks and blogs with the students. (She'll likely use an aggregator to collect student writings, too.) Students will turn in assignments via a blog and will also be graded on the quality of the comments (conversations) that they are required to post on each other's "papers." His comment was, "This may be normal for universities, but it's way beyond anything we had in high school, technology-wise, so I was pretty excited" He went to a high school near Pittsburgh, PA. And, I wonder how "normal" it really is at the college level, too.

But then he talked about his American Government class. He said that he didn't think there would be any technology use in that class. I said I thought that was a shame, and that that class, in particular, was the perfect class for discussions. This is what he said in reply,
"As for American Gov, I completely agree. It's in a lecture hall with 150 of my closest friends, and he actually said that due to the size of class, we wouldn't be able to have very many discussions. It's really just sad; we're going to be "talked at" the entire time. How is that going to engage the students and make us interested in the material? He said he likes the book we use "because it has a lot of Supreme Court decisions." I can't help but think, "Wow, I can't wait to sit there and be lectured about Supreme Court decisions for 75 minutes."

I wrote back and suggested that he consider starting his own discussion forums somewhere, and even if only 10 kids joined in, it would add a level of engagement that would otherwise be sadly missing. His response, "Actually, after I sent that last email, I had thought about just starting a discussion board myself."

Don't you LOVE it? The professor may well plan to lecture for 75 minutes, but he's already thinking about how to leverage the web tools to create his own place to discuss the cases. Is he a "21st Century Learner", or what? What a shame that his prof didn't come up with that on his own. I was going to suggest that he organize a backchannel during the classes, but I've got a sneaky suspicion that the prof wouldn't appreciate all those kids typing while he's talking, don't you?

So, two things struck me in all this. First, that his high school experience couldn't match a simple experience like blogging. Second, that he's setting up his own discussion forums to create a more social aspect to his learning in the American Government class. He'll create his own area of engagement, if his Prof won't.

How are you meeting the needs of students like this?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

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Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Let's talk about the Keystone Exams

I've not been able to stop thinking about the Keystone Exams that appear destined to become reality in PA schools very soon. These will be tests given to students across PA to determine if they can graduate. The reason, as I understand it, is that the number of kids who were graduating was larger than the number of kids who scored at Basic or above in the PSSA tests, prompting the concern that schools were passing almost anyone who would hang in there for their senior year.

OK. I can understand why one might question those numbers. But then, we all know that success in high school doesn't always mean success later. More importantly, failure in high school doesn't translate to failure later. Rarely do you find yourself in a job/career where memorization is the determining factor for success. Still, we must measure against something or we have no idea how well we're doing. Not measuring the effectiveness of what we do would be as irresponsible as measuring it incorrectly.

But there are other issues that are weighing in on this for me. Like the statement by one official person who said that it's better to test the kids at the end of each grade, "...before they forget it all." As if that's an acceptable solution. That's admitting up front that we KNOW that they aren't remembering what we're spending all year trying to teach them, but if we can at least catch them during that window when they still DO remember it, we've done our jobs. If we built bridges instead of teaching kids, it's like saying, "We know this bridge will collapse, so let's test it now before it does, and we're OK."

I worry that this test will become the only way we determine our effectiveness. And it will be so easy to then adjust our curriculum to teach to the test, won't it? Side businesses will crop up that will create practice exams that contain questions "like those on the Keystone Exams" and schools will pay big bucks to get them and arrange schedules so that the kids can take those practice tests. Then another optional feature (at an additional cost, of course) will be remedial material to help the student (and teacher) focus on the specific questions that the students are missing.

Meanwhile, the students still have no clue how to form an effective search on the Internet. (Internet? Some folks talk about it as if it's a passing fad.) It's a basic google search or nothing. They don't know a thing about how to find the most recent articles, or how to find information on a given website, or from a different country, or how to view the search in a timeline. They've never seen Wolfram Alpha and so they don't know the power of that tool. They can't find a primary source document or even know why that's a good thing to do. And, if they do find pertinent information online, they have no way to manage it. I once saw a class where the student would print out the sites that they found online, then use yellow highlighters to mark the important part of the page. Is that even CLOSE to anything relevant in this day of massive amounts of information? Is that acceptable to ANYONE?

They won't know about proper copyright etiquette or the Creative Commons. There will be little 'right-brain' activity going on, because we can't afford to take the time away from studying for the test - after which 'we can forget all this stuff.' Those teachers who do work to ensure that their students are using higher order thinking skills and are working on the upper level of the new Bloom's Digital Taxonomy and who are trying to ensure that the NETS-S are being addressed will soon find themselves having to eliminate some of that in favor of the test material. Do you see any way around that? Am I raising an alarm over nothing?

From the article:
"The proposal would require students to demonstrate their competency in English, math, science and social studies by passing a Keystone Exam, which are subject-specific and given at the end of a course; an international baccalaureate exam, an advanced placement test, or a local assessment independently validated to be aligned with state standards. Those who use the Keystone Exam would see its score counted toward a third of a student's final grade in a course and a "below basic" score would be counted as a zero on the test."

Yes, there are other options besides taking the Keystone exam. You could take that international baccalaureate exam, but that might mean a whole new curriculum, won't it? Or, you could take an AP test. Fine for those already doing that, but not an option for the majority of students. Or, you can take a test that your district makes up that is aligned to the state's standards. I'm not sure how that one differs from the Keystone except by who creates the test. It's still a "pass this or else" exam. But hey, no pressure.

I worry that we're moving in the wrong direction. Not that we shouldn't be trying to determine our effectiveness in the classrooms, but that we're willing end our discussion of that effectiveness if satisfactory test scores are shown - at the end of the course - before they forget.

Monday, August 10, 2009

MixedInk - Outstanding Collaborative Writing App

I just got out of a webinar with Vanessa, from MixedInk, and I can't wait to tell you about it.

Collaborative writing is difficult, isn't it? How do students manage the various versions of the document, and how do they bring in other ideas to the document without cluttering it? How does a group of students decide which version is best? How can you see who all contributed to the finished product? Enter MixedInk.

With this site students can, for example, begin by each submitting his or her own version of the assignment. Students then can rate those versions and begin to pull bits and pieces from each one into what they're agreeing is a final version. They can select paragraphs, sentences, or entire pages to be included in the final version. And (and I think this makes it almost perfect) they can comment on the works in progress.

When a new topic is created by the teacher, the starting and ending dates are included. Plus, you can indicate a different date when the ratings will end. For example, all edits will stop on one day, but they'll have two more days in which to rate them. What's also great is that when those dates arrive, the tabs on the document change so you can't, for example, edit any longer. Then, when the rating period is over, that tab is gone, as well. VERY nice!

They are in the process of making it a bit more teacher friendly by, for example, making the ability to upload student accounts rather than requiring email validation, and the ability to generate more detailed reports. Even now though, this is one to check out for sure.

Watch the tour (below) but then get a couple people together to try this out for yourself. I just KNOW that you're going to like this tool.

MixedInk Demo from MixedInk on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

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Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Diigo is GREAT - but not perfect

If you are reading this post it's probably because you're familiar with Diigo and what an amazing, powerful learning tool it is. You, like I, love the social aspect of it that allows other readers to comment on your bookmarked discoveries, and you love how you can share bookmarks with groups, etc. We could go on singing the praises of the tools within Diigo. But, in a video conference session this morning with Kevin Jarrett, we discovered some issues that you should be aware of.

First, let me say that we both spoke with Maggie Tsai after our discoveries, and she is very much aware of our concerns. However, at this point in time, with her company's resources and manpower so heavily involved in trying to get their next version ready to release, there won't be a solution to our concerns very soon.

A couple of the issues were minor, having to do with uploading student names via the supplied template. Those are easy fixes; nothing to be too concerned about. But, here's where we began to worry. After Kevin had created a few student accounts, he logged in as one of those students. But, the access to some of the Friend features was there. While an outsider cannot contact a student (since students don't have profile pages) a student COULD contact an outsider. Now, I can't imagine they'd want to, but they could. Also, a student can see all the teacher's friends and, I think, their bookmarks.

But, I think the biggest issue came when Kevin was able to browse the groups in Diigo and he found one that, let's just say, you wouldn't want to be caught reading it in church. He was also able to see all comments that had been made public, and for his situation in the elementary schools he had reservations about that.

So, I think that diigo with the younger kids may be out - at least for now, at lest for the younger students. And, you should at least be aware of the other concerns before you launch into it. Some schools wouldn't have a problem, while others would faint dead away at the mere thought of it. My thinking is that the sites themselves are still blocked, and the rest are just words - and words can never harm me.

As I said, we did talk to Maggie, and she did confirm that the system is working as designed. But, she also said that these issues could be avoided entirely should there ever be a way to, say, have your own domain of Diigo, just as you can with Google Docs. And, she said that some of our findings could be addressed, once they are free to spend some time on them. Once the new release it out and in prime time. And, she said that she and the team there welcomes feedback from teachers.

So, if you're going to be using Diigo with students, at least go into it with eyes wide open. My suggestion is that you create at least two dummy student accounts and you log in as those students to see what you can see. Maybe consider having an entirely different Digo account that you use with students and which doesn't have 'friends' attached to it. And, if you're already using Diigo with students, please leave a comment to let us know your experiences But, whatever you do, even if you decide to avoid it for now, do NOT give up on it. It's WAY too good a tool to just forget about.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Email 'tips' are Too distracting?

I recently heard from a person who works in a public school and who is sorta like a tech integrator person. (Trying hard not to identify even the gender to protect the innocent.) As such, this person had been sending out emails to the other faculty members in which were tips, or websites to check out, etc. I don't know how often those emails went out, but I can't imagine they were more than one a day - but I don't know that, for sure. The intent of those emails was to help keep the faculty aware of new sites and ideas, and to try to generate a discussion. It was meant as a passive way to provide professional development in a time when PD hours are so limited and so precious.

But, the person was recently told that those emails were "too distracting" and that they were to stop.

*pause for that to sink in a bit*

Too distracting, eh? Did you hear me screaming? Now this person is starting a blog in which to post all those items that normally would have gone out in the emails. That's perfect, of course, because now nobody has to see them. Nobody has to be bothered anymore with those pesky emails about the great debate site,, now moving to Or, about a wonderful site for social studies teachers, Mapping Worlds, that does a fantastic job showing relationships between countries based upon either their relative data. (Hard to describe, but a great site) Or, maybe it was a site that allows collaborative mind mapping, or a tip about how to manage resources, or a tip about how to do something in Moodle. "Don't bother us with that stuff!"

So, instead of thanking this person for the work that went into finding and writing those email tips, this person was told to stop bothering the staff. Yes, maybe a "thank you" was offered, but only in the "Thanks, but no thanks" sense. "Take it somewhere else!" That's the message.

What a shame that the decision was made to give in to the whiners who probably complained that they can't keep their inbox empty as it is, let alone with all THAT stuff. Instead of showing them how to set up folders and filtering rules so that they could have kept those tips for later, they stopped the tips. Instead of saying, "I hope you will let us show you how to manage those tips, because we feel that they're very important to the professional development of our faculty", the message became, "Sorry to have bothered you."

What a shame. Now back to "Business as usual."

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Heading to Erie

I'm really excited about the workshops that I'll be giving at the 3CsETC Conference in Erie on Tuesday, August 4th. I'll be giving the opening address, entitled, "This Changes Everything." I'll be posting that presentation on my website as soon as I stop tweaking it. --sigh--

I'll also be doing two workshops. One is entitled, "PowerPoint Alternatives" in which we take a look at sites like Slideshare, ShowBeyond, Presi, etc, and talk about how to get accounts for students if they don't have email accounts. We'll also see how those presentations can be embedded into a wiki or other web page. Putting it on a wiki is nice, since then you can use the discussion threads to talk about them.

The second workshop is entitled, "Top Ten Tech Skills Every Teacher Should Possess." Great title, but it's tough narrowing it down to ten, isn't it? My ten would be different from your ten, I'm sure. I've got a handout on my website, too. I'll get them all up on the website soon.

In any case, I'm looking forward to this opportunity. What fun it is to meet teachers from around the state who are investigating new technologies.

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Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

My Email was blocked due to profanity

I emailed something to the listesrv this evening. This is the message that I received back from a receiving school email: "This email has violated the PROFANITY. and Quarantine entire message has been taken on 8/1/2009"

The ONLY word in there that may have even come CLOSE to being profane was the word 'twit.'

Here's the line: "One way to do this is to have each twit.. er.. tweet :-) include a hash tag that you specify."

Am I the only one who thinks this is just WAY over the edge of reason?