Archive for the ‘Instructional Tools’ Category

Admin Academy for All

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Did you know that Discovery Education has an Admin Academy blog? I don’t think it’s just for administrators. Since you are already reading this blog, I have the feeling that you are a leader and the Admin Academy is a good place for you to check in on often. Does this quote from Jerry Jennings’ recent post strike a chord with you?

“Can more of our students be successful?  Can schools adapt and change to meet the learning needs and styles of many more  students.  Can technology be leveraged increase the learning of more of our students?  What is the role of school leaders to accomplish this? My reactions to these questions is: Intentionally working through change that will increase student learning is the work of educational leaders  today.  Just maintaining the status quo, given our challenges, makes no sense.  Are we ready?  Are we willing to participate and adapt?”

Then this is definitely a place you need to visit on a regular basis. You’ve heard all the quotations about preparing our students for their future. How will you help them with that?

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Talking Heads

Monday, July 18th, 2011

As our Digital Storytelling classes prepare their interview videos for this week, it seems appropriate to share a couple of tips.
Sometimes we are the victims of our own success. A few years ago, when I was still the coordinator for our high schools’ multimedia labs, two of the American history senior teachers sent their students out to record the stories of WWII vets. Since their kids had done such a great job making videos during the school year, they never thought to check in with me for my normal, pre-project tips and tricks. So, whether the person landed in the first wave on D-Day, cleaned latrines in Louisianna all war or was a Rosie the Riveter or a WAC ferrying bombers across the north Atlantic, after the first two minutes it became a very hard to watch talking head looking straight into the camera. There is so much we could have done to make these engaging learning stories!
Two simple strategies would have done it: one while taping, the other in editing. Usually the only time you see someone looking right into the camera is when it’s the nightly news or a talk show host either going to commercial or introducing the next guest. First, set your interviewee just off center, to the left or the right, and looking at someone just off screen, not right into the camera. Second, in both iMovie and Movie Maker, when the speaker mentions something that can be illustrated – show it. That is called a cut-away, though some might also call it an overlay. It’s very easy to do in iMovie. In the “older” HD6 version use the Advanced menu and Paste Over Special to copy from the clipboard right on top of the video. The man mentions getting a draft notice, show a draft notice while he’s still talking “underneath.” In the newer versions of iMovie, make sure Advanced is turned on in the preferences and simply drag and drop a picture or another video on top the base, interview video. Couldn’t be easier!
For years I thought PC users of Movie Maker were just out of luck, but thanks to two of my EDIM 504 students, I see that it can be done without too much trouble. After one student pointed out that it was just a matter of dragging a piece of a video clip (in the storyboard view) down to the soundtrack and filling the resulting gap with an image or another video, the second student made a ScreenCast for one of her classmates to show how it’s done: Thank you María and Deb!
P.S. She could have added the music by exporting the video and then importing it into a new project which gives you a fresh, blank soundtrack to fill as you wish. Do that as many times as you want to layer voice, sound effects and music.

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Learning from Students

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

One of the great benefits of teaching is learning from and being inspired by your students. I am happy to report that it is no different at the online graduate level.

Web 2.0: Impacting Learning Environments course designer/instructor Kathy Schrock recently shared some of the work her student, Cassie Burnett, just did for the class. Kathy found the information Cassie shared in her “Creative Advantage: Using Design Principles to Organize Information” SlideShare so rich that Kathy asked to include it in her own “Infographics as a Creative Assessment” session that she presented two weeks ago at the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia.

Every week I hope to feature something we instructors have learned from our Wilkes EDIM graduate students and I hope that helps and inspires you to continue learning from and celebrating what your students share.

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Are you in the DEN?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

When the Discovery Educator Network was born six years ago at the National Education Computing Conference (now ISTE) in Philadelphia (where it is again this year) I had no idea what an impact it would have on my professional life and learning. Yes, I have been exposed to a wealth of resources and more than my share of tchotchkes (swag for you show biz types) but more importantly, I have been connected with a wealth of fellow educators who share a desire to prepare their students for a future that is not our past. That feeling has been quantified in a recent study commissioned by Discovery Education and completed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I have always admired the DEN’s motto “Connecting teachers to their most important resource – each other” and believed it to be a lot more than just a clever marketing slogan. Now we know it’s a fact!

So, look over the study and browse the DEN blog as often as you can. Membership is free and the rewards for you and your students can be beyond measure. Look for your state’s Leadership Council (LC) blog in the sidebar on the left for news and local and virtual events. To paraphrase that very distinguished gentleman in the TV commercials who seems to excel at everything, “Stay connected, my friend!”

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Holy Toledo!

Friday, November 26th, 2010

As we approach the end of the year and the end of the first decade of this new millennium, I find myself reflecting more and more on the education discussion/debates as the fickle finger of blame keeps changing with the wind (but almost always settles back on teachers and their unions). Just last week at the Illinois Education & Technology Conference, I had the opportunity to share a keynote that the turn of the millennium had inspired. “Holy Toledo! or this millennium is starting out just like the last one give or take a few centuries” looks at the information explosion that occurred between the time the Moors invaded the Iberian peninsula in 711 and Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door in 1517. That is really just a bit more than eight centuries of political, social and learning upheaval that parallels what has been going on lately in our lives in just over a generation. To the horror of the Spanish establishment then, “social networking” grew through the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets because it was easier for many to become literate in them than Latin and local dialects were considered too base for any writing. From the 9th to the 13th centuries, Toledo became a hub for translators. Arabs, Christians and Jews shared each other’s wisdom along with the ancient Greeks and what was left of the Library of Alexandria with the rest of the world. We got Arabic numerals, algebra, chemistry, astronomy, modern medicine and surgery (remember the barber’s pole is based their other skill of bloodletting). One of the oldest books written in an early form of Spanish is actually written with the Hebrew alphabet. Even our English words “clergy, cleric, clerical, clerk” show the transformation of general literacy from one controlled by the church and upper class to the population in general. The saying “knowledge is power” is generally considered to have been a warning to those in power. Even in more modern times, one of the few things a southern slave owner could do to incur the wrath of his neighbors and the legal system was to teach a slave to read. The invention of the movable type printing press was a great equalizer. The printing press gave Luther’s ideas a broad base and strong support or like Jan Hus a century before, he would surely have ended up burned at the stake. Even poor Aldus Manutius (remember Aldus PageMaker?) was a threat to the local scribes who burned his shop down.

So as we grapple with technology in education, first by censoring it (remember the first calculators?), then by putting restrictions on access – where will this new information explosion lead us? Are we headed for another Renaissance of art and culture and learning or could we be headed for an era of digital serfdom, with haves and have-nots? Will there be a place in tomorrow’s world for bubble filling, test takers or do we need free thinking, problem solving collaborators? We know which one is easier to measure and weigh, but is that really what serves our children and their future (and ours) best? We don’t need allegiance to a “feudal” system. We need responsible digital citizens who can build on the wisdom and knowledge of the past.

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Digital Citizenship

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Jason Ohler sent me a pre-press copy of his latest book earlier this summer and my comment on it actually made the back cover, “From Plato to ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ Jason Ohler places our struggles with digital citizenship in the context of humanity’s ongoing quest to develop good, productive, responsible citizens.” As I leisurely re-read it in hard copy now, a lot of the Plurks and Tweets I’ve been seeing this fall are echoing in my head. The genie is indeed out of the bottle so how do we try to guide him? Who is responsible? Who is making the gatekeeper decisions and with what input? And “Why can’t I?” ask both the student and the teacher. You can read the introduction to Digital Community, Digital Citizen on Amazon. His book approaches the concept of digital citizenship from several different angles; three to be exact. Before even getting into the formal chapter structure of the book he frames the situation in terms that we as teachers and parents are all too familiar with: “Our choice for our children: two lives or one.” Do they have a digitally connected, rich in technology life outside of school and a relatively safe, disconnected existence inside the school building?
In Part I, “The Call to Digital Citizenship,” he gives a brief history of the idea of citizenship and community, and how the digital era has both expanded and empowered the concept. If you don’t know that Jason was a student of Marshall McLuhan’s after reading this section, then you probably just don’t know about McLuhan.
Part II, “Seeing Technology,” might best be summed up by this section’s first chapter: “What Bothers Us About Technology.” And he starts this chapter out with a quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune, “Fear is the mind killer…” How many of our policies and non-policies are driven by fear and that most terrifying of all words, lawsuit?
And in Part III, “Character Education in the Digital Age,” he makes the most of his storytelling skills as he imagines the ideal school board that uses “Party-Cipation” to work through the process of crafting policy that both protects and frees their clientele to make the most of available technology and resources.
I encourage you to read the book and to join the conversation on digital citizenship at Jason’s wiki. Now that we are growing out of the acquisition stage of technology, this is a great book to equip yourself for the dialogue to move your school along with responsible integration.

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Challenge Based Videos

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

In this time of global connectedness and emphasis on not just digital citizenship, but responsible, global citizenship in general, Challenge Based Learning would seem to go hand in hand with challenge based living. And I can’t think of a better tool to express and share solutions to those challenges than digital storytelling. I believe it was David Warlick who once said that home-made videos were the letters to the editor of the future. As much as student made videos for specific topics in classes are valuable, the real payoff might be a life skill that gives each person a voice to participate and a more critical eye and ear as they weigh the voices of others. A few recent contest/festivals come to mind as good examples of how students’ voices can reach beyond the classroom.

Our own Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge asked students in grades 5-8 to submit their applications as a video that offered scientific solutions to one of the four challenges: preventing germs/disease, food safety, sun protection, or wind resistant structures. The finalists will be announced this summer and plans are already underway for the 2011 call.

Former Wilkes University digital storytelling student Michael Gori’s own students were so moved by what they learned interviewing the staff at their school for his broadcast journalism class project “Yo Teach” they made a special 10 minute version for the American Film Institute’s ScreenNation TeenDocs documentary festival. You can see the trailer on AFI’s YouTube channel or the entire 40 minute documentary on the Liberty H.S. Broadcast Journalism page.

Last fall Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, invited students to share their thoughts on education in a video that followed the theme “I Am What I Learn.” You can view the three winning entries at the site or use the Gallery tab to look through the top ten. And if you’d like to peruse the other 600+ entries, just search “i am what i learn” on YouTube.

WGBH’s “Open Call” invites people to submit their stories on a given subject. Recent calls have ranged from your own video diary inspired by Ann Frank’s to the history connected to an antique to students’ views on life and evolution. They have a wonderful page of resources and, depending on the current subject, they occasionally  provide stills, videos clips and sounds that you can use.

We have the tools, in schools and in homes, and there seems to be plenty of places that invite solutions and encourage constructive discussion. How will we help our students’ voices be heard?

Cross-posted to my Digital Storytelling blog.

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iPads and Online Coursework

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I’ve started a little experiment this term. I’m slowly but surely using the iPad to handle more and more of the course interactions for my class, Internet Tools for Teaching. Typically, when I work on the course I do it from a computer and have a few dozen tabs open in my browser. Various discussion boards, student blogs, social bookmarking sites and much more are kept open, so I have easy access to them. While I loved the idea of using the iPad, I wasn’t sure just how easy it would be to make the transition. It has taken some work, but at this point I can honestly say that I can do just about everything I need to do, all without a mouse or keyboard!

Here’s the ‘toolkit’ that I’m currently using:
1) Safari. I’ve tried a few other browsers, but I like the way I can bounce in and out of Safari without needing to refresh the current page. Perfect for keeping the Moodle site/grading pages handy. One tip: If you tap and HOLD on a link, you’ll have the option of opening a link in a background page. That way you can open up several links before you leave your current page. Also, Safari does a nice job of keeping me logged in to sites, which is handy when you’re leaving blog comments.

2) Google Reader / Newsrack. This is how I subscribe to my student’s blogs. I add them all to Google Reader, and then they are all synced over to NewsRack. As soon as I open the App, it saves them all offline, pictures and all. This makes it lightning fast to bounce through them, even if I’m not connected. I can also click through to visit the blog itself, making it simple to leave comments. This can also be very useful for keeping track of social bookmarks.

3) Good Reader. This is an app that let’s you read just about any type of document. What I like about it is that it has a built in browser. I can navigate to the Moodle page, find the assignments people have turned in, and download them straight into the reader. It does a fantastic job of displaying documents, even if they have special formatting. You can also organize your documents, making it simple to group specific assignments together.

4) Notes. If I happen to be offline, I’ll save my feedback within the default Notes app, so I can copy and paste it into Moodle later. I’m sure there’s a better word processor in between Notes and Pages, but I haven’t found the right one yet.

On the whole, it works pretty darn well. I can grade assignments and review blog entries even while offline. And when I’m online, it’s just as simple as it is with a laptop.

There’s only one fly in the ointment: typos. I’m still getting my legs under me when it comes to the iPad onscreen keyboard. If I use two finger pecking, I’m pretty accurate but slow. If I do actual touch typing, I’m much faster but more prone to putting in typos. The iPad OS auto-corrects misspellings, which is wonderful. Unfortunately, it often changes a typo to a word other than the one you intended to type! So not only is the word wrong, you don’t see any visual indication that it might be wrong like you would in a browser or in Word. It’s something I’m going to need to find a solution for.

While I don’t use the iPad 100% of the time when working on the coursework, the frequency is certainly increasing, especially as my tool set continues to be refined. Revolutionary? No. But to anybody that still doesn’t consider the iPad to be a computer, I suggest you think again.

Research 2.0 – The Impact of the Digital Age

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

I remember [fondly] writing a particularly engaging research paper in college [no, seriously, I did like writing papers . . . ] on the contradictions of womanhood and motherhood in medieval England.   My dorm room was reduced to a small pathway from door to bed, the rest of the floor was piled high with books procured from several different libraries.  [Yes, libraries that still had paper card catalogs.] I enjoyed the researching process, found satisfaction in uncovering facts that could support my theories.

While I truly did, and still do, enjoy researching I’ll likely never have that same tactile experience found in piles of books, in-line notes, and stacks of note cards.  When I start a research project today I don’t open the cover of a book, I boot up my MacBook and hit Firefox.  I realize that among many who engage in research as a profession or, even, as a serious hobby may perceive this as capitulation to the digital age information luxuries.  I agree that the Internet has made it easier to locate information, yet it has also necessitated the refinement of data analysis.

Few students today will encounter the problem of not finding information.  Rather, they tend to find too much information and struggle to evaluate the reliability and authenticity of that information.  Our students recognize the value of the Internet for research, but often do not know how to navigate it appropriately and analyze the information they find.  Many start and end with Google.

In this post, we’ll explore a handful of excellent web tools that can empower students to more effectively search and synthesize.

Tips for Smarter Searching

-Get smarter with reading search results. Recognize the way search engines organize the results, how page rank impacts the order, and which results may be sponsored links.  Much has been written about Google’s search engine. Check out Wired magazine’s review of Google’s dominance among search engines.  Understandably, when we start using a company name as a verb it tends to be the standard.  Also keep in mind that Google and most other search engines recognize certain operators that refine search results.  For more information visit the Google help siteTony Vincent created a fantastic Prezi with great tips and tricks for maximizing Google search.

-For K-12 students, the number of search results yielded by Google may be overwhelming.  Consider alternatives to Google, like NoodleQuest and KidsClick for elementary and middle school and schoolr, tagedu, and yolink for middle and high school.  I’ve even had students start with the search engines built into popular social bookmarking applications, like delicious and diigo, so they sift through the resources that other web users have already found valuable.

-Just about every website publishes an RSS feed.  If you find one that doesn’t you can use Feedbeater or Fliptop to create one.  Show students how to use RSS to gather real-time information to them.  RSS aggregators such as Google Reader, Pageflakes, Netvibes,, and Protopage are good ones to suggest to students.

Tools for Analyzing Information

-Students have to learn how evaluate the information they find on the web.  This can be challenging considering that anyone anywhere can publish a website.  Take the now-famous tree octopus as an example. For a great list of spoof websites that look authentic, visit Phil Bradley’s site.  The Media Awareness Network has some great tools to help students learn how to evaluate websites. I also suggest Kathy Schrock’s Five W’s of Website Evaluation, Kathy Schrock’s ABCs of Website Evaluation, Cornell University’s Criteria for Evaluating Web Pages, and the Media Awareness Network’s Checklist for Research Source Evaluation (CARS.)

-Provide students with tools to cross-reference information they encounter online., RefDesk, and Library of Congress Ask a Librarian are good sites to suggest for this purpose.

-Provide students with tools to help model ways to analyze and organize information.  Intel’s Online Thinking Tools, Exploratree, and Tom March’s Thesis Builder are excellent resources from middle and high school.  ReadWriteThink has terrific interactives for elementary and middle school for organizing, analyzing, and summarizing.

-If students don’t have access to mind mapping software such as Inspiration or Kidspiration, there are dozens of interactive and collaborative mind mapping applications online.  My favorites include, Mindomo, and My Webspiration.

-There are a handful of web applications that can assist students with identifying main ideas, themes, and key points in digital text.  Word clouds analyze a text sample and create a visual in which repeated words are identified by their physical size on the cloud.  I like Wordle, TagCrowd, Tagul, and ABC Ya! Word Clouds. I often use word clouds as a literacy tool to help students develop pre-reading questions and hypotheses as a focus during reading.  Word Sift is a word cloud application with additional literacy tools — embedded Visual Thesaurus widget, working space, and the ability to see the words from the cloud highlighted in the original source text.  Great Summary and GistWeb both use an algorithm to identify main idea sentences within the text.

Tools For Organizing Information

Diigo is a social bookmarking and annotation application.  Like social bookmarking tools, Diigo allows users to create a free account and bookmark Internet resources to a web-based library.  The bookmarks can be private or shared with other Diigo users.  Where Diigo differs from other social bookmarking tools is that users can annotate the sites with highlights, in-line comments, tags, and, even, digital “sticky notes.”  These annotation can be public or private.  Users can organize bookmarks through tags and lists and can collaborate with others through the group bookmarks. Diigo has added some features that rival another great tool, Evernote.  Diigo now allows users to bookmark screen shots and cached versions of web pages.

Mynoteit, Evernote, and all allow users to create and organize notations and digital resources online.

Google Docs is your traditional “office” computing in the cloud.  Users can create, edit, revise, collaborate on, and publish word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  The revision history feature and in-line comments makes this a terrific tool for managing and creating transparency with the writing process.  It is also a great collaboration tool as multiple users can view and edit a single document in real time or asynchronously.  Wikis, such as Wikispaces and PB Works also offer some similar functionality with embedded threaded discussion boards in an education-friendly environment.

By no means is this a complete list, but it should provide enough tools to get your students started.  For more researching tools, visit my wiki, Grazing for Digital Natives: Research 2.0, and to expand into other web applications that have educational value, check out Solution Watch’s Back to School With the Class of Web 2.0 series and the Discovery Educator Network Diigo Group.

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