Sunday, July 09, 2006

An Instructional Toolbox concept...still in progress

I woke up this morning thinking about this idea of an instructional toolbox - trying to work through this as a concept. Two categories occur to me into which we might place our tools for instruction. [you might also see that these two categories can apply to learning tools for students]

The categories are Sustaining and Evolving. The Sustaining tools are those that don't take a huge degree of "technical" skills to use. They are procedural in nature and, with practice, we become better at using them. I'm thinking this would include textbooks and other printed materials, instructional strategies, classroom management. The Evolving tools are declarative in nature. These are tools we use but must constantly revisit to examine their worth for particular kinds of instruction and our concepts about their use should grow over time. I'm thinking mainly about technologies because of their evolving nature.

I made technologies plural for a very good reason. When we think of technology in a classroom, we tend to think about the computer first and then we probably extend that thought into particular pieces of software. But, technology becomes plural when we think about other devices and other forms. For instance, the SmartBoard can be considered a technology as can an iPod, personal response systems, Palm-like devices (handhelds), etc. But new technologies are also being developed that are delivered within the Internet. Those technologies are podcasting, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, RSS, and others. These technologies are where I've been spending most of my free time lately.

It's interesting to me that most of these are meant to be collaborative tools and they could very well replace the software that we currently use. For example, there's a site called where you can create simple graphic organizers and then invite others to view or edit that work. Blogs support the development of writing skills but, if we teach kids to use them well, we provide them with a more authentic audience, and those blogs could be used as a tool for discussion among class members, synthesis of ideas and application of knowledge. Wikis allow us to also write but in a more collaborative way. If I place text in a blog, it cannot be replaced or edited by anyone reading my blog, it can only be commented on. By contrast, a wiki allows me to place content on the web that is meant to be replaced, edited and worked on collaboratively.

Social bookmarking websites such as allow me to bookmark websites and I can "tag" those sites with keywords that would be appropriate to identify those sites. Not only that, but, I can go to and search for sites by tags. But, here's the really cool part for educators, I can designate other users as members of my network so that, if I bookmark a site, it is also shared within my network. A teacher then, could be sitting at home searching for sites appropriate to a unit of study for Social Studies, find a site, save it to his/her site and any other teacher in his/her network would also get this site. With a little careful planning, teachers could agree to certain tags to be used for sites in a particular unit to make it easier to retrieve them for students. The tag could be something like 5_SS_civilwar to indicate that it's appropriate to a study of the civil war in 5th grade social studies. Students don't have to have access to the teacher's account - they simply go to the teacher's site (mine is and search by the tag (which is provided by the teacher).

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