Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Ways We Talk about Technology

I read a number of blogs daily for my own personal professional development more than for any other reason. So, it was interesting today that David Warlick wrote about the word "integration." That word and the term "integrating technology" have been bothering me for a long time. When we talked about integrated units many years ago, we talked about bringing together various, hopefully related, pieces. So, in Social Studies an integrated unit on westward expansion might have meant that we "integrated" music by singing songs from the period, or we "integrated" art by designing covered wagons, or we "integrated" math by figuring out the miles that were traveled. The problem with that was that we were just pulling together various pieces that may or may not have been connected in some way and we weren't really planning for the learning or understanding of an important concept. So the music, the art and the math really had no impact on achievement.

Instead of integrating technology, we should begin first with our learning goals, choose the tools and resources that will support that learning. So, if we want our students to be better writers, we might use blogs because they can provide our students with authentic and wider audiences than we can provide within the four walls of a classroom. If we want our students to improve their speaking skills then podcasting could give students an outlet for working on those skills. Standing up in front of a classroom giving a book report can't even begin to approach that kind of experience.

We have the tools and now, many of them are free and online - we just need to connect them more purposefully with student learning and achievement.

Blogging Humor

Interesting...web 2.0 is even catching on with comic writers.
Non Sequitur on Yahoo News

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Blogging is participation in conversation - only the conversation isn't happening between two or three people sitting around a table together anymore. The conversation goes on among a diverse group of people located all over the world sitting at a computer, typing, thinking, deleting, reworking the words and typing some more. People are blogging about everything imaginable and almost anyone can join in.

As my own blog has developed, I've been thinking about the experience and what it's meant to me personally and educationally. For me, blogging equals the development of "voice". It is about thinking out loud and communicating with others. It gives the writer a chance to express opinions, beliefs, ideas and insights. It can be a summarizing tool, it can be used to synthesize. Sometimes blogging is responding to someone else's thoughts, beliefs, ideas and insights.

When we begin to teach our students some new skill, we model it for them in a variety of ways. In learning what it means to be a blogger, I turned to a number of edublogger models and started to look at what they were talking about, how they were expressing their ideas, how they handled criticism of their ideas by others. It's also interesting to see the networking that goes one - one question or idea is expressed and pretty soon all of the blogs I'm following are talking about the same thing. This doesn't happen all the time but often enough.

In yesterday's post, I referred to a recent audiocast hosted by MIguel Guhlin. MIguel spoke with several educators (first grade through high school) about the use of blogs in their classrooms and about how they're teaching students to use blogs. As I listened to the audiocast, I began to write down some of their insights and examples of best practices. Below are a few of those...

When we use blogs in the classroom:

  • we provide a way to connect children to the world, to other classrooms
  • we can connect parents to the work of our classrooms
  • we provide another way of connecting digitally to each other
  • we need to teach students how to interact safely in a digital world
  • we provide our students with an authentic audience which changes and transforms writing
  • blogs help students to engage in and understand the social nature of communication: learning to be constructive critics, learning how to challenge each other's ideas respectfully, learning to use critical thinking skills
  • blogs open up new doors for information and communication

In my mind, with any new technology tool, there are always two questions to ask yourself:

  1. "So what?" What difference is the use of this tool going to make in student learning?
  2. "Then what?" Once I start using this tool, what will my students do with the product they're produced or the information they've gathered?

Both of these questions deserve careful consideration with blogs. The social and "open" nature of blogs is the very thing that causes many school districts to block the use of blogs on their networks but the social nature is what also contributes to its use as a good instructional tool. Class BlogMeister, created by David Warlick, is one tool that teachers can use that provides a more sheltered environment for beginning to use blogs. Teachers monitor all postings to the blog and can provide a separate page for each student to use.

In any case, there is, more and more, a need to teach safe interaction in a digital world. Imagine a student behind the wheel of a car without any instructions or training, pulling out onto a highway at rush hour - what might the results be? The same applies to putting our students behind the "wheel" of a blog - teach them the rules of the road, teach them the rules while driving on the back roads before they get into heavier traffic. The NetSmartz website is one place that educators and parents can start to find resources to address this issue.

I'm sure that, as teachers begin to explore the nature of blogs for their own professional practice, we will see more advocates for the use of blogging in classrooms, more resources for teaching safety and more discussions between teachers and district technology administrators about how to manage the use of this tool safely for effective use in our classrooms.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

New Technologies: Beyond the Coolness Factor

This summer has been filled with the exploration of new technologies - more specifically, I've been working on looking at blogs and wikis with a little bit of podcasting and a few other ideas on the side. So I've decided that the next few posts on my blog will be used to summarize what I've explored over the last 10 weeks.

Early in the summer, it occurred to me that there was something unique going on where blogs were concerned - people were thinking out loud, getting responses from others who had been working through the same thoughts and then those thoughts came up in someone else's blog to be reworked, redefined, rethought.  The whole network at work is fascinating.  So I joined in and created my own blog as a way of continuing my own personal professional development. In working on my own blog, I've rediscovered my writing skills and learned about other tools like RSS, creating a blog roll and using ClustrMaps on my blog. I've learned more this summer alone than I've learned in a very long time and I've found applications for all of it to the work I do in my school district as an instructional specialist.

Here's one example of the networking that happened within blogs: Will Richardson posted a simple question one day: "Where are the best practices in using blogs in the classroom?"  He didn't write much else about it - he just was wondering aloud.  This topic was picked up by several other edubloggers, and eventually it resulted in one of them, Miguel Guhlin, creating a wiki about blogging best practices. Then, he gathered some educators who have been doing blogging in their instruction and they all participated in an audiocast via Skype.  This interested me so much that, when Miguel advertised this audiocast, several questions popped into my mind and I commented on his blog listing those questions.  He posted those questions to his wiki and one of my questions was the first to be asked in the audiocast. 

The best part about this whole thing is that I didn't have to buy one new piece of hardware in order to have this experience and the learning curve was minimal.  My experiences began by reading David Warlick's blog which eventually led me to all of the other resources that I've explored. I created a free account using Blogger, I created a blogroll on my blog using a free service called BlogRolling, I added a clustr map to my blog which tracks the number of people who access my blog (interesting to collect those statistics and follow the growth), I created a free account in Bloglines to gather RSS feeds to my favorite blogs (and other news sources) so that I didn't have to go to each one individually to see if it had been updated.

In the process, I've also started working on a wiki that I'm planning to use in my work this year. (acutally, I think that's going to be part of my own personal professional development project and my goal for the next school year)  In it, I've started to work on creating some content related to various aspects of the professional development going on in my district right now. Included there,  I'll be listing all of the new technologies that I'm working with and this list will be updated as needed.  But even more importantly, the applications of those technologies to instruction will be developed.  In education, we can't jump on every new technology just because of it's "coolness factor."  We have to consider its application to learning and student achievement.  When we do this we begin to shift our pedagogy in ways that make those technologies more accessible and more useful in student learning and achievement. Stay tuned...more to come.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Blogging as Professional Practice

It's interesting to observe the network of ideas and thoughts that connect one person to another within the community of bloggers. I first started to follow this network on August 9th when Will Richardson posted on his blog wondering where the blogging best practices were. Brian Crosby, David Warlick, Miguel Guhlin, and I'm sure, many others have also been discussing the question and have begun exploring ways of aggregating the collective knowledge of teachers who are using blogs in their classrooms. This interconnected thought process among these bloggers is probably one of the very best examples of blogging in professional practice. Now, how can we apply that to instruction?

Aside from the question of best practices in blogging, many bloggers are employing pretty high level thinking skills. They summarize an article or something written in another blog, they compare their opinions with the opinions of others, they create metaphors or analogies to explain their ideas, they cite research and statistics about blogging by using images, they comment on other blogs providing recognition to the thoughts of others, they recognize common goals and work to collaborate with other bloggers on those goals, they hypothesize about various topics, they generate important questions about the instructional uses of blogs. All of these fall into the general categories of research based instructional strategies discussed in Classroom Instruction That Works.

Without a strong goal/purpose for using a blog, students will not engage in the learning that can result. So, in addition to looking for best practices, I'm also asking: What are your instructional goals and Which of these strategies would be most effective in improving student achievement by using blogs in your classroom?

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ongoing Conversations about Blogging

There's been a lot of conversation in the blogosphere lately about trying to find the best practices for blogging from Will Richardson, David Warlick, Miguel Guhlin and many others. Surely, there are teachers who are using blogging in innovative ways within their instruction and helping students make gains in achievement.  On the opposite side, perhaps those teachers just don't exist right now.

As an instructional specialist, I've been following this conversation about best practices intently and thinking about how I might present this relatively new tool to teachers.  I'm new to blogging but not new to technology, curriculum and instruction. But, I've been considering the impact of my personal use of blogging as well as the role models for what I think is good blogging that will provide me with the background knowledge needed to summarize the use of this tool with other teachers.

For seasoned bloggers talking about best practices, they will be approaching this conversation with lots of background knowledge, personal experience, and probably classroom experience.  But, if some of us relatively new to blogging or not currently blogging were to engage in this conversation about best practices in blogging, we wouldn't possess the same background knowledge necessary to understand the implications of the discussion and, as brain research tells us, we might not be able to find prior knowledge stored in our brains somewhere to connect with this new information. Even so, that conversation could spark some new ideas for your classrooms through connections to what you know about good teaching practices.

I was thinking that, if I were having this conversation with, or providing training to teachers who didn't know about blogging,then there are some questions that come to mind for me:
1. As someone who is actively involved in blogging, explain what blogging is all about for you personally.
2. Instructionally, what is the importance of blogging?
3. What types of information should students be producing via blogs?
4. What subject areas and what instructional strategies can be applied to the use of blogs to make this a thinking tool rather than just another "thing" we can do with a computer?

Everyday, there are probably new technology tools being invented that allow us to participate more easily in the read-write web improving both our instruction, our students achievement and our professional development. Even those these tools are pretty cool, in the scheme of things, for me, it comes back to those four questions above but more importantly, what can this tool mean to student achievement?

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Which comes first?

I was just reading Will Richardson's blog about a presentation he did today. It prompted me to comment:

Wow - this sounds like a great place to go to school. Which do you think comes first - the technology tools or the pedagogy? Do we need to start from our pedagogy or adjust/adapt our pedagogy as the tools change?

When we first started to put technology into classrooms, there was quite a bit written about how we were spending enormous amounts of money on technology believing only in the "promise" of better student learning through its use. Now the discussion has turned to some thoughts about our pedagogy - many of us (veterans/digital immigrants) who are currently in classrooms, had mid-20th century teachers as our role models and those mid-20th century teachers were trained in a much different time when there were much different expectations for education and for the future of our students. So have we moved beyond that yet? Have we changed our pedagogy - or have we changed it enough to be more responsive to the students who are in our classrooms now? Have we really embraced the research related to "what works" in schools or are we just using that information within a still mid-20th century mindset? I'm just wondering...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Another new tool

PageFlakes is the best thing since cornflakes! You should really try it out for yourself. Imagine...a home page where you see your to do list, notes, feeds to your blogs, your del.icio.us bookmarks and much more all when you fire up your web browser. The web is getting better everyday!

Diigo is another great tool - this one will be great for research projects and collaborative work. You can bookmark a page, highlight text on a web page then annotate it with sticky notes. Send it to a friend to show them what you've found!

Monday, August 07, 2006

New Web Browser

I'm trying a new web browser tonight called Flock. I'm loving the features that make it so different (and easier) than other browsers I've used. This blog post was created in Flock. I'm wondering who else out there is using Flock and what your observations are about it.

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