Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Digital Camera Scavenger Hunt

The thing I think I love most about my job as technology coordinator is that I enjoy so many areas of the curriculum. And it is so easy to integrate technology with anything! 

Here is an activity I did earlier this year with second grade. It was a great way to use digital cameras to get the kids to focus on nature and explore our school's beautiful surroundings. When I told them we were taking computer class outdoors they were skeptical (because there are no computers outside), but when we hit the trail they were exuberant.

We had two digital cameras to use so we worked in small groups. We briefly discussed the nature-lover's creed "take only pictures, leave only footprints." I  then gave each group a clipboard with a list of items to find and a camera and told them to take as many pictures as they liked. The following week in the lab they chose their favorite photos and created slideshows using Rock You.  What I like about using Rock You with young students is that you don't have to log-in, and it couldn't be easier to use. I created an account for myself, and after the students were finished I saved their slideshows to my account so I could share them with parents. What I don't like so much about Rock You for young kids is that a lot of the music choices are not school appropriate. So our slideshows are quiet. Just like nature. Well, just like nature without a large, happy group of second graders.

I've done this again, and it is remains a wonderful creative, collaborative learning activity. Here are some more student creations. These are from first graders, and we used Animoto for the slideshows.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I created a wiki for the 5th graders to use as a brainstorming space for their technology mitzvah project. I don't know if this is the best use for a wiki, but we will see what happens. Here is the link. http://www.oneclickmitzvah.wikispaces.com
It is a public space so if anyone reading would like to contribute ideas, please feel free to join us.

Friday, January 25, 2008

How Far We Have Come/ How Far We Have to Go

I've been thinking lately about how much we all need a pat on the back sometimes. It sounds silly, a pat on the back, but it's not.
Talking to many of the teachers at my school, I sense a strong need for people to feel more appreciated. We have plenty of stress and pressure to do more, learn more, be more, but it seems we rarely take the time to revel in our accomplishments and really appreciate how far we have come. 

I know that I contribute to the hyper-push for more technology. People associate me with computer problems and software frustrations. I try my hardest to be patient, to really listen to people and to meet their needs, to enjoy my job and to remain aware of what an incredible opportunity it is to be in such an exciting field.
I often feel frustrated at what I see as obstacles, a need to move faster, change faster, break down the walls, so to speak, dispense with traditional teaching methods at a faster pace. I want everyone to be excited, to want to work with me, to use technology in more project-based learning.  I want the freedom to try out more of my ideas. I want more time for collaboration, more time to focus on teaching, more time with the students, more time with the teachers. 
I dedicate this post to my co-workers at school. I think the world of you. You WILL fall in love with teaching with technology.

In the year and a half since I have worked at MJGDS:
1. We switched over to apple computers. All of the students and teachers had to learn the mac operating system. In addition to the computer lab and classroom desktops, we have two mobile labs with 10 laptops each.
2. I found an AMAZING "assistant" Kim who worked for almost an entire year as a volunteer and, although she is officially on staff this year, still volunteers most of her time. She brings so much to the school and we so very lucky to have her talents. 
3. We got nine SMARTboards, 8 installed and 1 portable. I believe that we are one of the first schools in Jacksonville to have this ground-breaking technology. 
4. We have started using edline for parent/student communication.
5. We started using GradeQuick Web, an online gradebook.
6. One of our students won first place out of over 2,000 entries in tech4learning's multi-media design competition.  In the spring of '07 one of our students won "other notable entry" in the tech4learning contest. 
7. Kim and I went to FETC 2008. I presented two sessions (one on pixie, one on media blender) for Tech4Learning.
8. We started a local chapter of Teen Angels.
9. I have had a small measure of success in collaborating with classroom teachers on lessons and projects that integrate technology. Some of my favorites of these projects include creating blogs on Think.com for characters from The Outsiders (7th grade) and a choose-your-own-adventure story called The Outer Space Adventure (2nd grade).
10. As a random and wholly unexpected result of our school's participation in a collaborative website project called Globaldreamers, a software company (tech4learning, wonderful, awesome, company that shows genuine commitment to education) added Hebrew characters to their clip-art library!
11. Our school has a beautiful new website!!!!!!!!!
12. We reused or recycled all of our old equipment (that was shoved into closets all over the school when I first arrived).

So, there are 12 great reasons for a pat on the back! There are plenty more things I could list, and there are other tech-innovators at our school besides me who have their own lists to contribute!

And now for the future. 10 goals for 2008 (for myself):
1. To engage in more collaboration with teachers, more project-based learning. That is vague. I need to define that goal further and make it an achievable goal. OK. I would like to work with at least one teacher every two months on a totally collaborative project integrating technology. My model for this is the way Deb (middle school English teacher) and I collaborated on the Outsiders blog project (now in in its second year). I will write more about this model in another blog post.
2. To set aside more time to work one-on-one with teachers to meet their individual needs and help them learn to use the technology for their own productivity.
3. To learn to podcast and start using podcasts with the students.
4. To use our new tech4learning software in creative, curriculum-driven, motivating projects.
5. To tap into more of Kim's talents as a teaching resource. She is great with the kids, and she has excellent ideas.  Although she claims not to be a teacher she happens to be a very good teacher. 
6. To be more patient with everyone, more caring and less frustrated. To work more on building relationships and worry less about the equipment. 
7. To participate more in global collaboration with the students.
8. To work on my own website and to use it to showcase student work.
9. To create or discover high-quality webquests or other lessons for teaching copyright and information literacy (I think that is the correct term- evaluating websites, using sites like snopes before passing on emails, etc.) and to do a better job teaching these important skills to my students.
10. To guide the students to success with their technology mitzvah project. I introduced the idea to 5th grade last week, and they are very excited. I think I will create a wiki to use for brainstorming ideas and project development.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

FETC Concurrent Session: Digital Storytelling Across the Curriculum

Tell it Like it is: Digital Storytelling Across the Curriculum
Presenter: Melinda Kolk (from Tech4Learning)
Description: Here's a chance for an exciting introduction to digital storytelling! Digital storytelling is an engaging means of integrating technology into the curriculum, whether they are digital movies or online storybooks. Come and explore sample projects that help improve student's reading and writing skills, and discover how you can use storytelling to improve math, social studies and science learning.

My Notes From the Session:
There are lots of "right" ways to do digital storytelling. Don't need a particular software, can use whatever software you are currently using.
What is Digital Storytelling? 
Creating Living Memories Around Defining Moments of Life
storycorps.net - DIY guide for interviewing/ digital stories

Start by setting expectations. Show high quality examples.
Create by using still images combined together with effects to create a video (simpler than using video, makes the project very accessible)

Benefits: Makes it personal, offers the possibility of a wider audience by posting online
way to use writing across the curriculum

can do individually, small group, whole class, 
Don't let the technology get in the way of the curriculum.
some possibilities:
-Myths and Legends, retelling fables
-Video Poems (use pictures to illustrate the content of a particular poem)
-Video Journals

•Way to share digital stories: podcasting, putting online (podcast example of fable retelling ant_grasshopper.mov   Hartwood Elementary's Hartcast)
•scan hand drawn books and add audio narration
•Fun idea: using claymation: take two animals and put them together to create one animal. Describe the animal and their adaptations, habitat, etc.
•Things that are most in the world (add link) (I like this, may do soon w/1st, 2nd grade uses WebBlender)
•found word poetry, pick a word out of a hat
•animated alliterative alphabet activities

Choose a topic
Develop Assessment
Build (or find) a High-Quality Example (Tell your own story) doing your own also gives you experience with the software
Create Foundational Activities
Set Expectations (Rubric)
(Form Teams)
Brainstorm Ideas
Develop a Vision
Write the Narrative
Storyboard the Video
Gather Resources/Process Media
Build Story
Share Story

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Growing Up Online/ Teen Angels

I just finished watching the FRONTLINE documentary Growing Up Online. I highly recommend it. It highlights the importance of the online universe to today's teenagers. It seems ridiculous to think we can teach students without tapping into this world. 

A few of the featured stories really upset me. One was the story of a 13 year-old who committed suicide after being cyber-bullied and discussing methods of suicide with an online friend. One thing that stunned me was an online survey he took "for fun" that gave a personality assessment and then provided your ideal way of killing yourself.
The other story that bothered me very deeply was the anorexic girl who felt she could only be her real self on the Internet. Her parents and real life friends had no idea that she was suffering from an eating disorder. She used the Internet for connecting with other "anas" (their cool term for girls with eating disorders) and for information on bingeing, purging and starving.
Suicide and eating disorders have always been a disturbing part of adolescence, even since the pre-Internet days of my own adolescence. What is so much worse is that the Internet makes these behaviors seem normal by allowing connection with others who are experiencing or exploring the same behavior.

So, what are we, as teachers, parents and other caring adults, to do?
One thing I have done is to start a Teen Angels chapter at our school. Teen Angels is a program started by Parry Aftab of Wired Safety. We are in the process of completing the training, which is quite extensive and includes research projects and visits from local law enforcement. In February, our Teen Angels will be giving presentations to younger students at our school and to parents at an evening PTA meeting. I like Teen Angels because I think that students are more likely to pay attention to a peer than to an adult when it comes to something like online safety. 

Our school does use a filter for the Internet. I know this is one of the great debates of the edu-blogosphere, a subject for another post, but I will say that I am not against filters in schools. I just think that they fail to really address the problem. I like what Parry Aftab says, that we need to teach kids to use the filter between their ears. Truly, the Internet gives rise to the need for a whole new skill-set in this realm. 

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Staying Relevant

Relevant: having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.

And the "matter at hand" is teaching and more broadly, integrating technology in education. So. Am I relevant? Starting this blog, which is read only by me, has caused me to feel "dangerously irrelevant." Well, not really, but that is the name of another ed-tech blog I like. But..... it has made me face the fact that the world of educational technology is moving FAST. I read the blogs of those that have been doing this for a long time, doing it well, doing it with passion and really making great inroads, and I feel a sense of self-doubt, a sense of overwhelm. I just participated in a survey for edubloggers and could not even answer some of the questions. For example, what is my technorati rating (zero, I am sure) and how many subscribers do I have (uh, that would have to be zero again). But, there were other questions that I should have been able to answer, questions such as "What is your favorite technology tool?" I think about this "stuff" daily, and yet, when put on the spot, I can't come up with a straight answer. And that causes me to question myself. Why am I here? Why am I doing this?

So, this is my post to explain (and defend?) who I am and what I bring to the edu-blogging table.
I will probably always have a humble, simple blog. My blogging time is limited. At this point I am after quality, not quantity. I know that I have a LOT to learn from the leaders in this field. I am not fast, not keeping up with the intense folks.
Well, then, why am I doing this at all? It certainly takes a lot of time. And time is not something I have in abundance, certainly not something I am willing to waste.

I have been teaching for about 16 years. In this time I have taught in many situations, many grade levels, many subjects. My interest in educational technology came, not because I loved technology, but because I saw its potential in motivating my students. I grew to love the technology, too, and have had to push myself to learn in order to stay relevant. In my current position as technology coordinator at a small, private school I am responsible for everything that has any relation to technology, from printing pictures for people to maintaining the website, to teaching students and training teachers, to network admin.
I love what I do. I am challenged and always learning. I love that.
I like blogging for many reasons. I like to reflect on my teaching practices and think through my ideas. I enjoy writing. I know that really getting into the world of blogging also involves interaction in the blogging world. I hope to find more time for this eventually and look forward to having readers. I have learned so much from others out there on the web. And I do feel that I have something useful to share with other teachers interested in using technology to enhance their teaching. Not only is blogging compelling, fun, creative, reflective, interactive....I think that blogging is necessary for my growth as a professional, necessary to stay relevant.

I think my blog reflects who I am. I probably talk too much. I am very selective. I think that, while there are a ton of educational websites and resources, there are only a handful (admittedly getting to be a bigger and bigger handful) of really excellent sites and resources. I spend hours and hours online, panning for that one nugget of gold that I will use with my students. Ideally, I would like to use my blog to share what I find with other teachers out there who don't have the hours to spend sifting through all the junk and semi-junk. 

I know I have much more to learn than I have to teach, but I do think I have something valuable to share. My goal is to become a player in the sharing that is occurring, not just a taker, but someone who gives back. Ultimately, too, I would like to have ads on my blog and supplement my very meager income with blogging. I know this is a tall order for someone joining the party at the 11th hour, but hey, why not? I don't think that making money through blogging detracts from the purity of my love for teaching as I have seen mentioned on other teachers' blogs. So, there you have it, my faithful reader. If anyone is reading this blog, please do feel free to leave a comment.
And here is a link to the survey for edubloggers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Inspiration Appreciations

I would like to share (with my many and faithful readers) a wonderful and valuable classroom activity I am currently doing in the computer lab with my third graders. Last year I did this with the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. I haven't decided yet, but I may go ahead and do it again this year with 4th and 5th because I think it is a lesson that bears repeating.

I call it "inspiration appreciations" because it uses the software Inspiration and is an exercise in appreciating others. I believe that all humans, large and small, crave positive feedback from their peers. I also believe that a positive, cooperative classroom where students feel valued for their unique contributions is a safe place for children to take risks, which are necessary for learning and growth to occur.

The procedure is simple. It works quite nicely in the computer lab, but could be adapted for use in any classroom and doesn't rely on computer technology at all. I have students sit down out the computer, open Inspiration (a wonderful software for visual diagramming) and put their name and picture in the "main idea" spot. Then all the students stand up and move to their neighbor's computer, sit down and add an illustrated appreciation about that person.

Some guidelines we use:
-comments are anonymous
-no one reads their own comments until the end
-comments are not to be repeated more than twice
-don't use "generic" appreciations like "you are nice." Really think about a specific example of why that person is nice or something kind they have done for you.

I love this activity for a number of reasons. I love watching the kids go back to their own computer to read their "inspiration card" and seeing the pleasure on their faces as they read all of the things their classmates admire and appreciate about them. I have noticed that giving genuine positive feedback is challenging for them at first, and that, like anything else, they improve upon it with practice.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


This is really cool. I have been looking for something like this :-)
Kwout --"A brilliant way to quote."
Let's you cut out an image map of a site you wish to quote. Because it is an image map all the links still work. Post it right to your own site or blog. Lots of uses for this!
Here is my kwout sample. You will be seeing more of these on my blog, I'm sure.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

More Thoughts on Using Technology to Do Good

I have been thinking a lot about the "using technology to do good" idea, trying to flesh out some ideas for a project. I am inspired by sites like freerice. I've been thinking of ways to challenge my students (the 5th graders) to come up with an original way that they could use technology to help others. 
As with many lessons/projects, I start with a kernel of an idea and as I think, write, talk and search the web, the idea begins to shape itself into a "lesson." Sometimes it is not fully formulated by the time I start teaching it; it needs input from the students themselves to take direction. 

I have now come up with two distinct but related activities about which I am excited. I think the first will serve as an introduction and the second will be the meat of the project.
The first part is an online game called Karma Tycoon. It is free to play, just needs a log in and password. Here is the description from the website: Karma Tycoon rocks the gaming world by offering you a thrilling ride through the world of social entrepreneurship as you earn Karma in virtual communities across the US.
It involves choosing a city and building non-profits such as animal shelters, youth centers, etc. You rack up good karma while at the same time paying monthly expenses, applying for grants and loans, and going into debt. It is quick paced and challenging. I played and lost. 

My second idea came during a meeting today with the woman who heads the P2K partnership, a relationship between the Jacksonville Jewish community and the community of Hadera in Israel. As part of the partnership, there is to be collaboration between Israeli teachers in Hadera and teachers at Jewish schools in Jacksonville. Being the computer lab teacher I naturally tend to envision projects that involve technology. I was told that the schools in Israel do not have computers.
This made me think of The Laptop Project. This is the enterprise that has created inexpensive Linux laptops that use free, open-source software. Their goal is to give laptops to children in the developing world. Now, I am not sure that Israel would qualify as the developing world. But those details will have to be figured out later. 
If you raise enough money to donate 100 laptops  you can decide where to send them. I originally read that they cost $100 per laptop, but looking at the site today, it quoted $299 per laptop. Just another detail. But what a worthwhile undertaking for our students to attempt to figure out a way to raise money so that children in Hadera (or elsewhere?) could have access to the technology that they have come to take for granted. 

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Good Site to Know About if You Teach in a Public School

Give to DonorsChoose
Another brilliant site for using the web to make good things happen. This one is particularly close to my heart being a teacher and always at the mercy of budget considerations. Many people outside of the teaching profession are amazed and shocked to find out that teachers, among the lowest paid of all professionals, consistently spend their own money to fund projects, buy supplies and even furniture for their classrooms!  

I remember years ago telling a friend who worked in the business world that I was unable to get my school to buy post-its, even though I really needed them for work. I had been told to buy them myself. The next time I saw my friend she presented me with an enormous bag full of post-its and other office supplies courtesy of her and her co-workers. This is but one small example that illustrates the problem. I am a teacher. I have a great idea. But it takes money to make it a reality, and I don't have money. There are people out there who would like to help if they knew what was needed.

Enter DonorsChoose.org, a site where 
Teachers Ask. You Choose. Students Learn.

I am convinced the best ideas are the simplest. What could be more simple? A non-profit, online, for the sole purpose of allowing teachers to ask for help and potential donors to choose a project or projects they would like to fund and make a tax deductible contribution toward that end. The site is really cool. Check it out.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Using Technology to Do Good

I started something at school this year called "one-click mitzvah."
I work at a Jewish Day School. In Judaism a mitzvah is a commandment. It has also come to be defined as a good deed. 

We set the home page on all of the computers in the lab to The Hunger Site and taught the students to click to give.
So simple. I can not take credit for this beautiful idea. My friend, Eileen, suggested it to me. For the kids it became an immediate habit.
When I demonstrate something to the students in the lab, I have usually already been online that day and have already clicked on the Hunger Site. But if I open my browser and go to another site quickly without clicking to give, the kids yell "one click mitzvah!"
The older students work their way across the top of the page to go to each site in the GreaterGood Network of websites which include The Hunger Site, The Breast Cancer Site, The Literacy Site, The Rainforest Site, The Child Health Site and The Animal Rescue Site. 

There are many other sites for harnessing the immense power of the internet for the greater good, among them freerice.com and dosomething.org.

I see a lot of potential here.

The Hunger Site

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Sense of Urgency

It is January 3rd, 2008 and I am working on "developing a sense of urgency." I receive an email newsletter from Frederic Patenaude and his New Year's post was titled How to Make 2008 the Healthiest Year of Your Life. 
Number 1:
Develop a Sense of Urgency. Whenever a thought comes to your mind about something you think you want to do, or an idea you want to develop, don't let it stay there. Write it down, and decide immediately to do something about it.

Yup. I get this. In fact, this is something I have been getting better and better at, to the point that I have so many things going that I sometimes get a bit overwhelmed. But, in the past I had the tendency to think of something and then WAIT. Wait until I was "ready." Wait until I understood the thing better or was closer to figuring it out or perfecting it. I have learned that I get so much more done when I just go for whatever it is I want to do and let the details work themselves out.

And so it is time to really start my educational technology blog. For quite a while now I have been a reader of others' blogs and sites and have learned so much from everyone else's generous sharing of information, lesson plans, projects, links, trials and errors. I have wanted to start a blog forever. In fact, I started my blogger account in December 2006 and it took me almost a year just to come up with a name I liked. Now it is a new year, and I know that it is a matter of just sitting down and doing it. Process not product. In a year's time, I will have a blog instead of still thinking about my blog. It's a matter of JUST DO IT.
So. Here goes.