Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Garage Band Educational?

Sometimes, in the computer lab at school, I give the kids "educational free choice." It might surprise you to know that the kids and I don't always agree on what is educational. Nor do the classroom teachers and I necessarily agree on it. Highly likely, the person reading this and I might have a difference of opinion on what is educational. However, it has been determined by the principal of my school (and I agree with her on this) that students' computer use at school must be educational. I don't consult with her on each and every site I use, but every site must meet MY requirements as to what constitutes learning. 

This reminds me of the very first day of my very first class in my teacher training program. We were instructed that we had better become very aware of the truth that one teaches what one values. You can teach curriculum, but always, you teach from who you are. And who you are is what you value. 

So, back to educational free choice. The choices reflect what I believe to be educational because it is my classroom. The students are welcome to suggest or show me anything as long as they can explain to me its educational value. 
Frequently, I am asked, "Why is GarageBand educational?" or "Why is the National Gallery of Art site educational?" 

I think by this point, the answer is obvious: I value creativity. I value it highly and I think it is an extremely important component of learning and personal development. Without creative thinkers, where would the world be?
It troubles me that the students are so surprised to find that the creative arts are considered by a teacher to be valid educational pursuits. It makes me think of this video I recently saw, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?". It is long, but worth a look.

In my years as an educator, I have seen an alarming movement away from valuing the creative arts and creative expression in general. This is just wrong. It is based in a totally wrong way of thinking. That is not just my value-judgement. There is plenty of good research in defense of creativity and its place in schools. However, I still hear all the time, that subjects like art and music are "extras" and that only academics matter. 

The good news is that creativity in education is finally getting some respect. ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education, which writes the standards for technology, not only added "creativity and innovation" to its NETS for students for 2007, it placed them in the number one position.

“What students should know and be able to do to learn effectively and
live productively in an increasingly digital world ...”

1. Creativity and Innovation
Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes
using technology. Students:
a. apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.
b. create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
c.. use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
d. identify trends and forecast possibilities.

The history of educational theory closely reflects what is going on in society. Most of the current thinking in education favors a constructivist approach which requires students to construct knowledge for themselves, to discover anew rather than to regurgitate what others have found. This befits this time in history, where information is prevalent and technology is changing at a lightning pace. The future belongs to and depends on those who can think outside the box. You don't get that type of thinking from students who have only been taught to do well on tests. 

That is why GarageBand and art programs are part of educational free choice in my neck of the woods. Now, if the students could give such coherent arguments for their arcade games I just might let them play those, too.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Experiential Education

I know I am blogging as "EdTech Workshop." Most of my posts deal, in some way, with technology in education. But, just as the content always comes before technology, teaching and learning come first for me. My path to becoming a tech-loving teacher had more to do with a desire to be a better teacher than a love of computers. 
I started my teaching career in environmental education. My first job, oh so many years ago, was a part-time gig running an outdoor ed. program that brought kids from the inner-city on overnight camping trips. No technology there. Well, we did ride on buses, and I took pictures with a non-digital camera. When I think back to that time, I can, of course, think of some ways that I would throw technology into the mix if I had that job today (although that is a job one can only have the energy for in their 20's). However, that was a pretty great program, one that I like to think made some sort of an impact on the students' lives. Experiential education. It is what I remember most from my own early schooling. 

This is my long-winded way of saying that, although I am a huge advocate for the thoughtful integration of technology in the classroom, I don't think that technology needs to take top billing in every learning situation. Let me be clear; in many instances, technology provides the experience that can not be had in the classroom otherwise. If we can't visit the museum, we can visit it online. If we can't travel to another city or state on a field trip, we can use technology to see the sites and to communicate with those who live there. We can "fly" there with google earth. However, if we are able to visit the museum or the faraway land IRL (in "real life") then I would hope we would still choose the real experience over the virtual one.

What has me thinking of this is the wonderful example of hands-on, experiential learning in which I was fortunate to participate today. Our school, in collaboration with the greater Jewish community of Jacksonville, puts on a once-a-year, free, community education event called Family University. Adults choose from a number of interesting sessions while their children are engaged in age-appropriate learning activities. This year's theme, in honor of Israel's 60th birthday, was "Bringing Israel Home." I was impressed with the entire event and the coordination and planning that went into making it a success. But I was especially in awe of the programming for the K-5 students. These students, divided into groups by grade level, were treated to a trip to Israel complete with passports and boarding passes for their El Al flight. Each group had their passport stamped as they experienced each of the stops on the trip. There was Israeli dancing, bargaining with coins in the "shuk," completing an obstacle course to join the Israeli army, visiting the kibbutz where they milked a cow, washed socks in the laundry, and picked candy "fruits" from the trees. They also went on an archaeological dig and, of course, no trip to Israel would be complete without praying at the Kotel (the Western Wall).

Hands-on learning experiences like this are special. They take an awful lot of pre-planning and cooperation from a multitude of people. There is no way a teacher could do these types of lessons in the classroom on any sort of a regular basis. And this brings me to what I love about technology in education. It gives us so much more access to memorable learning experiences. It is relatively easy. It invokes our senses, not all of them, but many of them. It is not a replacement for real-life experiences, but it is a great replacement or add-on for some of the traditional, one-dimensional learning activities.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

First Attempt at Clay Animation

Second Grade.

Life cycle of a plant.

Here is a link to the lesson plan I used.

Here is one of the finished projects.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Great Resources for Black History Month (or any month)

Every Month is Black History Month

The Road to Integration - Part 2

Here is what I have learned of late. 
There are three stages on the road to integration.
Stage 1: Isolation
This is the computer lab where technology is treated as if it is a subject matter in its own right. Students play games or use powerpoint to create slideshows that have no academic content or tie-in with whatever is being taught in the classroom. It is known as resource, specials or babysitting (did I say that?) while the classroom teachers have prep time.
Stage 2: Parallel teaching
This is where the computer lab teacher finds out what is being taught in the classroom and plans lessons that cover some of the same ground. This probably best describes my own situation at work. It is limited because there is only so much you can do in the short spurts of time you are given with the students, but it is quite a lot of fun (for me at least) because there is so much you can do with technology and there are so many great resources.
Stage 3: Integration
This is the ultimate goal. This is where the technology is transparent. It is just another tool, another resource for learning, creating, connecting. The content teacher and the tech teacher work together to weave the technology into the learning experience. To me, it seems obvious that this is how tech should be being used in schools. So, why are we not there yet?

This is the part that, I must admit, confounds me.  It seems like a win-win situation for the teachers (content area and tech integration) and the students. A lot of classroom teachers are working to integrate tech anyway. It can be a lot of extra work, especially in the beginning. So, if the school is lucky enough to have the tech person on staff, that person can take on all that "extra" tech stuff and the other teacher can focus on the curriculum. 
My experience has surprised me, but I am finding out (mostly from reading others' blogs) that I am not alone in what I am experiencing. Some say that we tech coordinators must be salespeople and sell the technology! Well, I do try hard to meet everyone where they are and "sell" as in helping them get to the next step, but consider this analogy - Can you imagine going to a doctor or dentist who advertised themselves proudly as "doing things the same way I've done them for 30 years. I don't need to use any of that state of the art equipment, no sir!" Who would go to this person? It is only in the field of education that people use this crazy line of reasoning. 

Technology in education is not a passing fad. It's not going to go away if we just wait long enough. Here is my plan for what needs to occur to get things moving along:
• Administration must support integration. There must be time for planning. Computer lab time can not be "drop off" time. All of this must come from the administration.
• Computer labs to be used regularly/ as needed for ongoing projects as opposed to a weekly resource class.

Why is this so hard to implement?
This I can not answer right now. Part 3 perhaps?

Friday, February 15, 2008

More on the Mitzvah Project

If anyone has been following my thoughts on technology as a means to do good in the world and trying to turn this into a class project of sorts with 5th is the latest. I recently came across this awesome wordpress blog 25 Days to Make a Difference. This is a wonderful, inspiring site started by Laura (age ?), and dedicated to her grandpa who believed in doing small things to make a big difference in the world. Yes, I did tear up a bit as I shared it with the 5th graders today.
They are all over the place with their ideas (and very excited), and finally it is starting to become clearer to me (thank you, Laura!). We create a class blog/website and go from there. Everyone's ideas and issues can have a place. It is a project that can grow over time. Everyone can contribute with their own interests and those, too, can grow. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Meme Passion Quilt

Thanks to Silvia Tolisano of Langwitches for tagging me for the Passion Quilt meme.
Directions: Find or create an image that captures what you are most passionate for kids to learn about.
This is a great (as in good and fun) challenge for me. I decided to find an image on flickr creative commons rather than to create one. One hard part for me was to choose and express a superlative passion as I have many. The hardest part for me is going to be finding the 5 people to tag. 

The first three words of my caption "we can solve" really sum up the feeling behind the image. WE connotes a collaborative approach, a desire and ability to work with others. No one person can do it all alone. CAN: I truly desire to leave each of my students with a sense of confidence in their own abilities, a feeling of "I can do it" no matter what "it" is. Finally SOLVE: I see using technology as one way to develop a flexibility of the mind, an ability to problem solve quickly and in many different ways (learn, unlearn, relearn). 

We Can Solve This.
3 Simple Meme Rules:
• Post a picture from a source like Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn...and give your picture a short title.
• Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt" and link back to this blog entry.
• Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce. (What is Pownce?)

Tag. Your turn -- what are you passionate about sharing with the kids you teach?
•Marsha Goren from Global Dreamers
•Barbara Cohen from Independent Thinking
•Graham Hughes from The 25 Hour Day
•jupiterjase from twitter. I don't know his(her?)blog yet.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Road to Integration - Part 1

This was going to be a post about backwards planning using the concepts in Understanding By Design (UbD). Here is a great link to an explanation of UbD concepts with lots of links to resources. I started thinking about using UbD to plan units based on deep understanding and essential questions I have to be honest with myself. I don't have the time to do deep planning. I have a time problem. I wear way too many hats at work. I think I should win some kind of multi-tasking award. Is there such an award?

I am first and foremost a teacher. That is what interests me and what motivates me the most.I teach six scheduled classes each week in the computer lab. I am also a technology trainer, working with teachers to help them get the most from their computers. Then I am the network administrator. Which is a sort of a joke because me, a network admin (I don't think so), but a very serious joke because it takes an awful lot of time, and I must say I do it pretty well! Luckily, I do have the BEST assistant. But she is only contracted for 8 hours a week (and works way more). Then there are all the totally random tech-related tasks that fill up my day. Today, for example, someone came in and handed me a CD of pictures she wanted posted on edline. Stuff like that. It takes time. 
I am supposed to be the technology integration specialist. This is the job that I feel should take the most of my time. But in actuality, it is what I try to fit in, in between doing all the other stuff.

My vision for technology integration is for me to work with the classroom teachers on projects that integrate technology into what they are doing in the classroom. Right? Wrong. I spend a lot of time planning my lessons for the computer lab. I have K-1 for 30 minutes a week. There is just not that much you can do in 30 minute weekly increments. Ditto for 2nd-5th grades who I see for 45 minutes a week. 

From my limited research, schools that are leading the way in terms of technology integration have a policy where the teacher is required to plan with the tech. person AND is required to be in the computer lab with their students. This is the only way that the technology can truly be integrated with the curriculum. Plus you have the added benefit of the opportunity for the classroom teacher to learn the technology apps. along with the students in the lab.  This policy must come from the administration. I proposed this to my administration and was met with a "no way". There are a lot of walls to break down at my school, walls made out of "this is the way we have always done things here" bricks
Don't worry. I am not giving up.
Stay tuned for "The Road to Integration" - part 2.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Story Retelling

Here is a little slideshow I made with Kitah Aleph, the first grade Hebrew class, last year. Our school is an English/Hebrew bilingual program. We used Pixie, a great software program made by Tech4Learning.    Each student drew a part of the story and then the whole class read it together in Hebrew. It is a story about the clouds (ananim). Great vehicle for practicing reading aloud as well as enhancing comprehension. The new version of Pixie makes exporting for the web a cinch!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Creative Headquarters :)

I know I read somewhere that a messy desk is a sign of a creative mind. Must be so.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Quia Web - About Quia via kwout

I was looking at this site, thought it might be useful for the interactive whiteboards. There are just so many resources out there! Has anyone used Quia? Thoughts? Reviews? They do have a free 30 day trial as well as shared activities created by other teachers that are available for anyone to use. If you use it, what do you use it for?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Character Blogs

This is one of my favorite projects. First of all, this project represents for me a model of true technology integration. I love the way the classroom teacher and I worked together. Secondly, I think it is a great project which has real depth and strong academic content and integrates technology for all the right reasons in all the best ways. 

Project Development:
It started with a conversation with Deb Kuhr, the middle school English teacher. She told me that the 7th graders were reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and would be using the book to focus on the element of character. Did I have any ideas for technology integration? I thought of the idea of having the students blog "in character."

From there we really worked together as we developed and taught the project. One challenge that arose early on was the school's content filter which blocks most of the popular blogging sites. In searching for an online home for our blogs I revisited a site I had learned about years ago, There are pros and cons to using this site. is a very safe site; in order to get an account you must have an educational affiliation. No one can enter the site unless they have an account. Teachers must approve image content. There is a lengthy list of banned words. Although boasts members from around the world, and you can invite other schools to join you in your project, the interaction I have seen is pretty superficial. 

Since a large part of blogging is reading the blogs of others and leaving comments, we added the requirement that the characters must read and interact with others' character blogs in character. Because of the nature of you can't leave "stickies" or comments on project pages. However, you can add an interactive element to your page, such as a message board. So, we had the students use these elements for interaction.

All in all, I judge this project a huge success. I think the students really learned from putting themselves into the mind of the character and extending their thoughts about the novel. We even had a blog for Bob, a character that died early in the novel, called "Bob's Blog from Beyond." I know that they were motivated by the activity; they found blogging fun and enjoyed having a account. They all created home pages as well, a page they could create as themselves (as opposed to their character from The Outsiders). I was impressed by the quality of the work. We are now in the second year of this project, and it is again going well. As with any unit, it is easier the second time around -- all of the planning is finished, we know what to expect, and it is just a matter of doing it. 

What I think could make this project better in the future would be interaction with other students who are also reading The Outsiders or at least a chance for a more public audience to read their blogs. I think that I would like to try a different blogging site next year, maybe class blogmeister or edublogs. Any suggestions? It would have to be a "safe" site. If you would like a copy of the rubric we used, leave a comment here or email me at

Here are some pictures of Mrs. Kuhr's bulletin board from last year's blogs. She had each student print out one or two favorite entries and create an artistic representation of their character.

Friday, February 1, 2008


This was my day at work today:

Kindergarten: Pixie, "I like" activity, one of the pre-made activities in Pixie. It's a page with a big heart and the words "I like" above the heart. The kids write their name and draw and/or add stickers to the heart to show things they like. 
I reviewed some of the pixie tools, taught (for the first time to the whole class) using the shift key to capitalize first letter in name, the word "text." There is lots of learning and practice in this activity: moving and resizing objects, using draw tools, etc.

In between classes prepared for Kaleidoscope Day, a big event happening on Monday. The theme is "Learn about yourself through art" and all 134 students will be coming into the computer lab to do a digitally manipulated self portrait. I will post some of those on my blog next week (with student and parent permission, of course). I also went to my 3 y.o. son's class performance. Packaged up some keyboards to send back to apple and an hp toner to be recycled. Checked email.

First Grade: Introduced the Tooth Tally project to the students. The tooth tally project started today and is a little online share with other first grade classes based on that all-important milestone, losing baby teeth. We will be counting and tallying our lost teeth for three months and sharing the information with the other classes in our group on the tooth tally wiki. I had already written an introduction and uploaded a picture of our class on the wiki, which I shared with the class. We read the other classes' introductions. Then we put on our imagination wings and, using google earth, we flew around the world to visit the other classes in our tooth tally group.
In the fifteen or twenty minutes we had left, we had lots of fun and giggles with the website build your wild self.

Fifth Grade: Introduced the one-click mitzvah wiki. It didn't go as well as I hoped. The kids have a few ideas, but they need more guidance. I don't think the wiki was the best idea for this. I am not ready to give up on this project idea, but I need to figure out how to properly guide them. Suggestions very welcome! They played Karma Tycoon again. They really like this game, and are great at it. I think it was a valuable learning experience, but now it is time to process what they learned from it and move on to the next step.

I had a wonderful, inspiring visit from Silvia Tolisano, tech integration guru from SJEDS. She has a great blog/website, Langwitches. I met her briefly at FETC, and she came to see our SMARTboards. She is such an inspiration. I am so excited to have made this connection with her and look forward to going to visit her at SJEDS. I can learn so much from her.

I am tired. Good night.