Thing 15: Diigo, WAY better than stacks of notecards

I’m old enough to remember when great research papers were the result, at least partially, of 100’s of index cards full of handwritten notes, cross-referenced to their sources. Cards could be organized by topic, subtopic, etc and look very impressive (depending on height) when stacked on one’s desk or a library table.  One of those stacks (usually a relatively shorter one) was inclusive of all the bibliographic information necessary to cite sources and give credence to the research.  Woe to any researcher who somehow misplaced or accidentally destroyed any of those cards!     Of course, the sources themselves were somewhere on a library shelf or perhaps accessible by the use of a microfiche or microfilm reader.  If there was a need to revisit the source, a car ride to the library and time to locate and retrieve were normally required.

Now, fast-forwarding to 2012, I discover that any and all resources I would like to reference can be available to me in one place (my Diigo library) at ANY (well, almost) time.  I can organize them in multiple ways.  I can see them on my laptop or PHONE, for gosh sakes.     In addition, if I find something for which I need input or help, I can share with anyone of my choosing and even accomplish a group task.   This is too good to keep to myself.   My students need to know about this, and they will.   Then, there are no more excuses for not double-checking, crediting, commenting on, sharing, and collaborating about sources.   How great is this?!?!

Thing 14: RSS, a source of fabulous ideas, better teaching,…and guilt (?)

Well…as of about two weeks ago, I became an official member of  the “BDC” (Bogged Down Club) for this summer course.   Not only have I allowed distractions to keep me away from the cool stuff in upcoming “Things”, but my RSS has been woefully neglected.   That neglect is  a shame.   I can tell it’s a shame because my latest 15-minute look at just ONE of my feeds,, has yielded a source of lesson plans that I know I will refer to again and again as I embark on my re-entry into the classroom.   Call me a nerd, but I get excited at the prospect of easy and organized access to primary source material, and there’s paydirt at Historical Scene Investigations, a website developed by American history teachers for American history teachers and their students.  Can’t wait to incorporate some of the sources and lesson plans from that site; who knows what other great stuff I’m missing when I don’t keep up with my RSS?   Ignoring an RSS might just be tantamount to professional irresponsibility.   My new (school) year’s resolution will be a no-brainer.

Thing 13: K12 Online Conference (aka 24/7 Professional Development)

I encourage everyone to take a look at the Sandbox Keynote presented by Dr. Christopher Craft at the 2011 K12 Online Conference.   In this brief video, Chris (who happens to be just down the road from us in Columbia, SC) uses the imaginative sandbox play of small children as a metaphor for the instructional time our students should have to explore in the classroom. Chris does a masterful job of making his points that creative (and purposeful, he emphasizes) play is what teaches our kids to think.   It’s easy to extrapolate that the formulation of vision and problem-solving skills exercised during imaginative play are only two examples of countless ways that thinking is nurtured through play.  In addition, Chris points out that sandbox play is social and teaches the kind of collaboration that that appears on every list of 21st century skills.   It is also Chris’s contention that play (aka, in my mind, exploration) is intrinsically engaging; time that teachers used to spend on motivating kids can be replaced by facilitation of their play.    In fact, that’s the bottom line, it seems.   Chris’s points are a new (technology added) twist on the “teacher as coach, guide on the side v. sage on the stage” approach to classroom teaching.   Through modeling our own willingness to venture where we might not have all the answers, we encourage our kids to be that kind of learner, too.

In fact, there are two quotations from Chris’s presentation that I will add to those on my desk at school:  “Kids like to learn; they just don’t always like to be taught”, and “It’s OK not to have all the answers, but you should know where to find them.”    Great ways to reword a couple of old adages.   Chris then goes on the emphasize the importance of connecting with others, from our school maintenance staff to professional colleagues,  for the good of our teaching and students.    It’s not difficult to surmise that Chris’s students are the better for his updated wisdom.  We can all learn from that kind of reminder.


Thing 12: Animoto and the like…TMF? (too much fun?)

I was introduced to Animoto last fall, and after producing a couple of fun videos  just to get the lay of the land, I hadn’t revisited the site at all since.  Now I remember why.   For me, it’s more addictive that any other techno-destination at which we’ve arrived so far.    I’m a self-confessed tweaker and can lose myself completely in choosing photos, arranging sequences, adding texts, applying styles, experimenting with music, ….it’s so much fun to try all the options!    I wonder if any one has ever done a time-and-motion type study on amateur video production….  It might be interesting to see exactly what are the efficient limits for editing a 30-second video?   What is the maximum ratio of well-spent minutes spent in production per second of video footage?  Is a video like written text, i.e, there is ALWAYS room for improvement?   There is ALWAYS an even more effective way to make the point(s)?   For myself and others like me, let’s hope that self-control can prevail, effective AND efficient video-production can happen at sites like Animoto, my students will be the better for it, and life can go on…..

Thing 11: Fantastic Flickr and Collaboration with Creative Commons

Lincoln Memorial at Dusk by Jeff Karpala

I continue to be amazed at the number of times I’ve been in “flow” since starting this course, and my time with “Thing 11″/Flickr  is just another example.  Who knew that two and a half hours had  passed while I moved from images to articles to blogs to videos, all filled with amazing ideas and possibilities for making my lessons and assignments super-engaging for kids?   In my search for images of Washington, DC (to use for a presentation re: the class field trip this fall), I realized at least two things (in addition to the addictive potential of 1, 000’s of images!):  1.   the value of key words for tagging is tantamount to “community service”, in terms of its helpfulness for users, and 2.  the need for students to understand ethical use of online materials like the photos on Flickr is not to be overstated.  Creative Commons is an incredible tool to facilitate access to and crediting of  countless sources, including Flickr.   Teachers and students alike can be excited about and grateful for the collaboration that CC has with such online resources.  I can’t wait to show my students that there IS an easy way to respect intellectual property AND have access to/use of a literal world of images, texts, audio, and video!




Thing 10: Creative Commons and OER, resources that go on and on

As of about 10 minutes ago, I am the official “owner” of my very own OER!   What a wealth of resources; I envision that I will visit and add to my OER on a regular basis, and it will be of great support in my lesson and assignment planning.  It’s actually comforting, too, to know that copyright issues are clearly delineated for each potential piece of material; no more guessing about whether it’s really OK to use a particular video or other resource in the classroom.   Makes it easier to be a better role model for students, too; plagiarism can be a sticky wicket.   Whoever came up with Creative Commons was one inspired and inspiring person!  Resources, plus permission!   What a gift!    (I wonder about the CC status of CC itself???  🙂

Thing 8, Stretch: The 1812 Overture and July 4th, just curious

With today being July 5, I decided to investigate a question that occurred to me during all the recent Independence Day festivities.  In fact, it was first broached during the introductory remarks of a band director at one of several July 4 concerts I heard in the last week.     Why is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture such a popular selection for the celebration of an American national holiday?  It was included in at least 4 of this year’s programs and for countless years before, but according to my own knowledge and sources including Wikipedia, the piece was written in commemoration of the Russian defense of their homeland against Napolean’s invasion in 1812.   Though the US happened to be at war with England at that same time, the two events are not closely connected, if at all.   The initial Wikipedia page gave me some interesting background info on the piece, and since the related history of the piece is fairly common knowledge and that wasn’t really the focus of my search, I didn’t question much about what was included there.   However, in looking at the edits, it did occur to me that asking students to check/compare at least several edits against other sources would be a great exercise in determining the validity of sources.

For this particular search, though, the discussion (or “talk”) is where I found a number of perspectives on the answer to my question. Some folks obviously have an emotional investment in any “found” connection between American and Russian history during the early 19th century, while others (more like me) are willing to leave it at the notion that the piece is just plain rousing and spectacular, ie, a fitting tribute to our American forefathers and the preservation of our freedom, even if no American can take credit for its writing or  its context.  From that standpoint, along with practice in the evaluation of sources, Wikipedia has now revealed its redeeming value to me.    I can’t wait to ask students to sift through discussion thread and come up with observations/conclusions.  It should be a great exercise for perspective-taking and the nurture of tolerance for ambiguity.

Thing 8: The Wonder of Wikis

After spending some time with only two of the wikis for which Shelley provided links, I can’t imagine anything that a wiki CAN’T do to enhance learning.   Specifically, I explored:

1.   Kubler Reading:  A fourth grade study of Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting.   This wiki was organized by the focus of each component of the study and individual student contributions, usually by chapter, comprised the whole of each part, including vocabulary, literary devices, and chapter summaries.  This was the ultimate in “jigsawing”, in which any given student becomes an “expert” on a portion of the whole and then shares that knowledge with the group.   My favorite component was Creative Connector in which students were asked to comment about connections between their reading and one of the following:  other books they had read, personal experience, or world events.   This is great for the nurture of higher level thinking and provides evidence of real student understanding.

Compared to the other wikis I looked at, this wiki was lacking in graphics and other imbedded aspects (e..g, video or audio) that might have enhanced student learning, but the social/participatory element certainly should have lent to deep processing and real mastery of content.

2.  Constitutional Convention Gets an Update:  the product of group projects in high school American history.   This wiki was organized by each of five proposals set forth during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.   Within each of this teacher’s class periods, groups of students were assigned to report on one proposal, using the same elements (e.g, video of the original speech, a brochure, TV ad, and radio ad promoting the proposal, and narrative write-up of convention activity related to the proposal; see sample re: New Jersey Plan)  Each product was therefore multimedia and multidimensional, including bullet points of each proposal and possible responses to related debate points.

This wiki was designed as an extremely thorough or thoughtful approach to a topic that involves the debate and consensus-building process.   All learning modes could be implemented, allowing each student to play to his/her strengths as a student.  Accountability/assessment for accuracy and reason should be high on an assignment like this, if for no other reason than students who worked on the same topic across multiple class periods had access to each others’  final products.   Impressive!


Thing 7: Two Good-Lookin’ Techy-Tools

I checked out several of the tool sites that Shelley listed for us.  Frankly, some were way more engaging and possibility-evoking for me than others.   Admittedly, a couple were probably way out of my current technological league (pretty much Little League at the moment), and others just didn’t seem to spark my instructional imagination at all.  However, there were two (so far) that made it easy for me to envision some immediate and meaningful classroom use:

1.  From way back,  I have been a lover of graphic organizers.  I think they help kids learn.    They help kids see and make connections between/among facts and ideas.   They teach a way of thinking.    Countless times, I have filled chalkboards and, more recently, dry-erase boards with charts, graphs, continua (continuums?), mind-maps, and the like.   Needless to say, therefore, why wouldn’t I be thrilled to find    To make sense of the content of a  lesson,  we can make mind maps together during class with   To show me what they know and understand (and what they don’t), students can make mind maps with as part of a  formative assessment.   To report the results of research, students can produce mind maps with   This list can go on….

2.  wallwisher:  First, I was impressed by how super-easy it was to create a post-it board on this site.  Took me less than 2 minutes to get to the place where I could see how this works and my sample was complete.   The wheels then began to turn about the possibility of setting up a topic-specific board for a particular lesson.  The assignment:   After the day’s lesson or reading (or whatever), post a question, a comment, an answer to someone else’s question, an extension (something else you know about the topic), or other relevant sticky note to the board.  As the editor of any board I set up, I can then monitor student responses quickly and easily.    It even has the possibility of an RSS feed, by which I can check for new postings.   And that’s only the initial thought; I know there are tons of other possibilities!


Thing 5: Goodies Galore, compliments of RSS

Wow!   Shelley didn’t exaggerate when she said that an RSS can be overwhelming!  What a wealth of info!  Here are a few things – some general, some specific – that I took away from my first encounter with the feeds on my RSS:

1.   Right out of the gate, I was excited to read about ImageSpike on Free Technology for Teachers.  Though I never actually located the ImageSpike website, I did find ThingLink, which was mentioned in the same article.  I experimented with a silly practice example, and it was easy and fun.  There are tons of possibilities for lessons and assignments there.  I also followed some links to Search ReSearch, with ideas about how to teach good internet search skills,  and a video explaining plagiarism on Common Craft, which would be a great resource for untangling that difficult concept of honor for our students.  In fact, Common Craft looks like a treasure chest of quick and easy videos, useful for all kinds of classroom applications, but it’s not free.  May be worth the school subscription price, though.

2.  Langwitches is full of articles on the use of iPads in the classroom (see example on VoiceThread Docents).   Since our sixth grade teachers are about to embark on the first year of classroom iPad implementation, I’ll be sure to refer them there.

3.  I read a great summary of one of my favorites, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, on Connected Principals.  

4.  Pat Hensley has a wealth of  helpful and engaging posts, both personal and professional, on her Successful Teaching blog.  She includes everything from a constantly updated list of teaching resources and tips in  Useful Information In and Out of the Classroom to posts like Yearly Reflections (a list for end-of-year review of your own instruction) or Examination Tips (sound ideas about how to approach cumulative exams), alongside her own personal observations about topics like kindness and camping, always ending with a question and encouragement to the reader to “please share”.  I look forward to following Pat’s posts.

These observations are based on my mostly cursory reading of my newly born RSS, but with less than an afternoon’s experience, I can already anticipate the truth in the Lee LeFever’s warning in RSS in Plain English, “It’s addictive, so be careful.”