Recent Posts

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Old Dog, New Trick

Sad to admit, but the video below is my first complete PhotoStory project ever. It was part of a proposal for the Open Innovation Project which challenges teachers to answer the question, "How might a teacher who has a student(s) reading significantly below grade level build a foundation of literacy skills for ultimate reading success?" If you have a minute to spare, read more about that here and learn how to lend your support (it's painless, and only takes a few minutes!)

While I think the video came out well, it's funny that I helped students do this for two years and only now actually created one myself. Thanks goes to Mark Geary, whose article Making Book Trailers with Photo Story 3 reminded me just how easy the process was. The music comes from Kevin MacLeod's Incompetech site, which houses tons of free, original songs, generously offered for nonprofit projects.

If you haven't tackled digital storytelling or other interactive writing with your students yet, PhotoStory is a nice place to start.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Explore the World Through Soccer!

At my Teacher with Picture Books site I recently posted about the upcoming FIFA World Cup and shared some awesome related titles such Nomad Press's innovative Soccer World Series, beginning with Soccer World: South Africa and Soccer World: Mexico.

I also shared some links for teachers and students, but since then has created an awesome World Cup site for kids, featuring collected links for students and teachers. If you're looking for a terrific end-of-the-year send off, this would be it! And if your school still runs during the World Cup, you'll have some terrific resources right at your fingertips.

For lots of free, awesome resources on a number of topics (besides soccer), be sure to visit the Nomad Press site. Read more about their titles and downloadable activities at a previous post here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Visual Representations of Web Links Using TouchGraph

TouchGraph is one of the cooler sites I've seen for exploring connections between web sites. When I wanted to see, for example, which sites linked to mine, I simply typed in the URL of my main blog ( and was instantly shown the sixty or so sites that link to it. The main screen shows this graphically, while the smaller screen to the left lists the sites by relevance, and also allows me to click each link in turn for a synopsis.

Topics, rather than specific sites, can also be entered. In a search for Ancient Egypt, for example, we're presented with a pretty tightly clustered collection of sites. These in turn can be spaced apart (using the Spacing slider in the top right), or individually clicked to expand further. Similar sites are grouped together. Sites that simply pay for higher search results typically won't show up unless they have the content to make them relevant.

I've used TouchGraph to check my own sites to see that they're not linking to, or being linked from, inappropriate sites. But I can absolutely see its value as a search tool for students, particularly when they know one site that has the type of information they're seeking. Entering that site name or URL here, versus the go-to Google search, seems to be a lot more productive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Can You Fix Broken Teachers?

Get rid of professional development.
Stop throwing good money after bad.
Once a bad teacher, always a bad teacher.

You don't agree? Perhaps I'm reading too much into a new Department of Education report called the Middle School Mathematics Professional Impact Study. The study concluded that intensive, state-of-the-art training to improve teaching skills doesn’t seem to lead to significant improvements in student achievement, even when the teachers who underwent the training changed some of their instructional methods.

Teachers in 12 medium to large schools underwent 68 hours of rigorous training that covered the teaching of such hard-to-grasp mathematical concepts. It spanned several months and included summer programs, follow-up sessions and some in-class coaching.

Is it possible that such a quick fix solution isn't the only way to go?

I'm a teacher of over 20 years, and I constantly tweak my instructional practice in response to workshops, professional readings, collegial relationships, and technological innovation. Does every change in my practice result in a corresponding improvement in student achievement?

I wish.

Perhaps, cumulatively, those changes, along with changes instituted over time by my peers, will increase achievement. But perhaps those changes in instruction need a greater period of time to be measured before they can be discounted.

So just as a precaution, why don't we keep training our teachers, just in case. I don't think we'd throw up our hands in surrender and give up on our students this easily, so maybe teachers deserve just as much time and opportunity to develop and grow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jam Studio: The Online Music Factory

I am the least musically talented person on Earth. So my first clue as to the awesomeness of Jam Studio was that it helped me create a song that sounded, well, awesome.

Unlike other music sites that require a pretty good ear and a knack for mixing notes and chords and rhythms, Jam Studio does it for you. That's why I would absolutely recommend this site to any teacher wishing to integrate original music creation in their lessons. Trust me, if I can figure it out, you can. And the kids? Forget about it! Jam Studio is so intuitive, they'll be cranking out songs in no time!

Check out this video to see not only the ease of operation, but also the built in sophistication provided by the site's features. And by the way, the interface? No more complicated than what you see in the screenshot above.

Cool, right? And that "Favorite Artist" feature is simply genius!

Now, you're probably wondering (like me) how much the All Access Pass will cost per student. Here's the best news of all: on the bottom left menu bar of the site you'll find an icon labeled "In the Classroom." This link provides teachers with the opportunity to request a grant, allowing their students free full access to the site. The grant process took me all of thirty seconds, and I was instantly approved. All students at my school now have the ability to create music and have their mp3 files sent directly to their emails.

Jam Studio is an amazing site, and I suggest you go there now and check it out for yourself.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Online History Simulations

Students get more excited about history when they actually experience some of its drama. Back in the day games like Oregon Trail were the absolute best when it came to computer simulations, so it's incredible to see how many free, online games have become available since then. Below is just a small sampling of what's available.

Move It

Move It challenges students to use trains, ships, and wagons to move goods across 1850s England, with limited time and money.

If you're studying transportation, economics, or even math, this is a cool site to explore. (Check out a previous post for some financial literacy simulations).

Building a Sod House

Building a sod house is just one of the many interactives available from the Smithsonian Institute (see the Use Technology section at bottom).

A great activity for classes studying the history of the Great Plains through either a novel or social studies.

Design a Room

Design a room for one of three different historical time periods.

Like Virtual Village below, this site can be used to create an original illustration for a story. After the student sets the scene, a simple application such as Greenshot can be used to clip it and save it.

Trench Mission

In this World War I simulation, guide your private through the trenches to deliver a crucial message to the commander, all the while avoiding the perils of trench life. I needed four tries to do it! I'm sure your students could do better!

Virtual Village

Okay, not nearly as sophisticated as the Sims-type games that are out there, Virtual Village still allows students to create a cool little village using a number of buildings and landscape elements. One of my students used it to create a village scene which she then copied and pasted as an illustration into an original short story.

Evacuation Game

If you were evacuating World War II era London, which items would you need? This is actually a pretty cool site to investigate in connection with not only WWII era novels, but also The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Tenement Museum

Students choose an identity and create a passport as they embark upon their journey to America in the early 1900s. Includes interactive portions as well as videos of reenactors who share information in the first person as immigrants. Many printable items and teacher resources are available.

Need more sites?

For some American Revolution interactives, check out the Crossroads of the Revolution post at my Teach with Picture Books site.

Please leave a comment below for your colleagues describing your favorite interactive history site.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Children's Drawings, Come to Life

"What would a child's drawing look like if it were painted realistically?" That's the question artist David Devries asked himself, which in turned spawned The Monster Engine, equal parts book, exhibition, and Internet sensation.

In David's own words:
It began at the Jersey Shore in 1998, where my niece Jessica often filled my sketchbook with doodles. While I stared at them, I wondered if color, texture and shading could be applied for a 3D effect. As a painter, I made cartoons look three dimensional every day for the likes of Marvel and DC comics, so why couldn’t I apply those same techniques to a kid’s drawing? That was it... no research, no years of toil, just the curiosity of seeing Jessica’s drawings come to life.
As you can see, the effect is pretty cool!

So what's in this for teachers? I can imagine a similar activity as a neat cross-grades project, with a kindergartener drawing the original image, a fourth or fifth grader writer an accompanying story (perhaps as the kindergartener dictates it), and a high schooler creating the finished image.

For inspiration, check out David Devries' site, where he discusses the project, shows off more examples of his work, and offers a number of school presentation options. You can also get your hands on David's recently published The Monster Engine Book. That book, plus the video below, can serve as great models for getting your own project underway.

Thanks to Picture Books Anonymous for bringing this site to my attention!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Getting Boys to Read... Anything!

I recently posted Ten CC's of Books for Boys over at my Teach with Picture Books blog. In that cleverly titled post I feature ten topics which will get boys reading: Caped Crusaders, Curious Critters, Corporeal Crud, etc. (See my cleverness?).

One of my Twitter friends, Kim Sivick (@ksivick), checked out that post and shared a link to a New York Times Op Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof. In the Boys Have Fallen Behind, Kristof points out that
...the Center on Education Policy, an independent research organization, confirms that boys have fallen behind in reading in every single state. It found, for example, that in elementary schools, about 79 percent of girls could read at a level deemed “proficient,” compared with 72 percent of boys. Similar gaps were found in middle school and high school. In every state, in each of the three school levels, girls did better on average than boys.
The Center's report is no shock to me; what shocks me is that the gap isn't larger!

Kristof also cites Richard Whitmire, whose book Why Boys Fail offers additional sad stats, who says, “The world has gotten more verbal. Boys haven’t.”

Kristof then confirms what I asserted in my Ten CC's post by saying
Some educators say that one remedy may be to encourage lowbrow, adventure or even gross-out books that disproportionately appeal to boys. (I confess that I was a huge fan of the Hardy Boys, and then used them to entice my own kids into becoming avid readers as well.)
Indeed, the more books make parents flinch, the more they seem to suck boys in. A Web site,, offers useful lists of books to coax boys into reading, and they are helpfully sorted into categories like “ghosts,” “boxers, wrestlers, ultimate fighters,” and “at least one explosion.”

All in all, it seems that Kristof, like me, supports any and every avenue possible to get boys reading. Over time, of course, boys' tastes will mature and they'll move on to more refined topics.

That's all for now. I have to see what's new over at People of Walmart and Awkward Family Photos.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Secret Life of Scientists

Scientists are old, boring guys who discovered stuff. Some were women. Most of them are dead now, men and women both.

If you had asked me in high school what I knew about scientists, that would pretty much have summed it up. Science simply wasn't made real to me, and scientists were just those black and white images that appeared occasionally in textbook margins.

If only my teacher had a resource like the PBS/Nova web-exclusive series The Secret Life of Scientists. If you want a good idea of what the site has to offer, check out mechanical engineer Nate Ball. This guy is truly a rock star of science, and just one of the many real-life, three-dimensional scientists featured there. (Be sure to click on the video of how Nate helped develop the Ascender, an amazing self-powered device which is now in use by armed forces and rescue personnel).

In my Teach with Picture Books blog I often praise biographies for their ability to provide real-life role models for children. This site does the same thing for the older, more tech-savvy generation. Definitely worth integrating into your existing science or career curriculum.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

PBS Activity Packs

PBS, that trusted acronym that brought us Sesame Street, continues to provide cutting edge learning tools with their embeddable activity packs. If you're a teacher with your own web site, web page, blog, or other media platform, read on!

What's an activity pack?

According to the site, "An activity pack is a set of educational resources focused on a theme and packaged in a widget-format that you can embed in your own class or social media web page. Each pack includes links to PBS websites and a set of activities by grade level."

In other words, it's a stand-alone app that you can easily install to your site which provides both links and activities for reading and language arts, social studies, science and technology, health and fitness, and the arts. You can either paste the embed code directly into your site, or simply choose a push-button adding feature if your site social media site button is pictured on the array.

While at PBS also check out their new Media Infusion Blog. Cool stuff!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Save the Words!

In a recent post (There's a Word for That) I discussed how English language is a dynamic language, with new additions daily.

It's only natural, then, as new words enter the language, old words will fade away, right? Not if Save the Words can help it!

Save the Words is a neat site dedicated to saving rare and lesser-known words from extinction.

The site offers Word-a-Day for those who love language, the option to Adopt-a-Word, and suggestions to Spread the Word (such as the tattoo idea pictured here).

Students will enjoy using words that sound made-up, even though they're 100% authentic. Most words here can also be parsed according to Greek and Latin roots, as well as common prefixes and suffixes (see the related post It's All Greek to Me).

Give the site a try! It's a terrific tool to encourage explorations into language!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rock and Roll Science

Apparently I am the last teacher on Earth to learn of They Might Be Giants, a really cool band whose song "Science is Real" is featured below. Lots of other great, more topic-related videos by that same group can be found on YouTube. (If you double-click the video below, it will open in the YouTube page, and additional vids by this group will appear to the right).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Good Enough!

Good enough! I usually cringe at that expression, since it's typically an excuse for substandard work. But in the case of Alternative To, it's high praise!

Alternative To is a site where you can enter the name of any popular desktop program or mobile app, and the site search will return a list of free applications which are close alternatives.

For example, my daughter recently informed me that a trial version of Microsoft Office had expired on her computer and she wanted me to purchase the whole program. It is, after all, a great program (my attempt to avoid being sued).

Enter Alternative To. I typed Microsoft Word into the Search bar and was instantly presented with over a dozen alternatives. I instantly recognized the name Open Office. While Google Docs (another listed alternative) contains a lot of cool features and functionality, my daughter simply needed a platform that looked and acted like Word.

A little more exploration at the Open Office site (Alternative To provides direct downloads as well as links to source sites) revealed that in addition to word processing, the Open Office program also contained applications for presentations, spreadsheets, graphics, and more.

A one click download, a simple installation, and we were all set! Not only does Open Office look and act like Word, but it can actually save my daughter's work in Word formats.

So before you spend another penny of your hard earned money, I recommend you visit Alternative To. You might just find the perfect alternative for personal or school use.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chess Rumble: Life Lessons from Chess

The English language is peppered with chess idioms: stalemate (a position of impasse), gambit (a risky tactic, often involving a sacrifice), checkmate (a measured response, leaving your opponent with no way out), rank and file (literally, the rows and columns on a chess board; often used to name the "lesser players" in an organization), pawns in a game (bit players), and endgame (the final phase of an operation or story). Movies, television shows, theater, literature, and even video games widely use chess as a metaphor for human interactions. In The Lord Of The Rings, for example, Gandalf describes the coming war in chess terms:
The board is set, and the pieces are moving [...] But the Enemy has the move, and he is about to open his full game. And pawns are likely to see as much of it as any, Peregrin son of Paladin, soldier of Gondor. Sharpen your blade!
Chess as a metaphor for critical thinking and decision making is the central theme of Chess Rumble, written by G. Neri and illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. From the book jacket: "Inspired by inner-city school chess enrichment programs, Chess Rumble explores the ways this strategic game empowers young people with the skills they need to anticipate and calculate their moves through life." Told in free verse, this book has a rich, authentic voice and a truly plausible story line.

Here G. Neri and Jesse Joshua Watson reflect upon their respective roles as author and illustrator, and the phenomenon that is chess:

As an educator once faced with designing an academic curriculum for inner-city youth at a summer camp, I chose chess as a center piece for that program (center piece is also a chess derived idiom). Sixth and seventh graders who otherwise had difficulty following directions and sitting still would immerse themselves for hours in tabletop warfare.

In one memorable game, a student made a reckless attack which cost him a rook (a valuable piece, outranked only by the Queen). My counselor responded to the student's dismay by saying, "You made a move from anger. When I took your piece, your first thought was to get revenge. But if you had looked a move or two ahead, you would have seen a bettter way." That exchange was just one of many that came from our games. (In later years I even taught a chess course at church called The King is the Thing, which taught life lessons through chess).

Chess Rumble is a fabulous book for your classroom library or as a read-aloud. The authentic voice and plentiful black and white illustrations make it a stand out for the middle school group.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

10 Places to Find and Share Lesson Plans Online

The following is a guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Her previous guest post, 15 Free Resources for Young Readers, was a big hit, so I'm pleased to have her with us again.

Finding and sharing lesson plans online can help teachers save time and engage students in new ways. There are several sites that have been set up specifically for this purpose. Here are ten quality lesson plans sites for teachers to try throughout the school year.

Thinkfinity - More than 55,000 lesson plans from sites like ReadWriteThink, EDSITEment, Illuminations, and Xpeditions can be located through this digital learning platform. Lesson plans can be located by subject, grade level, and keyword.

Discovery Lesson Plans Library - This lesson plan library from Discovery Education offers hundreds of original lesson plans for K-12 students. New lesson plans are featured each week.

Teachers Network - Teachers Network provides lesson plans that have been designed by teachers for teachers. Site visitors can choose from lesson plans created by new teachers or veteran teachers.

Learning to Give - Learning to Give develops free lesson plans that focus on volunteerism and civic engagement. More than 1,400 lesson plans for K-12 students are available through the Learning to Give site.

The Learning Network - The Learning Network is a special site from The New York Times that makes it easy for teachers to find lesson plans and other teaching resources directly related to recent news headlines. Specific resources on The Learning Network include a blog, a daily news quiz, a lesson plan search engine, and a student opinion section.

The Educator's Reference Desk - The Educator's Reference Desk has a large collection of more than 2,000 lesson plans written by teachers all over the country. Users can search the collection to find lessons by subject, grade level, or keyword.

Shmoop - Shmoop provides engaging study guides for literature, history, civics, and music. The site also has a special section for teachers that explains how the guides can be incorporated into daily lessons.

We the Teachers - We the Teachers (WTT) combines social networking with aspects of teachers resource sites. Educators can use WTT to create and upload lesson plans or find lesson plans created by other teachers.

Teachade - This community of educators allows teachers to contribute their own lesson plans and search for resources that have been created by other teachers. Teachade also allows users to upload files and links from existing class resources.

Tapped In - Tapped In is an online community of K-16 teachers. The site encourages educators to plan learning projects with colleagues, mentor other teachers, and share classroom resources.

Thanks, Karen, for these terrific resources! Karen Schweitzer is the Guide to Business School, and she also writes about online degree programs for

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Black History Interactive has a terrific interactive site featuring Black History Milestones (this link takes you to the page on Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier). Perfect if you're looking for a reliable yet accessible starting point for Black History Month!

You'll especially appreciate the slider which allows you to move from early events such as the introduction of slavery in the Americas to more recent events including the election of President Obama. The site includes archival images and video to supplement the article accompanying each milestone. Additional resources including maps and biographical profiles can be found on the site's Black History homepage.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Using Edmodo in the Classroom: Five Days Later

I recently posted about Edmodo, comparing it to Ning for kids. The fact is, it looks and acts more like a Facebook/Twitter hybrid, but the fact that students can choose to post and interact in groups gives it a Ning feel as well.

Before I tell you how it went, here are the guidelines I provided to students via our class newsletter:
  • Do not reveal any personal information on Edmodo. No telephone numbers, addresses, or other students’ names. To check someone’s username, click on their class group (schoch12, schoch56, etc.).
  • Do not post photos or videos showing yourself or classmates.
  • Keep conversations on topic. There is a proper place (group) for almost anything you’d like to share.
  • Use appropriate language. If you’re not sure if a word or joke is okay, then it’s not.
  • Refrain from posts that tease, bully, annoy, spam, or gossip about any other member.
  • If someone posts an inappropriate remark, kindly ask them to edit or remove it.
These guidelines were in no way a surprise to students. They fully understood the reason for each. We then spent a good deal of time discussing how students would always use coded names to interact (initials, class periods, student number). All students were then required to join all fifteen groups, even if they thought they wouldn't interact in a group (the reason being: once students joined all groups, I changed the access codes).

Our discussion groups include Artwork, Cool Videos (curriculum related), Count Me In (surveys), Discuss Monthly Projects, Fun Stuff (videos and links unrelated to curriculum), My Status, Recommended Sites, Reminders, Stories and Poems, Sound Off (prompted discussions based upon class topics and themes), Vocabulary (lists and related links), What Are You Reading, and three groups designated by period numbers. In retrospect, Cool Videos was an entirely misleading group name (they kep throwing their random funny videos in there) and Vocab simply wasn't needed.

After five days, about fifteen (of sixty) students are the power users. Always on, interacting, and uploading content. An equal number has only logged on when required to respond to a prompt in the Sound Off section. The rest are somewhere in between.

So what's been learned? Surprisingly, a lot.

Technically, students learned how to:
  • follow and contribute to a threaded conversation, rather than firing off comments into the great abyss;
  • consider audience when choosing a group with which to share a given message, link, or video;
  • tag comments for friends to find;
  • use a filter to sort through collected postings to find what was needed; and
  • change avatars to match their personalities, while at the same time protecting their identities.
Socially, students learned to
  • think before posting, and edit remarks when peers disapproved;
  • refrain from certain conventions and language which, while acceptable with friends outside of the school setting, are considered inappropriate in school;
  • select hyperlinks and videos which would be enjoyable and appropriate for everyone in the group; and
  • disagree with ideas without attacking the students who posted them.
We did tweak the guidelines a bit. When one student posted a dozen videos in the first ten minutes, it was decided that each student should post just one at a time. When a student wants to share another, he/she would need to remove the first video. Students also agreed that music videos were too hard to monitor for appropriateness given that the lyrics were often unintelligible, so music videos were temporarily voted down. Temporarily, because other students argued (somewhat successfully) that show tunes and other songs were certainly appropriate, and actually uplifting. We agreed to return to that topic after a week or two.

Overall, students are very excited about this community, and they've been conscientious in its use. While our experiment is thus far successful, I would urge potential users to draft a parental consent form for Edmodo. While our district Internet policy covers the activity in a blanket statement, I think teachers should further protect themselves by getting explicit parental consent for students to participate, while at the same requiring students to agree to established guidelines for conduct.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Upcoming Workshops

If you're in Central New Jersey in late February with absolutely nothing to do, you might consider joining me for my How to Teach a Novel Workshop.

This free workshop, sponsored by New Jersey ASCD, will be held from 4:00 to 5:30 at Bedminster School in Bedminster, NJ. More details are available via this brochure.

In addition to being free, the event will include refreshments and door prizes, plus credit hours to those who need them. Come join us for a great time! Can't make it? Be sure to check out my How to Teach a Novel blog.

Note: Donut pictured here is for illustrative purposes only. Your refreshment experience may vary.


Most recently I presented at Techspo in Atlantic City, NJ. Techspo is an annual conference sponsored by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. If you’re interested in integrating technology into your teaching as well as keeping up with the latest information and tools, this is a good conference to catch next year.

My remaining public events for this year include:

How to Teach a Novel Workshop
Sponsored by the New Jersey ASCD (Free of Charge!)
February 24, 2010
4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Bedminster Township School
Bedminster, New Jersey
More details available in this brochure.
(I’ll be presenting on How to Teach a Novel for teachers in grades 3-8).

Teacher Talk Radio
Facilitated by Jen Schneider, host of Teacher Talk Radio
March 3, 2010 (UPDATE: Rescheduled to April; details to follow).
8:00 - 8:30 p.m.
(You can also listen to the talk in the archives if you miss it live).

Integrating Technology Into Content Area Instruction
Sponsored by New Jersey ASCD
Secondary Level: March 9, 2010
Elementary Level: March 16, 2010
(I’ll be at the Elementary Level Day only).
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
FEA Conference Center
Monroe Township, New Jersey
(I’ll be presenting on Interactive Reading and Writing Sites).

10th Annual from My Classroom to Yours Conference
Sponsored by Southern Regional Institute & ETTC
March 17, 2010
8:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
Pomona, New Jersey
(Still awaiting confirmation for this conference).

2010 NJMSA Statewide Annual Conference
Sponsored by the New Jersey Middle School Association
March 19, 2010
(see site for times)
Kean University
Union, NJ
(I’ll be presenting on How to Teach a Novel).

NELMS Annual Conference
Sponsored by the New England League of Middle Schools
April 8-10, 2010
(see site for times)
Providence, Rhode Island
(Still awaiting confirmation for this conference).

2010 Spring Conference: 21st Century Learning for ELLs
Sponsored by NJTESOL/NJBE
May 18, 19 2010
(see site for times)
DoubleTree and Garden State Exhibit Center
Somerset, New Jersey
(I’ll be presenting on Interactive Reading and Writing Tools).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Edmodo: Ning for Kids!

While I personally love Nings (I belong to sixteen Nings and counting) and would enjoy for my students to be able to dialogue in such an environment, the fact is this: students under the age of 13 are expressly forbidden by the Ning Terms of Service (and federal law!) to participate in such a forum.

So I spent a good deal of time searching around the web and experimenting with other sites, The best one I found for the purpose of classroom social networking is a site I knew about all along: Edmodo. About a year ago Mashable called Edmodo "Twitter for Education," but with the release of Edmodo 3.0 in August 2009 the site looks and behaves more like Facebook, and is now even easier to set up and implement. (While it's free in its basic version, the company plans to launch for-pay premium add-ons as well as school packages in the future. Get in now!).

So in brief, Edmodo lets the teacher create a social networking site which is totally closed. Not only closed, but also ad-free. Students join with a teacher-provided access code, and can then, in turn, join individual groups (which the teach has created) using additional access codes. (For additional security, you can change all access codes once students are in; in this way, even if students share access codes later, they won't work. Period One students will thus not be able to let Period 5 students into their group).

So after each of my students logs in to my created community, they are then forwarded access codes to join discussion groups such as What I'm Reading Now, Cool Videos, Sound Off (discussions about classroom topics), My Stories, My Art Work, etc. I even included a Status Update discussion so that students can just "check in" and let their peers know what they're up to, even if it's unrelated to any classroom topic. (And in case you're wondering, no, they cannot contact, nor be contacted by, students or teachers in other Edmodo networks; it's all about the access codes).

Unlike Twitter, Edmodo posts can be long! They can also include not only hypertext links, but also embedded videos and documents. Students can respond to teacher generated polls, and can be notified of important postings by teacher-generated alerts. Students can post to group discussions (The Outsiders), students in their class (Period 1), or individual members. But the teacher is able to see it all! In this way students know they're accountable for their actions.

What personal information is required of students? None. Usernames can be fictitious or coded, and avatars can be created or pasted images rather than actual pictures of their students. For those concerned with assessment, all I need to do is click on an individual student's avatar to see every posting he/she has written. If you feel a need to grade such an experience, you could even require a certain number of posts per week, in predetermined groups. I wouldn't.

I've created my Edmoto site and I'm really psyched for my students to give it a go this week. If they have additional ideas for discussion groups we'll add those as we go. I'll post again on Friday and let you know how it went.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Rethink Scholarship

Very cool. Practice what you preach.

Rethink Scholarship at Langara 2010 Call for Entries from Rory O'Sullivan and Simon Bruyn on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

For Lovers of Samorost

If you're a fan of Samorost and Questionaut, then you'll dig the new three-part adventure created the The Polyphonic Spree (which seems to be some musical group, based upon the only help box that appears at the site, shown here to the right).

Like the other two sites, you're left to your own devices and patience as you try to "click around" the scenes in the proper sequence in order to cause events to unfold, and the story to be told.

And if that's not really your thing, thanks for visiting anyway. For your trouble, here's a cool new online basketball shooting game that even I can play well. You first practice and then shoot against other real live players online. You score higher for clean baskets and quicker shots. Nice reward for those students who finish their work early.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Playnormous Health Games

Playnormous is a colorful, professionally designed, kid and teacher friendly site that features health games. Now if your first reaction was distaste or boredom, then this site was designed with you in mind. In the site's own words:
Playnormous isn't just for kids and their parents to learn about health the fun way. We've found that many teachers are using Playnormous as a learning tool for their students. Welcome to our site! We hope that you and your students will enjoy what we have to offer. Download our gameplay guides, classroom activities, worksheets, and student assessments.
So for the kids, cool online games that teach solid health and nutrition facts in a fun way. For teachers and parents, downloadable lesson plans and teaching guides. Playnormous also makes it super easy to add a button to your teacher website so that students can access their site from home.

If you teach health in any capacity at the elementary level, give this site a test drive!

For older students, check out NanoSwarm, where students wage war against a plague that threatens to destroy mankind, or Escape from Diab, a adventure/mystery to be solved through an exploration of nutrition.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Field Trip to Remember

When everyone else is blogging about tech, apps, and mashups, it seems strange that I'm blogging about a field trip. Not an online, virtual field trip, but an honest-to-goodness, real life field trip. Yes, Virginia, there is a real world beyond the key board!

My recommendation: Native Lands, a traveling program of Green Meadow Farms. Native Lands operates in much the same way as a traveling circus: the caravan arrives in a given location, sets up, and performs a number of times before moving on. But instead of one grand tent covering three rings, Native Lands operates in the great outdoors by setting up a number of stations. Each station is outfitted with sound systems and ample bleachers arranged in a U shape for spectators to take in the action.

But perhaps spectators is the wrong word, because teachers and students alike get to join in on the action: dancing and miming to harvest songs in the African Village, and playing Native American games by the Plains tipis. Other attractions include Animals of the Land and Birds of Prey. All of it educational, and all of it fun! Students can additionally feed a variety of animals at the petting zoo, shoot arrows at the archery range, and purchase food and souvenirs.

I've attended this event in fair weather and foul, and in every case (after a dozen years!) the performers entertain with equal energy and enthusiasm. Like Broadway professionals, they seem to realize that although this may be their 200th show, it is the first for most of their young visitors. And in every case, these same performers have make themselves available to students before and after the show to answer questions, explain their dress, and provide more information about their areas. (Event managers also routinely circulate, collecting feedback from teachers and parent chaperones).

The years that I couldn't attend with students, I've played hooky and taken my own daughters. I highly recommend you visit the site to see if Native Lands is visitingnear you. Definitely worth the trip!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Top 100 Learning Tools for 2009

Tech speaker and expert Jane Hart has compiled an impressive Learning Tools Compendium at her Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies site, viewable as both a slide show (below) and list of links. Essential stuff!

Also check out her Learning Tools Directory; perfect for for creators/users of blogs, wikis, all things web.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Professional Development via YouTube

Debbie Diller, author of Spaces and Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy and Teaching with Intention, speaks about creating a classroom environment with learning in mind. A great introduction to the topic for novice and experienced teachers alike; be sure to check out her books for more information.

This book is just one of the over 100 videos available for teachers at the Stenhouse Publishers YouTube Channel. You can also check out Debbie Diller's blog for more inspiration.