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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Case for Digital Portfolios

Check out Throwing Away 6th Grade - OR - The Case for Online Portfolios.

I don't have a lot to add to what you'll see at this post. But in short:
  • I teach sixth grade.
  • My students generate a lot of products.
  • We have online digital portfolios.
  • I get it.
Am I doing as much as I can with them? No. But at least I'm headed in the right direction.

How about you?
By Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon [LGPL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Teachers' Domain: Digital Media Lessons Aligned with Core Standards

Are you seeking to integrate technology and media into lesson plans, but don't want to spend hours at the computer or reinvent the wheel? Teachers' Domain offers you incredibly complete, well-paced lessons that incorporate the best of what is freely available from public broadcasting. From the Teachers' Domain site:

Teachers' Domain is a free digital media service for educational use from public broadcasting and its partners. You’ll find thousands of media resources, support materials, and tools for classroom lessons, individualized learning programs, and teacher professional learning communities.

Resources are well categorized, and searchable by topic and grade level. Once you've registered at the site (it's free), you'll see that all lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards (aka the National Standards) as well as state standards, when available.

I also appreciate that rather than search through hundreds of plans, I can drill down to the specific skill or topic I'd like to see, as shown in the screen capture below.

If you need some help navigating the site, working with video files, or planning instructional units, Teachers' Domain offers online courses and teaching strategies in a number of formats.

Visit Teachers' Domain and see for yourself how easy they've made media integration. Then continue to check back as more resources are added.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Continue to Invest in Technology?

Tis the time of year when budgets are planned and votes are taken to approve said budgets. In most districts across my state of New Jersey, and probably across your state as well, jobs and programs will fall under the budget axe.

So when a parent or board member asks, "Why should we keep putting money into technology?" we should be prepared to answer.

I recently stood to defend technology at a board meeting in my own district. In order to remember what I needed to say, and in order for the audience to possible recall it later as well, I organized my thoughts into an ABCDE format. Note that it's short on statistics and buzz words; that's entirely intentional. Don't over-think this for yourself, or over-complicate it for your listeners.

Active Participation
When we were in school, the traditional model consisted of a talking head at the front of the class, and a sea of nodding heads filling the seats. Nodding either with dumb agreement, or with sleep. Either way, learning was typically a passive act.

With technology, and especially with on-to-one programs, all students are involved simultaneously. Technology throws learning back into students' laps. Technology allows students to control both the processes and products of learning. The teacher is just as necessary, but now fulfills a much different role. Excellent teachers create opportunities which allow work and dialogue to continue well after classroom hours.

Buy In
Everyone wants to know, "What's in it for me?" Students are no different. They embrace learning when it's more personally meaningful to them. The Internet allows students to connect what they're learning with the real world in real time. It helps them to realize that what they're learning is neither discrete nor isolated from the "real world."

Technology also allows students to become content creators. When I poled students at the beginning of the year and asked them if they had ever created content to post on the web, they were amazed at the possibility. That capability is now totally taken for granted; they are a part of the Internet.

Middle and high school students are social animals, thriving on peer relationships. We can harness this natural inclination in a healthy and productive way by using technology that allows students to work together. Whether we create team oriented problem solving scenarios or simply permit students to peer edit and comment upon classmates' work, we're demonstrating that the teacher isn't the only one in the classroom with the answers. Equally important, we're encouraging students to ask the questions and seek their own solutions.

A little-touted benefit of technology is its ability to differentiate instruction. For the most gifted learner, technology provides opportunity. For the struggling learner, technology offers opportunity. Within a single assignment, a teacher can offer and accept incredibly diverse responses, given the number of applications and programs with which students can express themselves.

Equal Access
Knowledge is Power. That expression is cliche only because it's been said for generations, and is absolutely true. Equal access to the world's information, via the Internet, overcomes socioeconomic variables, offering true freedom to pursue learning.

If my points are too simplistic for you, I apologize. But for me, this five point plan for discussing the benefits of technology is one I can rely upon. It's simple, yes, but absolutely proven in my classroom experiences with students.

Want more? Heather Wolpert-Gawron has put together responses to five common complaints voiced by technology naysayers. Says Wolpert-Gawron:

Frankly, there are many reasons to avoid providing technology as a more common and frequent tool in education. However, as stated in "Strictly Ballroom," one of my favorite movies, "a life lived in fear is a life half lived." Fear cannot shut us down from our mission: to educate students for their future.

How do you respond to those who say that tech spending should be cut in order to trim the budget?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Microsoft Word's Most Ignored Feature for Teachers

Learning Essentials is a free application designed to enhance teachers' and students' use of Microsoft Word. Word owners can easily download the program, for free, for use at home or school.

Learning Essentials is a suite of templates, tools, and tutorials which integrates easily and assists teachers and students in creating reports, projects, and assessments. Students and teachers use existing Microsoft Office programs more productively with the aid of ready-made assignments and helpful shortcuts.

The best way to see the features of Learning Essentials is to download the demo (tour) at the Microsoft site. You'll get a tempting glimpse of what's included in both the Educator Tools and Student Tools.

Another way to get a look at some of the application's features is to check out the Creating Writing Assignments tutorial at GreatSource/iwrite, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's companion site to their excellent Write Source books. (Another hot resource to see there is the series of videos on How to Write a Research Report).

While there, also check out the tutorial titled How Can I Use Learning Essentials for Writing Instruction?

Then, when you're ready, download Learning Essentials and give it a go. Let me know what you think!

And check out the resources at GreatSource/iwrite as well! Tons of tutorials and awesome resources for young writers. If you're in the market for grammar or writing texts, definitely request a sample of one of their books. I'm not a fan of grammar, never was, but this well-organized and well-written series serves as a fantastic classroom resource for students engaged in meaningful reading and writing.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

ChangeThis: Support and Spread Great Ideas

Ever find yourself aimlessly surfing the Internet, looking for something to get you going? Most likely you're procrastinating, avoiding the very tasks that you know are important, or urgent, or both.

Go to ChangeThis. The mission of ChangeThis "to support and spread great ideas." And they accomplish this by sharing proposals and manifestos from some of today's top thinkers and leaders.

How To Be Creative by Hugh MacLeod at ChangeThis

Don't be intimidated by that. The ideas are presented in concise, attractively packaged pdf presentations, short enough to read on the fly, but involved enough to actually challenge your thinking. Think TED Talks on paper.

Some of my favorites:
So if your brain needs a kick in the pants, check this site out! See you in a few hours.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions

I'm pleased to participate in Leeswammes's Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, which allows blog readers to visit many excellent blogs (see the list below) for the chance to win awesome books and other prizes. At my Teach with Picture Books blog I'm giving away a Caldecott Honor picture book (of course!) and a Newbery Honor Award chapter book.

For my readers here, I wanted to also hilight the sensational nonfiction title being ofered as a giveaway: Guy Kawasaki's Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.
My guidelines, as always, are simple:
  1. The giveaway is open to US residents only.
  2. To enter, email me with the title of the book you hope to win in the subject line. Want to win all three? Send three separate emails.
  3. You don't have to follow me to win, but it would be a nice gesture. Pity follows are happily accepted. Following my blog will increase your good karma, but not your chances of winning.
  4. Contest will close at midnight EST on February 24th EST. I'll notify winners shortly thereafter.
For those who wish to glean ideas about teaching from books "out of the field," you'll love the soon-to-be-best-selling Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, written by Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist of Apple, and generously provided by the man himself.

Reviews of this book say it all:

"Guy's book captures the importance - and the art - of believing in an idea that delivers something entirely unique to the customer. The power of a really good idea to transform the marketplace and individual customer experiences is huge, and this book offers a wealth of insights to help businesses and entrepreneurs tap into that potential."
-Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group
"Kawasaki provides insights so valuable we all wish we'd had them first."
-Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice
"Guy has written the small-business manifesto. There is nothing more important for entrepreneurs than to enchant their customers, and Guy explains exactly how to do this."
-Jane Applegate, author of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business
So many of the ideas presented for excellence in business via interpersonal relationships can be applied to the teaching profession:
  • creating and marketing yourself as a professional;
  • achieving trustworthiness;
  • designing excellent experiences or services;
  • engaging in productive relationships with colleagues and bosses;
  • overcoming resistance;
  • avoiding pitfalls and complacency.
Years ago when the bestselling Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die was first published (and before it made all the lists), I touted its ideas as totally applicable to teaching. I feel the same way about Enchantment, and I think you will, too. Also be sure to check out Guy Kawasaki's previous best sellers, The Art of the Start and Reality Check.

Good luck with the drawing, and be sure to visit these other awesome blogs for more chances to win:

  1. Leeswammes (Int)
  2. Teadevotee (Int)
  3. The Book Whisperer (Int)
  4. Uniflame Creates (Int)
  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)
  6. Stiletto Storytime (USA, CA)
  7. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (Int)
  8. The Bookkeeper (Int)
  9. Chinoiseries (Int)
  10. Ephemeral Digest (Int)
  11. bibliosue (Int)
  12. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)
  13. Nishitas Rants and Raves (Int)
  14. Roof Beam Reader (Int)
  15. Actin Up with books (USA)
  16. Sarah Reads Too Much (USA)
  17. Book Journey (US)
  18. The Blue Bookcase (Int)
  19. Read, Write and Live (Int)
  20. Silver’s Reviews (USA)
  21. Graasland (Int) - From Saturday evening onwards
  22. Teach with Picture Books (USA)
  23. Books in the City (Int)
  24. thebookbee (Int)
  25. The Scarlet Letter (USA)
  26. Seaside Book Nook (USA)
  27. Chocolate and Croissants (Int)
  28. write meg! (USA)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Three Simple Yet Awesome Search Tools

I know, I know, you already use Google and to find what you need. But allow me just three minutes of your time to share three sites you're not using yet, but will soon come to love.

Yippy began as a search engine called Clusty (called that because it created clusters of information). While the name hasn't improved much, the site is still as awesome as ever.

What's great about Yippy is that when you enter a term, it attempts to narrow your term in what it calls "clouds" (while still featuring all the resulting sites that match, as seen below).

For example, if you enter "Lord of the Flies," you'll be offered a number of clouds, or clusters, of narrowed down sites including Lord of the Flies Novel, Study Guide, Symbolism, Reviews, Quotes, Lesson Plans, etc.

What's also nice is that Yippy doesn't present inappropriate content, nor will it search for it. I entered "Stone Fox" (meaning the chapter book, not a slang description of a gorgeous woman) into the search window, and Yippy replied: Sorry. Yippy does not allow content of that nature on its cloud. Please try another query. It wasn't until I tried "Stone Fox" and "Novel" that it returned results.

Another way to make Yippy even more functional for students is to have them use it in Wii mode. By replacing the "www" in with "wii," you get a much cleaner, larger interface.

If you always use Google or for word definitions, it's time to break that habit. One Look is a multifunctional dictionary that offers some cool permutations of the normal search task.

As you can see from the screenshot below, it's easy to expand searches to find more than simple definitions. A student writing a poem on the topic "blue" will find the second option helpful, while another student wishing to create a word bank of winter sports words would find the seventh option helpful.

I recently used One Look while creating a teacher's guide for Encyclopedia Mythologica: Dragons and Monsters, to be published by Candlewick Press in April of this year. While the book itself offered tons of ideas for lesson extensions, I still wanted to "prime the pump" of my imagination as I brainstormed ideas. I therefore entered the search term *:monster, which returned the following in the first 100 results:

More than enough ideas to get started! And each of course is hyper-linked to a definition.

Another dictionary tool I've come to love is Wordnik. Wordnik provides quick definitions, but also current examples of the word in use on the Internet. Here are some results for the word dragon:

And as they say on television, But wait; there's more! On that same results page you'll also find simple synonyms and antonyms, etymology, plus stats for the word's appearance in print since 1800.

Armed with these resources, I was able to generate more than enough ideas to complete the teacher's guide for Dragons and Monsters. While many of the ideas existed in some form in my head, searching them out in this way allowed me to fine tune what was otherwise just a collection of random thoughts.

How would you use these sites? Are there others you'd recommend instead? Leave a comment below. And if you're interested in Dragons and Monsters, I'll be featuring teaching ideas and related links on my Teach with Picture Books site in March, along with the chance to win one of two copies of the book. Can't wait until then? You might want to check out teaching extensions for the previous title in the trilogy: Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods and Heroes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How to Give an Ignite Talk

Most of us have heard of the inspirational TED Talks.

Slightly less well-known are the Ignite Talks, which allow speakers only five minutes, and the accompanying slides to each talk advance automatically every five minutes.

One of my favorites is Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, speaking about How to Get 5 Million People to View Your Website:

Another favorite is Scott Berkun's Why and How to Give an Ignite Talk, which not only gives a cool insight into the Ignite format, but also provides a pretty compact lesson of effective storytelling:

For your next staff meeting or student presentation, give this format a shot. Perhaps just three minutes instead of five. Sometimes less is more.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Qwiki: The Information Experience

Wow. This is what the Internet promised to be.

Qwiki is an information portal that aggregates text, photo, and video sources on almost any topic imaginable, and creates a near-instant multi-media synopsis on that subject.

Instead of listening to me babble about what you need to experience for yourself, go there now. Type in the name of your hometown and learn something you didn't know already, even if you lived there thirty years. Type in Where the Wild Things Are. Type in Holocaust. Type in Glee.

In Qwiki's own words:
Qwiki's goal is to forever improve the way people experience information.
Whether you’re planning a vacation on the web, evaluating restaurants on your phone, or helping with homework in front of the family Google TV, Qwiki is working to deliver information in a format that's quintessentially human – via storytelling instead of search.

We are the first to turn information into an experience. We believe that just because data is stored by machines doesn’t mean it should be presented as a machine-readable list. Let's try harder.

Think of asking your favorite teacher about Leonardo Da Vinci, or your most well-traveled friend about Buenos Aires: this is the experience Qwiki will eventually deliver, on demand, wherever you are in the world… on whatever device you’re using.
We've all seen science fiction films (or read novels) where computers are able to collect data on behalf of humans, and present the most important details. This is our goal at Qwiki – to advance information technology to the point it acts human.

Currently, Qwiki's technology has been applied to describe millions of popular topics - but soon we'll do much more. Our team needs your help in reaching our goal: join our alpha now to help test Qwiki and shape the future.
Very cool, and this is just alpha testing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Too Good to Be True: Truth in Advertising

At Alphaila, Dario D. has posted a fantastic photo comparison of fast food burgers (and tacos) versus their advertised ideals. I would have laughed, but unfortunately I've been face to face with these same atrocities.

What to do with this site? Use it in conjunction with my previous post As Seen on TV: Media Messages UnMasked from my Teach with Picture Books blog. That post discusses how advertising's main purpose is to persuade consumers; it persuades them to think a certain way, act a certain way, and buy a certain product. And it's not always 100% truthful.

If you teach persuasive writing or critical thinking, definitely give these resources a look.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Technology Integration, Somewhat Simplified

If you're curious to see what an organized approach to integrating technology might look like, search no more. The awesome Arizona Technology Integration Matrix comes via a link shared by Kevin Jarrett on the Diigo Educators group.

Kevin explains that this resource is "Arizona's answer to Florida's outstanding tool of the same name. If you are interested in seeing what technology infused teaching looks like at a variety of integration and curricular levels, you will love this resource. Highly recommended."

Couldn't agree more. Go check it out. The introduction at the site tells you all you need to know. Compare it with the Florida Technology Integration Matrix; seems like Arizona simplified things a bit. (The screenshot below shows one row expanded; the grade level links lead to lessons and video segments of those lessons).

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Prompts from Make Beliefs Comix!

Via the awesome Making Curriculum Pop ning, I learned that William Zimmerman has released 100+ free printables on his online comic strip site, MakeBeliefsComix. Some of you who have attended my workshops know I'm a big fan of the site, which I've included in my collection of Interactive Writing Sites.

Regarding the resources, Zimmerman says

As an author of interactive books to help young people find their writers' voices, I often am asked by educators and parents for help in reaching reluctant writers.

With this goal in mind, I have added more than 100 free PRINTABLES on my online comic strip site, Now you can print out, at no cost, interactive pages from my comic books to use for writing, reading, drawing and telling stories.

This enhanced MakeBeliefs PRINTABLES feature is the latest addition to the four year-old online educational comics site where educators and students from 180 countries come to build their own comic strips and practice language, writing and reading skills. The new printable pages are taken from my popular Make Beliefs books and drawn by cartoonist Tom Bloom, who illustrated the best-selling Children's Letters to God.

Now, a teacher using the web site will be able to distribute graphic handouts to students in English-as-a-Second Language or literacy programs that ask for written or drawn responses to such imaginative questions as:
  • Make believe you possessed a magic flying carpet. Where would your travels take you?
  • Make believe you had a net to catch a favorite moment in your life. Which would it be?
  • Imagine you could talk to your favorite book character. Who would that be? What would you say?
  • Make believe that with the snap of your fingers you could change yourself. Who or what would you become?
  • Make believe you could create your own set of holidays. What would they celebrate?
These and other great resources are yours for the taking! Thanks again to Ryan Goble at Making Curriculum Pop ning for passing this along!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

To Make a Long Story Short...

I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time and energy encouraging my students to produce not just quality but also quantity. One way I've found to do that is to let them compose online; this seems to exponentially increase how much they write.

But there's a time, too, for writing less.

Let's face it; getting a point across in as few words as possible is just as important as being able to write or talk at length. How many of us have endured a two hour staff meeting or workshop to hear only fifteen minutes of actual content (that could have been emailed)?

Below are some fab web sites that will test your students' ability to "cut to the chase." Some offer models for writing, while others can be used as interactive platforms for student writing.

One Sentence: True Stories, Told in One Sentence challenges writers to submit single sentence stories. "Insignificant stories, everyday stories, or turning-point-in-your-life stories, boiled down to their bare essentials" is what this site seeks. Readers vote stories up or down, and even unapproved stories are given the chance to be "rescued" by readers.

One sentence isn't enough? Try some Two Sentence Stories. Interesting that, for the most part, these don't tell much more than the One Sentence Stories.

Chances are that many of your students already know My Life is Average. Submitters post short stories (which are allegedly true) and readers can, again, vote. Some of these are pretty good, even if contrived. Three recent examples (click on the image to see the whole thing):

One Word is simple. According to the site's equally simple instructions, "You’ll see one word at the top of the following screen. You have sixty seconds to write about it. Click ‘go’ and the page will load with the cursor in place. Don’t think. Just write." When you click the go button, you're presented with a blank text box and a timer bar at the page's bottom. Once your time runs out, the site allows you to complete your last sentence and then post. Once you're posted, you're able to scroll through other writers' creations (which is cool since, after all, you were all writing on the same word). Each day presents a new word, and you can also scroll back to previous prompts to read what's there. You can, of course, do your own version of this concept (even off-line), but some of your writers will dig sharing virtually with others.

Things get a lot more interesting when you're allotted Six Sentences. This is where true talent surfaces as writers flesh out characters, motives, events, and settings.

Looking for a text to further inspire you or your students in the search for brevity? Try Not Quite What I Was Planning. These Six Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers feature fantastic thoughts on life, captured in just six words. Stephen Colbert’s six-word memoir, for example, “Well, I thought it was funny,” can be read to mean different things when emphasis is placed on different words. If you search YouTube with this book's title, you'll find many videos where teachers have compiled students' sentences in response to this challenge; definitely a short, simple tech project there for the taking!

This last site is for those of us living within evacuation distance of NYC. Overheard in New York is a fun and revealing collection of brief dialogues overheard in the boroughs and recorded for all time. Some of these conversations are hilarious, while others are simply puzzling. Depending upon tone and timing, they can be read and understood in so many ways. Great for a dialogue about emphasis, context, and point of view. Warning: some are not school appropriate, so you may wish to browse the site to choose for yourself. (It seems this site has expanded to include Overheard Everywhere, which might be more useful to my readers in general).

So encourage students to write less, and see if they're not newly inspired.