Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009: An Assembly, A Career Day, A Suggestion

I am re-posting my greatest hits of 2009. This November post definitely drew the most feedback-- both in my building and on Twitter.

In September, we had the grand opening of our new science wing. There was reason to celebrate: the building project was completed on time, the upgrades were impressive as well as necessary, and even if most of the funds were raised before the Recession hit, it was nice to be spending instead of cutting on a project.

The ceremonies were quite conventional, right down to the giant scissors doing the ribbon cutting. Honored guests were invited and an alumna fromm the Detroit Medical Center was invited to make a keynote address at a school assembly. I confess that I expected boilerplate, but it was actually an outstanding challenge to the young women of our all girls school to find careers in science. Accompanied by some good slides and short videos, the speaker made science sound exciting, challenging and vital. As I was leaving the auditorium, I thought of everyone returning to the school day, and then their respective weekend activities, and wondered how long the great message we had heard would last. Now that it's November, of course the message has dissipated.

Now for a technoligy theme to which I continually return. Why, after our students have experienced a great face-to-face session like this one, aren't we plugging them into online resource centers which can connect them with information and professionals who could continue to feed the flames of their curiosity? Every two years we have a career "day". I think it's a fine concept. Alumnae come to the school, the students sign up for particular careers, and they attend three presentations. Usually included is an assembly (not unlike the one described above) featuring a career woman who urges our young women to set their sights high.

Wouldn't it be great if the academic departments, the counselors, the administrators, the parents clubs, and alumnae participated in a career wiki or Ning? With a decent effort on everyone's part we could have a fabulous resource in no time. I certainly would not want to replace Career Day, but such an endeavor would go far to bridge the 729 days between each one.
"Career Fair" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by heraldpost

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009: Shakespeare & Me -- An Amicable Separation

I am re-posting favorite entries from 2009. This one first appeared in June, but I have included this new, cool jpeg.

"No, I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am,
But everybody wants you
To be just like them.
They say sing while you slave and I just get bored.
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.
-- Bob Dylan

My 32 year relationship with Shakespeare class has far surpassed the average length of a marriage in this country. So without apology, he and I embark on a trial separation. Because some of our children (former students) are startled, I'll offer a few words of explanation. has helped me sort out the reasons:

I don't think I ever cheated my students, but this year I cheated on the Bard. I had the sense in class that I was performing. All modesty aside, these were good performances, but I could almost see myself teaching as I taught (not good). Though I continually vary the plays, after teaching some 60-70 sections of the class some of the genuine excitement of sharing is gone. It's not Shakespeare, it's. . . .
I'll admit it. I am tired of teaching literary papers and truly sick of reading them. I'm not proud of this, but it's hard work, and I have paid my dues. It's better to adjust than to simply become altogether bitter and cynical.

Commitment problems
Well , as I cataloged in Making Headway, I have been busy-busy with technology and connective learning. Throwing over the Bard for such a thing has penalized me among our mutual friends (see Shell Shock). And I admit to losing focus on day to day teaching but only because I have been more focused on learning. (And as the world "flattens", won't the better learners be better teachers?).

Change in priorities
I love all my courses, but right now I am fixated on revving up my AP American Government & Politics course with vlogging and a digital anthology. I needed to trim my preps to give this proper focus.

I'll be going to see Macbeth at Stratford in a couple of weeks, and I will still be using that play in Lit into Film. So William and I are still friends. The course will be in great hands with Mike G. And who knows, I might find my way back to Shakespeare class some day. But when I've separated from other great loves in my life like coaching basketball and teaching Dickens, I never went back.

I need this kind of change as a teacher. I'm not remotely burned out-- and after 34 years, I still don't complain when September rolls around. So farewell, Shakespeare. It's been great.

"Shakespeare" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by damozeljane

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best of 2009: Retiring? No, Reinventing!

This week I am re-posting my favorites from 2009. This one first appeared March 29.

"Ah, but I was so much older then,

I'm younger than that now"
-- from My Back Pages by Bob Dylan

This year, I have frequently been asked the question, "When are
you retiring?" The main reason for this question is fairly obvious. My good friend and office mate announced his retirement early this school year. Never mind that I am seven years younger than he is. What with my balding pate, I probably look older. Besides, I have taught 34 years and for many teachers it's "30 and out".

But I'm not remotely ready. As I told Ann J, early this year, I have the sense of being on top of my game like never before. I've always sought change in my professional life. At first it was new preps in the English Department (at least 11 different courses). Then in the mid 1990s I began teaching American Government. And as this blog attests, the latest version of me is that of Web 2.0 evangelist. My new favorite thing to do at school is conducting staff development workshops on the magic tricks which I have discovered. Being selected as an '09
Apple Distinguished Educator is not the culmination of that new obsession, but the beginning of something even more radical and exciting in my life. I'm not sure where it will lead, but certainly not to early retirement. I've never felt more excited about my professional life.

This post was adapted from a recent Facebook note.

"Carnival Father Time 2" Flickr Creative Commons Photos by dou_ble_uou

Monday, December 28, 2009

Best of 2009: On the Net without a net... The Bookless Course

This week I am re-posting my favorite blogs of 2009: This one frst appeared, Feb. 19 2009:

My school has made considerable progress this year with our laptop initiative. Unsurprisingly, we've had our hiccups over the past four years. Initially, there was a strong desire to find electronic book substitutes for traditional texts. This goal was mainly driven by a desire to justify the expense of the computers (see ....ebook Joy), but I now realize that it reflected our inability to see beyond texts.

Even when I decided to go completely bookless in my American Government course last year, I conceptualized the course as a kind of virtual book on Moodle. If you had checked Moodle last year, you would have seen the course organized by units comparable to those found in a standard text.

This year I reorganized the course and broke it into smaller components (....Tinker Toy Playland). The process has been liberating. The course seems more nimble and flexible, allowing me to easily match instruction to the presidential election calendar. So, now that I no longer feel as though I am conducting a pilot program, here are some observations from the trenches:

The mp3 lectures have worked marvelously well and freed me to explore other forms of media for the class. What is more, at no time have we gotten stuck in any kind of rut. Without the book we have far more variety which becomes richer with each iteration. I have also been delighted to experiment complaint-free from students, parents, or colleagues.

I had not expected that quite so much maintenance would be required. American Government invites this problem because specifics quickly seem dated. And of course, links die and typos are discovered. As noted in (Not!) Collaborating...., the seamless fit of Google Docs with Moodle has eased this problem considerably. Still, it is much less fun to review and maintain the curriculum than create it from scratch.

I have not observed that the new program has developed student independence or responsibility. I expected that providing an online assignment calendar and conditioning the students to use Moodle would cultivate independence, but a sizable minority consistently come to class unprepared and clueless. Though fewer fail the course altogether, many underachieve because I don't take them by the hand and walk them through their assignments. (sigh).

By all means, try a bookless course with Moodle. Two cautions: 1) Try it with a subject you know very well. 2) Make sure that online resources are available for all aspects of the course. Then go for it! The time you invest in transferring materials to Moodle will pay off for you and your students.

As usual, your reactions and suggestions are welcome.

Above: "Without a Net!" Flickr photo with kind permission of arpsquire

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best of 2009: My 21st Century Stimulation

As 2009 comes to an end I am re-posting some my favorites. This one first appeared January 11.

I began teaching American Government in 1993, and my Congressional simulation has been with me for the entire ride. The idea came from a product called, "Committee" by Interact, but from the beginning I made modifications. It evolved slowly from semester to semester with two enormous convulsive changes along the way. One year I completely updated all the legislation, and another year I recreated and expanded the entire cast of 35 imaginary characters.

Most students love playing "The Game" as they usually call it. And every semester a few will journal about it and mistakenly refer to it as a "stimulation". I still chuckle.

I have recently conducted another radical revision due to the convergence of three factors:
1) "The game" is getting a little stale for me.
2) I have never liked having the players' roles and goals prescripted for them.
3) I've found some great Google tools that will help me and open up the game and make it far more dynamic.

The latest version of the game will revolve around Google Docs and Google Sites. This will provide students with the easy ability to use templates to build their roles and goals. The sites will allow students to post and share some work. I will also be able to make the project 75% more paperless (See Red Herring and Black Book Bag).

Check out the latest '09 Version of the Game. I'd love to have some feedback. And feel free stop by and observe the interaction when we are hip deep in the next semester. Wish me luck!

Screen Shot of Audrey's Google Site project --- Phil Herbert, White House Director of Legislative Affairs

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas "Gift" for You (haha)

Out of my 148 posts, odds are there have to be a couple of good ones, right? I've sifted through them and selected 5 Greatest Hits. Come back, Sunday, to visit this series.

Merry Christmas!


"Crhistmas tree' Flickr Creative Commons Photo by tmorkemo

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Drive-thru Triple Play

Three recommended short, sweet, and recent blogs.

"Adaptation Is Not an Option":

If we continue to define our profession by what we do and where we do it, we're on our way to joining the iceman, the farrier, lamplighter, pardoner, summoner, and the canon's yeoman.

From "21 Things that Will become Obsolete in Education by 2020":

School buildings are going to become 'homebases' of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

From "Twitter Reveals Most Discussed Topics of 2009"


1. Google Wave
2. Snow Leopard
3. Tweetdeck
4. Windows 7
5. CES
6. Palm Pre
7. Google Latitude
8. #E3
9. #amazonfail
10. Macworld
Triple Escalera de Caracol
" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by P Medina

Monday, December 21, 2009

I Love My Digital Music

The Collection

Not long after I got my first iPod, I made the rash decision to start digitizing my rather large CD music collection. This corresponded with another hobby of mine-- buying and selling for my collection on Ebay. I sold off a large portion of my CDs but continued to buy CDs in bulk on Ebay, digitizing the rock, jazz, and classical music that I purchased. This was a very economical way to build a rather enormous digital collection of music. (I no longer am a free wheeling trader on Ebay, but I still digitize most CDs that come my way).

I bought a Bose iPod player and added an iPod player to our stereo system. Suddenly, I was listening to much more of my own music, creating interesting playlists and listening to the catalogs of artists like Stan Getz, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Or placing all of Mozart's piano sonatas on a playlist and listening straight through over several day's time. I was willing to trade off some fidelity in the sound for the convenience of playing the music and plumbing the collection.


As soon as Apple introduced its Genius playlist feature, I became addicted. I let Genius search through the collection to mix playlists. What I enjoy most is when music surfaces that I forgot was even part of my own collection. Many people love Pandora. Genius serves as a Pandora which uses my own collection as a database. I even burn Genius playlists to CDs to play in my car. I wake up to genius playlists, drive with them, exercise with them, and listen to them through the evening as I do school work.


On the first day of school this year, we had a get re-acquainted ice breaker. Each of us had to divulge a "secret" about ourselves. I told about my music collection and remarked that when others are not around, I like my music LOUD. I've now taken this a step further. A good chunk of my music collection accompanies to school in my Macbook Pro. I arrive pretty early this year, and I play my music...loud. I usually dial it down a tad as the students start arriving. But I usually play it right up until first hour starts. I try to squeeze in a song between first and second hour too. If I have a free period, I sometimes play some piano jazz or something else that is soft. But I enjoy the relaxation, ambience, and self-expression that comes from this new wrinkle. It helps to keep me going!

"iPod" Flickr CC photo by Toni V

Friday, December 18, 2009

Collaboration from the Perspective of a School Media Specialist

I invited School Media Specialist, Katy Koskela, to submit a guest blog in order to shift this blog's perspective away from that of a classroom teacher's (if only for one post). Katy, incidentally, helped get me into presenting at conferences-- She urged me to apply to MAME 36. Her post concludes my guest series.

Today’s educational paradigm focuses on “collaboration” as a key word in discussions of teaching methods, student work, & professional development. It is enlightening to note the facets of that practice and concept depending on viewpoint. As a school media specialist, teacher librarian or school librarian (take your pick of any or all titles) my professional organizations (AASL and MAME for example) provide guidance and examples of best practice. Much of it revolves around reasons and ways to collaborate with colleagues, both other school library media specialists (SLMS) and the classroom teachers and administrators we all work with.

There is a degree of trust and openness to collaboration. Each has to believe in the others’ abilities to contribute something of value to the whole. The title “teacher librarian” that is gaining favor with many in my profession, recognizes the duality of our training and roles. We are certified teachers and librarians with master’s degrees in that organizational and research discipline. Most school librarians come to the field after a period in the classroom. They understand the challenges faced by classroom teachers and can be valuable allies in this time of shrinking budgets, increasing state standards, a changing technical “banquet,” and students that have gown up in a multi-media milieu.

At a recent meeting, 10 SLMSs of varying ages and experiences working at all levels K-12, were asked the question, “What does collaboration mean to you?” Phrases such as:

· “Twice the knowledge and experience in one shot.”

· “I bring expertise in topics that complement the classroom teacher’s knowledge base.”

· “Communication is key. It’s impossible to collaborate in a vacuum. I am a value-added commodity, but I don’t this the teachers know that! Talk to me!”

· “Today we focus on the whole package: resources (digital and not), processes, connections, enabling intellectual curiosity, and time-saving assistance for all.”

Every group has their guru, and one for the SLMS community is Joyce Valenza, high school media specialist extraordinaire! I have decided she must not need much sleep to function at a very high level – especially when I look at a “typical day in the life of Joyce!! She is an initiator, collaborating on a broad scale with a multitude of people and groups. It doesn’t take a close lens to see that she is a HUGE proponent of using the Web 2.0 tools, weaving instruction & applicability throughout her interactions with “information problem-based learning, requiring learners to effectively and creatively find, evaluate, analyze, use, and communicate information.” (1) I think she would agree she views collaboration as “connecting my learners and my colleagues with each other and the tools they need to do business today.” (2) She and Doug Johnson collaborated to write a wonderful article for School Library Journal that describes their expectations for school librarians. We all would aspire to those goals, but some are more willing/able to jump in and “own” them!

I agree with their points, but personally feel another colleague, Annette Lamb, speaks for those of us that feel burdened sometimes by the technology impetus and/or challenges facing us due to short staffing, limited budgets, time, and money. Although I’ve added to and slightly adapted her recommendation to LEAD ….I agree with her that sometimes it happens with baby steps ! (3) I’m trying to walk faster and take bigger steps!!

A.L. K.K.

Listen Learn

Empathize Engage

Analyze Apply
Decide Discuss

(1) Valenza, Joyce and Johnson, Doug. School Library Journal, 10/1/2009. Available from:

(2) Valenza, Joyce. Neverendingsearch: My 2.0 day and the response/rant about our cover argument blog. [2009, Oc. 14.] Cited 2009, Dec. 6. Available from:

(3) Lamb, Annette. Re-imagine, Rejuvenate, Renew: Beyond Library Media Specialist 2.0: webpage adaptation of MAME Media Spectrum article used for keynote presentation. [2006, Aug.] Cited 2009, Dec. 6. Updated 2008, August. Available from:


"New year 2009-10 006" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by SMLibrary

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tech Update from My AP Class

My technology integration focus this year was on AP American Government & Politics. Here are how things are going so far:

Challenge Based Learning Projects
Back in October I left my comfort zone and launched a CBL . Five groups were challenged to "create an authentic medium for strengthening democracy." The results are coming in via group presentations. I am thrilled about many aspects of this new adventure, and I will reflect in detail about this at the beginning of the new year, but for now I would say that the strength has been the creation of surprisingly authentic and highly intelligent solutions to the challenge. There have been hiccups with the research and process. Overall, I am thrilled with the results and look forward to sharing more after we have more thoroughly processed the experience.

Blogs about Vlogs
Last year, my experiment with blogging on vlogs went so well that I decided to expand the project. This semester we have had ten vlogging activities. Of these, students have been required to participate in eight for an "A." I still love the activity, but I may have overdone the number. I have a very large class (28). And with so much writing, students who come in late to the discussion have little to add. With eight to complete, I think it has become more of a chore. Additionally, without an election/inauguration, like last year, students have been far less focused on current events. The subjects of the blogs have instead concerned social problems which are less obviously political. I will probably scale back a tad on this one.

The Digital Anthology
My digital anthology has been the centerpiece of three of my presentations MAME, MAPSA, and our staff. I am very proud of this creation and it has become a very natural, vital part of the course. Any drawbacks? Yes. I am surprised my how little I have updated the anthology since I worked on it last summer. One of the stregnths of the anthology is the ability to change it on the fly. But I have found myself with little time or inclination to do so. So it has operated in this respect more like a bound book. But given my hard work last summer, it's relatively current. And of course it is free. I'll make updating a summer project, I guess.

Screen capture of Group #1 CBL "Operation iVote" web site home page. Rosie created the page.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How Much Tech Should I Teach?

Alison Kline-Kator is a talented young teacher in our school's Religious Studies Department. She also happens to be a former student of mine and a proud Northwestern University alumna. So besides collaborating on educational technology, we support each other during the Big Ten football season -- unless her Wildcats are playing my Wolverines.

At an inservice a couple of months ago, one of my colleagues (let’s call him Larry) was showing off a pretty awesome project his Government students had done on the subject of civil liberties. It used Google Sites. It had audio and video. And then, Larry mentioned that he didn’t really spend time teaching students to use the technology they’d need to use to complete the project.

That struck me, and got me thinking. When one is trying to integrate technology, do you have to teach the technology? If so, how much tech do you teach?

I use a lot of technology tools in my teaching. To me, they’re never the end goal, they’re a means to an end – the tools I use with my students to build learning about our subject matter. For many of my students, my class might be the first time they’re posting something on a wiki or using the interactive Dyknow software or Moodle extensively. Students need a basic understanding of how these tools work if they’re going to use them effectively to learn. Tossing students into a project with no direction can create opportunity for problem-solving, but it can also lead to frustrated students who shut down and refuse to seize that opportunity. I enjoy figuring out how to get a program to do what I need, or finding the right tool for an activity. Providing a little guidance can help instill that same enjoyment in my students.

So, I’d say yes, if you’re going to use technology, you do need to teach it, but not as much as you might think. Here’s how I practice that with my students:

· I get students on the same page. In the first week of my classes, I have students complete practice exercises in Moodle, and simple group activities in Dyknow. Experienced students help their classmates and novices get a basic understanding of tools we’ll be using throughout the semester. I don’t teach the ins and outs of every program or tool I use (I don’t even know all of them!), but I do present enough to get my students to a basic level of understanding and use. This doesn’t take days or hours out of other instructional time – 5 or 10 minutes here and there as we begin or move through a project.

· I teach students to use resources. I’d love for all of my students to be completely invested in creating their own personal learning networks when it comes to my subject or technology, but I recognize that some are more on their way than others. So, I draw on other students’ knowledge whenever possible. When students ask a question in class, I like to see if others can solve the problem before I step in. I provide video tutorials that I’ve found or created for students. I encourage use of our unscheduled time to solve tech issues and questions.

· I know how to do what I ask my students to do. As I wrote earlier, I don’t know every nuance or feature of every tool I use, but I do know how to create what I ask my students to create. When appropriate, I provide samples for students – my work if it’s the first time around, or work from previous semester’s students. If students run into an issue, we turn to our resources.

· I let my students see that I don’t know everything. I’ve come to view technology glitches in class as opportunities to model effective problem solving for my students. Looking at it any other way would push me to give up entirely. I let my students in on how I’m going to problem solve – who I’ll ask, or tweet, or where I’ll look for a solution.

· I discuss with my students why I think the tool/s we’re using are the best things to help them learn for that particular project or task.

Thanks to Larry for the opportunity to guest-post! If you’re interested in seeing some of the video tutorials I’ve created for students or my sophomore wiki projects (in progress), check out my wiki or follow my further adventures on Twitter @aklinekator …

"Olafur Eliasson: I only see things when they move" -- Flickr CC Photo by Dom Dada

Friday, December 11, 2009

Howling at the Moon

Wailing and moaning on a bleak Friday Morning:

Too Many Questions, Not Enough....
I used to really enjoy reading blogs like a recent one from Will Richardson which poses tons of questions. This one revolved around the issue of school's prohibiting students from using mobile even though they now provide connectivity to the Internet. Very interesting. But, these days when it comes to ed tech, I suffer from "Devil's Advocate" fatigue. I prefer to hear about actual attempts at implementing new policies and programs. Questioning alone lacks street cred with me.

Put up or ....
Speaking of trying new things-- I'm up for that. Imagine my frustration then, when on two different occasions teachers at schools hundreds of miles away have suggested that our classes hook up on a Ning and then failed to follow through on even a first step. This puzzles me a bit, because in both cases they took the initiative. Brainstorming is cool for workshops and retreats. But for classroom activities, I'd rather collaborate with doers.

Positively 4th Street

As Tiger Woods has learned digital information does not dissipate into the ether. A recent experience caused me to consider this fact more deeply as well.

On Facebook I often exchange sarcastic barbs with "friends". But I'm not used to stumbling upon gratuitous insults like the one a friend had posted to his own wall. It was a tired "joke", based on a half-truth. Much worse, it elicited a pair of hyperbolic anecdotes from a former student of ours. She sardonically portrayed me as a heartless beast. No "friend" had my back.

When I revealed that I was masochistically following this thread, the tone instantly switched to chumminess (oh, that's not too phony). What a creepy and uncomfortable experience-- and, I sure didn't like considering that this version of me would remain out there on a virtual wall for family, friends, students or even strangers to see. It originated with my friend's need to come off as
oh-so-clever. I've been quite guilty of the same urge. So besides calling out this casual bit of nastiness, I'm giving myself pause for reflection. When I re-engage with truer "friends" on Facebook, I'll be more circumspect, recognizing that any words that fly out of my computer are built to last.

"a howling moon tonite" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by max_thinks_sees

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Diigo Does It

This is the second in a series of guest blogs. This one is by our Religious Studies Department Chairwoman, Ann Lusch. Ann is a key member of my pln. Over the last year we have encouraged each other's tech adventures. Like me, she is willing to try new things, but doesn't simply do "new" for its own sake. If she recommends Diigo, it's because she has given it a vigorous road test!

On a recent day off I had time for some leisurely browsing in my library. I'm not talking about a room in my house, or even the wonderful building crammed with books just a couple of blocks away. I'm speaking of "my library" in Diigo, the social bookmarking site that contains the compendium of website articles, blog posts and other information that I have amassed over the last few months.

The collection (much of it gathered through sharing on Twitter) is mostly about education and technology, but every once in a while there will be the occasional recipe or blog post about the lost tribes of Israel or health care reform in the U.S. That it's a bit of a mixed bag is not a problem; by clicking on tags I have applied to bookmarks along the way, in a flash I can narrow the list to a desired topic.

I will say that I love using Diigo, but I cannot compare it to that other, apparently more famous, bookmarking site that I have never used. Here's what I'm told, though: Delicious lacks two very important features that make Diigo as great as it is: highlighting and sticky notes.

In Diigo I can highlight the sections that are most pertinent to me and reread the highlighted sections (or hide them) right on the list of bookmarks. I might not even need to go back to the original page. Or perhaps I'll have a comment about the site that I can add with a sticky note -- it could be a thought, for example, that will remind me why I even bothered to bookmark the page in the first place!

I still remember the piles of index cards with scrawled notes that I cranked out diligently while doing research in a grad course or two. I'm not sure if finding good information these days is easier or not, but organizing online information most certainly is. Diigo keeps it all together.

So that's what I had in mind when I assigned research using Diigo to students in one of my classes. Pairs were required to collaborate on a paper and presentation about a chosen topic. Through a Diigo Education account I quickly created a group for my class, and on the group homepage we could all view items as they were added during the research period of the assignment. Through a "teacher console" I had access to individual pages to see what each student was contributing. And, importantly, project partners could easily share found information with one another.

It was not entirely smooth sailing. Websites posed no problems, but we did have difficulties with the subscription databases available to us through school. In the future I will know how to direct students to the persistent URL's that will enable them to actually get back to their sources through the bookmarks. Then there were the points where some of the students' highlighting or sticky notes did not appear consistently. But I'm ready to introduce it to a new class next semester. It's a valuable tool for students about to launch their college careers and, I hope, a lifetime of learning.

There are more features than this to Diigo; it's about social bookmarking after all, and there's more on sharing that I haven't shared: groups to join, friends to add. But it's not necessary to know all the ins and outs to get started. Go ahead, take the plunge, install the toolbar at (easy to do) and start highlighting. Chances are, you'll get hooked, too.

"The Library" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Here's Kate

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ring a Ding Ning

I finally got off the schneid and activated my Blog Squad Ning. I put out a call for members to come to the aid of my American Government students to help them with the nuances of their web site construction. I was not prepared by the immediate response I received....from adults! Our associate principal came in twice to help students one-to-one. Our library technician came in last week and hopes to come back this week. The chairwoman of our Religious Studies Department is coming in on Thursday. This has been inspiring and fun....It's nice having another adult or two in the room because these tech adventures surface a variety of perplexing and humorous issues. The students have been quite appreciative too. The atmosphere has been charged, purposeful, and fun. It makes me feel really good about my school.

Speaking of Religious Studies, I would guess we may be one of the only schools around where this particular department is leading the way in terms of pushing the social media envelope. They have put together a cool Ning for inter-department communications and two of the teachers are experimenting very daringly with wikis and Diigo. They will be guest blogging in this space very soon.

Following on the heels of the Religious Studies bunch, the English Dept. initiated its own Ning and used the forum feature very effectively to discuss a new course proposal. I thought it was a good way to use the Ning and I suspect the discussion was more balanced and focused by virtue of taking place online.

P.S. I've become addicted of late to sports gossip-- Not Tiger Woods, but the Detroit Tigers. I check the news aggregator several times a day as the general managers head into their trade meetings. Great time of year for hot stove trade speculation. The rumors and news tidbits absolutely pour into this site.

"Door Bell" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Caro's Lines

Friday, December 4, 2009

Teaching without a Safety Net

Over the next few weeks I will be presenting some guest posts from key folks in my personal learning network.

Lynn Waldsmith is a high school English and Journalism teacher who has become an active ed tech adventurer. Here she reflects on how she have used tech in her courses and why she is determined to do it.

When parents, teachers, and other adults discover that I used to work for The Detroit News, many give me these knowing glances and comments. “Ohhh,” they say with a nod and a smile. “Aren’t you glad you’re no longer in journalism? You got out just in time. Bet you’re glad you have a ‘safe’ job now.”

While it’s true that traditional jobs have been slashed at newspapers everywhere as the transitioncontinues from old media to new, I decided to become a teacher for two reasons: I love to teach young adults and I love my subject matter – English and journalism. Indeed, embarking on a mid-life career switch felt anything but “safe”. I wasn’t running away from technology to the safe, non-technological haven of education. I was leaving a career that I had been quite good at and had always enjoyed. But teaching was a risk that I wanted to take. Indeed, I wanted to share my love for the subject matter and inspire others to enjoy it as much as I always have.

So it strikes me as ironic that many teachers fail to understand that they are not immune to the shift in the technological paradigm that is affecting journalists. It’s just slower in coming to education. Just as new media journalists must embrace change, so must teachers be willing to take some risks in the classroom -- or risk failing to help their students think critically in an increasingly complex global marketplace of ideas.

Like most time-starved teachers, I know I can’t possibly become a tech-savvy wizard overnight. So I’m trying a few things at a time and learning while I go. This year, in particular, I made a more concerted effort to incorporate more technology in my teaching. I decided to try a blog and podcasting for the first time. I’ve been using the blog for my journalism students to post weekly updates that either reinforce something we’ve discussed in class or preview an upcoming topic. The blog works as a great tool for including links to outside reading or video clips of real life examples of things like bias in the news.

In my British Literature class, I introduced podcasting as an activity at the end of our unit on The Canterbury Tales. Students had to create and record their own “modern” Canterbury Tale. Then they attached their podcasts to a google site that I created for the class. While there were a few glitches along the way, these podcasts were, for the most part, a successful way for students to emulate and appreciate Chaucer’s work while sharing and showcasing their creativity. I have even tried Twitter this year for the first time, and while I don’t like it as much as blogging or podcasting, I no longer feel Twitter is for the birds.

In short, I no longer worry about whether my students have more tech expertise than I do. They often do. So what? They don’t have my world experience or expertise in the subject area. I also know what every good journalist knows: there is no safety net. We must all adapt and take risks.


"Balance without Safety Net" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Ikhlasul Amal

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Google Wave + Agents of Change + Visionaries?

Three recommended posts:

I'm still trying to get my head around Google Wave, but the Chicago Tribune and the Austin American-Statesman are using it to engage their readers in participatory journalism. Leah Betancourt writes at Mashable on How Google Wave is Changing the News.

Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant, asks, "Are most of our school administrators just ‘steady-as-she-goes functionaries?'", suggesting that not enough school administrators are visionaries.

Melissa Corey, a Missouri librarian, ponders the challenge of "making the unseen seen" as she battles cultural inertia to move her media center into the 21st Century. From The New School Library she posts, Agents of Change-- Paradigm Shift in Progress

"Crashing Waves" Frickr Creative Commons Photo by Gurumustuk Singh

Monday, November 30, 2009

Embracing Failure

As I have reported from time to time in this space, I the centerpiece of my American Government students is "The Game" -- a legislative simulation played toward the end semester. Last year I developed a full fledged online edition, requiring each student to create a web site for the character she portrayed in the game. Going high tech produced a number of successes and failures which I reflected upon in Web 2.0 Simulation Post-Mortem.

My biggest error was unwittingly putting myself in the middle of far too much web activity. I allowed the game and project requirements bombard me with emails and force me to go back to the student web sites again and again. After launching the game with great enthusiasm in all three sections, I barely enjoyed any of the cool things that came out of it. Each night I would respond to numerous student emails and and check dozens of student web sites. Playing the game in three classes simultaneously proved to be overwhelming.

So, here I am again, launching three simulations, simultaneously. But I've learned from the school of hard knocks, instituting three major changes to shift or share more responsibility with the students.

1) Last year I asked students to email me the url of their web sites so that I could post them for the class. Pretty stupid. Utterly confusing and inefficient. This year I created a wiki and listed all the students' names on a page. I asked the students to request an invitation to the wiki which are easy to accept at the Wikispaces site. Students are then required to link their sites to the wiki. It took about five minutes in class to show them how.

2) I am recruiting students to evaluate each other's sites, determining whether the required "stuff" has been posted. This can be done through a blind process (students of one class will check the "characters' sites of another). I am awarding a bit of extra credit for the service. Having those eyes and ears poking through the sites will be a major relief. This year I should be able to look each site over once.

3) Students will complete a check list self-evaluation which they will submit at the end of the project. This is intended to improve responsibility and also relieve me from going on wild goose chases, looking online for artifacts that don't even exist because the student missed a deadline.

I suspect that I will be noting some new failures in my next post-mortem. But it's hard to keep moving forward without having some choice mistakes point you in the right direction.

"epic fail :)" Flickr Creative Commons photo courtesy of anna

Friday, November 27, 2009

Personal Branding

Personal branding? Isn't that incredibly narcissistic for a teacher? After all, aren't we supposed to be quietly and diligently urging our students along? Decorating bulletin boards, preparing lessons, handing out work sheets, staying after school to give extra help, correcting spelling, meeting with parents, recording grades, passing them along to the next grade, and then enjoying a few relaxing summer weeks at the lake are all pretty below the radar activities.

Pardon me if I make a little more noise than this. I see myself in much different terms than a tutor, clerk, or classroom manager. I don't see myself as the teacher of a "subject". And I no longer see myself as I used to in terms of my notes, my books, lesson plans, or my "stuff." These days I would no more put one of my books out at Open House than I would t a pencil, a stapler, or a shoe. Instead, I send my students have them discuss their projects and show off their communications media.

Going through two days of exercises on personal branding exercises at the ADE Summer Institute was a valuable experience for me. It allowed me to really focus in on a digital educator with a unique skill set. A series of exercises called for us to think hard about who were professionally. The exercises culminated in our writing a one minute television script and making an HD recording of it in the Full Sail studios. Recently, Apple gave us the edited versions of our cuts, so I decided to hang out my shingle here. Behind this video, there is some real serious thinking about myself as an educator. With this in mind, check out my "brand":

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crazy Eights -- Eight Favorite Blogs

Back in May, I recommended ten RSS Feeds. Here are eight more from my Reader that I think offer something special, depending on your interests

*SeanNash is a biology teacher and "instructionalist coach" in Missouri. He is also a terrific writer who lucidly communicates his enthusiasm for technology and teaching in nashworld.

*faire alchemist, the paperless teacher of classics has boundless energy and extremely provocative ideas-- pure dynamite. He's edgy and out there. though he posts a little too much for my tastes I check them all out at TeachPaperless.

*For a more main stream turn at ed tech, follow Liz Davis's The Power of Educational Technology. Her ideas a always sound and she clearly is a great Director of Academic Technology at Belmont Hill School.

This is the most cerebral recommendation, but I am a George Siemens devotee and if I have made anyone curious about his educational model, you'll want to follow him in Connectivism.

This is a niche recommendation. I teach film, but rarely go to movie houses anymore. I watch dvds by the dozens, instead. Most of these come from Netflix and the library, but I am hooked on Criterion flims and have a small collection, favoring Akira Kurosawa and film noir classics.
The Criterion Contraption. Matthew Dessem has the object of viewing all the Criterion films and reviewing them one by one. His reviews match the high quality of his subject matter.

Pat Caputo's Open Book remains my favorite Detroit area sports blog, but John Niyo of the Detroit News does a terrific job blogging on pro football. If you are an NFL fan, place his Lions Blog in your reader, posthaste.

If you are an Apple aficionado like I am, you will definitely want a daily hit of Cult of Mac.

I recommended The Big Picture from the Boston Globe before, but it is so good that it bears repeating. The high definition photos are invariably fascinating.

"Management Decision Making Tool" Flickr Creative Commons photo by rbieber

Monday, November 23, 2009

Full Circle

In March. '07 our entire staff was required to attend the MACUL Conference at Cobo Center in Detroit. I was more than skeptical. Our school was transitioning to a 1:1 HP Laptop program, and I had the impression that we were just chasing after tech for tech's sake. Nevertheless, the conference changed my professional life. I got excited about Google's apps and decided to explore podcasting as a result of sessions I attended. For the rest of the spring I began to aggressively put mp3s on Moodle for the students. In May I required my first student podcasts.

In the '07-'08 year, I decided that I could jettison my American Government text. I also presented a list of tech integration suggestions to our school administration. By the end of the year they had formed a tech integration group for '08-'09. And by that time I was growing very curious about using video (something I knew nothing about) . While serving on the tech integration committee I plunged into tech whole heartedly. I initiated my blogging on vlogs site for AP and began to use wikis and Google Sites. In November I started this blog. By December '08, I was planning my first workshops for staff and had decided to apply for the Apple's Distinguished Educator program. As part of my application, I developed a couple of major Web 2.0 projects.

Of course, the ADE experience greatly expanded my personal learning network and helped to give me the confidence to pursue sharing technology solutions and ideas with other educators. This year I presented to MAME 36 and MAPSA. I led our staff in-service day. But I had the sense of coming full circle when two week's ago I was chosen to be a presenter at the March, 2010 MACUL conference.

A lot has happened in three years.
Halo, 22-degree halo, Solar Halo, 22 degree solar halo - aka (incorrectly) Rainbow, Full Circle, 360 Degree, Round, Circular, Whole. Directly overhead. Morro Bay, CA. 12 June 2009. Flickr Creative Commons photo by mikebaird.

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