Friday, December 28, 2007

Podcasts, ipods, Jeopardy and Test Prep

I'm sure that just about every teacher has to endure a horrible phase of 'test prep' at some stage during her/his teaching year. However, this doesn't have to be a completely mundane and decontextualized experience.

Why not exercise a little creativity? For instance, to prepare for the listening sections of the New York State ELA test, why not make use of podcasts? At the moment, good podcasts for the likes of fables and narrative nonfiction are not easy to unearth, but worth looking for, or making yourself (to be shared with colleagues). You could take a look at the Biography Podcast though. Using podcasts for read alouds enables you to model notetaking for the students, or observe the students' listening behaviors.

Similarly, companies like Kaplan have jumped on to the potential of ipods as tools for SAT preparation. Would it be entirely silly for students to create their own revision audio files for playback on ipods and the like?

And many teachers have employed Jeopardy as a fun revision method, made even more colorful and interactive by the use of SMART Notebook files to hide and reveal answers. The benefit of this type of revision might lie more in students making a graphic organizer or mind map to explain a concept or event, and using this as the basis for an interactive game. allows easy design of mind maps, which would be great for this type of thing.

Test prep is a necessary unpleasantry (notice I shied away from 'evil'), but I don't like encouraging a focus on learning devoid of enjoyment. So why not exercise your creative streak and share some of your own ideas with colleagues.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Best Web 2.0 Applications for 2007

Thanks to classroom 2.0, I can share two lists of the best web 2.0 applications for 2007: the first from Larry Ferlazzo; and the second from Silvia Tolisano. I can't wait to start exploring some of these applications that I had not yet discovered.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Celebrating Miletones

Some might argue that we're only celebrating stepping stones, rather than milestones, but any initiatives that keep driving a school forward are worth acknowledging. Also, at this time of year, teachers are more than a little weary and are deserving of some praise.

This link takes you to our Celebrations Page.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Confessions about Classroom Connections

In advocating the interdependence of technology and education, we run the risk of getting a little carried away with what is practical and achievable in most classrooms.

For instance, it becomes all too easy to get used to having internet connection at all times. This week though, reminded me of the frustrations of planning internet-based work, only to be left frustratingly disconnected. I tried everything from attempting to tap into nearby unsecured networks (tut tut!), to investigating wireless cards (to tap into the phone network), blackberries, and hiptops.

Imagine then the frustration that teachers face daily when faced with the possibility of an inexplicably disconnected classroom full of 30-odd students and a now dysfunctional lesson plan based on web-based activities. Sure, we always say “Have a back-up plan”, but that’s little consolation to teacher and students.
Then there’s still the problem of connection speed – often adversely affected by a school’s bandwidth. Many schools are struggling to get through computer-based lessons properly, particularly during peak usage times.

I also discovered recently the horrendous costs that some schools face just to ensure internet access for their students. For schools with limited budgets, they are being stung horribly by telecommunications companies.

And I haven’t even ventured into the dilemmas of theft and damage to computing equipment – let alone the initial purchasing of same – as these hound every school.

In saying all of this though, I’m not advocating a slow down in the attempt to intertwine technology and education. I’m just saying that we’re all still learning and taking some risks, and this is what education should be about. If everything was safe and easy, that might just constitute a stagnation of our own development.

What we do need to do though, is applaud those who continue to bring technology and education to their students in innovative and meaningful ways. Whilst calling these teachers ‘pioneers’ would be a tad corny, they are definitely at the pinnacle of their profession in this regard.

It’s hard to go past the diagram below as an example of how these teachers are moving towards the creative peak of Bloom’s taxonomy.

The spread of news and networking

It's amazing how news travels. Within a few days of Johnny Chung Lee commencing his blog, I have already received news of his wiimote interactive whiteboard via Christina Jenkins' gmail, and from a post on Will Richardson's blog.

Will Richardson talked about the power of networking and sharing, as opposed to marveling at the tools themselves, and this is something that is becoming increasingly evident at C.I.S. 339.
Grade 6 teachers at C.I.S. 339 have been videoing their own teaching to share and discuss with their colleagues. This represents trust and a willingness to improve one's practice.
I can't wait for the day some time soon when a spate of gmails explode around the school in fevered excitement about the wonderful lesson that was witnessed in another teacher's classroom (much like the zeal surrounding the sharing of Johnny Lee's wiimote wonders).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Practicing what we preach by publishing our thoughts

There has been a massive push of late, of which we are all a part, for students to engage in writing on the web. Whilst this is great, there needs to be an even bigger push for teachers to embrace this type of interaction.

It has taken me some time to develop any sense of being a 'blogger', and I'm sure that I still have much need of growth. As I become more comfortable with this mode of communication, self-reflection and learning though, I realize even more the need for teachers to engage in blogging, or other forms of web authorship.

We have been pushing very hard for teachers to include professional development reflection posts in their own eportfolio blogs. Little by little this is starting to happen, and the posts are slowly developing more substance. By the end of the school year, those who have invested fully in this activity will have a tremendous timeline of their own development.

In addition, it really helps when the Principal and the Dean of Instruction lead by example with their own blogs.

There are also teachers who have launched class blogs - despite having low levels of 'tech comfort' themselves. It will be interesting to see how they encourage and enjoy the students' writing, and whether or not they develop as well in terms of their own posts.

The bottom line, I guess, is that we have to go beyond our own levels of discomfort when it comes to using technology or publishing our thinking in order to enrich our own experiences and provide positive role models for the students.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Revisiting Favorites - Great Sites for Sore Eyes

Browsing through educational tech sites is a bit like being in the proverbial candy shop - so many temptations to sample. The danger, of course, is that many of these sweet sites get logged away in an ever expanding list of favorites.

So now is my chance to resurrect some of these older tags and relive some cherished discoveries. If you would like to join this voyage of rediscovery, just click along:

Read/Write Web - 20 Backpack Apps for Students

Video Conferencing not just for tycoons

teAchnology: the online resource for teachers

Podcasting 101

Videos demonstrating integration of technology at SJHS

Mind Tools: Essential Skills for an Excellent Career

Math lessons and project downloads

Web conferencing workspace

Lead differently: digitally informed school leadership for the 21st century

Site Meter Knowledge Base

Channel: KIS tech tutorials

Kis21learning: A "digital arts" menu for multiple intelligences

Beth's Blog: How nonprofits can use social media

Cogdogroo: Story Tools

Middleweb: Science Resources

Interactive websites

gfatechnology: web 2.0 resources

National Geographic Explorer

The reading matrix

readwritethink: essay maps

SMART-created lesson activities

educational software and web 2.0

And the funny thing is that even after reminiscing with these sites, I'm still not quite prepared to let them go still. I guess the transience of site-hopping makes cyclical revisiting all the more important!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Check out the readability of your blog

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Get a Cash Advance

(Somehow I fear that this tool could be a little askew in its assessment.)

How can we help to develop great teaching?

We are in the midst of planning an online Instructional Needs Survey as a guide to professional development "hot spots" that we can address. To this end, Mr. Prinstein (Dean of Instruction)and I have started to grapple with the question of what constitutes quality teaching.

We have developed a draft copy of possible survey questions, but it has struck me that we have covered 'routines' and 'rigor' reasonably well, yet have neglected 'relationships'.

I believe that self-assessment is an under-rated tool, as it can return usable results, and of course deep reflection if administered at the right moment and under appropriate conditions.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The value of assessment with student laptop use

I just had an amazing Google Talk conversation with an incredibly insightful educator (who happens to know a thing or two about technology issues). We were discussing successes within the school and we got to talking about student laptop use, and how this was still a work in progress.

The observations were that students tended to be distracted with the laptops and were succumbing to temptations, but they were no more distracted than they would have been without the laptops.

What we realized was that teachers - although improving rapidly with their use of technology for instruction - were still not well versed in the capabilities of technology in monitoring students' online reading and writing.

In other words, whenever students open the laptops there should always be a mode of assessment for the teacher - the same as in any good lesson.

How will the teacher know how much the students have done (quantity), and the depth and accuracy of the students' thinking (quality)?

This is where a well-planned writing lesson will involve the ongoing use of gmail, Google Docs, blogs or wikis as evidence of student input. This might be in the form of a short or extended prose response or the completion of a graphic organizer (and is great for this). Alternatively, students might be using an online application such as, which will provide automatic feedback to both students and teacher. Either way, students should be held accountable for laptop usage, in the same way that their work with pen and paper should be monitored.

It's important though, to have an easy method of collection of student work, even if you have a system of sampling so that you're not necessarily looking at everyone's work every day. Then you need to let ALL of the students know that you are watching and that you care about their work.

This all comes down to increased knowledge of the capabilities of the technology, improved lesson planning, and most importantly FOLLOW UP.

As for the reading or web browsing, some might wonder how this can be monitored. There are many ways. Responses to reading can be demanded in the same forum as the writing lessons just mentioned, or teachers can be a little more imaginative and progressive.

Diigo is an application that allows you to leave a trail of notes on web sites that you have visited. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but it's definitely worth exploring as teachers' confidence grows. We haven't even scratched the surface yet with tags, social bookmarking and RSS, but we'll get there.

The bottom line is that we must know not only what our students are doing, but also be aware of the quality of their work. Ideally, we will have structures in place to give valuable feedback to students, as noone wants to work if what they produce isn't appreciated or noticed.

This should not be perceived as a criticism of the teachers as they have done an amazing job embracing the use of technology and managing their own learning. The Google Talk conversation just helped to clarify my thinking about necessary next steps.

It's so great working for a school that has teachers who think constantly about ways that we can improve.

Monday, December 3, 2007

EduCon 2.0 Conference

I'm really looking forward to attending and presenting at the EduCon 2.0 conference.

Isn't it great that we have people prepared to put in the massive amount of work to organize such events.

I'll be talking about the power of networking within the context of CIS 339, and how this Bronx middle school is emerging as a result of online teamwork.

PD Reflections in Blogs

The reflective quality of blogs surely makes them ideal for reflections (and feedback and evaluation) at the end of a professional development session. In a weird sort of way, the blog provides the perfect thinking cap.

On the one hand, the blogger gets the opportunity of being reflective and introspective, or letting some creative thoughts run wild. On the other hand, the facilitator of the PD gains some sense of the level of impact that the PD might have had.

As teachers, we rarely do such writing - except maybe on a PD feedback form, which doesn't have the same depth or direction as a blog.

This takes some effort, as most us aren't used to spilling our thoughts via keyboard. The cumulative product at the end of a year though, should be something to behold. Gradually, our writing flow should loosen up, maybe lighten up, and in the end it will add up - to a great record of our growth as an educator.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Great educational software site

Surely one of the best sites on the web is It is not only informative, but also put together simply and attractively. It sets a benchmark for others to try to emulate!

Avatars, alter egos and online adventure

With all of these new avatars coming out (including the Make your Own Simpsons character above), it makes one wonder just how far we'll be able to go with creating alter egos online.
The soaring popularity of Second Life lends credit to the notion that students could one day be creating their own characters or own worlds to demonstrate understanding of 'real life' problems.
It's only fun and games at the moment, but so were blogs and social networking spaces not so long ago.

Building a Beta Web Headline Animator