Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ms. Sowin's Measurement Activity


In order to get Ms. Sowin's science students a little more invested in measurement, I have included a screencast anecdote about a red-bellied black snake hiding in a bush in my backyard. measurement seems to become so much more interesting when you're referring to a poisonous creature almost 5 feet long. (It might take a few rulers to sort this problem out though.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Re-launching Reflection

I haven't posted in some time, but I'd like to recommence with plaudits for two principals. Firstly, I'll explain why these two principals are figuring in my thinking.
I am listening at the moment to a presentation about Scratch, creativity, insight and design by Professor Mitch Resnick at the National Convention Centre in Canberra, Australia, as he gives his keynote for the ACEC.

As I look around the room, I fear again that there will be a shortage of administrators in the audience. Typically, these educational technology conferences are populated by ICT coordinators and early adopters from the classrooms. Not so often do we see the people who have the potential to have the most influence (via their own authority) in schools - the principals and regional education directors.

Mr. Jason Levy and Mr. Dominic Cipollone are two Bronx principals who are prepared to invest in educational technology - not by throwing a bone to the Tech Coordinators in the form of a few more laptops or interactive whiteboards, but by embracing technology for organizational and instructional improvement within schools. They are principals who have developed a vision, a voice and a vehicle for change.

These are two principals who are looking to remodel education, and there is a tremendous level of excitement that can be generated within schools that have adopted this approach. I have seen what Chris Lehman has achieved with his teachers and students at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and Jason Levy's school will host an International Conference in 2009.
This is the type of leadership that is required in all of our schools. These principals are turning their schools into learning institutes not just for students but also for teachers. They are focusing on technology for improved communication, collaboration, transparency and innovation. More importantly, they are investing in professional development.

Visitors who attended the 339 Tech Open House in June were treated to observations of some innovating practices:

  • teachers' proficiency levels with technology is assessed as a baseline, and professional development is offered according to differentiated needs

  • teachers' and students' goals are collected via online surveys and displayed on online spreadsheets

  • team meetings within the school are recorded and shared via web-based documents

  • teachers, students (and even some parents) are now linked via gmail

  • teachers are prepared to have their lessons recorded on video (and even live streamed hopefully) to gain peer feedback

  • Parent Expos and Open Houses allow promotion of innovative practices

  • teachers use chat to communicate throughout the day

  • school and grade-wide data is shared via online spreadsheets

  • teaching teams are setting up Google Sites and Google Groups to share and archive their planning

  • teachers are setting up class blogs and Google Sites as instructional spaces for their students

  • administrators use online documents to give teachers supportive feedback on their teaching, lesson planning and unit planning

  • important documents such as online calendars, daily announcements and action plans are housed together and automatically updated on Google Sites and wikis

  • all students will enhance metacognition through reflective blogs that are used in all subject areas

  • teachers email the daily work to students, who then upload prompt questions and respond via Google Docs

  • teachers are pre-recording read alouds as podcasts

  • instructional resources are collected in Google Sites and hyperlinked to online lesson plans

  • students will display their work via digital portfolios

The innovations go on and on, but they have been expediated as a result of principals' support of organizational and instructional reform.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Google Docs and Wikispaces are a Good Combo

Just when I was growing a little tired of wikispaces, Jason Levy has shown me something new. Not only is it possible to embed Google Spreadsheets, Google Presentations and ustream broadcasts into a wiki page, you can also embed a Google Doc into a wiki page as well.

This is really something special, because you can also edit the Google Doc from within the wiki by scrolling right down to the bottom and clicking on 'edit this document if you have permission'.

We have been using Google Docs all year in so many different ways, and the school wikispace serves as a great archiving site for these documents and spreadsheets.

My only reservation about embedding Google Presentations is that they can result in the web page being slow to load up. However, the resulting effect of the embedded files is really great.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Apture captures interest

Apture, which came to my attention via a post from Will Richardson, is a very interesting application for blogging, although I think it will take a little getting used to. I think where it could really have success is in:

  • teaching students how to hyperlink, and reference sources;
  • showing students that writing is not a one-step process, that you can continue to develop your ideas (even after initial publication, in this case);
  • demonstrating the interconnectness of web-based publishing;
  • encouraging students to read and view beyond their initial idea for a blog post;
  • making the reading of blog posts more interactive;
  • adding visual support to ideas;
  • creating a blog-based project;
  • a thematic class blog;
  • a school newspaper blog

After you publish a post, you then highlight key words and Apture does the searching for you for links to related sites, definitions, pictures, maps or videos. One thing about it that is a little bit annoying is that the tutorial video then pops up every time you visit your own blog, although I'm sure there would be a way to stop that.

Footnote: You really have to admire Apture's tech support and follow up. Within seconds of posting, I received my answer to the 'problem' that I mentioned in the previous paragraph:

Hi Pat,

This is Tristan from Apture. I really like some of the applications for using Apture that you pointed out.You can hide the tutorial video by clicking the "Don't show this next time" link on the bottom right of the window. We're going to make this link more obvious so that people notice it quicker.


Now that's service!

Monday, May 5, 2008

So why does technology change you?

One of the complaints about integrating technology is that there is too much to learn and too little time. I agree with the summation of 'too little time', but the fact that there is so much to learn is what produces such amazing results.

When I think about the time that I invest in my own professional development each week, the total time expended is staggering. And I'm sure that I don't spend anywhere near the amount of time that others do in PLN's or PLC's.

At a glance for the week:
* About an hour looking for new applications, conferences or thoughtful links on twitter;
* At least three hours reading through and commenting on the educational blogs to which I subscribe through Google Reader;
* An hour or two at least signing up for, or downloading, or trialing some kind of new software;
* Probably an hour fiddling with the tools of an application that I'm already using, trying to get a better effect or do something more efficiently;
* Maybe half an hour looking over an upcoming conference (or even more time submitting a proposal);
* At least an hour conversing with colleagues about how best to use an application, or which application is more suitable;
* An hour writing my own blog posts;
* And, of course, an hour in conversation with someone to explain what it is exactly that we do with all of these web 2.0 tools.

When you do the sums, it's at least a day of extra work each week. And that's a conservative estimate, and doesn't even to take into account the many, many hours spent actually using these applications during my work.

It's little wonder then that those who are exposed to educational technology have accelerated learning. If I took all of that technology out of the equation, I'm sure that I couldn't claim to have been learning this much if I was just concentrating on my teaching each week.

The constant movement forward is very tiring, but when you look back it's truly startling to see how far you've travelled.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Scrapblog great for celebrating Expo success

The students, staff and parent of I.S. 339 have just pulled off something remarkable. Only two months ago, the idea of hosting a Parent Expo was born, and since then students and staff have been working feverishly to prepare for a wonderful celebration of teaching and learning.

Unfortunately, the Pacific ocean and the width of the U.S. stopped me from being present, but the feedback has been incredibly positive. Apart from showcasing the innovative learning that has been taking place, the Parent Expo enabled the students to become the teachers, and they excelled in this new role.

About 300 parents attended this evening event, and staff and students all put in extra hours to stay back at school. From all accounts, there are many exhausted people now trying to recover, but I'm sure that they would agree that it was all worthwhile.

I'd definitely recommend to teachers and classes that they take a look at scrapblog
as an excellent way to further celebrate the success of the Expo. Scrapblog is not only great fun to play with, it is extremely functional with its ability to encompass pictures, text, video and music. I can't wait to hear more stories and see some of the video and over 1000 photographs taken of the event.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Beta Blogging

While too much discussion about 'blogging etiquette' makes me a little uneasy, two recent blog posts from Silvia Tolisano and Sue Waters set out some useful tips for improving your blogging experience.

I only say that an emphasis on 'blogging etiquette' makes me uneasy because I worry that instead of a socializing experience, we run the risk of normalizing the blogging practice, which runs counter to being reflective and creative.

Therefore, any advice offered up about blogging should probably be viewed as a helpful 'guide' rather than a 'given'.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Google Forms for Student Goals

We've been trying something new of late, regarding a more efficient system for encouraging and collecting student goals. Instead of collecting these slowly on paper, we've been sending students to an online link to fill out a Google Form.

These goal-setting forms guide students through possible strategies for improving their reading or writing, based on the feedback that they have been receiving from their teachers. The students' results are gathered into a Google Spreadsheet that can then be shared among teachers, administration, and the students themselves.

There have been concerns raised that predetermined responses could inhibit students' goal-setting, or reduce the amount of thinking that goes into the selection of required strategies. However, so far, the students seem to have chosen carefully, and this has been a great introduction into a goal-setting system that we can continue to refine.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Paul Hamilton has posted about twiddla, and the excellent screencast from Molly MacDonald (aka DemoGirl). While I can't see this application being a tool that we'd use often for collaboration, it certainly presents a novel way of bringing parties together for synchronous collaboration.

Flies on the Wall

I have referred to myself before as a 'fly on the wall' in my work with C.I.S. 339 School of Technology, and today I had two other 'flies' observing proceedings. The two visitors were Dr. Michael Fox (psychologist and high performance coach for athletes and businesses), and his wife Karen, an Assistant Principal at St. Ursula's College, and one of the best educators with whom I have had the pleasure of working along side.

Michael and Karen sat in with me during two morning Skype meetings, and were astounded by the ease with which the teachers and administrators at C.I.S. 339 handle not only the technology, but grapple as well with pedagogical issues like differentiation and student goal-setting.

The visitors were first treated to a Differentiation Task Force planning meeting with the AIS, IEP and Bilingual Coordinators, Ms. McHale, Ms. Lovett and Mr. Betancourt respectively. After making the initial Skype contact, we flicked between shared Google Docs and Google Presentations, and ventured into discussions about how we would live stream the next Differentiation Task Force meeting using

This level of comfort not only with the technology but also with such effective collaborative planning, barely existed before the start of the school year. Without a doubt, technology has been our accelerant for positive school change.

Following this first meeting, Karen and Michael were welcomed into a Curriculum Team session, with noone in the team even slightly fazed by their virtual presence. This time Google Spreadsheets came into play as we discussed our need to 'close the loop' in terms of some systems in place to support teachers. These systems involve members of the Curriculum Team providing instructional and goal-setting feedback to teachers on Google Docs, which are all tracked on a spreadsheet.

Every day there are exciting new developments, whether they be a class recording podcasts, a teacher using chat for the first time, a novel use for blogs, or making contact with educators in other schools through an iteach-ilearn ning, set up by Lisa Nielsen.

What is most exciting about all of this is that there is a sense of a shared vision and a united commitment to improving learning opportunities (for everyone within the school community) together.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mrs. Del Tejo Delivers

I want to give a huge shout out to a teacher who has impressed me greatly this year. We have had a deluge of technology usage, which has been terrific for the school, but probably a little disconcerting for some teachers.

Mrs. Del Tejo is someone whom I would describe as 'resigned' rather than 'reticent' when it comes to adopting web 2.0 tools for teaching, and she has every reason to roll her eyes or raise her eyebrows at the mention of integrating a new application in the classroom. Not that she does so.

Her years of experience in the classroom would normally justify her dismissing tech integration as a time-consuming fad, but she has just plugged away quietly to the point where this 'closet blogger' has become the most prolific publisher in the school.

Her posts stick to a formula, but taken collectively they provide excellent scaffolding for a unit. The blog doesn't really feature any bells and whistles, as the engagement is derived from her obvious reflection about what it means to be a good reader or writer.
I really appreciate a teacher who can mesh years of experience and excellent content knowledge with the willingness to adopt new methods. This is what lifelong learning is all about.

Testing ooVoo

I'm liking what has to offer in terms of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), in that it can be used with up to 6 video contacts simultaneously, unlike Skype. One thing against ooVoo is definitely the slow download to get the initial software, but once operational, it is much like Skype.
Skype still has some extra features (such as emoticons in chat), but I also like the ability to capture snapshots or video (and then save as an avi file) that ooVoo offers.

Note to self: Trialing the application on two computers only a short distance from each other probably doesn't give a great indication of audio quality, and using your son as a stand-in on your wife's account probably doesn't bode well with the teenager.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Student blogs informing the parent-teacher conference

CIS 339 has made big advances this year in terms of increasing the involvement of parents and students in informing the education process. Plans for the April 30 Parent Expo are well-advanced, and this should really showcase what the teachers and students have been doing (especially with technology) this year. Parents will also be speaking to other parents and teachers about positive parenting techniques.

In addition, students have had more involvement this year through a variety of projects. For instance, they run the student newspaper blog The 339 Hard Line, our school leaders have been engaged in a video mentoring program with students from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and a small group presented to our teachers in a recent professional development session aimed at developing more engaging lessons.

With this focus on the triad of teachers-parents-students then, I was most impressed to see Jeff Utecht's tweet about using student blogs to inform the parent-teacher conference. This really brings the students into the frame, as their blogs reflect on what they have been learning in every subject.

The sooner we firm up the relationship between teachers-parents-students, the better it will be for all concerned.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blog Mentoring Program

An exciting program is about to get underway at CIS 339, thanks to some great planning from Ben Himowitz (editor of the school newspaper blog, The 339 Hard Line), Christina Jenkins (Tech Coach) and David Prinstein (Dean of Instruction).

The Blog Mentoring Program aims to lend further support to our eighth grade student bloggers by partnering them with adults who have volunteered to mentor three students each. These adults come from a variety of professions, so this extends the blog feedback beyond the school.

Obviously safeguards have been put into place to ensure a successful program, and a great deal of work has already been invested in developing:
  • guides to commenting on posts
  • sample comments
  • a blog rubric
  • a description of the students' prior learning
  • and a mentor contact spreadsheet
Recruiting for the Blog Mentoring Program has been very successful so far, and the mentoring that follows will be of great assistance to the students in terms of increasing motivation, contextualizing their writing, extending their conversations, and providing scaffolded feedback.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What was I saying?

New application from for forming word clouds based on twitter conversations or selected text:

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tech Tools Gift List

(with thanks to Mrs Banjer for passing this list on)

The Center for Learning and performance Technologies has produced two great lists:

Firstly: Top 100 Tools for Learning

Secondly: Directory of Learning Tools

(And I'll give another mention to the Web 2.0 Consortium, as I thought that their effort to produce a list like this and include reviews was a great help also.)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Let's Lift our Expectations

Some time ago, I was sitting with our principal, Jason Levy, and Dean of Instruction, David Prinstein as we devised one of our action plans. As part of the rationale for the action plan we considered possible causes and effects using a fishbone method that listed administration, teachers, students, and parents as stakeholders. For one of these possible causes, we identified low expectations of parents and students as a problem that could be attributed to the bigger issue at hand. We weren't pointing our finger at parents and students, merely acknowledging that maybe they didn't have a voice.

At the time, I thought the exercise was interesting, but time-consuming when I was just itching to write up next steps for action to solve whatever it was that was the bigger problem that we were addressing.

Today I've had a wake-up call though. I attended my son's parent-teacher conference and was given a break-down of his results by one of his teachers. This teacher explained that the students had completed a 'multiple choice comprehension-style' assessment at the start of the term and from this, and one other in-class write-up of an experiment, their grades were derived.

So I asked the obvious question: "Do you mean to say that you've taken his grade from a baseline assessment?"

"Yes, I guess so...," she said, obviously a little taken aback that I knew something about assessment.

"Doesn't that strike you as absurd?" I asked. "That means that you're just reporting back on what he knew before he attended your class for a term."

"I guess so," she said. "I hadn't really thought about it before."

Now, I don't want to start teacher-bashing because there are plenty of others lining up at all times (for all manner of political reasons) to take a swing, but this one got under my skin.

Kids are being duped. Parents are being duped. And other teachers are being dragged down as well by such low expectations. It's not even that I desperately want to know what my child does and does not know. I'm more interested that he learns how to learn, not how to be assessed (and poorly at that). The really sad thing is that many parents who are not teachers really don't have a voice in challenging this low level education.

Maybe we should be stirring up the parents as educational activists - now wouldn't that be interesting. I'm not sure that I'd be game to go down that track...but it would be interesting.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Monday, March 31, 2008

Some More Online Math for the Work Centers

Now that work centers are underway in 8 math we're on the lookout for engaging activities that help to develop math skills. Not all work centers involve online activities, but it's helpful to have a few up our sleeve:

Investing in Parents

I have four sons, each of whom is now at school. Unfortunately, I do not feel terribly informed about my children's education, as parents are being excluded from the daytime learning. And when I look back at my own teaching, I'm alarmed by how little I kept parents 'in the loop'.

My rights as a parent should go beyond a 10-minute parent-teacher conference, and a quarterly report card filled with meaningless grades and comments extracted from a menu.

I'd like to see the full curriculum placed online for me to peruse and discuss with my children, and I'd like access to their assessment calendar and criteria by which they will be assessed. And I don't think I'm being unreasonable, as I'm tired of seeing the drop off of interest from parents as their children pass by the early years of education.

Many teachers would argue that there's no point informing parents because most wouldn't be interested, but I don't think that that justifies a closed curriculum.

Other teachers would argue that it's just not possible, as time and resources wouldn't permit. However, with great tools like moodle, wikis and Google Sites, we should be planning our curriculum online from the outset, and then opening this up to parents. In fact, why aren't parents invited into the planning process? And the students too, for that matter?

I'm very proud of the way that I.S. 339 is opening up the school and hosting a Parent Expo, and I think we need to welcome parents back into schooling more often and in more imaginative ways. I would love to see one of my sons' classes ustreamed, or see a few more of their projects on the web. I'd welcome them to blogging, and would happily Skype in to their classrooms to facilitate a group session.

It's wrong that parents are 'left out in the cold' - only called in to pass time and offer up voluntary hack work at Parent meetings, or to sell a few raffle tickets when some fundraising is required.

As teachers, we're quick to complain about 'parents who don't care', but we haven't been as hasty in opening up the school to parents who do.

Sorry to be posting negative thoughts, as I try very hard not to do this. I just wish that we could make more of the parent capital in our school communities.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Scribd: 501 Writing Prompts

Thanks to Oz Diigo group, I was led to this bookmark for '501 Writing Prompts'. What I found just as interesting as the prompts and the graded sample responses, was Scribd - a site allowing you to upload files as PDF and share with the world.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Schooling is Not a Closed Book

We are in the early stages at the moment of planning ahead for next year, and revising what we currently have as a school web-page. This will require some inspired thinking from Jason Levy (Principal) and Christina Jenkins (Tech Coach), but I thought maybe someone else might have some suggestions. Please feel free to leave a comment suggesting what we might not have thought of yet.

New school website needs to

  • either replace the wiki, or the wiki should be revised and embedded within the new school website
  • have both general access and multi-level restricted access
  • be comprehensive in terms of advertising and archiving everything that goes on within the school
  • be versatile to fit with the other applications that we use most frequently
  • be sustainable to warrant the time that would need to be invested in creating and maintaining it
  • be practical/user-friendly to encourage high usage
  • be tracked using site analysis application such as Google Analytics

Include school details:

  • leadership team
  • location
  • mission statement
  • history
  • description
  • newsletter (in the form of blog) through headline animator or RSS feed

Provide convenient external links to

  • NYCDOE site and docs (ARIS, ACUITY, Learning Surveys, Progress Reports, SQR, test materials)
  • iteach-ilearn
  • united streaming
  • atomic learning
  • brainpop

Have a Students' Corner and Parents' Corner:

  • Calendar with coming events
  • Forum
  • Focus for each month
  • Celebration Pages
  • shout outs

House our online teacher library:

  • systems and protocols
  • exemplar student work
  • standards and performance indicators, curriculum maps, unit plans, lesson plans, online resources
  • team meeting notes
  • PD calendar
  • PD resources
  • school-wide data (Progress Report/s, SQR summaries, past NY ELA and Math results)
  • grade-wide data (spreadsheets tracking common assessments)
  • team-wide data

Include RSS feeds to:

  • Hardlines - student newspaper
  • Celebrations Pages
  • Parenting blog/podcasts/voicethreads
  • 339web

    If we end up using Google Sites, teachers will need to start using their accounts to enable fast access into anything for which they have permission to view/collaborate.

    Ideally, parents should have access to curriculum maps, assessment schedules and rubrics.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Talk that's not too tedious

When we were planning the midyear SMART goals review process, it probably seemed like this would be a tedious task for Curriculum Team members and teachers. However, from the thirty minute meetings that I have had so far with individual teachers, this talk has been a breath of fresh air.

For some teachers, this has been their first one to one exposure with using Skype, and my online review meetings require some shuffling back and forth between the original goals on Google Docs, the reflection sheet for teachers on another Google Doc, and the Google Form for review feedback. Online meetings go surprisingly well though, perhaps because we can stay focused on the task at hand as there are very few other visual distractions.

These meetings have also produced some gems in terms of ideas. For instance, Ms. McHale was wanting to make better progress with her goals, be a consistent blogger, and launch a newsletter about academic intervention. Now she's going to do all three in one as she transforms her blog into the newsletter and addresses the key issues from her SMART goals - differentiation (especially for ELLs), data-driven intervention, PD offerings for academic intervention, and so on.

Ms. Lovett has proven what a star performer she is, and we have been planning to round up some teachers to be part of two study groups on differentiation.

Ms. Jenkins will be deep in thought about developing our school web-site - with Google Sites being an option - and Mr. Himowitz will be focusing on the development of protocols for offering students feedback on their Google Docs.

It's great to be part of a community of innovators.

The Twitter Plunge ...again this time I'm going to attempt to get into twitter properly. I've been signed up for about 7-8 months, and have re-signed probably twice since then.

I just couldn't seem to get into twitter as I was still getting so much out of blogs and the exciting school community that I'm working in. We've had Google chats and gmail flying about since the start of the year - not to mention the Google Docs, Google Groups, now Google Sites, and so on. So to be honest, I've felt well connected and not PLN-deficient in the least.

I wasn't intending to be dismissive of twitter, it's just that there was so much else to read and do. Not that this situation has changed. But here goes. The time has come. Now if I can just figure out how to reply to people...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Math Reflections and Shout outs

Two of the grade 8 Math classes (807/808) are about to launch into work stations, thanks to a great deal of planning from Ms. Heiser and Ms. Lovett.

To enhance students' learning, blog posts will be used for weekly reflections and 'shout outs'. There's no need to create new student blogs as each student already has his/her own from the ELA online media unit in February. Additionally, teachers have already subscribed to these blogs so they can continue to track work easily using Google Reader.

The four work stations will be focused on:

  • Percentage Project (with Ms. Heiser)

  • Math-ography (the math extended writing pieces)

  • Targeted Re-mastery (with Ms. Lovett)

  • Self-guided Interactive Online Work (using either or mysavingsquest)

To reflect on their work (and to keep their international readers satisfied), students will reflect on these prompts at the end of the first week:

  1. Which work station do you think is helping you to learn most effectively?

  2. What do you think this tells you about the type of learner that you are (for instance, you prefer to

work independently,

work in a group,

have a teacher helping,

be using the computer,

work at your own pace,

be challenged,

be able to visualize through diagrams,


3. To whom would you give special mention (a shout out) for

making a big effort this week,

achieving something that presented a big personal challenge,

or being a great team member or teacher?

4. What are your goals in math for next week?

Monday, March 24, 2008

School Boards and Parents Onboard

I.S. 339 is hosting a Parent Community Expo in late April, and this pleases me for so many reasons. The more that we can get parents involved in middle school education, particularly in the Bronx, the better chance we have of keeping students engaged.

We have talked on many occasions this year about ways that we can use technology to involve the parents. Although this isn't easy, some teachers are making use of gmail and blogs to communicate more effectively, and they have provided some technology and video demonstrations at parent conference nights. I'm particularly looking forward to the day when students can share their Google Docs with their parents, or the day that a parent Skypes in to talk to a class about a career choice or pressing social issue!

For this reason, I was very pleased to discover School of Thought, the blog by a South Dakota School Board member, Fred Deutsch. Fred states that he is passionate about education, and it shows in his blog. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Google and Goals

At the beginning of the school year, each staff member developed SMART goals for four areas - intervention, extension, professional development, and communication - and these goals were recorded on Google Docs and then linked to a Google Spreadsheet.

Even though this seemed a cumbersome procedure at the time, the shared digital records are really paying off now. When we conduct our midyear reviews of these SMART goals, we can now use another Google Doc as a teacher reflection sheet, and a Google Form to capture the reviewer's feedback during the 1-1 meeting.

In addition, to help explain the review process, it was easy to create a Google Presentation with appropriate links for those who are shared in on these documents.

Instead of shuffling paper forms back and forth, the system has become quite streamlined, but more importantly the meetings have been great for both teachers and reviewers.

Think about your systems!

(Links to docs have been removed)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Online Math

I commenced my teaching as a high school English and mathematics teacher, so I understand the differences in teaching in these two areas. As a result, I've often sympathized with mathematics teachers in terms of lack of ease in using computing in classrooms, due to the difficulty of communicating math symbols and computations.

However, I'm really pleased to see so many great online resources for math practice now. Grade 8 students at CIS 339 have been using all year, and they seem to really enjoy it. The math teachers have been incredible in their use of shared Google Docs, Google Groups, wikispaces, and SMART notebook files for collaboration on lesson plans, unit plans, and assessments.

Now the math classrooms can also utilize great sites such as:
math playground
word problems
project skymath
Arithmetic Problems and Kids Math Practice Exercises
Online Basic Skill Games
thinkquest problems home page
Working on Algebra
Working on fractions
Multiple Choice questions – all strands of math
Unit Conversions
Decimals to Fractions
Percentage Word Problems
Online Basic Skills Games
Step-by-step word problems

Monday, March 10, 2008

Data: Let's Face It

We're about to have a renewed focus on data-driven instruction, particularly as it complements differentiation.

The video below has been made as a re-introduction to this topic.

It features a poem reminding us that we need to 'face up' to data because our classroom data has a 'face':

Do you look at data?
Does it speak to you?
Are there too many voices
all vying for you?
Across this whole school
do we know what to do?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Beta Blogging

Even though student blogging is still in its infancy at I.S. 339, the improvement in the students' thinking and writing is apparent already. Sure, some students are taking longer to get into it than others, but the progression for many in focus, elaboration and organization from the first few posts to the sixth, seventh, eighth, etc is obvious.

It's also good to see students taking ownership of their blogs by including widgets with personalized avatars, or designing their own mastheads for the blog title. We can also witness the pride that some place in their presentation, with careful consideration of pictures or color.

Blogging also highlights students' needs, such as re-training on the importance of proper referencing to avoid plagiarism, or including text details for elaboration.

We can also sense students' thirst for recognition, as they acknowledge recent comments, or lack of comments. Hopefully, we can start to transform some of these posts into ongoing conversations.

Google Reader is, of course, so great for monitoring the students' work. You can see some of the students' blog posts in the Shared Items on the sidebar of this blog.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Hollywood conference hosted by the Insight Education Group was a great learning experience. In addition to the captivating location, the conference hosts made every effort to make sure that participants were engaged and enjoying themselves.

Jason Levy, David Prinstein, Jesse Spevack and I presented a session detailing our school's integration of wikis, blogs and Google tools.

Here are some of the slides that we used for the presentation:

More on Google Sites

I've spent some time creating sites and pages within Google Sites, and I think its potential for schools is huge. It's a shame that it only functions as part of Google Apps instead of a Google Account, but once you get past this, you can really start to create.

Take, for instance, the ability to insert any Google Doc, Spreadsheet, Presentation or Google Form directly on to a page:

Google Sites seems to have most of the same functions as other wikis, although you need to spend a little bit of time getting used to the different layouts if you're used to wikispaces or pbwiki.

Google Sites has the potential to be the main portal for any school, with new sites created within the one central site.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Rock the Classroom!

We're here at the IEG conference in Hollywood, and I've just had the pleasure of attending a great session.

Rock the Classroom focuses on learning more about literacy through music. Bradley Kesden, Daniel Raimi and Destani Wolf showed off some of their teaching methods, and had the participants not just singing along but also writing our own song.

This is an excellent way of integrating the arts into every classroom, making learning more engaging, and stimulating thinking.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Google has a wiki!!!!

Kevin Jarrett has shared the most exciting piece of news about Google having a wiki: For those schools like C.I.S. 339 that have embraced the rest of the Google Apps already, this development offers incredible new potential.
Watch the video.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chris Chiang's 'Teacher Innovations' is a 'Must Visit'

I have only just stumbled across Chris Chiang's 'Teacher Innovations' site, but it is a 'must visit' for any teacher wanting to incorporate web 2.0 applications in her/his classroom.

Open Letter on Under-writing and Over-publishing

This is the 4th 'Open Letter' in a series about making better use of our blogs.

Dear Students,

You might not have wondered yet about how it is that so many teachers in your school are able to read so many student blogs. Most of us use Google Reader, which pulls all of the student blog posts together in one place for us. We subscribe to each student blog URL, and then Google Reader keeps us updated on all of your new posts.

This is a great thing for teachers, and other people who like to keep track of new additions on many different websites, but the drawback is that we can get overloaded with things to read. Once this happens, we stop reading your posts properly, or maybe unsubscribe so that we're not reading them at all.

It usually takes quite a while to build up your readership for your blog. You have been given a headstart as your teachers, and maybe some of your classmates, are reading your work. In order for you to keep these readers and add more, you need to look after your 'audience'.

Obviously you can do this by ensuring high quality posts. You should also be mindful of not posting if you don't really have much to say. If you're just jotting down some ideas, then you're best to save the post rather than publish it, and return to it later to improve it. If you continue to publish many brief, boring posts, people will stop reading your blog because you're basically clogging up their Google Reader feeds. On the other hand, if you publish very good posts, more people will subscribe to your blog. Google even offers you the chance to make money from your blog if it's very, very popular.

There are some good ways to track who has been reading your blog, and this becomes quite addictive. In your sidebar, you can add a feed meter (which keeps a count of the number of visitors you have had), a clustrmap (which displays each visitor as a dot on the globe), or Feedjit (which shows the latest visitors, and from where they viewed your blog). If you want very detailed statistics, you can add Google Analytics.

Take it easy,
Pat Wagner

Open Letter on Plagiarism in Blogging

This is the third post in a series of 'Open Letters' about blogging.

Dear Students,

Now is the time to address the issue of plagiarism in our blogs. Plagiarism is the literary term for 'cheating', as it means that we have taken someone else's ideas or work and passed this off as our own.

Plagiarism is not always deliberate cheating or stealing. Sometimes it is due to our own ignorance of the expectations of referencing, or it might be due to forgetfulness or haste. Whatever the case might be, plagiarism is still unacceptable, and it often carries serious consequences.

If we take ideas from another website without acknowledging the author and the site, we can be sued, or forced to remove the content. In High School and College, plagiarism can lead to failure in assessment, or even expulsion.

Plagiarism can be avoided though. It is not a bad thing to use other people's ideas. In fact, it's usually a very good thing to do because it proves that we have read from other sources. We just need to make sure that we provide a hyperlink to the original source, and place quotation marks (" ") around anything that is taken 'word for word'. We should also give mention to the author of the article, when this is known.

Happy hyperlinking,
Pat Wagner

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Open Letter on Internet Safety in Blogging

This is the second post in a series of 'open letters'.

Dear Students,

I mentioned in my first open letter that having your own blog was a little like MySpace, so it's important that we refresh your memory about some security measures that you should take.

The temptation for you as a writer is to reveal things about yourself, but we all need to remember that the internet is a public space. Would you write your name and personal details on an advertising board at a bus stop? Would you leave photographs of yourself lying around the school? Look at the number of celebrities who are now regretting giving other people access to their private lives as a result of poor personal security.

The reality is that as soon as we leave details about, or photographs of, ourselves or our friends and family in our blog, we are allowing any reader to use this information or these images in whatever ways they want. It is very easy to make a copy of an image in a blog and then edit it inappropriately.

It might seem hypocritical that I leave my full name on my blog - since I advise you not to - but I only do this as it's part of my work. If my blog was purely part of my own learning and enjoyment, then it would be fine for me to create a different username. There is no need for your reader to know your last name.

To stop anyone from bullying you by leaving inappropriate comments on your blog, you should take some precautions. Go to 'Settings', then 'Comments'. Scroll down to 'Enable comment moderation' and click 'yes', and then write in your school email address, and click 'Save'. This will mean that all comments will be emailed to you first for you to decide whether or not they should be published. You need to develop the habit of checking your emails daily, and be sure to publish all comments from teachers.

Getting access to a blog in school is a responsibility that we should not take for granted, and we need to be sensible about this. Before you publish, just think of it like road safety and look both ways.

Happy posting,
Pat Wagner

Open Letter on Blog Feedback

This will be the first post in a series of 'open letters' giving you feedback on your blogging. (An 'open letter' is a published letter meant to be read by many people.)

Dear Students,

Firstly, please let me congratulate you on your blogging efforts thus far. I know that many of you have been very excited about blogging for different reasons: you get to be working on the computer; you learn a little more about using this technology; you have a personalized site, which is a little like MySpace; you have some freedom in terms of expressing your own ideas; your posts can be read by a wide audience; and you can get feedback via the 'comments'.

When this initial excitement has settled, we need to reflect on the educational purpose of blogging. Through your blog posts, you get the opportunity to discover your own VOICE as a writer. No-one else in the world writes or thinks quite like you. You get to choose the VOCABULARY that you think sounds just right for the ideas that you are trying to express, and for the mood that you are trying to convey.

Also, because you now have an audience for your writing, you will start to realize that each blog post should have a FOCUS. That focus should be obvious from the clues in your title and your opening paragraph, and it should be maintained throughout the post. It's fine for you to make the reader infer. However, readers will tire of following your blog if there doesn't seem to be any 'point' to your writing. A strong conclusion can leave a lasting impression on your reader.

To improve the ORGANIZATION of your posts, remember to use paragraphs. These breaks are like mental breaths for the reader, because they give the eye a brief chance to relax again, and the brain a chance to digest some of the information. Too many ideas in a single paragraph can clog up the reader's comprehension. Transitional words such as 'however', 'firstly', 'since', 'yet' and 'finally' help to sequence your ideas, and act as signals to the reader's brain.

ELABORATION is important, as it's frustrating for your reader if something interesting is mentioned, but then there are insufficient details. If your post is based on an article that you read, please provide a hyperlink. Similarly, feel free to use bullet points if it helps to list additional information that could help the reader. Always re-read your post before and after publishing, and edit it if you think of more details that should be included.

Even though the blog represents your personal writing space, it is still public. Therefore, there are CONVENTIONS that should be followed. One of these, as I have mentioned already, is hyperlinking to any other sites that you have used for the post, or to sites that will give the reader more information about people, places, events, or things that you have referred to in your post. You should edit for spelling, punctuation and sentence construction, as a courtesy to your reader. Otherwise the message that you are sending is that you don't really care about the quality of your own writing, and you don't respect your reader.

In summary, the aspects to consider are VOICE/VOCABULARY, FOCUS, ORGANIZATION, ELABORATION and CONVENTIONS. This is not intended to take the joy out of blogging for you. Instead, it should increase your satisfaction dramatically when you have people from the other side of the world not just reading your work, but deliberately searching for more of your writing. Now that's exciting.

Have a blogging good day,
Pat Wagner

Fun for Everyone

Check out what is now offering. It's very similar to comic life. Thanks to Kevin Jarrett for passing this on.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Blogs for Reading Reflection

The past two weeks at C.I.S. 339 (Bronx, New York) have emphasized both the power and the potential problems of classroom blogging. There has definitely been a ground swell of online writing, and increased engagement, from students in grade 8 as they have launched their blogs. Not only that, but teachers have also posted, and their writing has been entertaining and inspiring.

The problems that I alluded to are not so much problems with blogging itself, but problems highlighted by blogging, which is actually a good thing.

Using Google Reader, teachers are able to identify:
  • students who are not posting
  • inappropriate posts
  • plagiarism
  • lapses in protocols for ensuring personal internet security

However, these few problems have been completely overshadowed by the enthusiasm with which students and teachers are now embracing this medium. Blogging has given students an authentic purpose and audience.

Using our own version of the characteristics of effective writing (FOCUS, ORGANIZATION, ELABORATION, VOICE/VOCABULARY and CONVENTIONS), teachers can start to suggest areas for improvement via the comments in students' blogs.

We have developed a spreadsheet as a blog tracker to enable many teachers across the school to share in the students' posts, and the principal has started celebrating good posts in the school wiki.

I would love to see the day when a student starts a blog in grade 6 and maintains this through to the end of grade 8. Imagine the power of this kind of tracking of student growth and teacher feedback!

Google 'Forms' have so much potential for the classroom

I'm very excited about Google's release of 'Forms' - essentially a 'create your own survey' component of Google spreadsheets. It's easy to use, FREE, and it gathers the responses straight into a Google spreadsheet.

For classes with access to a computer, a teacher could now use these surveys for:

  • an anticipation guide
  • a Do Now activity
  • class research/polling activities
  • student self-evaluation of understanding (end of lesson/end of week/end of unit)
  • diagnostic, formative or even summative assessments
  • unit evaluation - students' feedback on whether or not they enjoyed a certain unit
  • parent feedback

The increased ability to gather data now enables easier differentiation. We can group students more easily, and more quickly, and continue the cycle of gathering the next round of data to drive further instruction.

Frankly, I love it!!!! See for yourself, and complete the survey.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Teach Web 2.0 Consortium

The session that I most enjoyed at the Educon 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia was the 'Join the Teach Web 2.0 Consortium', facilitated by Wendy Drexler and Anna Baralt.

Their idea was so simple, yet so effective. They are part of a team who created a list of all of the latest web 2.0 applications on a wiki, with the intention of putting links and reviews for these tools all in the one place. It's a veritable smorgasbord, and well worth a look!

Educon and SLA

I've been very slack in adding a post about Educon, but my admiration of the students, teachers and principal from Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia has not dimmed in the slightest. In fact, it's grown.

Chris Lehman generously hosted the Educon conference, and I took away some good ideas from it. However, the biggest bonus was the networking that is now occurring between students from his high school and students from our middle school.

Witnessing these students Skyping, and the SLA students offering their wisdom, was one of the most powerful things I have witnessed as an educator. You could have given these students jobs in the classroom immediately as teachers.

In addition to this networking, I got to enjoy dinner with Peggy Sheehy who described herself as an edutainer, and was espousing the benefits of virtual learning networks such as Second Life. I now can't get this term 'edutainer' out of my head, and would like all of our teachers to embrace it. Engagement is a problem for both teachers and students in mid-winter, but a dose of Peggy Sheehy would pep up anyone.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

841 Are the Best

Currently I am in an ESL classroom at 339, talking with some great students about the rationale behind Google Docs and blogs as collaborative documents. I'm looking forward to seeing their creations.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A little about A.U.S.S.I.E.

In order to set the scene for our Educon 2.0 workshop session - 'A Fly on the Wall' - I'll give you some information about A.U.S.S.I.E.

Australian and United States Services in Education is more than just consultancy and professional development - it's about partnerships with schools. By that I mean, A.U.S.S.I.E. consultants do not walk into schools with a predetermined 'rescue package'. They bring with them many skills and rich experience, but they adapt this to individual schools' needs.

I have enjoyed my work with C.I.S. 339 so much this year because the work has involved innovation. Unlike our many other consultants who all work within the schools, I have been asked by the principal to work from Australia. This sounds crazy, but it makes so much sense as it has forced a change of mindset within the school. That is, in order for me to know what is going on, we need to embrace technology.

This has led to the most amazing acceleration of learning, sharing and improved communication. Ironically, I am more informed about everything that goes on inside the school than I would have been if I was present in the building.

Some teachers have commented that I am the most accessible person 'in the school' - even though I am so far removed.

It is this kind of flexibility that has made A.U.S.S.I.E. consultancy so successful. I work incredibly hard, enduring many exhausting hours, but the intellectual stimulation from the administration and teachers of C.I.S. 339 makes it all worthwhile.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Writing a Book in Google Docs

A tip from Jason Levy brings me to consideration of a new venture being tried by blogoscoped: writing a book in Google Docs.

When you think about it, it makes so much sense, especially when you have the ability to hyperlink not only other pages or chunks of text, but also many other forms of media.

From an application that is quite simplistic in its editing capabilities, you can end up producing an incredibly rich, more user-friendly text.

So why not consider this same concept with students. Our students are already using Google Docs for drafting (and sometimes publishing) shorter texts, but they also have the potential to produce much larger, more complex texts as group projects in any subject area.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

SMARTboard Smorgasbord

Special thanks to Brad Wenger for this tip. Our school is starting to make great use of their SMARTboards, but this should improve even more with access to a fantastic SMARTboard site, full of great applications.

The 339 Kid

Check out the brilliant work from Christina Jenkins and Ben Himowitz below. This level of pride and energy is exactly what is required in our schools, not to mention their great work on the screenplay, directing, acting and editing.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Upcoming Conferences

In addition to the Educon 2.0 conference from Jan 25-27, there are others that are well worth looking into.

The Insight Education Conference offers not only some great conversation, but also the opportunity of soaking up some of the hype of Hollywood. Get in soon to register for the Feb 27-March 1 action.
I also like the look of the Classroom 2.0 workshops in San Francisco.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Great Resource for Teaching Reading

Here's another site that I'd like to add a plug for:

"an instructional technology specialist in Manatee County, Florida...[who] spent 27 years as a high school English teacher...[and has] created a site of resources for reading in primary and secondary. It's not a wiki, but it does provide valuable resources."

Classroom 2.0 has much to offer

A big thank you to the organizers of Classroom 2.0, who have done a lot not only to increase educators' understanding of web 2.0 tools, but also to bring people together.

They're asking for us to plug the upcoming FREE workshops in San Francisco, and I'm only too happy to do this.

If I hadn't been flying into New York just a few days before from Australia, I'd be there myself. Unfortunately, I won't be up to a trip back across the States so soon. However, I'd consider contributing virtually if possible, or waiting for New York-based workshops.

If you want things to improve, get out of there!

Whether you are a teacher, administrator or consultant, the key to improvement is for you to disappear. That's right, get out of there! This might seem like a crazy or even provocative or accusatory notion, but I've given this plenty of thought and a little bit of practice.

I complete about 75% of my consulting work online, and many people were a tad skeptical about how this could be effective. I guess I had to convince myself as well.

However, what has become apparent is that when you are physically removed from the equation (be that classroom or school), you are forced to capitalize on other modes of gathering and disseminating information.

It challenges you, it threatens to bring you undone, but more than anything else, it evokes tremendous growth for yourself and those with whom you work.

In order to provide online, personalized professional development, I have had to draw upon applications that I would probably only have tinkered with if I were still presenting myself daily in the school building.

My advice to teachers and administrators then, is to imagine yourself robbed of physical presence in the classroom or school. How would you get your job done then? How would you find out what you needed to know? How would you pass on what others need to know?

I'm sure that most people won't really give serious thought to this proposition, but until you put yourself in this situation - either imagined or real - you'll continue to fall back on the spoken delivery that has seemed to serve you so well in the past.

After all, explaining things from the front of the room or over the intercom has been the preferred mode of communication for eons now, hasn't it? And everyone listens and everyone understands, right?

If you need a change, take an imagined break from the room and see what wonderful new teaching (with technology) methods you develop. And please share. Good luck.

P.S. I also like Will Richardson's post on Learning Like Kids, which describes a mindset that would complement my proposal.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Year in Review

A Fly on the Wall

Have you ever heard someone decide not to attend the big game because there was a better view on offer from home? This is the situation at a Bronx middle school, where the “big game” is being viewed with bated breath from afar thanks to the marvels of modern technology.

When Mr. Jason Levy, Principal of C.I.S. 339 School of Technology conjured up his vision of the school as an authentic 21st Century learning network, he took the brave move of continuing a professional development partnership with me, an Australian consultant, despite my impending return home with my family.

“How would you like to keep working for us from Australia?” Mr. Levy proposed. “Wouldn’t that be something!”

The Principal’s view was that schools today should reach beyond their walls. He is in the process now of achieving exactly that – thanks to his own passion for technology, and the drive of some brilliant teachers.

Many schools can probably boast of the use of technology somewhere, somehow in their curriculum, but C.I.S. 339 has adopted a whole school approach to technology-enhanced change. The wiki that was used for communication last year has now spawned not only a generation shift for some tech-fearing teachers, but also a more united, collaborative community.

Some school change experts have discovered that technology can increase the rate of change for a school, and that has definitely been the case here.

We started the year with a thematic “spider’s web”, encompassing not just online learning, but support structures and interconnectedness between teachers as colleagues, teachers and students, students and students, students and parents, and teachers and parents.

The explanation that accompanied the “spider’s web” was that if you get stuck, you’ll only end up in a bigger mess if you thrash about. If you help to create and maintain the paths of the web as a team though, you will be part of an awe-inspiring network.

The ‘threads of the network’ are really held together by the formation of teacher-led teams. Instead of coaches as instructional leaders, teachers facilitate their own meetings and record all agenda items, minutes and next steps. This was a daunting experience at first, but it has seen the emergence of teachers confident in their own abilities and decision-making, and teachers who are keen to exercise initative.

At the start of the school year we set up a communications network using gmail, Google Talk, blogs as professional development eportfolios, and Google Docs for shared planning and record-keeping.

Having a common platform of communication was essential, and this has paid huge dividends now, as information is shared and recorded more effectively.

This then progressed to the use of iGoogle for organization of online communication, and Google Groups for organization of resources. After surveying all teachers, we established a PD plan based on teachers’ own S.M.A.R.T. goals for professional development, student growth, and improved communication with parents, students and colleagues.

The school’s technology coach, Ms. Christina Jenkins has been instrumental in running after school professional development sessions for teachers, and now teachers are sharing their expertise by facilitating sessions themselves.

We started mapping initiatives across the school so that instead of isolated ‘pilot programs’, we had shared experience. Our Celebrations Pages are an ongoing record of these initatives.

So far this school year, I have taken on the varied roles of coach, cheerleader, commentator, critic, and cameraman. Teachers have engaged in online professional development through screencasts that I have created, but our intention is for learning to be more self-directed.

Some of the “players” are teaching me new tricks almost as quickly as I can formulate the next strategy, as teachers are teaching each other. One particular team has decided, on their own, to take turns in videoing their own lessons to enable peer review of their instructional methods. This is a startling breakthrough as it personifies both the spirit of sharing and the desire to keep on learning and improving.

Our next step is to draw in students and parents. I am very excited about the potential for us to keep parents more informed than ever before about their children’s education. Our dream is to set up “triads” and “transparency” – online learning relationships between teachers, students, and parents, which are visible beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

When the student work starts emerging online, I think we’ll have many interested ‘flies on the wall’.

Building a Beta Web Headline Animator