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


Building a Beta Web Headline Animator