60 Sites in 60 Minutes

Well, it was actually more like 45 minutes, but Lori Gracey (TCEA Executive Director) rocked this presentation at the TECSIG meeting with lots of useful sites. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably felt spammed with me tweeting out all of the sites. I didn’t get them all, so you need to make sure you take a look at the presentation below to catch up. Good stuff. Thanks, Lori.

Just when you thought…

From the files “Just when you thought your students and teachers were ahead of the curve,” here is a short video to show us we all have room to grow. The young lady shares exactly why students like the freedom of utilizing technology as well as gaining ownership. I did find it funny that the things “not for school” (Facebook, etc) are across the top of her site while the school links are along the bottom. It truly is cool to see a young student “get” PLE’s while many still struggle with the concept and the freedom it entails.  Enjoy:

My Thoughts on Literacy and Publishing to the Web

Photo Credit: Behrooz Nobakht

Today, someone posted a question on a list serve I subscribe to. Being a longtime literacy teacher, it struck a cord with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on both the question posed and my reply.

Her query:

We have a teacher who just started a literature circles blog where her 5th graders will discuss various novels. She mentioned that she is in the process of figuring out how to edit (correct) what they have written before she posts their comments. What do you all think about this? She has encouraged her students – and stated in the rules for the blog – that they are to use correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. If they do not, should the teacher make corrections before she publishes their comments? I’d appreciate any input that you can offer. Thanks.

My response:

Like Miguel, I’m a literacy teacher (but I’m not old 😉 ). I have extensive training in both New Jersey Writing and National Writing Project. I’ve studied just about every aspect of the writing process you can. While I can care less about state tests, I recall maybe one failure in the 7th grade writing test in my classes over a 10+ years at that the middle school.

All of that to say this: mistakes are an important part of the writing (learning) process. If we cannot let our kids make mistakes safely and learn from them, then we are not doing it correctly. Yes, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are important. No, they should not be the deciding factor between publishing or not. Mini lessons are meant to help in these such events. How do you fix the errors unless the kids recognize them themselves and buy-in to fixing them. 

Agreed, we do not publish the street lingo stuff (unless it directly pertains to the final product for a reason, see this for example: http://sites.google.com/site/bchscivics/unit/2-3-birth-of-a-nation/john-adams—4 ).

Consider that textbook companies publish and sell (with your tax dollars footing the bill) textbooks that are loaded with mistakes. They make it a multi-billion dollar industry. We teach our kids from mistake laden books.

So, remind your teacher that it is okay to let the “kids run with scissors” (credit to Gretchen Bernabei on the quote). Our students publish all of the time. The great thing about a blog is that it allows for editing. We all love to think we are perfect the first time, but we’re not. If it is a genuine effort to reach the publishing stage, then we publish. Anything less is cheating the child out of a learning experience.

Quick anecdote. One of the first collaborative literacy tools we used in class was a wiki. The kids grouped up and studied certain topics to present to the class via the wiki. I subscribed to the wiki so that I would know what was happening on it. One Saturday night, my email box begins loading up with “edit” emails. Someone was messing around on the wiki and changing things left and right. My first thought was a kid was thinking they could mess stuff up without getting caught. So, I went to the wiki to check it all out. It ended up being an Asian ESL student who was correcting spelling and such for my American students…ON A SATURDAY NIGHT. You cannot get them to do it on command, but they’ll do it if they OWN it. He owned it. He realized the errors in the group’s work. He edited it. We all learned from it (including the students who had their work corrected).

So, let them run with scissors.

Feel free to correct, chastise, or educate me.

My Session on E-Portfolios with Staff and Students


Slide Credit: Dr. Helen Barrett
I have had several inquiries as to how my poster session went that was centered on using free online tools (Web 2.0) in creating, organizing, and maintaining electronic portfolios for staff and students. Well, in a word, great! I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with so many others trying to do the same thing we are. While I am in a better situation than most due to a technology department and curriculum department that plays VERY well together, we still have our struggles. Training is one of them. There is so much to building effective
eportfolios that one person relatively new to the concept cannot learn and regurgitate it all back to staff in a productive way.

Thankfully, someone I admire for her knowledge and ability to share and teach stepped up to my session. Dr. Helen Barrett appeared in the corner of my booth. Fortunately, I saw her arrive and noted to everyone there that she was THE one to talk to about all things eportfolios. Anything I have to share about eportfolios would pale in comparison to this wonderfully read and prepared professor.  Another awesome piece of luck was that my curriculum director walked up behind me about the same time. I put the two of them together quickly to schedule some training in our district. If/When we are lucky enough to get Dr. Barrett in White Oak, our staff and students will never be the same again. We will be fully on track to creating portable archives of learning and teaching that all should be proud of. Exporting the eportfolio from the WordPress blog right to a flash drive will be a common happening for our students in the near future to allow them to take their representative work with them to college interviews, job interviews, competitions, etc. 

Another piece of luck came along when I ran into Sue Waters from Edublogs. After a lengthy conversation with Sue in the Blogger’s Cafe, my chief of technology and I decided it was time to move our entire WPMU blogging system to Edublogs Campus Ultimate where it will get the care and support it deserves. James Farmer, Sue Waters, and company will do more to keep up our system than we ever could. We know that this will now be the Cadillac version of our goals that we have wanted and needed all along. I have already noticed an unprecedented increase in speed in initial loading and navigating within and between blogs. Thank you, Edublogs! Our staff and students are going to be overjoyed when they log back in.


Photo Credit: AJC1 (Hartnell-Young, E. et al. (2007) Impact study of e-portfolios on learning partners.)
Another advantage for me in the move to Edublogs Campus Ultimate is the ability to batch create blogs and users. This was a headache when our system was at SiteGround because having a class or two of kids hitting the server at the same time never ended with anything but timeouts and 404 errors. It was what pushed us into seeking out a better host of our system. Considering we went from a Gig of traffic a month to over a Gig a day by the end of the year, we had to do something proactive before it all crashed down around us. You can go read for yourself all the benefits of making the move to Edublogs Campus Ultimate, but I can see this relationship being a very good one for all of us in White Oak ISD.

Stay tuned as we ramp up our electronic portfolio process with training by Dr. Helen Barrett and implementation by our staff and students this school year.

Ideas to Inspire

Nope. That’s not my title. It is the title of a site by Mark Warner (picked up via Kevin Jarrett). This is a great site to visit when you are trying to find ideas for instruction to engage your students.

Mark has done a nice job of categorizing the ideas by either subject area (core and elective areas) or possible Web 2.0 tool that you are considering using. He has also provided nice, shared Google Presentations to walk you through them. Each slide is an idea. This makes it easy to just keep adding more as they come in.

If you don’t find exactly what you are looking for, there are enough ideas there to inspire something new in your mind. Then you can go back and share your idea with him so it can be added and maybe help the next person looking. That is what the collaborative web is all about.

Visit Ideas to Inspire today. In the meantime, consider these science ideas:

Dear Students, Pre-Service Teachers, and Educators,

Photo credit: Dean Shareski

Sometimes what my former students post on the web or the poor decisions they make in real life really surprise me. I try telling them during the middle school years that things have a way of catching back up to them. Some listen. Some do not.

Now, the “digital tattoo” is living proof that it is more true now than ever. Consider this great story from Seth Godin (bold print mine):

A friend advertised on Craigslist for a housekeeper.

Three interesting resumes came to the top. She googled each person’s name.

The first search turned up a MySpace page. There was a picture of the applicant, drinking beer from a funnel. Under hobbies, the first entry was, “binge drinking.”

The second search turned up a personal blog (a good one, actually). The most recent entry said something like, “I am applying for some menial jobs that are below me, and I’m annoyed by it. I’ll certainly quit the minute I sell a few paintings.”

And the third? There were only six matches, and the sixth was from the local police department, indicating that the applicant had been arrested for shoplifting two years earlier.

Three for three.

Google never forgets.

Of course, you don’t have to be a drunk, a thief or a bitter failure for this to backfire. Everything you do now ends up in your permanent record. The best plan is to overload Google with a long tail of good stuff and to always act as if you’re on Candid Camera, because you are.

And that is just someone looking for a housekeeper. Imagine if it were really important to you: college application, internship, scholarship, promotion. Yes, employers, colleges, and organizations are scouring the Internet to see what they can find out about you before they meet you. It is a part of the process these days.

Remember what your mom always told you? No, not the underwear and the car wreck thing. She also talked about first impressions when meeting someone for the first time, and you only get one of them? Well, now you are doing that BEFORE you meet them for the first time. As a matter of fact, it just might cost you meeting them for the first time. Google me. Be more specific in your search: “Scott S. Floyd”. You will see me everywhere: literacy sites, political sites, newspapers, blog comments, video comments, and who knows how many virtual communities I participate in. What I do know is that I work hard to maintain a web presence that I want my mother to be proud of. Funny enough, my wife (who spends nowhere near the time online that I do) casually mentioned over dinner one night, “You know, you have a lot of good stuff on the Internet.” Yep. She Googled me. I was proud of what she found. So was she.

So, it is time to add this component to the technology application standards we teach our students in a focused way. Our goal is to teach it through electronic portfolios. If we show our students the proper way to present themselves to the virtual world, then maybe some of that training will stick with them when they are growing that tattoo outside of the school walls.

The Google and The Presidential Election

All I am doing in this post is copying and pasting a Google resource for those interested in utilizing the election in the classroom in any way. Google has done the legwork for you:

Bring the political process to life in your classroom

It’s back-to-school season in the U.S. and social studies teachers everywhere are excited about the November elections and all of the ways that politics has evolved since even just four years ago. Technology is advancing. Internet fundraising has brought all kinds of new small donors into the political process, social networking is helping campaigns and citizens organize themselves in new ways, and YouTube, which didn’t even exist four years ago, has swept the political dialogue.

With technology producing such dramatic changes in American politics, we want to make sure it’s easy for teachers to bring some of the best Internet tools into the classroom to help students get engaged. Working with the National Student/Parent Mock Election, we’ve pulled together a site called Elections Tools for Teachers where you can find descriptions and suggested learning activities for tools like YouTube, Google Maps, Elections Video Search and Power Readers, which we announced here yesterday.

We want students to walk away from their engagement in this election with a sense of excitement about our democratic process and with the belief that their voices matter. As Gloria Kirshner, president of the Mock Election has said, “In the classrooms of today are the Presidents, Senators, Congress members and, most important, the voters of tomorrow. Whether we are sending these children to the White House or to the polls, we hope to send them with a deep understanding of ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people.'”

Please let us know if you find Elections Tools for Teachers helpful in your teaching, and we hope you’ll enroll your students in this year’s National Mock Election on October 30th.

As always, if I can assist you in implementing this in your classroom in any way, I am more than happy to help out.

Oh Wiki You’re So Fine…

Having used wikis with my middle school students, I can say the transition is not a difficult one. They enjoy the opportunity to use technology, but they really appreciate the opportunity to work on a document from anywhere with the help of others regardless of being together or separate.

I remember a recent project. I specifically told this curious bunch of students I had in certain class that I was subscribed to the wiki via RSS and received all updates and changes. Furthermore, the wiki would tell me who changed what and when and also allow me to revert to previous versions. Anyone caught defacing others pages would be using School 1.0 to get his or her project finished. I had not seen any issues with the wiki through the first week, so I thought I was home free and the world was a happy place (my world anyway).

Then late Saturday night happened. I started getting notifications hand over fist about edits occurring on one certain site. Instead of looking at the changes in the feed window, I quickly navigated over to the wiki to shut down access to whatever terrible thing was taking apart one of my group’s hard work. I knew the offender had logged in with a student ID, and I was sure to confront him/her about it on Monday. So, I get to the wiki and start looking around the pages being reported as edited. Nothing. They looked fine to me. I could not see the difference from what I would have expected at this point.

So I went into the history to see what the kid was up to. And then it hit me. Editing. He was editing. This ESL, only in the country three years, never talks in class, speaks broken English kid was editing the work of his peers (one of which was one of my top students). He cared enough about his group’s work and its appearance to the public that he wanted it right. Were all of his corrections accurate? No. But most were, and he was doing English VOLUNTARILY on a SATURDAY night. That is what wikis and collaborative work is all about. I shut my machine down to go to bed knowing that my work had been a success. Even if he was the only one who chose to go the extra mile, he CHOSE to do it. That made it all worth it.

My students used the wiki to aide each other in weak areas. They found missing parts in their own work and asked others to help them by adding to it. Some took the initiative, others did not. But they all favored the Web 2.0 version over the School 1.0.

Online collaborative word processing sites (wikis, Google Docs, etc) allow people to share and mold and create and recreate information and ideas. It is an awesome opportunity. These people may never meet, but their ideas will. Their intellect will collide and combine in a virtual environment that will change the real world. This is powerful. Our students deserve to at least learn how to harness this power on a local basis, because after high school they will run into it on a global basis.

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Jacques Cousteau is sitting in your classroom and you just don’t know it!

Let’s face it. Your students love nature. They love computers. They love media. Why not have them create short documentaries about cheetahs, water lizards, polar bears, and more using real video footage, authentic sounds, and background music?

What? Your kids don’t know how to make videos? You don’t know where to get the media for the film? Well, let Nat Geo step in and save the day. Enter the Wildlife Filmmaker. Your kids do not need to be professionals, but they just might turn into them. Using drag and drop technology, National Geographic has done a wonderful job of simplifying the process for teachers (I say ‘teachers’ because the detail could kill us if we had to walk our younger students through the process in MovieMaker or iMovie).

The students will be given a code to write down when they are through to allow them to retrieve the video once they are completed. Now, retrieve means it will bring it back up and play it in the Nat Geo site. I did not see a way to download the video yet, but I am sure it will not be long. A teacher could very easily write the numbers down to create links on his/her web page for parents and students to view their creations.

So, if you are lucky enough to have an administrator order you to teach the things you wanted the students to learn but testing got in the way of, then try this out. The students can preview the animal clips and make a short video or two to try the site out. Then, once they are comfortable with it, they can do some research on the animal of choice and return to the site to make their own Animal Planet documentary short. The side benefit of this is that they will gain some great skills using the video timeline window on the site. It is very much like the software programs such as Windows MovieMaker, Apple’s iMovie, or the more advanced Apple Final Cut Studio we use in our high school.

Awesome tools for science and literacy (digital storytelling), so go give it a try! Let me know what you think about it.