Thursday, November 26, 2009

Memory Techniques Assisted by Web 2.0 Tools

I don't know about the rest of you, but my memory is going, not coming. There are a number of factors that I believe are contributing to this. I think first and foremost, fatigue is making it harder to remember things. Yes, I know I should slow things down, but it's pretty hard to do, when you have so much that has to be done. Besides, I'm also doing it to myself to some degree, because I signed up for two courses this time. I wanted to get done sooner and didn't think it would be much extra work. Well, I was wrong. My evenings and weekends are spent working on coursework and as a result my memory is going. Now I don't know if this scientifically proven despite all the research, but experientially, I can attest to forgetting things because I am just so tired. Now I say this not for sympathy, but because I wonder how this translates to our students.

I remember so many of my students coming to class and falling asleep, because they had been up all night watching TV or playing video games. Some of them were so involved in sports that they had little time to breathe between doing homework, going to practices, and traveling and playing games. As a result, when the students came to class exhausted from a lack of sleep, it is little wonder why they did so poorly in class. I believe their lack of sleep led to poor memory which resulted in low grades. That being said, this week's review of a few short term memory aids was interesting, and maybe even helpful.

1) Chunking

I know chunking works, because I've used it before. It's not a new thing, because I used it back in the early 80's. It 's the strategy of grouping numbers or words that we want to remember. For example, if I want to remember a Christmas wish list, then I can create a word from the first letter of each item in my wish list, or I can break numbers up into workable groups. In Canada, we have 9 digit social insurance numbers that are broken up into 3 groups of 3 so that we can remember them more easily. That's a technique of chunking. Do students find this useful? Absolutely! I sure did when I was in university trying to remember all the historical events and dates. I found it really worked.

2) Linking system for encoding memory

I was particularly fascinated by this experiment. Think about the potential for students to link words or terminologies in science with a related location and be able to recall these for testing purposes. One tool that could help people link with images could be Glogster. This would help people connect the words with images not only in the mind, but visually as an aid. I found a Web 2.0 tool called Knowtes, . Unfortunately, it's by invitation only for now. But it uses a flashcard system to remember information by associating with images.

3) Mind Mapping

This technique is unique by suggesting only using one word on each branch, as well as having the line only as long as the word. I can see how having the branch as long as the word keeps it from losing its focus. Mind42, is a tool that demonstrates this strategy with the aid of pictures and colours. It's in beta right now. Another Web 2.0 tool that uses a visual tree as part of the mind mapping is Exploratree,

After all is said and done, I need to get some sleep, and start trying out some of these memory techniques for myself. Here's hoping.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Can We Help a Student Want to Learn?

This is something I have been pondering for some years. I remember having a conversation with Linda Kavelin-Popov, founder of Virtues Project International, a few years back. We were talking about motivation, and she said, "We cannot motivate people to do the right thing; we can only inspire them to do the right thing." Now I realize that sounds somewhat "airy ferry" or new age, but it's changed how I look at what I can do with students rightly or wrongly. Sergiovanni (2005: 10-11) says that we need to move away from the theory that what gets done gets rewarded (extrinsic motivation) to a better strategy, of what is rewarding gets done even if no one is looking (intrinsic motivation). I now look at my role as a teacher and administrator as one that needs to inspire learning by living out my passion for lifelong learning. I'm one of those guys who believes that I need to encourage the growth and development of natural virtue, or character strengths according to Seligman & Peterson, in students (2004) that becomes the driving force of what they do and how they live.

It's been awhile since I have been active in the classroom, but I hear teachers often say that students seem so apathetic and uninterested in learning or life for that matter. Motivating a child with extrinsic rewards, as Dan Pink states in his TedTalk (2009) presentation, often has a negative and opposite result. I tend to agree with Pink.

Motivation becomes almost like a pull or push action, especially if we are dangling the candy in front of the student as if we are trying to bribe them to follow. Pretty soon the candy loses its appeal and we're looking for bigger candy to lure the student into learning. We've seen this for years in the classrooms with reward systems. I must confess, in my early years of teaching, I bought into the rewards thing. I bought this treasure box and it was filled with coins and tokens. Every time a student did something right or worked hard I gave them a token or coin. At the end of the month, they could turn in their coins and purchases prizes like pencils, books, stickers, and more. But that lasted six months and the students were bored with it. Meanwhile, I was exhausted from trying to administer it. In the end, I realized that the students were not learning or behaving because it was a good thing or for its intrinsic value or merit, but because I was bribing them.

This is why I lean more to the inspiration model. Motivation, even intrinsic, has to have a cause. At the root of intrinsic motivation is a value system that is based upon natural virtue and character strengths. If I am in a dangerous situation, I am motivated to flee to safety because of the value I place on my life, because I care (virtue) about me. When I sit in class and apply myself or am intrinsically motivated to learn, it is because I value learning and knowledge, because I am a person striving for excellence (virtue) in my life. Motivation is the action and relies on a cause. Motivation sometimes is short lived though. How many times have we heard a stirring speech or speaker, and people say, "Wow! That was motivating." But they go back to the normal lives and nothing changes permanently, it may for a short while. That's because at the core nothing changed.

As an educator, I can affirm a student in their character strengths so they flourish and grow more love, joy, kindness, understanding, care, determination, responsibility, courage, excellence, assertiveness, trust, and more virtues. When a student’s feels good about themselves as a person, and believes that they possess these qualities even in a small way, they live out these qualities. Instead of being pushed or pulled into learning, I inspire them to be what they can be with my words of affirmation and encouragement. My warm friendly interactions create a safe and caring learning environment where they can feel motivated to learn. Yet after all this, I understand that students (Arthur: 29) may possess the same virtues as each other, but their motivation may vary in strength or output because of their will.

All I can do is try to help a student want to learn. I can encourage. I can be an example. But in the end, the student must want to learn for themselves. I can only hope I have encouraged them so they want to learn. This is why this subject is no simple matter and will be debated for a long time. But they are my thoughts and observations.

Sergiovanni, T.J. (2005). Strengthening the heartbeat: leading and learning together in schools. San Fransico: Jossey-Bass.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Peterson, C. (2004). Character strengths and virtues. Oxford University Press, USA.

TedTalk. (Producer). (2009). Dan pink on the surprising science of motivation [Web]. Retrieved from

Arthur, J. (2003). Education with character: the moral economy od schooling. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Monday, November 2, 2009


The Role of Technology, Emotion, and Social Interaction in Learning

This past week, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of emotion, language, and humour in learning. In addition to reading Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, I watched a great video by Patricia Kuhl about the importance of early childhood learning in a child’s language development.

I was so impressed by the research that is being done with infants that shows the importance of socially interacting with an infant between 8-10 months old and using lots of language filled with emotion. What was also intriguing was that plain audio or TV did not produce any noticeable improvements in a child’s language development when a child listened or viewed it. That made me think about how many times we put TV shows on in our daycares thinking the exposure may give children an advantage. But what that research tells us is there is no substitute for human interaction between an adult and child. An emotionless TV or audio player cannot replace human interaction.

We are emotional beings that are dependent upon other human beings for growth and development. I was having this conversation with a colleague recently where we mused about what happens to children that are deprived of love and affection during these formative years. This research only scratches the surface about the importance of emotional stimuli in the development of language. But what happens to learning when children are abused or neglected? Do we understand the huge negative impact to learning or brain development in these cases? We have done a great deal to warn of the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), but what happens to the brain during early childhood development when they receive little or no affection or lacking feeling the security of a loving home. I have seen children passed from parent to grandparent to aunt to cousin. And we wonder why this child isn’t doing well in school. I’ve seen the negative effects on these students and chalked it up to their social environment, but maybe there is more to it than the living conditions or home life. Maybe something never developed properly for these students during those all important years.

Now I said earlier that research shows virtually no noticeable difference in language development when a child watches TV or listens to audio. This does not mean that technology has no use or purpose in learning. What it does mean is that we need to be more creative in how we use it so that we can effectively transmit human emotion and social interaction. When I go use a tool like ElluminateLive, I still feel the emotion of another person communicating with me with live audio. When I use a webcam on Skype, I can see the facial expressions that accompany a person’s voice or words spoken. So technology can effectively assist in the role of learning, particularly because we can use storytelling that is packed full of emotion and connects another person’s experience with my life. A great example of this was when I viewed a Voicethread of a colleague and friend, Rod Murray about a former student of his, Adam. I’ve added a link to this Voicethread, because it’s a wonderful story and serves as a great example of how storytelling filled with emotion taught me something new about autism and friendship and I learned from the use of this technology.

So emotion and social interaction do serve a purpose in human learning, but so does technology. We just have to be more creatively.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wordle, Voki, Etherpad, and other normal labels!

This week I had some fun working with a few Web 2.0 tools that I think have real value in the classroom especially when it comes to expressing creativity. In light of all the talk about our society placing such great value on left brain or L-Directed Thinking, we need some outlets in our classrooms that encourage students to think from the right hemisphere that explores the arts, language, individuality, colour, and design. Technology has made it possible for students to express themselves in ways I would never have imagined possible when I was a student in elementary school. Our world has come a long ways from slate boards and Crayons.

The first tool I tried out was Wordle. What a fun tool! I love language and words. Wordle is a tool that generates “word clouds” from text that you provide. The collection of words are given greater prominence based upon the frequency of the text or words used. You can change the design by using different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. You can randomize the layout so hundreds of other designs are produced with the same highlighted words. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.Very cool. Let me demonstrate by grabbing the text from last week's blog. I used one word more frequently, so it is displayed more prominently. Can you tell which word I used? I will also display a couple of different random images of the same words.

These are just two examples of what Wordle can do. Imagine the fun students can have writing a topical paragraph and then copying and pasting the paragraph into Wordle and creating beautiful expressions of their writing. Then the student can share this Wordle with their peers and have then guess or decode the message found in the image.

The second tool was Voki. I've embedded a Voki, which is a blend of voice and avatar. This year, our theme for our students is "Be the change you want to see." This is a quote from Gandhi. So I found a Gandhi talking head and recorded a message for viewers, such as yourself. I tried to find an actual mp3 of Gandhi's voice saying these words, but was unsuccessful.

But you can upload mp3 files and the avatar will mouth the words for you. The beauty of a tool like this is how it gives students a voice when many lack the confidence to video themselves. Students can choose from a wide array of avatars, dress them up, add backgrounds, and more. Once again this Web 2.0 tool can be a way of students expressing themselves for presentations that the teacher plays on a digital projector for the class, or embed in a website or wikispace, or place in a PowerPoint presentation. There are so many options available with this little tool. Great way to encourage to students to speak out.

The final tool I was introduced this week was EtherPad. Most of us have used Google Docs and shared out files with peers or colleagues. But EtherPad gives you the opportunity to edit documents live in real-time with another colleague. When multiple people edit the same document simultaneously, any changes are instantly reflected on everyone's screen. This is a great way to collaborate on text documents, and extremely useful for meeting notes, drafting sessions, education, team programming, and more. Students can use this in global projects or collaborate with other schools in the same division, or across the globe. When a number of the staff were looking at this tool in a PD session we had today, many of the responses were, "Wow." This is a group of staff that have seen a lot of web resources since they teach online. When a tool like EtherPad gets "wows" it must be pretty impressive. The only drawback is that there is cost associated with it if you have more than three people wanting to edit at the same time. Despite this, I see a lot of uses for it. I just might have to be creative!

I've embedded a demo of EtherPad. Check it out!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Be the Change...

Recently, a friend of mine, who just started blogging I might add, posted a poll asking readers if they thought that Manitoba is a welfare state. The results of his small but significant sample was that 93% of respondents agreed that Manitoba was a welfare state. Now I generally leave the controversial topics to my friend, but it left me asking the question, "What's wrong with our economic, political, social, or educational system that we are seeing a dependency on social assistance?" I remember back some years ago when my students turned 18 years old, they would leave school at 3:30 and immediately lined up at the band office to collect their cheque for $122.50 twice a month.

This week, I sat down with an Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) official, who explained the new Active Measures program targeting 15-30 year old First Nations youth living on-reserve. I didn't know this, but things have changed with regard to welfare. Once you turn 18 years old, you don't automatically qualify for Social Assistance (SA). You have to sit down with the SA worker and develop a plan that includes, finishing your education and getting training. There has to be a plan for getting the 18 yr old or older off SA and entering the workforce. So things are changing, and this is a good thing for our youth. They need to stay in school and finish their education. They need to have a plan for their life and what they want to do, or what career they want to enter. It is time for our First Nations youth to be as Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Yes, we have had it rough sometimes in the past living on the Rez. I've been there and done that, too. But we can choose to live like there is no hope, and feeling stuck, or we can be the change we want to see. We want change on the Rez, then it can start with each one of us living on the Rez. We want to see businesses develop and employment opportunities, then we need to be the change and make it happen. It is time for change.

I watched this video from Tedtalk yesterday about a young name in Malawi, who grew up on a poor farm. He dropped out of school to help his father farm, but then a famine hit, and they had nothing. No SA from the government. No outside aid from relief agencies. So one day he went to the village library and read a Physics book about how to create a windmill for pumping water and creating electricity. It's an amazing story of innovation and hope. It's about a young man, who decided to be the change and make a difference. Great story! William Kamkwamba: How I harnessed the wind

I realize that not everyone is as creative as William, but I believe that all of our eStudents Credenda have potential to express creativity in a variety of ways and better their lives with education. We just celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada, and yet what did we give thanks for? We could live in Malawi, or another third world country racked with poverty, civil war, disease, and suffering. But many of us live in great wealth, and have to wear the latest LuluLemon outfit, or drive the fanciest car to be happy. And yet sadly, many times I find myself and others grumbling and complaining. I need to be the change as well. It's not just our kids; it's us as adults as well. I want to possess the drive like young William to bring change, positive change to my life and the lives of others. Together, we can do this. Are you in?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Playing Games is More Than Having Fun

I know one of my kids favourite pastimes is playing board games or card games during the holidays, and especially "Stratego". That's usually the only time we can get together as a family. But do they love to play games. I guess my kids learned to love playing games from my mother. She is fierce competitor when it comes to games. Thankfully, I was able to tame any extreme "game playing" behaviours in my children, before they morphed into my mother. :) (She knows it, so I'm not telling any family secrets!) However, I truly acknowledge my mother's love for playing games in her senior years. Sadly, the older we get, I think we get crotchety and forget how to have fun and play. There is something appealing about a child's desire for play that I wish for myself. I'm not sure why I been so reflective in my blogs lately.

Dr. Stuart Brown makes some really good points at TedTalks about the importance of play being more than fun(you must know now how much I like TedTalks), so I've embedded the video here:

Back to the subject at hand; there is a place for play in the classroom. It is not to be confined to the playground, the monkey bars, the jungle gyms, or the lighter or easier subject areas either. I really believe that we need to develop youth as multifaceted, whole beings. As much as we develop their intellect, we need to balance it off with the laughter and fun. That's as much an intellectual pursuit as the more serious minded stuff of academia. Just like we balance between critical and creative thinking with application and doing, we need to introduce games and play to balance the serious quest for knowledge and understanding.

When I first started teaching, we played a lot of games in the classroom. I was a trained high school teacher completely out of his element teaching grade 2/3. It was my first teaching job, and I flew by the seat of my pants most of the time. My daybook was mostly filled with scribbles of what I changed on the fly, because what I had planned was often a complete failure. The students I inherited from the previous grade were left unable to read and write, because the teacher spent most of her time behind the desk doing beadwork. So I read, and read, and read to these students. I acted out scenes, changed my voice, entertained mostly! But the students had fun, and one by one, lights went on as they began to associate letters and groupings of letter with words and sounds. So much of this was accomplished with play. We made games of childrens books. We did the same with math, science, social studies, and health. Everything was an object lesson.

If I was to reflect back and think about what the students got out playing games, I would say it was these four things: connection, exploration, engagement, and application.

Connection: I found students connecting game activities with math concepts that we were covering. Connection is big in my books. That's when you see lights going on for students and you see that "I get it" look in their eyes. This is where the learning moved from the passive to the active.

Exploration: Students were able to explore math concepts we were learning in the classroom and see that they were not just numbers, fractions, or formulas, but they had real world relevance. They could explore how these concepts might be found in practical everyday life. It opened their minds to see beyond the pages.

Engagement: Some of the research I read about games suggest that games are a great motivator (Phelps, Egert, & Bayliss: 2009). Well, I come from a philosophical perspective that believes that motivation not only should be intrinsic, but is intrinsic and not extrinsic. While rewards and punishment have been considered extrinsic, the motivation is still internal within the individual, whether it is desire for reward, or fear of punishment. I believe I cannot motivate a child, I can inspire a child. I cannot make them want to do work or play a game. However, I digress! From my experience, I found that games not only help students explore concepts more fully, but gave them an place to engage on a level of desire and enjoyment. As a teacher, it was my role to inspire the students with wonder and fun by joining along with them in the games and not be a bystander.

Application: I also firmly believe that games encourage students to apply a number of skills to real life situations. It gets them trying things for themselves and learning from that experience, in addition to developing some very important teamwork and collaboration skills. Students learn to play and play fair. They learn to share. They learn how to be competitive, yet caring for the others playing. Research also shows this as well. (Vondracek & Pittman: 2002)

These are just a few of the ways, I found games worked in my classroom. Now my challenge is how to translate some of these traditional style game concepts into an online world, and not look cheesy, when students are so used to Wii, PlayStation 3, and more. Games have advanced tremendously from the Commodore 64 Paddle game. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I think the challenge is greater to connect and engage students with low budget games that can't compare to the multi-billion dollar gaming industry that produces such high quality graphical games. I guess that's our challenge.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Importance and Value of Committed Staff!!!

For the past four years, I have been slogging away at trying to get Credenda to a place where it could run without me. I mean this really. For the first four years, if I had walked away from it, it would have died. I'm not saying I was so central to Credenda's success. No rather, the challenge was we were so limited in resources and funding, we couldn’t afford additional help. We operated with a very small, but extremely dedicated staff that did their job plus two others at the same time.

But finally things have changes, and we have better funding in place, new staff, and great results. The team has gotten bigger and better. What an amazing group of staff we have this year. It is has been fantastic to sit back and watch this staff interact with each other. Just last Friday, we had an online PD session, and it was great. The ideas were flying around the virtual room, and the exchanges between staff were lighthearted, yet engaging. I came away from the session feeling tired from the level of discussion, but challenged intellectually. What a treat!

Tired is, unfortunately, something I feel a lot more of these days. It's been a long four and a half years from creating Credenda to today, where Credenda is thriving and bubbling with activity and hope. I just hope that I'm not too worn out to enjoy it. Hopefully, I can ride on the virtual coattails of our new staff's enthusiasm for awhile and catch my breath with a fresh new breeze of life and rejuvenation. Today, we have 28 staff working for Credenda, a huge increase from the 5 of us who started in 2005. Today, we have 268 eStudents in high school; 203 first time eStudents, and 65 returning eStudents. 168 of those new eStudents are First Nation from all across the province. We have 150 college eStudents as well. These are exciting numbers for us.

But it's the staff that make all of this work. Let me give you an example of just today how the staff make the difference, and why I believe we are as successful as we are today:

October 1, 2009: The principal - southern campus emailed me today suggesting we start a Credenda Leadership Camp that takes eStudents out of their home situations for a week during the summer. Great idea, and great commitment.

At the end of a long exhausting day, the principal - northern campus gets up from his laptop and says, “I just emailed all of the perfect attender students and thanked them for their commitment to coming to school.” Isn't that fantastic? How do you think those kids felt getting that email?

We've been working on developing on a new template for our course developers to use with clearly delineated themes and branding. Two of the course developers have spent countless, stressful hours working on this project outside of their already full duties. This afternoon, they presented this template to the other developers for them to use. Huge team effort!

At 7:40 AM, I received an email from our Science eTeacher sharing a PowerPoint presentation with me that an eStudent submitted. It was brilliant, and the new eTeacher was in awe! That felt good!

At 3:30 PM, I received a call from our Guidance Counselor, who drove four hours one way to visit and encourage 11 Leadership eStudents. That's real love and commitment for youth.

And you know what? That wasn't the half of what happened today. So much more went on and peoples lives were touched by caring and respectful staff. Do we have a great team? Absolutely! Credenda is way bigger than any one of us, because it's made up of all of us.

I am finally feeling like I am not shouldering this challenge alone. The team has gotten bigger and they are rallying around each other, and it feels good. It really is great to have good staff!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TicTacToe Boards: Never heard of them before!

This past week I was introduced to TicTacToe Boards as a differentiated instructional strategy. It seems the idea originates with Grace Smith and Stephanie Throne, authors of Differentiating Instruction with Technology in K-5 Classrooms. I must admit at first glance, I was skeptical. I'm not a big fan of creating activities for students that categorize them into groups based on their intellectual abilities. I want students to be able to try different activities that enable them to understand the outcomes that the teacher is facilitating and leading the students towards no matter what their knowledge or abilities or skills are.

We have to be very careful of tiering or scaling what we teach to students because we don't think they are capable of doing the work. All students need to experience activities that facility their success in and out of the classroom. And as I have been stressing in these blogs, technology can be the great leveler!

So in a continued effort to develop a social responsibility course for Credenda, I decided to put together a TicTacToe Board for the course. But before I could do this, I needed to understand how Smith & Throne categorized learning into three intelligences; analytic, interactive, and introspective. These intelligences do not seem to be based on Bloom's Taxonomy or even Revised Taxonomy, but on three simple ways we see people think and learn.

The nine intelligences or SMART's are based however on Howard Gardners Multiple Intelligences. Under each category, the authors determined that we demonstrate intelligence by three different SMART expressions. Under the analytic category, we learn better with activities that center around patterns, logical or mathematical thinking called Logic Smart, or with musical expressions such as dance or singing, which is Music Smart, or with engaging in science experiments or observation, which is Nature Smart.

Under the interactive category, Smith & Throne suggest that we learn better with activities that involve movement or kinesthestic, which is called Body Smart, or understanding relationships and mood, which is the interpersonal expression called People Smart, or listening, reading, or verbal skills, which we call the Word Smart.

Finally, the last category is the introspective column that engages the student in asking questions around values and and philosophical questions, which we call the Wonder Smart, or the visual expression using lots of imagery, which we call the Picture Smart, or the person who connects with themselves and life on a intrapersonal level, which we call the Self Smart.

The way this activity or strategy works is each student is asked to complete three activities either horizontally or diagonally to complete a line that crosses over the three different intelligences. Teachers can modify the order of the Smart lists, which do not necessarily have to be placed in the top, middle, or bottom box, as they are not hierarchical orders of learning. Each student is asked to complete these activities that allows them to work within their interests and in ways that they feel most comfortable learning. In the end, my skepticism was replaced by enthusiasm. I think this is a great way to engage learning across a variety of intelligences and does not limit students from expanding their understanding of the outcomes.

If you wish to see a larger image of the document, please click the table below to zoom in and see the text better.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Revised Bloom's Taxonomy Integrated with Technology

I've been messing around with a little Bloom's Taxonomy these past few weeks, and I've got to say, I like the new categories. While maybe not new, per say, they've been revised since I was in university over 20 years ago. I like the new Revised Bloom's because I think it reflects more accurately what we do with students in the classroom around learning.

The terms themselves are now constructed to reflect active verbs; something I hope we are doing with our students. We want our students remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. So I'm good with the new categories.

Now the challenge is to integrate technology into each of levels of thinking. I've come up with a table of links of Web 2.0 tools that a teacher may want to use with their students to extending the thinking levels with technology. Hopefully they are helpful.

Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy

Technology Tools

Use of Each Tool


Factbook Beta

Listing the countries that fit the third world categories and struggle with poverty, health issues, low GDP, and more


Playing on online environmental game that helps eStudents identify global environmental issues.

Tag Galaxy

Finding pictures on a range of topics using this tool with key word searches.


Classifying and mapping out information gathered from searches on the Internet


Explaining what students found by using this tool that mindmaps images by thinking in pictures


Summarizing the information by paraphrasing and journaling using a blog.


Screencast O Matic

Sharing the information by making a video with this tool that others can view


Editing images found in previous searches for upcoming projects with this online paint tool


Uploading and sharing images, videos, audio files onto a Glogster poster that expresses ideas and information about the topic.



Surveying other students about their views and ideas around social responsibility issues with this simply but powerful tool


Finding out about other students likes and dislikes using this online quiz builder and survey tool


Diagramming and analyzing collaboratively about student ideas and understanding of social responsibility issues.



Reviewing other students posts on the class wiki and commenting about ideas


Networking and collaborating with other students about information and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses the postings possess in conveying an accurate message


Hypothesize and critique other student researchers’ findings or positions by collaboratively working together on solutions to address social issues.



Construct a community with other like minded youth that want to change the world and network ideas with one another.


Create world maps with data and images and share them with others that illustrate visually a clear understanding of the topic


Directing the production of a video that is integrated with music and images that illustrate the topic and achieve a desired effect from the viewers.

By no means is this list exhaustive, because there are so many tools out there. If you have any thoughts or comments, please leave them for me to read. I would love to hear your feedback.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Having Technology Nurture Learning

I‘ve read a lot of research lately about instructional strategies, best practices, and standards. While much of it is interesting and makes you think about how I taught (since I am out of the classroom now), or what I expect from my eTeachers at Credenda as an administrator, there’s a real risk of jumping on a bandwagon with one perspective and not remaining balanced in our approach to learning or learning theories.

Case in point, in Saskatchewan, we have what is called Common Essential Learnings (CEL’S). Great concept. It promotes the idea that teachers always incorporate one of the CEL’s, such as critical and creative thinking, or independent thinking, or technological literacy into the lesson or instruction. There are six of them. However, it’s really tempting to fall into the trap of inserting a CEL concept in the lesson for the sake of the administrator, who may come around and look at the day planner and ask what CEL’s are you using today in your lesson, but really you never really gave it much thought. Does it sound like I am speaking from experience as a teacher? Well, I am.

This is the challenge I have with the 9 Instructional Strategies as presented by Marzano. Once again, it’s a great concept, but there is a risk of using the list to simply suggest that a particular strategy was used in teaching, and never really think about the reason it was implemented. I think that Marzano would agree with me that he wants the list to be guide and not a prescription of how to instruct. Why? Because the list is by no means exhaustive. There are other skill sets that are as equally important to be practiced or used in the classroom. For example, his research shows the instructional strategy of cooperative learning producing a 27% percentile gain, yet some students may respond better and produce higher results due to a particular learning style that fits them better.

Recently, a colleague shared with me that at the beginning of this school year they sat down as a department with the department chair and were told they needed to incorporate the instructional strategy “identifying similarities and differences” into each of the lessons, because as a strategy it produced the highest results in research with a 45% percentile gain. I was shocked to hear this, because I can’t imagine being a student sitting in the classroom having the same instructional strategy thrown at me every day. That is not differentiated instruction. That is one person jumping on the bandwagon and deciding it’s all about best results, not about the students and their needs.

So when it comes to using technology in the classroom to aid in implementing a variety of instructional strategies, it is really important to mix it up. Teachers need to put themselves in the shoes of their students and think about how they might feel sitting there. Just because they may have a preference in how to teach doesn’t mean that the students are learning. The same goes for technology; just because a teacher is using technology doesn’t mean that students are learning either.

But I did find myself chewing over these few facts, this week, about using technology in the classroom from Smith & Throne (2007) as cited in the research from the Center of Applied Research in Educational Technology: Technology improves student performance when the application directly supports the curriculum objectives being assessed; provides opportunities for student collaboration; adjusts the students ability and prior experience, and provides feedback to the student and teacher about student performance or progress with the application; is integrated into the typical instructional day; provides opportunities for students to design and implement projects that extend the curriculum content being assessed by a particular standardized test; when used in an environment where teachers, the school community, and school and district administrators support the use of technology.

I agree that technology is a very good thing to use in the classroom. While it is very good and useful, I don’t want even our virtual high school to be exclusively about technology. In fact, I want it to be more about relationship building. The technology is the servant, the delivery agent; it never replaces the people.

Smith, G. & Throne, S. (2007). Differentiating instruction with technology in K-5 classrooms. Eugene:ISTE.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

RSS? Oh! Really Simple Syndication

I'm a relative newbie to RSS. I've got an understanding of how it works and the why's as well. I've looked at it before in the past, but wasn't really sure how I might use it, or even why. To be fair, that was a couple of years ago when I first looked at it, but it was mostly top news related stories then. I wasn't so sure how I would use it to scan through specific news topics and stories, or if I would want to for that matter. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) allows a person to subscribe to a news site or blog that feeds stories as they are posted, so you don't have to go to multiple sites to read them. Instead, you can go directly to your reader and get all the story headlines in one click. In theory, it sounds great. But you need to be fairly organized to enjoy this service. A person needs to determine beforehand the story topics they want to read.

So as an exercise to see about whether I see any merits in using this type of tool with students, I needed to see if I would use it myself. I was pleasantly surprised at how many education related feeds are out there. In no time, I set up 15 different feeds related to online education, educational strategies, web 2.0 tools and more. Immediately, I had 361 new stories for me to look through on Google Reader. Google Reader is the RSS feed reader that I use. There are lots of other readers out there. Firefox has added on tools that allow for reading in the browser, while Safari has a built in reader. There are other standalone readers that you can download and use. But it really comes down to preference. But back to Google Reader, when I opened it, I had multiple story headlines to go through. Each story is a headline with a synopsis of the full article. The results? I found some great stories, as I scanned through the stories. First of all, I added Tedtalk RSS feed. I love this site so much, that I have it linked to my Twitter as well, so any new video that is posted comes to my Smartphone via text with Twitter.

I added the eSchool RSS feed for top stories and conference news. There was a great video from the recent ISTE conference in Atlanta, Georgia by keynote speaker, Malcolm Gladwell. Very interesting! So I'm linking it here for you to see. It's worth watching.

At Alltop RSS, I learned that a new release of MindMap 1.3 is out now. That's a great web 2.0 tool for mindmapping with students. I wouldn't have known about the new release, if I hadn't added this site to my reader. But in a flash, I had it at my fingertips.

Also, this week I had a copy of the eLearners Survival Guide emailed to me by one of my eTeacher's. It's a free download, and this was also posted on my reader feeds from Workplace Learning Today. If you are an eLearner or working in this world, this is a 325 page manual that covers a lot of important information, and well worth downloading and reading. Susan Smith Nash put a lot of work into it, and should be given alot of credit for it.

That's just a few of the things I picked up in a few short minutes going through Google Reader. So do I think it's worthwhile as a tool to list resources and topics for students to access when doing research for projects? Absolutely.

Teachers just need to setup an account and add feeds for students to access. They don't have to spend a lot of time surfing the Internet and trying to find sites about information they are looking for assignments. Teachers can organize the feeds into topics, or different projects for the matter. The nice thing about the information, is that it is so current. Generally, the information is well sourced and researched as well. So overall, it's been a good week searching out RSS feeds. I've heard it said it can be addictive. Watch out, because I think I may be in trouble. ;)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Podcasting on the GCast

First of all, I'm back from a 10 day mountain hiking experience in the Canadian Rockies. I went to Banff National Park, Kootenay National Park, Revelstoke National Park, Glacier National Park, Yoho National Park, and Jasper National Park. Absolutely amazing and breathtaking! This picture to the left is of a the Inkpots above Johnstone Canyon (a 6km hike up). It's a beautiful up there. I had no Internet for 10 days. Slept in a tent and saw three bears (each at different times) and survived. It is kind of weird coming back to technology and switching gears, but I must.

I spent a little time with GCast this week, and although I'm sure a lot of people use the free Web 2.0 service, I'm still trying to figure out how I would use it with students in a classroom situation. So many of our students need to feel entertained in order to keep their attention, so I'm not sure how GCast will do the job. If I was teaching English, or Communications, I might use it for students to do readings of poetry, short stories that they have written. Especially if students are reserved about speaking in public. I might use it for virtual public speaking or having students record skits or plays and creating radio dramas. One of the challenges I find is how to use it in the maths and some of the sciences.

I certainly don't want podcasts being used in the classroom because it's the newest and latest thing going. It has to have purpose. Besides, there are some challenges before you even get to using GCast. To GCasts credit, it is a very simple tool to use online. A person can have an account created and a podcast produced and published in 5 minutes. It's really that simple.

My challenge was using Audacity, since I'm not using a Mac with Garageband built into it. And from what I hear from friends with Macs, it's very easy to use. But this week, I sat down to create my mp3 file with Audacity, and it wasn't anything like Adobe Premiere, which I've used a great deal before. I was almost tempted to switch over half way through, but I decided to stick it out with Audacity. Because time was an issue, I wasn't able to figure out how to use some of the features that later on, when I went through a number of Youtube video tutorials, I learned about mixing and adding music to voice.

Here was my first kick at it. It's just me talking. And really, that's where I think unless the students know how to enhance the audio, it's going to come off very flat and stilted. It's really important that students don't just read a script without emotion. But a great rubric could be created for elements of voice control and delivery that would address some of these challenges.

For this GCast, I was talking about the history of the Water Quality Project from the wikispace site. Here's the enhanced podcast with music, after playing around with it on Audacity and adding some Freeplay music.

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Hope this makes sense.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Anyone for a Picnik?

Had a chance to work with Picnik this week. I had a lot of fun with it. So I am going to review it this week and provide some feedback how I used it and the many uses it has for students in the classroom.

To the left, I took a few pictures today as I headed out on my big camping trip in the mountains. - Sure got to be thankful for free Internet outside hotel lobbies :) Silly me, I forget to change the settings on my camera. For those of you who know a little about cameras, I left the ISO at 1600 for indoor photos, instead of using a 200 setting for outdoor pictures. So the picture was completely overexposed as shown in the left.

So I logged on to my Picnik account and uploaded this picture. In a few minutes I began to work the contrasts and exposure and add a few simple effects to the picture. What an improvement! I was able to take a poor photo and turn it into a quaint little photo. I realize it's not perfect, but when I think about the potential for students to use it, I'm very impressed.

I've used expensive software, like Photoshop, but not everyone can afford to buy these kinds of software, especially schools that can barely equip their computer labs with P4 computers or better. Here's a great online Web 2.0 tool that students can access from their classrooms without having to install anything special on to the computer. Anybody and everyone can access this for themselves.

Students can edits photos with great ease. It didn't take much to use the tool. Changing the exposure, brightness, cropping, touch ups was very straight forward. Adding a few effects like a drop shadow, or a 1960's look, or changing a photo to look more vintage, or softening the photo was as easy as making one simple click, and it was changed. A person can add text, do touch ups that eliminate blemishes as quickly as they edited the photos.

I would encourage any student to use this tool just to learn about colour and presentations. As a student plays with some of the adjustments, they immediately see the effects of the changes. Quickly, students develop a sense of what makes a good photo, because they see the improvements before their eyes. I would want students to then use the photos to enhance their presentations, which I will talk about next week.

In closing, here's another picture I took today. The antelope was too far away to zoom in anymore. So I cropped and zoomed into the photo with Picnik; I think it turned out okay.

Monday, July 13, 2009

DIIGO (dee go) - Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff

DIIGO - Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff. What a great service this group provides! Love what it does, how it works! Love it, Love it, Love it! Fantastic! I realize this sounds pretty biased, but what can I say.

I've been using Diigo for about six months, and it's one of my favorite Web 2.0 tools. I love to be organized, and this tool does it for me. I'm a bigtime user of Spread Firefox Affiliate Button browser. Prior to finding Diigo, I used and still to some extent use Xmarks. It allows me to synchronize my bookmarks between computers by creating an online account that stores my information and updates automatically when I bookmark a site. This is good, but still requires the user to have a high level of organization.

Generally, Diigo is classified as a social bookmarking tool, and I suppose it probably is used this way by tweenagers around the world sharing the latest bookmarks of the Jonas Brothers sites with their friends, but that is not how I use Diigo. It's certainly not a social bookmarking service, but instead a professional bookmarking service. I'm not sure I'm ready to share out my bookmarks to my friends for easy access to links to my online banking, or bookmarks to to my email logins. That's why I still use Xmarks. In fact, Xmarks has added an encrypted security feature that is very good at preventing people from using your computer to access your bookmarks. But for me, Diigo allows me to create categories of topics that I can share out among my staff and colleagues. I realize there are other sites like this out there like, or Reddit, or StumbleUpon. They all have their strengths, but I'm still partial to Diigo.

Here's a video overview worth watching.

After watching this video, it's not hard to see why educators love this tool. Here are a few ways to use it with students:
  • Create a group and have your students become members of a related specific topic or theme, where they will add bookmarks for others students and the teacher to view,
  • When the students add Diigo bookmarks, often a tag lists comes up with it already, so you don't have to add more, or you can list as it relates to the theme or topic they are working on,
  • A teacher can have the students highlight specific parts of a webpage that really stood out for them by right clicking and highlighting the text and then adding an annotation for others to view, (Students need to download and install the Diigo Toolbar for Firefox or Internet Explorer for this feature to work properly),
  • When a teacher wants to leave a note for students to read about a site when they get there, they can right click and leave a digital sticky note for students to read and add comments,
  • It's a great way to collaborate and share information between students and students, and students and teachers,
  • After the teacher and students have created a list of bookmarks about a topic, they can organize them, annotate them, tag them, and then share them in a webslide format. I did my first webslide this past week about Web 2.0 tools I particularly like and use, and added music to the slideshow by clicking on the customize feature. Here it is: Web 2.0 Webslide. This a great feature to publish your findings for others.
Here's a video that provides a demo and overview of a few elements of Diigo, particularly how a teacher might use it in giving feedback to students.

There are so many more things a teacher can do with this tool. I'm barely scratching the surface about its potential. Because I'm not in the classroom, I use Diigo mostly to share resources for professional development of teachers. But if I was in the classroom, I would use this tool all the time. Check it out, it really is a worthwhile Web 2.0 tool.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Twittering Thoughts

I’ve been Twittering for a couple of months now. It's been a somewhat interesting experience. I think largely why the experience has not been as positive is because of the reasons behind why people use it. Is it an amazing tool? Absolutely, if you use it correctly. As you're reading this, I'm sure you want me to clarify what I mean. I recently viewed a video online with Liz Pullen, a sociologist, who has been researching Twitter to determine whether people are using it as a micro-blogging or information platform, or treating it like a social network. The creators of Twitter have recently spoken out that Twitter is an information platform and not a social network. Here's the video. It's worth watching.

The Sociology of Twitter, Video Interview with Liz Pullen from ReadWriteWeb on Vimeo.

I think this interview addresses the question that if clarified by the users can correct some of the challenges I have run into. First, I find people write the most bizaar things about themselves. One Twitter reads like this: 1) Just got up! 2) Going to shower now. 3) Ate breakfast, Not much to eat, Need to go shopping... and so on. Personally, I'm not interested in that much boring information, but these folks are treating it like Facebook, and are essentially updating their status every 15 minutes so their friends know their every move. Sometimes the information is way too personal as well. Twitter has recently turned off some search features because a person could search out information about a specific topic, you could find a list of entries from various users, and some of it not very carefully posted.

The second challenge I have is people saying they are following me that are, how should I say this tactfully, just looking to advertise their love interests. Basically, it's a spam feature. Some sites are generating inquiries and sending out requests to follow so that people will go to there porn sites or whatever. That being said, it creates great concern for having students, especially younger students sign up to use this service and have them being spammed by tasteless spammers.

However, before we throw out the tool completely, there may be ways to use it among peers for professional development purposes and to support pedagogy. I have had to place boundaries on what and why I use Twitter, or who I follow to get their messages. I do not use it provide useless personal information to professional colleagues and friends. I only use Twitter to post something I have learned about Web 2.0 tools I am using, or wanting to learn about, and how I would use these ideas in a classroom situation. Essentially, I developed a purpose for using it. I think Twitter can very useful in sharing ideas between teachers about particular topics. You get to post a question, and have your peers make comments that could be insightful to your question. For example, I was having trouble with understanding how to change a page in wikispace. I posted the question, and had a few responses from colleagues suggesting solutions within hours.

The other day, I announced that I finally figured out how to add Statcounter and Clustrmaps to my blog site. Now if any of my friends want to know how to do it, they can just contact me, and I can lead them through the process. In the end, they don't have to go searching all over the Internet to find solutions like I did, which takes a lot of time.

I was also interested in a recent article with the Wichita Eagle at College professors find Twitter a useful educational tool, that highlighted the uses for Twitter in a higher education setting, which I think has it's uses. Some students enter lecture highlights on the Twitter site with a laptop or use their Twitter cellphone feature for note-taking purposes. One student commented that by doing this, it helps him remember the lecture better, and besides, he can just print off the page later at home. Student can twitter discussions about topics among others doing group work to share ideas. Teachers can Twitter due dates and expectations for assignments. These ideas may work better for older students. It's pretty tough to think about how to use Twitter in grade two with great effectiveness.

Two other great sites that promote Twitter in teaching are: 25 ways to teach with Twitter and 100 Tips, Apps, and Resources for Teachers using Twitter.

Overall, Twitter has potential to be used by teachers and between teachers, and possibly older students, but everyone needs to remember it's a information platform, not a social network.

Key Elements for Effective Blogging

I've read a lot of blogs this week. Some good, some bad. Some which haven't been updated for months and more, even years. As a result, I have a few ideas that might make your blog more effective for your targeted audience, especially if you are wanting to use it with students for educational purposes.

1. Define your purpose.

One thing that is common to most, if not all, is that the authors or writers have something to say. Contrary to the Seinfeld episode, "a show about nothing," bloggers have something generally they want to say, and sometimes abruptly stop because they have run out of things to say, or have moved on to the next fad, or are just too busy to keep it going. Sadly, that's what happened to me in during my first go-around with blogging about 2 years ago. I had great intentions, but I hadn't clearly defined my purpose of why I was blogging, it was something new, and I wanted to try it. I still have that blog, which I should really delete, because I never look at it. Instead, I keep this blog on 21st Century Learning going on a fairly regular basis, because I have set out for myself a clearly defined purpose about what I want to say or accomplish. This is largely in part due to my role as an administrator of a virtual high school, that it needs to be on the cutting edge of technology, not for the sake of using Web 2.0 tools just to say we are technologically advanced, but to engage with students about learning. So each week I try to pick a topic that I can write about and encourage my teaching staff about how to use the technology with greater results, or should I say more meaningful results from students. Too often I see technology used simply for the sake of using it because someone else is using it, and not really understanding how to enhance learning. but I'll save that for another blog. Back to the intend audience, little did I know that what I write is reaching a far greater audience than just my eTeachers.

2. Be aware of the potential of expanding your readership.

Recently, I added Statcounter and ClustrMaps to my blog. I did this because a colleague of mine, Sue Hellman, Small Changes, Big Return was telling me about how many people read her blog weekly, which set my mind spinning realizing I have no idea who visits and reads my blog other than I hope my eTeachers take the time to read it. So I set about a mission to figure out how to add a counter of some sort to the blog. I already had a Statcounter account, and realized I could add a javascript code from Statcounter to one of the Blogger gadgets and it records where people are coming from to read my blog. I was shocked, and pleased to say the least. I did the same with ClustrMaps, which is a cool application that shows the location of visitors from around the world, who are stopping by to read something I said. Honestly, I had no idea that this was happening. I did some shameless self promotion by pinging my blogging site so that Google ranked it higher in searches, but it worked. Now that I know I have people reading from all over, the pressure is on to put even more thought into what I say and even broaden the application of what I am saying to include more than just my eTeachers. But just learning these results of how many more people are reading my blog has really opened my eyes to the potential for students to use blogging as a tool to express themselves and give them a voice to be heard by other peers.

3. Embrace the language of blogging.

I think it is very important to know who your audience is. We tell our students, know your audience, who are you writing for, use appropriate language that will be understood by your audience. Why would it be any different with this medium? It isn't! I, by no means, am an expert on blogging, but I am a former English teacher, and I want writing to have feeling. Blogging doesn't have to be stiff, technical writing. It should express ideas that connect with people. So I try to write less formally and maybe a little more casually. I hope that it increases the readability, because I want it to come across more conversationally.

During this past week while reading a number of blogs, I found many that were simply records of weeks and weeks of tweets from Twitter. Brutal to read actually. I think I stayed on the site for 30 seconds and left. Another group of blogs were just bookmarks, which honestly was interesting for the first few links, but became boring and cumbersome after awhile. Coming back to my initial point, blogs should say something of value. They should make important contributions to ideas on a wide range of topics, but still say something.

4. Encourage feedback or comments from readers.

In some respect blog writing is different than other writing, because it allows for people to provide instant feedback to what you say. The challenge is to get people to comment. Unfortunately, many people read your blog, but never leave any comments, unless you are terribly controversial and you really ticked them off. That shouldn't be the only way people are motivated to comment on your blog. I've seen a few blogs where they put a bold "Suggestions, Comments" at the end to encourage feedback. Overall, comments after a blog make it more meaningful to the writer and for other readers as well. For students, I think it is important that they are encouraged to provide feedback to one another. I would make that one of the requirements that they respond to one another blogs. Of course, I would want to make sure that each student has control over posting those comments before they are published on their blogsite.

5. Consider the length

Some blogs just go on and on and on... It's really critical to get to the point and say what you need to say and avoid rambling. It's a tough sell to get people to want to read something if it's too long. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like my attention span is getting shorter and shorter. So if you don't grab my attention in the first few minutes, you lost me. Part of it is length, organization, and the next point the look and feel of a site.

6. Consider the value of incorporating design elements.

I'm a firm believer of the look and feel of a website or blogsite. Sometimes just the look of a site determines whether I stay on the site and look at it for awhile. Presentation is key. I really like a site to be clean and clearly layed out for readers. If it's cluttered and hard to navigate around a site, it's just easier to go somewhere else instead. There are tons of great resources of templates for bloggers to use to create a feel. Here's a few that I use and work for either or
  • Our Blogger Templates is great. Beautiful designs and layouts.
  • BTemplates is another great site. Really worth checking out if you want to create an atmosphere that accompanies the blog.
  • Blogger Styles is another great resource of templates to help with your design.
  • Check out Blogger Buzz, a blog I follow that always has super information about blogging.
Now maybe it's just me, or others feel the same way, but I think a few pictures or videos help make a blog page look more appealing. It showcases expression and heightens interest. Maybe it's the artist in me, but pictures, images, artwork, video just add so much to blogs. I say this, because I really think we need to encourage our students to express themselves creatively with artwork and images. it's not only the written words that will grab the reader but visual expressions as well. So helping students with design templates and devising a rubric for layout and content elements is very helpful for students.

Please post your pictorial or video reponse to this blog!

So because of the length of this blog, I'm going to go against my own advice and not post a picture or video, but instead ask you to post a picture or video link that you think might me helpful to express the language of blogging.