Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Not Either/ Or

Recently I had a correspondence with a teacher whom I like and respect. We were discussing voicethread and the potential to share digital media with a global audience. Her response surprised me a little. "I don't see the appeal." My answer was something along the lines that it was the excitement that students feel when engaging in a broader audience outside the classroom. She replied (in what I read as a joking tone) was that she'd be more excited if the kids knew more basic math skills.

From what I know she is a very good teacher, and I don't think her feelings were that off base for teachers who, especially this time of the year, feel pressured by end-of-grade tests and all the expectations associated with preparing her students for next year. But I think many teachers might be missing the chance to do both--engage and excite their students with using technology to communicate with a global audience AND teach the math skills students need to know. In the reply I sent her a voicethread done by Ms. Edwards' class on math skills to show voicethread as a vehicle for student to learn math skills, and I pointed out it doesn't have to be either/or.

So as is the case with so much technology, it's not about voicethread but what voicethread can do for the instruction. Too often technology is seen as a separate piece or class instead of an actual tool to use in all classes. Technology alone will not raise EOG scores or produce better students. But I firmly believe in the hands of an effective teacher, technology can go a long way to engage students in the lessons and even make teaching easier.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Recently I have been interested in two ideas: promoting the types of digital media students can create and share as well as the concept that we are in a “remix” society. I stumbled a across a site trying to address both within the framework of U.S. History. is a site that describes itself as being a "nonpartisan, nonprofit in-browser editing tool that allows citizens around the country to remix the great words and speeches of American History with the hot button issues of today.” Additional language on the site surrounds the idea of creating a platform for ideas, discussions, and public expression.

The result seems to be a lot of videos clips that pull together various media to tell a story, or represent an idea housed on the site where users can view and comment in a manner similar to youtube or teachertube. The site appears to be focused on both past U.S history as well as current events. Like any site that contains user-created content, some of it is very good (I watched a remix titled “Civil Rights 09” which was very well-done) while a lot of it is not. It will be interesting to see if this site will become a real resource for discussing history or a battleground for users to just create negative videos about those who don’t share their views and politics. The site appears to be relatively new—the oldest remix video I saw was from May of last year, but someone is uploading material daily (10 videos between 7:30 and 1:30 today), and much of it looks like student work.

And although I didn’t encounter anything vulgar or profane, I’m sure there is the risk. But there appears to be a system for reporting objectionable content, and with an option to download videos you choose, it appears there is a way to avoid some unwanted content. Besides, there are subjects in history and politics that may not be appropriate for every classroom.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting this is a site to start using right away with students, but I’m interested in its possibilities. And I’m in support of projects that have students engage in creating media and provoke discussions and feedback with a broad audience—and has the potential to be a tool to do just that.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Some time ago I moved from my utilitarian igoogle page to a new RSS startpage. When choosing a platform I'd wavered between pageflakes and netvibes sites - there seems to be little difference in the two. Both provide a sleek ajax-based page with options for adding a variety of embedded media and updated feeds. 

After using each of the sites I'd hoped to offer a technology workshop on organizing webcontent with these start pages. I eventually chose pageflakes as the subject of the workshop, because I found pageflakes seemed to work a little better with our district's webfilter. There is also a teacher pageflakes site that makes it even easier to set up a page with education in mind. 

I held the first workshop over spring break, and I really think pageflakes could play a role in helping teachers by providing content to help teach units. Teacher could use the site in the way I use the site - mostly to organize my RSS feeds from sites and blogs I check most frequently. But teachers might also create pages that contain content for their classes or even each separate unit they are teaching. Pages can be published, through pagecasting, which can allow the page to be accessible from any computer connected to the Internet. Teachers could use the pages during instruction, and students could access the sites and media the teacher chooses for a lesson. 

Pretty great, and as is often the case with much of the new tech stuff I like, it's free and web-based so no installation is necessary.
picture from

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Our Writing Wiki

In January I contacted schools to gauge interest for using a wiki to create a district writing project for elementary schools. This writing project involved different classrooms in WSFCS working together to compose a story.With the global possibilities for using a wiki, it seemed like a modest goal to complete in just our district, but I wanted something we could get done in a couple of months and gather from teachers the experience they and their children had with the wiki project. If successful, it might open the door for bigger projects in the future. 

Eight educators agreed to take part in the project that entailed a class from each school writing a section of a story and creating an illustration for their section. Melissa from Diggs came up with the idea for the story and volunteered (or maybe I pleaded with her) to go first. And as the story worked its way through the eight classrooms, the story grew and the plot took many interesting twists and turns. I was impressed at how little assistance the classes and teachers needed. Even with the snow days and outbreak of a nasty virus that hit computers in our district, each class met the due date and the story was completed this past week.

I hope the students and teachers enjoyed the project as much as I did, and I would like us to continue these types of collaborative projects across and beyond our district in the future. If you are interested in reading the completed story, check it out on