Muddling through the blogosphere

March 12, 2006
by blogwalker
1 Comment

Teaching and Learning in an Electronic Age

Many thanks to for providing teachers with free spaces for exploring the blogosphere.  Given the growing bad press given to MySace and other blogs that our students are flocking to with little regard for the do’s and don’ts of electronic writing, I am in search examples and evidence (both anecdotal and empirical) that supports the use of blogs in the classroom.

May 4, 2010
by blogwalker

California’s Great ‘Bait and Switch’ Trick

saveedtechI’m headed to the Capitol this morning to fight for our EETT ARRA funding. CUE director Mike Lawrence sums up the issue in a sentence: “California directed schools and districts across the state to spend millions to support Educational Technology, then failed to distribute the over $72M in stimulus funds to pay for it!”

Having seen first-hand the positive ways the meaningful (beyond multiple-choice) integration of technology into the curriculum can impact teaching and learning in my district’s EETT classrooms, I have a few thoughts to share with our Assembly members:

Honorable Members of This Subcommittee:

My name is Gail Desler.  I am a technology support teacher for the Elk Grove Unified School District. I am here to today to urge you to honor the primary goal of the EETT ARRA grant:

“to improve student achievement of the state content standards and technology literacy in grades four through eight with expanded access to technology, electronic resources, professional development, and enhanced communications.”

In EETT Rounds 1, 2, and 4, the Elk Grove USD met and exceeded performance goals, with students in grades 7 and 8 at all 5 targeted middle schools showing substantial growth on California Standardized Tests (CSTs) in the academic area of English/Language Arts. As for technology proficiency, students and their teachers also exceeded performance objectives.

We are currently in our second year of EETT Round 7, this time working with grades 4 and 5 at three elementary sites.  Two have been classified as Title 1 for a number of years; the third school more than meets the requirement for free and reduced lunch and awaits reclassification.

I recognize that, when looking at student achievement, the State restricts its definition to standardized test scores.  Last year, all three EETT 4th grades improved their CST scores in English/Language Arts – and showed huge gains in technology proficiency.  At David Reese Elementary School, for example, 4th graders showed a 6-point gain in English/Language Arts (which included the 4th grade writing sample) over the previous school year and substantial gains in their abilities to use information technology.

Regardless of the EETT Round, thanks to the on-going assessments of our external evaluators, the explanation is clear and simple: the gains in student test scores can be attributed to the fact that EETT funding is being used as intended – providing students with access to digital literacy tools and providing teachers with the training to effectively integrate those tools into the English Language Arts curriculum.

Through a partnership with the Area 3 Writing Project (local affiliate of the National Writing Project), teachers receive professional development on  best practices for improving  literacy, with the recognition that new definitions for literacy no longer distinguish between literacy in general and technology literacy in particular.

At a time when low test scores have locked many Title 1 schools into a daily grind of students working in isolation on multiple-choice/fill-in-the-blanks test prep, I have watched our EETT sites use the training, support, and tools to unlock higher order thinking skills, allowing students to engage in complex tasks that foster collaboration and creativity, much like their counterparts at more affluent school sites. I have witnessed what can happen when EETT funding gets feet walks into classrooms.

I invite you to visit Elk Grove’s EETT sites so that you too can see first-hand how the technology and training are providing an at-risk student population with opportunities to expand and learn beyond the confines of ‘basic’ or ‘proficient,’ beyond the walls of the classroom, and beyond the margins of their surrounding communities.

California should seek alternative funding for the CALPADS program and not take away from this already established and effective program. On behalf of the Elk Grove USD and all the districts that have applied, I implore you to stop holding EETT ARRA dollars hostage and to immediately release the funding – while there is still time to ensure that teachers will receive the professional development needed to bridge unacceptable achievement gaps and digital divides.  Using the EETT ARRA money to provide students with better access to information technologies and teachers with the training on how to use those information technologies makes a key difference in our schools—not just in improving CST scores but also in increasing students’ and teachers’ abilities to use 21st-century literacy tools.

I’m told it’s basically a done deal: the Assembly will take the EETT money from the classroom and use it to fund the P-20 data-gathering program Calpads.  Already knowing that yet one more program for measuring academic acheivement is not likely to directly benefit students, I think it’s worth our time and effort to fight for a program that is making a difference, especially in our Title 1 schools.

October 21, 2019
by blogwalker

#FallCUE19 – My Top Takeaways

This year’s Fall CUE Conference was held at Cordova High School, an 18-minute drive from my home (in Folsom, Calif.). Nice!

Opening Keynote

Catlin Tucker gave the opening keynote. Thank you to the CUE team for recording and posting her talk. So many great time-saving tips and strategies for teachers, designed to put students in the driver’s seat.


Micro + Macro Writing: HyperDoc Lessons that Matter for Today’s WriterSarah Landis: This was my first time to meet Sarah Landis. Knowing that Sarah is one of the “hyperdocs girls,” I already knew her session would be a treat. I’ve also known, through my own teaching experiences, the power of limiting students to a set number of words or syllables. From 6-word memoirs, which Sarah had us delve into, to haiku, the format limitations seem to spark unlimited searches for just the right word – often pushing students to write beyond the school day – to write when they don’t have to write.

It Doesn’t Get Better Than This – EDUInnovators Unite!Kevin Fairchild gathered a group of educators from San Diego and asked them to share ‘one best thing’ to ensure their “technology integration provides relevant, engaging, and MARVELous learning opportunities for all.”

  • Brenda Gillies – Brenda introduce us to Thrively, which looks like a great tool for surveying students to identify their interests. Tip: If you do the assessment at the beginning of  the year, you will have an invaluable tool for helping students see the positives in their fellow classmates and to also analyze strengths/weaknesses of their own work groups.
  • Adina Sullivan – Adina never ceases to inspire me with powerful resources for important topics (accessibility, digital tattoo, and more). Her #FallCUE19 gems:
    • – Tip: Have students look at a whole block of text to judge the readability. Be sure to checkout Fontpair’s 10 Tips.
    • – Tip: You can paste emojis in as text to help students easily find things. Works great in Google Classroom.
  • Jen RobertsGroup Creator – Jen created this fantastic spreadsheet, which allows you to create non-random/deliberate groups. Tip: Use for student collaboration groups. Display groups on board for students to see as they walk in.
  • Kevin Fairchild – Accessibility in G Suite – Tip: I knew about using live captions via YouTube captions, as you can see in Catlin’s keynote, but I didn’t know you can now move the captions bar to the top of the video. 
  • Roger Wagner – Roger recommended exploring three programs to build students’ coding skills:
    • Arduino – “Arduino is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for anyone making interactive projects.”
    • Make Code – “MakeCode brings computer science to life for all students with fun projects, immediate results, and both block and text editors for learners at different levels.”
    • WorkBench – “Using the Spark Fun Inventor’s Kit, students will learn the basics of programming in Arduino, how circuits work, how to create outputs and read inputs.”Integrates with Google Classroom.

Bull$h!+ Skills – Tools For Fighting False/Fake NewsMark Ray and Kristina Ishmael make a great team. I’ve heard Mark speak before (he is leading the Future Ready Schools charge). This was my first time to hear Kristina. I’ll definitely be exploring her site. It was a treat to join their high-energy session on a topic I too am passionate about. Here’s the link to their slides. #MediaLiteracy

Two Adobe Spark Sessions – I’m a huge fan of Adobe Spark, so I was delighted to see that both the awesome Laura Bradley and Brooke Carey Ahrens were offering sessions: Media Literacy through Media Creation: Graphics, Web Pages, and Videos, oh my! (Laura’s session) and Using Adobe Spark as a Transmedia Storytelling Tool (Brooks’ session). Love how Spark builds in proper attribution for Creative Commons content.

Podcasting 101 – I’ve been a long-time fan of Brian Briggs and Ryan O’Donnell. Love the many ways this dynamic duo infuses humor and practical tips into powerful tech integration. I could only stay for the first half of their workshop, so I’m looking forward to exploring their slides and playing with the Anchor app (now downloaded on my phone). In my district, elementary teachers are looking for meaningful ways to structure (and assess) speaking and listening activities. Podcasting meets – and exceeds – that requirement, with so many options for taking student voice beyond the walls of the classroom.

Closing Keynote

I’m hoping CUE will post Ed Campos Jr’s closing keynote. This 3-minute snippet gives a peek into his warm, embracing, hilarious style. Equity, empathy, and the “Pedagogy of Poverty,” were infused throughout – with a call to “release the learning and the writing to the kids.”

The biggest challenge in attending a CUE Conference is to decide which sessions to attend. The good news is that many of the Fall CUE presenters often present at the Annual Spring CUE Conference in Palm Springs. Starting the countdown till March.

March 11, 2018
by blogwalker

Your Digital Footprint – Lunch with George Couros

K-12 teachers – use four words for every kid every time they write: write, categorize, tag, publish.” George Couros

Last week was my first time to attend the California League of Schools (CLS) Annual Conference – and I’m so glad I did! The highlight of this 3-day conference was joining George Couros’ lunchtime session Your Digital Footprint. Below is the session description:

We all have a digital footprint, as do our schools and organizations. “Googling” ourselves makes this apparent, whether or not we had a say in what shows up about us online. As individuals and as schools, what can we do to actually shape this footprint? With open sharing of our learning, a digital footprint can easily be developed for either an individual, school or organization. This is not about branding as much as it is about modeling for our students that we are learners along with them.”

As a director of my district’s digital citizenship program, I’ve been concerned about our seniors graduating and heading on to career or college pursuits without a digital portfolio. For the past 10 years, Kathleen Watt, my #digcit program co-director, and I have been offering workshops to help teachers support their students in creating and curating K-12 digital portfolios. We recommend blogs as the best venue for students to begin an ongoing process of documenting their learning journeys. So it felt like a pat on the back to hear George make the same recommendation.

There’s a reason @GCouros has 212K followers!

George also pointed out that not only do students need to have portfolios – so do teachers. He then reiterated that the best ePortfolio students and teachers can have is a blog … Oh, wow, why had I never made this personal connection before?!?

A blog is a portfolio.”

This quote was my biggest takeaway from the lunch session and conference.

George’s stance that “teachers need to create portfolios using the same platform they are pushing” was also validating. Years ago, we purchased Edublogs Campus Press for district-wide access. Outside of my district job, Blogwalker has been my personal space for reflecting on new ideas and resources, documenting conferences and workshops attended, and showcasing the work of colleagues and leaders who inspire and add to my teaching toolkit. But until this session with George, I had not thought of this blog as a portfolio.

I left the conference re-energized and committed to adding another round of blogs and blogging back into my workshop offerings, using Google apps (and VoiceThreads, podcasts, video creation, etc.) to create, collaborate on, and curate content that will ultimately be housed on a blog.

Over the years, I have cut back on my blogging workshops because, too often, I see teacher-created blogs used simply as a venue for posting homework. I suggest, instead, using a Google Site rather than underutilizing a blog. So, yes, I will continue to recommend that teachers post homework on a G Site – but with the strong recommendation that they to tap into all that a blog offers for maintaining a personal ePortfolio!

Tomorrow marks the 12th anniversay of my first blog post (in which I thank Edublogs … and reference MySpace). I see I left my first-ever comment:

Hi, this is a comment.
To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.”

Since 2008, I’ve had the pleasure of participating in, learning from, and contributing to a number of amazing communities (Google Teacher Academy, Microsoft Innovative Educators, Rushton Hurley’s MERIT program, CSU Sacramento’s iMET program, UC Santa Barbara’s Center for Teaching for Social Justice, and more). I think I’ve always attributed acceptance into these programs to luck and maybe a good recommendation or two.

I realize now that everytime I apply for a local or national program, I’m asked to include my Twitter handle (@GailDesler) and social media links, such as a blog. I’m wondering how many review committees have visited Blogwalker before sending their “Congratulations! You’ve been accepted” letter. When those committees have to make cuts to their lists of applicants, are educators with personal blogs/ePorfolios given priority over those without?

I would love to hear from fellow bloggers why you blog and what benefits you have experienced. I warmly invite you to leave a comment.

And if you need a little inspiration and motivation to start blogging, subscribe to George’s The Principal of Change blog!

May 30, 2010
by blogwalker

Project Tomorrow Releases National Findings: Creating & Unleashing the Future

I’m listening as I write to Project Tomorrow‘s (a.k.a. NetDay)  Unleashing the Future: Educators “Speak Up” about the Use of Emerging Technologies for Learning podcast.  Speak Up 2009 National Findings address two groups:

I’m guessing few will be surprised by the student findings, which are organized by three essential elements:

  • Essential Element 1: Social-based learningStudents want to leverage emerging communications and collaboration tools to create and personalize networks of experts to inform their education process.
  • Essential Element 2: Un-tethered learningStudents envision technology-enabled learning experiences that transcend the classroom walls and are not limited by resource constraints, traditional funding streams, geography, community assets or even teacher knowledge or skills.
  • Essential Element 3: Digitally-rich learning experiences Students see the use of relevancy-based digital tools, content and resources as a key to driving learning productivity, not just about engaging students in learning.

The educators’ “Speak Up” includes survey results from “aspiring teachers” as well as in-service teachers and administrators.  The number one skill aspiring teachers are being taught in their methods course is how to use word processing, spreadsheet and database tools. But when asked what would best prepare them to teach in a 21st century classroom, the college students suggested better training in current technology:

  • learning how to use technology to differentiate instruction for students (75 percent)
  • incorporating digital resources in a lesson (68 percent)
  • locating and using electronic teaching aides (67 percent)
  • creating and utilizing video or podcasts within a lesson (57 percent)
  • and  using electronic productivity tools (57 percent).

Julie Evans, chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow, shares that

Students are no longer waiting for policy changes within their schools, or from Washington, D.C. …Students want their voices heard by those making education policies, but we are now seeing them move beyond their attempts to share their needs with adults. They are taking the technology they have grown up with and using it to help them learn—inside and outside of the classroom.”

I’ll wrap up this post with a reminder from one of my favorite “down under” bloggers, Sujokat: “Social Media: Stop acting like it is going to go away.”

May 11, 2010
by blogwalker

Students as Producers of Information

A few NECC conferences ago, I attended a session with Chris Lehmann. He introduced the word “prosumer,”  a combination of consumer and producer.  Chris predicted this word would soon make its way into the English language.

I am fortunate to work with a number of teachers who actively, consciously structure a students-as-producers model of learning. Each time I listen to Marco Torres talk about students as receivers of information vs. creators of information,  I realize the importance of showcasing the work of these innovative teachers, so that their colleagues and administrators will begin to consider the price students who are locked into year-long test-prep programs will pay for being denied access to our increasingly participatory culture.

One resource I’ve used for the past few years to start conversations around new definitions for 21st century literacies is B.J. Nesbitt’s A Vision of K-12 Students Today (an adaptation of Michael Wesch’s A Vision of Today’s  (College) Student) – a plea from students to become creators and producers:

I now have a new resource to add to my students-as-producers toolkit: the 2010 Horizon Report. This annual reporthorizon2010rpt from the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Project “describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry on college and university campuses within the next five years.”

If you don’t feel like reading it in its entirety, it’s very easy to skim through, thanks to the navigation-friendly format.  You might want to start with Key Trends and then move on to Critical Challenges.

Want to see what’s on the horizon? Check out these sections of the report:

If you wish you had a presentation that you could tomorrow with your colleagues, the CoSN group has created a teacher kit, complete with PowerPoint, waiting for you to download from their site.

I truly believe that one small step towards meeting the critical challenges listed in the report could be a commitment at all sites to shift at least some of the school day into a create/produce mode.

I would love to join – or co-facilitate – a conversation on making the shift from consumer to producer! If you have resources on the topic, please add a comment!

April 4, 2010
by blogwalker

Igniting National Poetry Month

NPMposterA poem begins with a lump in the throat.  ~Robert Frost

The only problem
with Haiku is that you just
get started and then

~Roger McGough

Poetry has the tendency to promote literacy skills in ways that can have a life-long impact on students.

As a 6th grade humanities teacher, I regularly shared favorite or timely poems. Every year in March, prior to our annual week at science camp, I would introduce haiku.  Students immediately bought in to the format because “Hey, we only have to write three lines – and there’s a syllable limit!”

Something close to magical always happened as they began drafting, discovering on their own that with the line and syllable limits, “every word needs to count.”   And the challenge was on to find the perfect word, which might have to be re-thought if the syllable count didn’t work for that line. They were hooked.

As we headed down the California coast towards science camp, at any given stopping point, such as the tide pools, I could see students, against the backdrop of sand and surf, silently counting on their fingers…counting syllables for the haiku they were composing in their heads. Each year, they returned from camp with notebooks a bit worn from the journey, but containing literary gems  – just in time for April’s National Poetry Month. And each year I witnessed the power of poetry to inspire students to imagine more, to read more, and to write more.

In my current position as a technology integration specialist, I visit many school sites. Often, particularly at the elementary level, student poetry is boldly displayed on the classroom walls…just begging for a broader audience.  New technologies, such as VoiceThread, for instance, make it increasingly easy for students  to take their poetry beyond the classroom, out into the world.  If you browse the VoiceThread gallery using “poetry” as a search term, you will quickly find hundreds of samples. To restrict your search to K12 samples only, switch to ed.voicethread. The VoiceThread Library has short articles to help you imagine the possibilities for combining images with power of the human voice.

Poetry, maybe more than any other genre, lends itself to multimedia writing and innovation.  Phoetry (photograph + poetry), for example, is making its way into our language and into teachers’ toolkits. The samples shown on or on teacher educator Arnie Abramsworkshop handout (scroll to find Fog) will provide you with a window into this emerging genre. Blogger/teacher Bud Hunt invites you into his second annual NPM 2010. Throughout the month, he will post the daily photo “as a way to generate some prompts for folks who maybe wanted to write poetry, but needed a little push.

If I could time-travel my former 6th grade students (mentioned above) into the present, it’s fun to think about how free tools, and step-by-step instructions – such as teacher Joyce Masongsong-Ray‘s Planning, Writing, and Animating Haiku PDF – and resources – such as Kevin Hodgson‘s Making Stopmotion site – for animating their poetry could transform their words from static notebook pages to dynamic stopmotion pieces, such as those produced by 5th grade students at Northside Elementary School.


Teen Salinas Slam - Photo courtesy of Peter Kwiek

There are many ways to take a poem beyond paper and pencil – and, in the process, to build on students’ reading, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and self-confidence as writers. Sometimes community collaboration, a bit of technology, and a shared belief that all students are entitled to poetry can rock students’ worlds, pushing them to academic levels they had not dreamed possible.  Teen Salinas Speaks, for example, illustrates the empowerment that comes from this synergy.

Photo courtesy of Peter Kwiek

Photo courtesy of Peter Kwiek

This project stems from the vision of middle school teacher Natalie Bernasconi, who explains the steps: “Start with the support of the Central California Writing Project, then mix together a group of middle and high school teachers and students, add one very cool journalist / slam poet guest speaker to light a fire under them, then give them a community space at the local Salinas Public Library to meet in, and you’ve got Teen Salinas Speaks.” The upcoming Spring Slam will be captured electronically in both video and podcast form and shared via Teen Salinas Slam’s Facebook page as a social networking opportunity to extend the power of the spoken word to a virtual audience as well.

If you have been looking for lessons, new ideas and resources, and maybe a little inspiration to ignite your celebration of National Poetry Month,  check out the ten sites I’ve listed below. I’m betting you’ll find at least one activity you can use tomorrow!

  • Scholastic’s April Is National Poetry Month –  Tons of ideas and resources to jump start your poetry unit.  For the younger students, what could be more fun than having Jack Prelutsky, our Nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate, sharing his voice and providing a little mentoring? There are plenty of resources for secondary students too, from Using Poetry to Explore and Change to interviews with Maya Angelo to awarding-winning 17-year old poet Meredith Weber, who invites you into her poet’s workshop. For cross-curricular ideas, check out Mr. Tang’s Math Riddles samples.
  • Read/Write/Think – I’ve been a long-time fan of this NCTE (National Council for Teachers of English) site and have come to expect outstanding teacher-tested, research based resources like the ones posted for National Poetry Month.  I recommend checking out the “interactives,” such as Diamonte Poems or What’s an Acrostic Poem? and then move on to sample some lessons, such as Poetry Portfolios for your primary students, Composing Cinquain Poems with Basic Parts of Speech for elementary students, or Is a Sentence a Poem? mini-lesson for secondary students. In addition to hosting the Read/Write/Think site, NCTE also posts a National Poetry Day page with podcasts from last year’s entries.
  • National Writing Project – This organization (to which I’ve been a member for 15 years) is at the heart of how I approach the teaching of writing – including poetry.  What you’ll find on their National Poetry Month and the National Writing Project site are Writing Project teachers, including Natalie Bernasconi, telling their stories and sharing their reflections and lessons learned about the place of poetry in their classrooms.
  • Edsitement – Not be outdone by NCTE or NWP, the National Endowment for Humanities has also assembled some outstanding resources on their National Poetry Month: Forms of Poetry site. If you are looking for a unit on Langston Hughes, I recommend The Poet’s Voice – Langston Hughes and You, a scaffolded lesson that will address two central questions: What is meant by voice in poetry, and what qualities have made the voice of Langston Hughes a favorite for so many people?  You might use this lesson as a starting point, and then revisit the NWP site to introduce Gavin Tachibana‘s creative idea to combine Langston Hughes’ poetry with Tibetan prayer flags in the inspiring Dream Flag Project.
  • PBS’s Poetry Everywhere – They had me at Robert Frost’s reading of Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Night, and by the time I’d finished listening to/watching the stunning version of Emily Dickenson’s I Started Early, Took My Dog + Teacher Tips,  I was already sending out Tweets about this beautiful site.
  • 11 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month – The New York Times Learning Network is an outstanding resources, both for its content and for keeping newspapers alive in the classroom. What a great assortment of ideas for hooking students on poetry! The concept of illustrated chapbooks, complete with a template from Microsoft, via seasonal greetings from Robert Frost is the first idea for celebrating the month.  Keep going…all the way to the 11th way: Finding Poems Everywhere, ideas for creating found poetry “from newspaper articles, sports broadcasts , school lunch menus, field trip permission slips and the like.”  Be on the watch for the Learning Network’s upcoming Found Poetry Challenge!
  • Poetry 180 – From the Library of Congress, “Poetry 180 is designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year.”  I recommend starting with form Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ An Introduction to Poetry.
  • Favorite Poem Project – Listen to and watch volunteer readers from across the nation  sharing their favorite poems.
  • Poetry Forge – Tapping into visual appeal of Flash, Poetry Forge is “an open source archive, designed to allow teachers and student writers to explore, manipulate, create and develop innovative tools for the development of poetry.”
  • – From the Academy of American Poets, this site offers resources and a call to action – with Put a Poem in Your Pocket Day. The idea is simple: “Select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 29.” But wait, there’s more…for the busy educator…how about Poet’s in Your Pocket,’s mobile poetry site.  Download the Poem Flow app from iTunes and you’ll be able to browse over 2,500 poems by author, title, occasion, or form. Imagine the possibilities! You too can “read a poem, anytime, anywhere—whether to fill a spare moment, woo a darling, toast a friend, find solace, or recite a few immortal lines—verse is now at your fingertips.”  Amazing!

Whether you weave poetry into your year-long English/Language Arts curriculum (as a number of state content standards currently mandate), use it for making cross-curricular connections (how about a Periodic Table Poems), or save it as a treat for “when testing is done,” please join the conversation and share your questions, ideas, and best practices for igniting a love of poetry.

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