Muddling through the blogosphere

July 23, 2009
by blogwalker

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom

The great films have not been made yet. The ones who will make them are out there, though, riding a skateboard.” – Robert Altman

Why would a classroom teacher at any grade level or in any subject area consider adding one more activity into an already jam-packed curriculum? This is a question I ask myself repeatedly when teaching the filmmaking workshops I offer through the Area 3 Writing Project and through my school district.

Last October the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) invited me, as part of their SEVA teacher training series, to give a workshop that would provide teachers with the justification to bring video production into the K12 curriculum. Having a workshop deadline to meet was just the motivation I needed to sit down and articulate why I believe all students should have access to filmmaking (aka digital storytelling, video production, etc.) as part of their instructional day.

I  had three arguments in mind before even turning on the computer.  Within an hour, I had my presentation ready to go. Three arguments expanded to six – and I was on a roll, having discovered in the process how strongly I felt about the topic.

The following week, a group of teachers willing to rise early on a Saturday filed into my SEVA workshop. I lucked out. Not only was this a very awake and participatory group, they also wanted to return to their own sites and present the case for filmmaking. Based the number of requests for my PowerPoint, SEVA organizer Doug Niva suggested uploading my slideshow to their website site.

As much as I appreciate the number of slideshows educators around the world have generously uploaded to such venues as YouTube, or SlideShare, or their blogs, I wish more content producers would also provide a written piece to document how they moved from an initial burning question or challenge to a final product or solution. What follows is my attempt to share my personal learning journey, an experience that has been shaped by first-hand interactions and observations in classrooms (mainly grades 4-12) and the research and advise of others, beginning with filmmaker Nikos Theodosakis and continuing with filmmaker and literacy coach (Los Angeles USD) Mathew Needleman and many colleagues from the National Writing Project (NWP).

So let’s return to my Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom presentation, starting with slide/argument #1:

#1: Addressing ethical use of the Internet – Picture the following scenario: an elementary teacher (yes, in my district), Googles herself. To her dismay she finds that on a day she was out, one of her students used a cell phone to film a lovely little scene of classroom chaos,  to which his middle school brother later helped him flavor with some racist, homophobic words, and then upload to YouTube. As school counselors in my district scramble to deal with an explosion of cyberbullying issues,  I argue that teaching the ethical use of video and the Internet must be woven into the elementary curriculum, before the onslaught of adolescent (mis)behavior.

In the case of the above siblings, the parents were clueless as to how their children were choosing to use both their cell phones and the computer in the kids’ bedroom. To illustrate the fact that too many students lack an ethical grounding in the appropriate use of the Internet,  I downloaded a YouTube video of a student getting his head bashed against a locker and linked it to Slide #1.

Try doing an Internet search on “locker room fight” and you’ll get back literally hundreds of links, such as the Norwood Middle School’s claim to fame. Granted, middle school is all about making wrong decisions, but what if districts wove media education into the elementary curriculum? It is my hope that such a program could play a pivotal role in keeping students safe from each other (i.e., cyberbullying) and from themselves (i.e, sexting) and in reversing what has become an alarming trend, too often ending tragically.

#2: Promoting critical media consumption – Thanks to support from the National Writing Project, I had the opportunity to attend last summer’s NCTE Institute on 21st Century Literacies.  The seed for this post was planted when Ernest Morrell took to the podium to deliver his Critical Literacy and Urban Youth: Pedagogies of Access, Dissent, and Liberation keynote address. Ernest opened with four questions that begged for discussion:

  1. What will be demanded of students in terms of literacy in the 21st century?
  2. In what ways is the nature of literacy changing?
  3. How should the discipline of English change in response to the changes in literacy?
  4. What are the ways that your students practice literacy when they are not in class?

No surprise that he answered question #4 with:

  • filmmaking
  • video games
  • virtual worlds – adopting different identities

Slide #2 is similar to one Ernest used, maybe not the same Seventeen Magazine cover, but definitely the same image from 50 Cents, complete with its phallic symbols and suggestions of violence.  I don’t know that the images from the covers of Seventeen, with the pitch, for instance,  on how to Get amazing abs!, actually promote any safer or healthier life style than 50 Cents‘ collection.  Given that the age range of Seventeen readers spans from 12-17,  I argue that there is a critical need to provide upper elementary and middle school students with first-hand opportunities to explore and manipulate media so that they might become as skilled in reading and interpreting images as they are with decoding traditional text.

#3: Providing students with multiple ways to access core content – No matter how many times I visit CogDogRoo’s (Alan Levine) 50+ Ways to Tell a Story, each time I find new Web 2.0  resources and tools for incorporating digital storytelling across the curriculum. Whereas filmmaking was once a medium that required expensive equipment and major technical expertise,  “we are at the point now where we can do some very compelling content creation with nothing more complex than a web browser.” Why would we not offer students filmmaking opportunities and options? To answer that question, I’ll call on an elementary school SEVA film producer and a middle school SEVA film producer to share their perspectives on how the process of filmmaking translates into learning venues.

A year ago, I drafted the RFP for my district’s application for Round 7 of the EETT Grant.  My goal was to integrate Web 2.0 tools into the 4th grade (Year One) and 5th grade (Year Two) English/Language Arts program.  In thinking back to the one-page summary that must precede the grant narrative, I remember pondering over this sentence: “Target teachers will participate in 42 hours of professional development on 21 century technologies followed by hands-on explorations with specific Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, podcasts, and multimedia applications) that will ‘power up’ Open Court lessons and engage students in the learning process.”  Given that every administrator will say “Yes!” when asked if he/she would like to be involved in a technology grant, often without understanding the professional development required to support teachers in adopting new tools, I hesitated to be too specific about exactly which ‘multimedia applications’ would be included, knowing that over a two-year period, new tools would emerge, adding to an already robust menu (i.e., Movie Maker2/iMovie, PhotoStory 3, VoiceThread, Animoto). But I definitely did not want the grant to be all about learning PowerPoint!

At the October EETT kickoff meeting, I noted a look of shear panic by at least four or five teachers as we started the day by connecting for an interactive videoconference with Mathew Needleman and ended the day by passing out a complete camera set (bag, tripod, microphone, two cameras) for each site. I wondered if I was being overly ambitious in my vision for taking student voices beyond the classroom via video production.  But eight months later, as we approached the end of the school year and with movie making projects happening at all three EETT sites, I had the opportunity to observe students firsthand as they moved though various stages of multimedia writing. EETT teacher Tara McCartney’s commitment to providing her students with multiple modes of writing is clearly making language arts standards more attainable for her 4th graders:

#4 Supporting a collaborative learning environment – In his book The Director in the classroom: How filmmaking Inspires Learning, Nikios Theodosakis points out that “Filmmaking is a collaborative art, requiring dozens of passionate craftspeople to bring about a focused vision onto the screen.  Each brings with them their own experiences and insights and makes the final film richer and truer than the director originally imagined” (p 7). Yet not all students have access to such 21st century skills as collaborating, connecting, and creating . The more high-poverty + low-performing a school site is, the greater the pressure is on administrators and teachers to deliver instruction per the ‘sit ‘n get’ model. I stand in awe of those educators who seek innovative ways to make learning engaging and memorable – despite top-down mandates that can lead to what teacher/writer Kelly Gallagher refers as “apartheid programs,” effectively denying students access to the “participatory culture” described in Henry Jenkin’s white paper.

Florin High School English teacher Bob LeVin is one of the innovators.   I met Bob five years ago when I sent out an email to my district’s Technology Advisory Committee asking if anyone knew an English teacher who might be interested connecting with other classrooms in the Youth Voices online project. Bob’s enthusiastic response was the start of a yearly connection in which we meet at the start of each new school year to talk about tools and possibilities for taking his students’ voices beyond the confines of their school site and and increasingly impoverished community.  What began in the first two years with a productive exploration of blogging has evolved into an annual integration of filmmaking into Bob’s program.  Former student Michael Fuentes explains well the benefits of making a movie:

On the ‘same side of the tracks’ as Florin High School, Prairie Elementary School students in Lesley Mckillop’s  4th grade classroom have started the long journey to the red carpet, SEVA (Student Educational Video Awards) style. As Lesley’s young filmmakers made their way onto the stage to receive an Honorable Mention Award for Blog Safely!, I wondered if the crowd filling Sacramento’s historic Crest Theater to capacity understood what it meant to have students thanking their principal for driving them to the awards ceremony. Lesley, an innovator and an EETT teacher, came to me following the October kickoff and shared that she knew nothing about technology. Her initial reaction to bringing filmmaking to her 4th graders was the feeling of being completely overwhelmed while at the same time wanting to get on board and, more importantly, bring her class on board. By the time the school year drew to a close, all of her students had participated in the making of one or more movie productions, and for a handful, including the young man who is the last to step up to the microphone in the clip I’ve inserted at the end of this post, filmmaking has rocked their worlds.

# 5 Responding to current research – During the October SEVA workshop, I shared some snippets from Daniel Pink‘s A Whole New Mind and Thomas Friedman‘s The World Is Flat, passed around my Time Magazine issue, and promoted the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills – all of which point to the many “c” words associated with new literacies, such as  connecting, collaborating, and creating .

In April, I traveled down the road to Berkeley for a NWP Digital Is meeting, where I had the good fortune to meet Liz Stephens. As an opening activity, the meeting coordinators asked our cozy group of 12 to think about and share a “whack on the head” about the intersection between writing and technology.  Liz’s statement that  writing in a digital age is “more about ‘frames’ than ‘stages’ was an instant jolt for me and brought to mind recent conversations with teachers and students, such as Xavier Carillo (former student of Bob LeVin), who shares a “no duh”:

In a test-driven climate, it’s easy for teachers and administrators to view filmmaking as a ‘when-testing-is-over’ activity. I think if they could sit in on a session or two with students from my EETT classrooms, they would see that, unlike worksheets, as students delve into their filmmaking projects, a major shift happens. They typically begin a project with the idea of “completing an assignment.” And then the shift happens: they see themselves as producers of content that others will see and benefit from.  They have – with much enthusiasm and pride – ascended to the top level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (as revised in 2001 by Anderson and Krothwahl).

#6 Engaging students -Well this one is pretty much a no brainer.  No matter what their access is during or beyond the school day, students like technology. From brainstorming, to storyboarding, to filming, to narrating, to editing – many students find a niche in the filmmaking process that pushes them as learners, as contributors, as team players. As they shift from consumers to content producers, there is also a shift in ownership of the learning. Step into their classrooms, and you will see the collaborative efforts start to happen, you will feel the synergy, and you will witness new levels of student engagement.

It’s been my privilege over the past few years to watch colleague (same district, same Writing Project) Jim Faires weave filmmaking into his 6th grade curriculum at Butler Elementary School. Through filmmaking, Jim is often on the receiving end of inspiration.

But how does a teacher justify integrating filmmaking in a textbook and test-prep driven school day? In my state, California Standards for the Teaching Profession provide a ready-made argument. Checkout the first standard: ENGAGING AND SUPPORTING ALL STUDENTS IN LEARNING:

Teachers build on students’ prior knowledge, life experience, and interests to achieve learning goals for all students. Teachers use a variety of instructional strategies and resources that respond to students’ diverse needs. Teachers facilitate challenging learning experiences for all students in environments that promote autonomy, interaction and choice. Teachers actively engage all students in problem solving and critical thinking within and across subject matter areas. Concepts and skills are taught in ways that encourage students to apply them in real-life contexts that make subject matter meaningful. Teachers assist all students to become self-directed learners who are able to demonstrate, articulate, and evaluate what they learn.

Back to my initial question: How does a teacher find the time to integrate one more activity into the school day? Take three minutes to watch Lesley McKillop’s students as they ‘walk the red carpet.’ At the end of the this on-the-spot video, shot collectively (without a tripod) by her students, Lesley provides an answer to that important and often-asked question.

The Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom from Gail Desler on Vimeo.

I actually started this post several months ago but didn’t publish it, thinking there were probably more points and definitely more resources that I could add. I’ve recently rediscovered, for instance, Edutopia’s What Works in Public Education site. A search on ‘filmmaking the classroom’ brought up a list of great articles – more than enough to justify my hitting the Publish button. If you have ideas and/or resources to add, I invite you to join me in this conversation and post a comment. I’m pretty sure my six arguments could easily be expanded to a dozen or more!

July 8, 2009
by blogwalker

Kathleen Yancey at NECC – Best session I did not attend

I should have known that Kathleen Yancey would pack ‘um in at NECC – and I should have been there early.  Try as I did, I could not persuade the ISTE door person to let me in.  But I lucked out….Sandy Hayes taped (with permission) “The Yancey’s” whole session. And Carla Beard blogged the session.

Live from NECC 2009 – Kathleen Yancey from Gail Desler on Vimeo.

What can I add about a session I did not attend, besides the above snippet?…How about posting NCTE’s 10 Belief’s About the Teaching of Writing (another gem shared by Sandy Hayes)?!

June 29, 2009
by blogwalker

Live from NECC – Scratch Community

Mitch Resnick, from MIT, is leading the Scratch session. Scratch is all about creating, building, and inventing – to be makers of things. You can’t be fluent in digital media just by interacting; you need to also be able to create.

Bridging Divides:

  • making and interacting
  • art and engineering
  • creativity and systematicity
  • individual and community
  • inside and outside school: Reading, for example
  • physical virtual

Scratch initiative – allows you to create interactive media – and share – via YouTube type website. Everyday an average of one new project a minute is posted (12 -13 year olds the highest users, but extends from age 7-50.) Program allows you to download existing projects and adapt to make personal. Remixing has become a cornerstone. Lots of shared expertise.

My Red Neptune -This young Scratch developer is thinking creatively, reasoning systematically, working collaboratively. Probably 3 most important skills for succeeding in 21st century.

Scratch kids are becoming computational thinkers.The Scratch team wants to promote possibilities for everyone to think computationally. To be a computational thinker, you need to be a computational creator. Sample: Rapa Nui – science fair project measuring response times. Tons of cross-curricular ways. Checkout Expo Elementary gallery!

Scratch broadens the range of participatory storytelling. Oh, wow, so many possibilities for engaging and stretching learners…and Scratch is free! So how do we get the word out to more educators? Join the Scratch community of educators at

June 29, 2009
by blogwalker

Live from NECC – Jamie McKenzie on Synergy and Collaboration

So glad to see that Jamie McKenzie is offering three sessions at NECC. It’s been way too long since my last visit to His opening session is on synergy and collaboration.

Synthesis – Do we actually teach it? Have we been taught how to synthesize ? Yet we expect students to be able to synthesize – Check out De Bono’s Thinking Hats for way of introducing “sideways explorations.” We need to equip students with creative thinking tools, such as thinking Box, Visual Thesaurus, and Scamper.

We’re on to Wikipedia, checking out the entry for educational technology – which is written in “legalize” terms. Jamie’s jumped in to do some re-writing. How often do we encourage our students to do re-writes in Wikipedia. (IP addresses in my district are blocked from editing in Wikipedia due to students posting inappropriate information regarding their middle school.) Ask students to check articles for currency.

Handout for session available at

April 26, 2009
by blogwalker

Live from Sacramento – Classroom 2.0 Workshop

Steve Hargadon, tireless in his efforts to bring teachers on board with Web 2.0 possibilities, led the way at yet another Classroom 2.0 event. I’m very glad I was able to attend the Friday session and part of Saturday’s. As a result, here are some new tools I’ll be adding to my toolkit and/or now have better understanding of their potential:

Friday Session

  • – Concept of a drop box. Create content; add files (e.g., add Word file and it will convert to web-based format). You can call in a message and it will convert it to an MP3 file. Very cool! You can email content in. You can even get a conference call number (for synchronous use of offers a “dizzying array of features!” Thanks to Jeff Karlsen, Sac City CC, for sharing this tool.
  • Google Maps – While not a new tool for me, for too long I’ve continued to be a consumer, not a producer. But with Joe Wood leading the way, I’m motivated to start playing with Google Maps and to start working it into K12 curriculum examples. It’s really the easiest way for students to create Google Earth pieces, since G Maps offers a rich text toolbar, which Google Earth does not.  Think of the 4th grade missions report, for instance. Students can create tours in G Maps and then save as a Google Earth file, giving classmates the thrill of flying into their mission (hard to do with the sugar cube version;-).  Might just be a starting point of some student-created Google Lit Trips! For a window into Joe’s Google presentations, checkout his wiki.
  • Zack Dowell led a session on backchanneling, which he described as “putting tech in everyone’ s hands.” We went live with Today’s Meet . Love the simple, clean interface! Zack’s session included some discussion on appropriate vs. inappropriate uses of backchanneling. I think backchanneling is great way to promote interactive listening during those hour-long videos a science or social studies teacher regularly integrates into a lesson plan. Of course, like any tool, things can get a bit out of hand. Watch as via backchanneling an audience turns into a mob: South by Southwest Conference.  I’ll be adding a feed from Zack’s Delicious bookmarks: even more important than backchanneling, Zack is involved with the Plant a Row Project in El Dorado County (hey, talk about a good use of Google Maps!).
  • Ever wish you had unlimited storage space for backing up your work?! Grace Esteban shared – free storage backup – 50 gigabytes!
  • How about a tour Google Earth led  by a college history professor?! Stuart Graybill put GE into a nutshell: ” You can do things you can’t do with a flat map.” He started with GE’s opening world globe screen, used the control bar to disable borders, and invited us to consider the earliest movement of human beings from Asia to the Americas. Historians are now questioning the walking across the Bering Straits theory. Google has added underwater images, which makes it easy to see that with during a time of lower sea levels, more land allowed for “hopping” from one continent to the next.I loved Stuart’s example of the Northwest Ordinance, our nation’s 1787 document that required, amongst other things, that land be laid out in squares.  So “fly over” US cities or farming communities – such as our very own Yolo County – and the impact of that ordinance become visible as you view the grid-like squareness that was required by law. Jump from Yolo County to Normandy, France, to compare two totally different ways of laying out land.Wondering if you want to download the latest version of Google Earth? This video on New! Google Earth 5 was all I needed to click the download button.

Saturday Afternoon Speed Demos (Sorry, I was over at the A3WP during the morning session, so my notes do not include Kristen Hokanson’s Elluminate session on copyright or Larry Ferlazzo‘s ELL session)

  • – Think of it as “youtube” for documents.
  • slideshare – lets you embed audio – and the audio will match. You can also embed YouTube videos.
  • netvibes – like igoogle – lets you create a page with content – then you can share that page (e.g., – give to your class). Others can use the page. You can add an RSS tab. For instance, if I wanted to do as Steve does and have notification come into my Netvibes page anytime someone references me in Twitter, I could add rss search on @gailhd on Twitter. (Note to self: I need to start playing with this app.)
  • Delicous vs. Diigo – I still like Delicious and continue to use it, but at the same time, continue to move more into Diigo.  It’s still a huge wow factor to me that I can “stick it to the Internet” via Diigo’s highlighting, commenting, sticky-noting, etc., tools.  But it’s the Diigo Groups option that has really brought me on board.  Whether through a public group such as Discovery Educators’ Network (DEN) or a private group such as the NWP Digital Is group, I look forward to the almost daily gems that arrive in my Diigo account – and via email.Alice recommends starting students (and teachers) with the diigolet toobar. To add it via IE, right click and add to favorites. You can then pluck it out of your favorites. Students will need the diigolet applet on their computers – and they’ll need to be signed in. Thanks to Diigo Educator Acconts – you can set up students under 13.

    OK, trivia fact: Delicious invented the whole concept of tagging
  • twitter – Interesting discussion. Steve, who claims to “not really get Twitter,” asked us to describe it to the non-users. We started with concept of Twitter hash tags – “peer-reviewed connected tissue.” We also discussed fact that unlike RSS feeds, which are updated periodically, Twitter updates are instant! Just lIke text messaging, but recipient part not built in – but anybody can get access. It’s a text message = 40404. You can direct message via d_name, which is easier than a cell phone number.  Also, by clicking on a fellow Tweeter’s following box, you can redirect their Tweets to your  phone (haven’t used this feature yet).

    Trivia fact: Twitter was invented by same guy who invented Blogger
  • Jory Hadsell ended the day with a great demo on screencasting using Jing.  The ability to annotate screens can be very useful for a teacher wanting to introduce, review, or extend a concept. Although my department has paid for SnagIt, I do recommend Jing to teachers.

Did I mention that the Classroom 2.0 Sacramento get together was free?! Many thanks to Steve Hargadon for his vision and support and to Melissa Green and Sac City College collegues for hosting the event!

March 29, 2009
by blogwalker

Accelerated Reader – Time to Say “No”?

Let me start this rant with a positive example of how the Accelerated Reading Program is used at some school sites. I’m thinking of the 5th grade teacher who is starting a unit on the American Revolution and is seeking historical fiction and biographies to supplement the history textbook.  The school librarian has used AR’s leveling and labeling system to make it easy for the teacher to provide his/her students with books that match a wide range of reading abilities.  If this is how AR is being used at your site, then I think the expense and time commitment is certainly justifiable.

I fear the above use is not the norm though, and the more common practice is that students take AR quizzes in a computer lab…where they receive no feedback on their answers.  I think Robert Marzano’s research makes visible the harm in using technology solely for assessment rather than as a teaching/learning tool:

I grabbed this screen shot from Marzano’s CUE 2009 keynote address (, which I highly recommend watching.

In my district, many of our elementary sites are paying for the pricey web-based version of the quizzes. For the most part, I’ve kept silent on the value of the program, since so many teachers seem to like it.  Several years ago, I heard Cheryl Lemke share research from the Metiri Group’s research on AR. Their findings were that AR was “a wash” – some students would improve their reading; others would show a decrease in reading scores.  Following Lemke’s presentation, I sent out an inquiry to the NCTE‘s Talkies group.  NCTE friend and mentor Nancy Patterson shared that “cheating was a major issue” and what the research really showed was “buy the books, not the tests.” A quick Google search on Stephen Krashen +Accelerated Reader brought up a white paper entitled Does Accelerated Reader Work? Here are the findings in a nutshell:

The results presented here strongly suggest that of the four aspects of AR, access to books, time devoted to reading, tests, and rewards, only the first two are supported by research. There is considerable evidence that providing access to books results in more reading and better reading and considerable evidence that providing time to read results in better reading. There is suggestive evidence that incentives do not promote additional reading in the long term. The AR research literature does nothing to change these conclusions.”

What set off this rant? A computer lab teacher at one of my EETT sites asked if it would be OK to load AR onto the laptops in the wireless cart that had just arrived for the 4th grade teachers.  I replied to her with a copy to the principal that I was OK with it as long as the taking of AR quizzes did not replace the blogging and in2books reading and writing that the students were beginning to engage in.  Since the goal of the grant is to improve literacy skills, especially writing, I felt the need to make clear that AR would not improve student writing skills.  I had a sudden nightmarish vision of the $20,000 COW becoming a vehicle for mindless time spent testing, via multiple choice, recall – with no time left for connecting, creating, collaborating, sharing, or any kind of higher-order thinking.  The principal responded that he doubted that would be the case with these teachers.  And from what I have seen during classroom visits, the laptops are indeed being used to promote 21st century literacies (by a 4th grade team that is for the most part new to technology – but extremely dedicated, talented and open to new ideas).

Because so many sites seem committed to the AR program (and expense), I’m hoping readers might have more and better examples of how AR is worth the time and expense. I’m all for the increased access to books; it’s just the testing part I question.  Am I missing something?

March 14, 2009
by blogwalker

Starting to “get” SmartBoards

Interactive whiteboards, such as Promethean and Smartboard, are an expensive investment (about $1,200 each). When writing my EETT grant, I did not build them into the budget.  What I did purchase was a laptop and LCD projector per teacher (starting with 4th grade this year; 5th grade next year), plus headset and stand-alone microphone, voice recorder, and web camera. For each site, I included a laptop cart and a filmmaking set (2 Canon miniDV cameras, microphone, MyBook, and Flip camera). If I have any money left, I’ll buy as many document cams as possible.

The budget did not include SmartBoards.  Once the RFP was funded, my boss suggested I might want to redo the budget to work in  SmartBoards.  My wonderful evaluator (Dr. Carl Whithaus, UC Davis) and I chatted about making the switch, but since our grant is all about improving students’ English/Language Arts skills, especially writing, via the integration of multi-modal, multimedia tools and strategies, we agreed the Smartboard might almost be a “distractor” from our goals, and I wasn’t willing to cross out any of the items listed above.

So why am I posting about interactive whiteboards? One of my sites was able to use Title I funding to order SmartBoards for grades 4-6.  I will be providing the staff training. OK…so time for me to get on board with the interactive whiteboard!

Last week I traveled to Palm Springs for the 2009 CUE Conference.  At the top of my to-do list was to attend Robert Marzano’s keynote presentation and to hook up with the SmartBoard folks.  Here’s what happened:

Marzano’s Keynote: His research stats were impressive, with the “sweet spot” (the perfect storm of student achievement according to his findings) reached when the technology was used by an experienced teacher, who has had training, having had an interactive whiteboard for 2 years, using it 75% of the time in class. The gain in students scores = 29% . Wow! That’s an enormous gain! However, he did warn that beyond 75% use in class, student scores drop.

I left his session with a few unanswered questions (what was the break down in scores? did student writing scores improve? how many hours of PD are typically required to become a proficient user? an innovative user?)…and set off for the exhibit hall.

Exhibit Hall – I headed to the SmartBoard booth in hopes of truly “getting” SmartBoards.  Probably my mistake, but my first comment to the sales rep was that one thing teachers like about their ancient overhead projectors is being able to face their class while writing.  He proceeded to demonstrate how he has learned to write facing his audience. OK, yeah, I could sort of read what he was scrawling on the board with his hand behind his back.  With that, I set off for the SmartBoard demo room…

SmartBoard Live Demonstrations Room – I headed to the front of the class where a teacher was learning to cover up her multiple-choice answers with balloons….Hmmm…OK, cute, but not likely to improve student writing scores)… Back to the Exhibit Hall!

Exhibit Hall – Back at the SmartBoard booth, I told the sales rep I needed to see an example of how this technology could genuinely improve learning (beyond the obvious engagement factor in being able to pop SmartBoard balloons;-).  He pulled up a split screen with a math problem on one side and space for a student to demo his/her solution on the other.  OK, this could be useful, given that you have the ability to record and save this demo.  In fact, a SmartBoard would be a much easier way for students to demo how they solve particular problems than this VoiceThread example. I am a huge VoiceThread fan, but unless students have access to a tablet PC or a Wacom tablet, it’s pretty klutzy to write or draw with a mouse…..Hmmmm…

Back to the SmartBoard Live Demonstrations Room – I  lucked out on my second trip to the demo room. I met Mark Murphy, an  elementary school teacher from the Westminster School District. Mark shared how he uses resources from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives to teach such abstract concepts as crossing out and borrowing to solve subtraction problems where the top number is smaller than the bottom number.  Oh wow, even though my grant is about improving E/LA scores, I know teachers will love this use of SBs!

OK, OK, I’m starting to “get” SmartBoards.  But I do still have several concerns:

  • Design – We actually have a SmartBoard installed in one of the rooms at Tech Services. Unfortunately, that room is often booked days on end for all kinds of meetings and trainings. Since I cannot transport the board to another room, I have some concerns about when I’ll actually get the hands-on time I would like before training my teachers. From the SmartBoard website, I see there is a portable model available, but no where on the site can I find prices (and missing price lists typically are not indicative of bargain prices).
  • Because we all know of cases where a school site has done mass purchasing of an expensive technology that has somehow ended up gathering dust, I would recommend starting with the mobile model. That way, the early adopters at each site could delve in, share the board, and based on their successes and lessons learned, bring the rest of the staff on board, at which time it would make $ sense to install the stationary models in every classroom.

  • Expense – If student engagement and learning is positively and significantly impacted, then, of course, we need to find the money to provide both the SB and the accompanying professional development. But while in the process of building site buy-in from teachers, at this point, I would do the “baby steps” thing.  Maybe start with an AirLiner slate (which I would definitely want to include in my SmartBoard purchasing package). I believe they’re about $400 – and can be used with National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, or other interactive whiteboard lessons, for instance, on a regular whiteboard. My next step would be to introduce a cheaper version of an interactive whiteboard, such as the Mimio, which works via infared and runs about $800. You can beam the Mimio on any wall, or at any level, making it practical for a K-6 school site.

But back to the SmartBoard – While waiting for some hands-on time with our SmartBoard, I’m hoping to compile a list of resources, lessons, and strategies for using this tool to improve student literacy, particularly writing.  I’ve joined the SmartBoard Revolution Ning and look forward to making the transition from consumer to producer of SB best practices.

I would very much appreciate any SmartBoard tips and would love to join some on-going SmartBoard conversations. In return, as I gain first-hand knowlege on the power of interactive whiteboards, I promise to share my findings on this blog, Twitter, the SmartBoard Revolution ning, or any venues I find in my journey to beoming a SB poster child:-)

Note: Image from:

January 25, 2009
by blogwalker
1 Comment

Three January Favs from Teachers Teaching Teachers

Following the January 14 Teachers Teaching Teachers Skypcast, I’ve been trying to get the word out to teachers in my district, region, and edublogosphere about three outstanding projects:

# 1 – BrainFlix’s great video contest, with its goal of helping students prep for the vocab section of the SATs. Come on, what better way for kids to build their vocabulary levels than by creating or viewing vocab videos?! The rules are simple and explicit and students can win $. So checkout the list and invite your students in. The contest ends March 16. What a great opportunity for our students to contribute to an online learning repository.

#2 Read-i-cide: A Conversation VoiceThread – Thanks to George Mayo for sharing about a VoiceThread created by Bill Ferriter with Kelly Gallagher . If you are concerned about the impact on mandated anthologies + worksheets on students’ engagement with reading, come join the VoiceThread conversation.

# Center for Social Media – I’ve already blogged about the excellent resources Peter Jazsi, Renee Hobbs, et al, are adding to this site. I keep adding more and more of their links to my Toolkit4BlogWalker wiki. But, oh my, for some hilarious examples of remixes, checkout all the categories at

January 4, 2009
by blogwalker

Blogging with 4th Graders

Before the Winter Break, I introduced the 4th grade teachers in my EETT grant to blogs and blogging during a 3-hour whirlwind workshop. With only a week left before vacation, already several went “live” with their blogs and invited their students to post comments, noting that their students immediately took to blogging. One of the great things about introducing Web 2.0 tools is that kids like technology.

I am pretty sure that students who read and respond to blogs regularly – especially beyond the school day – are building their reading skills. But my EETT grant was funded based on my argument that students at three of my district’s lowest-performing elementary schools would improve their writing skills by integrating multi-modal, multimedia tools and strategies into the English/Language Arts program. The tools (blogs, podcasts, wikis, VoiceThread, and video editing) are only half of the program. Area 3 Writing Project Teacher Consultants are providing the other half: teacher-tested writing activities and strategies that have transformed writing in their own classrooms – and have helped raise scores on the 4th grade paper-and-pencil state writing assessment.

Technology is not a silver bullet. But if you combine powerful writing strategies – such as introducing emerging writers to the concept of strong verbs and prompting them, for example, to locate strong verbs in other bloggers’ posts and to respond with at least one strong verb – with Web 2.0 tools, then I predict this group of 4th graders will become better writers.

Over the break, I’ve been reading some outstanding posts by Silvia Tolisano, Kim Cofino, and Kevin Jarrett.

Drawing from many of the ideas and resources they’ve shared, here is my agenda for Tuesday’s EETT workshop:

Opening Session: Revisiting Blogs and Blogging

  • The Big Question: How can blogging help YOUR students?
  • End with my Sacto neighbor and thinking partner Alice Mercer’s video on Blogging with Students

Morning Workshop: Summary Writing – Facilitated by A3WP 4th grade teachers Angela Luna and Heather Koczian.

Afternoon Session = Podcasting for Absolute Beginners*

  • Start with a brief PowerPoint. I’m providing handouts for teachers to note how they will integrate podcasting – and summary writing – into their classrooms.
  • Introduce Audacity
  • Hands-on time for teachers to experiment with their first podcasts
  • End session with demo on podcasting from a cell phone via Gcast
  • Wrap Up – Sharing of ideas for incorporating podcasting – as a writing strategy – into the 4th grade curriculum.

*Note: I’ve posted links to podcasting tutorials and resources on ToolKit4BlogWalker.

As we move through this grant year, it is my hope that through access to powerful writing strategies and access to technology tools that provide authentic audience and authentic purpose, this group of 4th graders will experience academic growth – and excitement – and will add writing (most likely online writing) to their list of favorites.

Image copied from

November 8, 2008
by blogwalker

Art Snacks – Love this site!

One of my favorite sessions at last summer’s NECC conference was the Web 2.0 Smack Down, led by Vicki Davis. I think without a doubt the “key chain” tip for providing teachers with some 1×1 assistance following group workshops was a favorite. I was blogging the Smack Down live from the session, and somehow missed Kevin Honeycutt’s name or a link to credit him for his contribution to the Smack Down.

Last week, I received a friend request, via Plurk, from KevinH. In the process of accepting his friend request, I discovered his Art Snacks site. Oh my, what a gold mine for teachers and students! For a starter, Kevin’s video tutorials provide wonderful, easy-to-follow drawing lessons. Check out some some “art snacks” and see for yourself, like this lesson on how to draw a fire ant:

Find more videos like this on Art Snacks

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