Muddling through the blogosphere

October 25, 2008
by blogwalker

Web 2.0 in the Classroom – Some Benefits and Realities

Maggie Tsai just posted a link to The Becta Report on the Benefits Web 2.0 in the Classroom, “a major new research into the use of Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis, blogs and social networking by children between the ages of 11-16, both in and out of the school environment.” In a nutshell, the report found a disconnect between the increasing amount of Web 2.0 use students reported using outside of school and the limited use of Web 2.0 during the school day. But in observing schools and teachers who are innovating with Web 2.0 tools, they found the following benefits:

  • Web 2.0 helps to encourage student engagement and increase participation – particularly among quieter pupils, who can use it to work collaboratively online, without the anxiety of having to raise questions in front of peers in class – or by enabling expression through less traditional media such as video.
  • Teachers have reported that the use of social networking technology can encourage online discussion amongst students outside school.
  • Web 2.0 can be available anytime, anywhere, which encourages some individuals to extend their learning through further investigation into topics that interest them.
  • Pupils feel a sense of ownership and engagement when they publish their work online and this can encourage attention to detail and an overall improved quality of work. Some teachers reported using publication of work to encourage peer assessment.”

I think the research being compiled by the U.K.’s Becta Group complements the 2008 findings shared by the Pew Internet/American Life Project in collaboration with the National Commission on the Teaching of Writing. Two sections of this report jumped out at me because both can easily be addressed by integrating Web 2.0 into the classroom:

Teens are motivated to write by relevant topics, high expectations, an
interested audience and opportunities to write creatively.

Teens write for a variety of reasons—as part of a school assignment, to get a good grade, to stay in touch with friends, to share their artistic creations with others or simply to put their thoughts to paper (whether virtual or otherwise). In our focus groups, teens said they are motivated to write when they can select topics that are relevant to their lives and interests, and report greater enjoyment of school writing when they have the opportunity to write creatively. Having teachers or other adults who challenge them, present them with interesting curricula and give them detailed feedback also serves as a motivator for teens. Teens also report writing for an audience motivates them to write and write well.”

Teens believe that the writing instruction they receive in school could be

Most teens feel that additional instruction and focus on writing in school would help improve their writing even further. Our survey asked teens whether their writing skills would be improved by two potential changes to their school curricula: teachers having them spend more time writing in class, and teachers using more computer-based tools(such as games, writing help programs or websites, or multimedia) to teach writing. Overall, 82% of teens feel that additional in-class writing time would improve their writing abilities and 78% feel the same way about their teachers using computer-based writing tools.”

In conversations with teachers in and around California and across the nation (via the National Writing Project and the National Council for Teachers of English), my colleagues have shared that lack of access to computers can present a huge obstacle to integrating Web 2.0 into their curriculum. Particularly at elementary sites, many school computer labs are designated for automated assessment (e.g., Accelerated Reader, All the Right Type, Exam View Pro generated quizzes), a bit of MS Office, and “learning” games. At many middle and high schools, computer labs are reserved for particular technology courses, generally not connected to the core curriculum (e.g., MS Office, Web Design, AutoCad). Therefore an English or Social Studies teacher, for instance, seeking to connect students via the Internet with students in other locations for the purpose of collaborating, creating, and sharing authentic research projects often faces a constant scheduling battle.

In my own district, school sites are attempting to solve access issues in a variety of ways. One elementary site, for instance, furnished a second computer lab, leaving the original lab for drill/test/play and the second for classroom teachers to schedule time for curriculum-related projects. Thanks to funding through the federally-funded EETT grant, three elementary sites will be getting grade-level (4th and 5th grade) laptop carts. At one of our high school sites, an English teacher is asking permission for his students to be allowed to use their cell phones during his class, as the blogging project his students are joining that will connect them to students in Utah, New Mexico, New York, and Maine, can be accessed by cell phone.

What other successful models are out there for providing students with Web 2.0 access within the core curriculum of the school day? I welcome your ideas, questions, and examples – and non-examples too.

October 12, 2008
by blogwalker

Shift Happens

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Edublogger community. As as veteran Edublogger (my first EB post was in March 2006), I’ve have been through a few upgrades and therefore know that when EB returns, it’s even better than before. I’m thinking back to June of 2007, when there was a two-weekwindow of down time during upgrades. I was attending a NECC Conference in Atlanta where a number of “big names,” such as Will Richardson, were attempting to introduce EB as part of the their blogging workshops. Because they’re used to working through technology issues, not having access to EB was not that big a deal.

But here’s what’s changed for me … Over the past two weeks, I’ve received many emails from teachers who’ve been in my EB workshops wondering what was going on. OK, this is a huge shift. Since most of my district, county, and A3WP workshops are free, I’m never really sure if my attendees truly want to learn about blogging, or if they are just looking for free units to apply to their salary schedule.

So about those emails….bring ‘um on !What the flood of questions means to me is that I now have a growing bank of teachers who are incorporating Web 2.0 technologies into their teachers’ toolkit. What felt like just a ripple a year ago is starting for feel a tsunami. Welcome back EB!

September 26, 2008
by blogwalker

Comic Strip Character for the Digital Age: Boolean Squared

Meet Boolean Squared, who has a lot in common with students in our classrooms in that he “loves computers with a passion, but he rarely uses them in the way that his teacher — Mr. Teach — would like.” And he fully believes that “there is no operating system or Web site that should not be tinkered with.”

Created by my NWP colleague the multi-talented Kevin Hodgson, this web-based comic strip will run every Monday via’s Newspaper in Education and will soon have an RSS feed available. I’ve mentioned Kevin many times in past Blogwalker posts, always about his innovative approaches to 21st century teaching and learning. How fun for Kevin’s 6th grade students, their parents, and the community at large to have this window into the world of digital natives and (or maybe vs.) digital immigrants.

Boolean Squared could make for great Monday morning class discussions too.

September 20, 2008
by blogwalker

Childnet International – UK resource for kids, parents, teachers

I’m impressed with the U.K. Childnet International resources, including their links and PDF brochures on Young People, Music and the Internet and Young People and Social Networking. Nice handouts for parents – teachers too- to provide common sense guidelines for safe, effective, ethical use of the Internet.

The resources on their link are equally excellent. The intro sums up their mission:

Digital citizenship isn’t just about recognising and dealing with online hazards. It’s about building safe spaces and communities, understanding how to manage personal information, and about being internet savvy – using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same.”

Digizen’s Cyberbullying resources also include a powerful video that I’m sure would spark classroom conversations, starting with the reality that kids in the U.K., just like in our school districts, are having to deal with 24/7 cyberbullying challenges.

September 18, 2008
by blogwalker

Camera Skills – Such a Marketable Literacy!

Seems as though the commercial sector frequently, though unintentionally, provides some of the best free teaching resources. Take, for example, the video below, for a stunning look at the effective use of basic camera shots (a skill I’m still hoping to master). Before you watch the video, you might want to know that it was produced to sell a very upscale condo development in Charleston, S.C., located at the intersection of Jones and Whiter.

No, I’m not in the market for a condo (and the model’s dress is not my style), but I do really like the variety and use of the shots and the way it flows together via transitions.

August 22, 2008
by blogwalker

Why Filmmaking Belongs in the Classroom

“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.” Stanley Kubric

For the past couple of years, Nikos TheodosakisThe Director in the Classroom has been my top recommendation to teachers wanting to venture into filmmaking as part of their curriculum. In addition to tips and wonderful graphic organizers, Nikos also lays out a compelling argument (on behalf on his own children – and all children) for why filmmaking belongs in the classroom, starting with Part 1:

  • Learning in a world of change
  • Living and learning in a visual world
  • How filmmaking develops higher order thinking skills
  • How filmmaking develops personal and social skills
  • How filmmaking raises awareness

I have a new favorite: Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom, by John Golden. I found this gem while attending the July National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Institute for 21st Century Learning. What a great resource for secondary teachers – and probably upper elementary too. “Even though this book deals with cinematic technique and film study, it is ultimately a book about using film to help students improve their reading and analytical skills.”

Golden includes over 30 films, ranging from E.T. The Extraterrestrial to Life Is Beautiful , and provides strategies for viewing each, including reading strategies (e.g., predicting, responding, questioning, and storyboarding), textual analysis (e.g., characterization, point of view, iron, and connections/comparisons between authors’ and directors’ choices) and classroom tested suggestions for developing units. Tons of powerful images pulled from films, along with thought-provoking “Questions to Consider.”

I’m working on a presentation right now for our Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium‘s upcoming Video in the Classroom event.  I’ll be sharing both books during my session – and am seeking a third to add to the list.

August 17, 2008
by blogwalker

Wikis in K12 Education

Whether it be by voice, cell phone, email, iPod, blog, wiki, video, websites, or another as yet invented thing, I will communicate my message via any means that students will hear. I will not be afraid of the medium if it a highway to my students’ psyche. I will not erect roadblocks where I should build on ramps.”

I’m updating the wiki I use for my workshops to include some new resources such as Vicki Davis‘s slideshow presentation, which includes the above quote, and am thinking about some recent conversations with teachers who are fast becoming contributors to the blogosphere. Teachers from my local Writing Project, for instance, who are using their wikis to extend content resources beyond the school day. Take, for example, the fabulous Ms. Duenas, who has uploaded her entire set of PowerPoints to accompany her district’s 6th grade math program to her wiki. I suspect through Dee’s enthusiasm and commitment to sharing best practices, she’ll be bringing others at her site on board with Web 2.0 technologies.

I’d like to address two questions from teachers who have recently joined the blogosphere and have also added wikis to their toolkit.

The first question is about subscribing to a wiki. With, readers will not see the RSS button or link, so how do they follow? Here’s the answer:

Step 1: From the sidebar, click on the Recent Changes link.

Step 2: From the Recent Changes screen, click on the Notify Me tab. Decide whether you want notification when anything has been changed or just changes to specific pages in the wiki.

Step 3: Choose your reader and that’s it.

The second question is from one of the most dedicated, outstanding teachers I have ever worked with, who happened to join me for my A3WP Summer Tech Institute. I’ve know this teacher for 16 years. Believe me, the list of students whose lives she has changed and the teachers she has mentored and supported (including me!!)is an incredibly long one! She left the workshop with a blog and a wiki ready to go. Her immediate goal was to provide a strong school-to-home connection and to open the world to her students (from a location where the deepest differences diversity-wise are economic). She called yesterday with this question: What do I tell my superintendent in a meeting I’ve requested to talk about why the tech guy has blocked access to

I suggested maybe starting with Karl Fisch’s Did You Know? or Michael Wesch’s Information Revolution, plus the NCTE’s recent definition of 21st century literacies.

I’d like to keep adding to her list. What are your suggestions? How are you using wikis with your students and/or staff? What should I add to her list?

August 3, 2008
by blogwalker

Three favs from The Edublogger

I just finished a week-long tech workshop for the Area 3 Writing Project. What a treat to hang out for five days with 18 enthusiastic teachers, eager to add Web 2.0 tools to their classroom toolkit. For many it was a steep learning curve, but all left with at least one Edublog ready to go. Throughout the week I would periodically suggest that they check out the wealth of tips that the wonderful Sue Waters keeps sending our way via The Edublogger. The post I most often referred them to was 100 Edublogs Themes Separated into Categories .

This morning I’ve added another post and a comment to my list of favorites from The Edublogger:

Heading into my workshop wiki to add these three links to my blogging resources.

July 22, 2008
by blogwalker

NCTE – Helen Barrett on ePortfolios

Helen Barrett is sharing her commitment to life-long portfolios and building the argument for portfolios in our own personal lives, not just for our students.

Realizing I had my camera with me, I logged onto and recorded Helen’s session.

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