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 15, 2008
by blogwalker

ILC Session 1 – Learning in a Digital Age: The Differentiators

I first heard Cheryl Lemke, from the Metiri Group, three years ago at a CUE conference. Every conference since, I’ve looked for her name in the program. So here I am at the ILC conference in San Jose, waiting for Cheryl to start her session – already knowing I’ll be leaving the kinds of research gems I can use for future grant writing ventures, such as her recently released paper on multimodal writing.

Her opening question: what are the 2st Century tools that serve 21st century learning? The research shows that it’s not enough to just focus on the cognitive – we have to focus on the social/emotional perspective of learning. Fact: adolescents are now learning 24/7 via mass collaborations. But are we preparing our students to come into venues: peers, home, distributed resources – to work effectively and ethically. It’s all about “learning with understanding.” We now know that it’s not just having the information, but how students take the information and tie it into a schema – which requires out being on board with them.

  • Sustained Discussion (Fred Newman) – Like the ball of yarn. Blog example = Meyer’s AP Government – Our Daily Show. How do we jump from just posting to sustained conversations. Having one’s name referenced (via a find) reveals threads = sustained conversation. But how do you get kids to go back and add substantive comments?
    • IES Practice Guide – Sustained discussion increases adolescent literacy, but not much in way of sustained discussions happening in typical classrooms.
  • Authenticity
    • Deep Learning (higher order thinking) – Example 1 – ASCEND, Oakland CA, in collaboration with George Lucas Foundation. Uses “expeditionary” learning. Students identify area of inquiry. Teachers tapping into student interests.
      Example 2 – Actionable Algebra (Oklahoma high school teacher)- Teacher poses question that students investigate: for example, what kind of cell phone plan would be best for your family? Students investigate and then turn findings into algebraic formulas. She has podcasts available for students, such as quadratic equations.
      Example 3 – WISE – out of Berkeley. Inquiry science – free! Check out TELS Project or Deformed Frogs (allows teams of students to sign in and saves their work).
    • Student construction of knowledge
    • Relevance beyond the classroom
  • Setting up for authentic learning units:
    • Determine what’s the topic (ie Ancient Greece)
    • Who cares about the topic? (travel agents)
    • Potential projects – Kids create historic tours of Greece
  • Make preconceptions visible – ie, What keeps a COKE cold? tinfoil or sweater? if you don’t deal with those, they’ll always serve as barriers. Software: Read 180 software: scaffolds prior knowledge, uses video to lay a foundation, and then builds reading, writing, and spelling off that.

Engagement matters! Even the US Dept of Ed realizes this fact.

Measuring levels of engagement – 5 levels:

  1. instrinsically motivated – kids tend to have learning goals
  2. tactical kids – also learn, but have extrinsic goals ($, get into Harvard)
  3. compliant
  4. withdrawn
  5. defient

Ways to engage kids:

  • link content to their interests
  • give them choice
  • enable collaborationBlogWalker › Edit — WordPress
  • ensure intellectual safety
  • differentiate
  • clearly outline expectations
  • assign relevant work
  • focus on effort, not intelligence
  • facilitate presentations

Visual learning:

Democratization of digital content – David Bolinsky via TED – cell biology and animation at Harvard.

Research behind visual learning: Mayer (UCSB) – Great graph on working memory. Shows that we need to worry about motivation in order to get information into students’ working memories. “Just to use text and sound is not to fully tap into learning.”

Great session! I’ll be back for Cheryl’s afternoon session.

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.

August 23, 2008
by blogwalker
1 Comment

Letters to the Future President: NWP + Google Docs

The National Writing Project and Google Docs have teamed up to offer high school teachers and their students a wonderful opportunity to kickoff the school year with a collaborative writing project: Letters to the Future President. The project invites students to write about issues they would want our next president to address, and to publish their writing for a national audience.

I’ll be heading to Florin High School on Tuesday to help a group of students and their history teacher get set up for the project.  Here’s my agenda:

  • Introduce project via NWP website
  • Show Lee Lefever’s Google Docs in Plain English
  • Have students create Google accounts
  • Have them create gmail accounts – with names teacher can readily recognize (e.g., vs.
  • Invite several students into Google Doc I’ve projected to screen and give live demo of inserting comments, hyperlinks, etc.
  • Have students create their Google Doc (in this case, students will work collaboratively in teams of 2-3)
  • Have teacher explain naming conventions so that can readily distinguish each group’s letter from the rest.
  • Q & A – and call it a wrap:-)

Hats off to the many great teachers who embrace the concept of writing to make a difference and to the organizations that support them in their efforts to take their students’ voices to the word.

July 6, 2008
by blogwalker

Packing My Bags for NYC!

I’m heading out tonight for New York City , where I will spend the next two weeks at Columbia University participating in the 2008 Memorial Library Summer Seminar on Holocaust Education. I am already anticipating that these 14 days will be a life-changing experience. Iimage of memorial library at columia university realize that across time there are common threads between the events that trigger discrimination, exclusion, and the forced removal of any group of people. Going into the event, it is my plan to develop a lesson around Ishmael Beah’s compelling story (which I first discovered at a local Starbucks) A Long Way Gone – Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.

There are many similarities between the Holocaust and the genocides of the 21st century, but there is, I believe, one significant difference: the absence of the Internet during WWII. In presenting the dark side of history to students, today educators can also provide opportunities and venues for students to take social action. Eighth-grade history teacher George Mayo’s Many Voices of Darfur project and Canadian teachers Jim Carleton and Mali Bickely’s collaborative projects (NECC 2008 keynote speakers) are excellent examples of empowering students to make a difference. Celebrities such as Robert DeNiro are tapping into the power of the Internet, especially video, with powerful pieces such as Armed and Innocent, which includes an interview with Ishmael Beah that I will be including in my lesson.

I realize that the Holocaust Seminar will be an intellectual and emotional roller coaster ride and that, for many reasons, including the  challenges inherent with writing about the unthinkable and unspeakable, not all sessions will be “bloggable” – it is the lessons learned – and to be learned, along with the resources, that I hope to share out with other teachers and their students.

Memorial Library image from:

June 30, 2008
by blogwalker

Very Cool Tricks for Using and Making Videos

I’m sitting in a very packed room with Rushton Hurley (I’m actually hiding from the fire code folks up front where they can’t see that I’m exceeding the room limit). Low Tech Advice:

  • time limits
  • violence and martial arts (think high school boys)
  • podcasts and slideshows – ask the students “Is this what you want other people to hear.” Ease kids into projects so they care about a quality produce
  • alone or with others – helps kids who don’t have the equipment
  • alternatives – you can give students non-video options such as posters (but they’ll want to do video!)

Resources: These resouces can be used as long as you cite them:


Titles and Screenshots:

  • using save-as in PowerPoint (use save as > save as type > save as jpg option)
  • screenshots
    • Google Earth or Sketch Up
    • PicLens – plug in for your browser – perfect fix for those with “iPhone envy.” Great tool for teaching vocabulary, for instance.

Free Photos:

  • KIds need to read the attribution requirements; otherwise, they’ll go to Google and not only violate copyright but also pick something that will pixalate like crazy.
  • (newspaper term) – Huge file sizes, which are good for video.

Motion Experience:

  • Motion should ahve a purpose (pans, faces, eyes)
  • What to do if you’re on PC? Use PhotoStory3 – great, great tool and free! Import pictures > customize motion option > save. If you’re using panning, you want the motion to be different all the time (which is shortcoming with default panning (Ken Burns effect). Oh, and you can create music in Photostory. A bit “elevatorish,” but you have options. Tip: don’t use a favorite pop song because that’s what your listeners will concentrate on — not your movie.

Moving Beyond Freebies

  • Macs – Final Cut Express
  • PCs Adobe Premiere Elements – $99 ( – It’s a memory hog, so you’ll need a good video card with lots of RAM. Remember to render often, not just save. Big advantage of having multiple tracks. Key frames feature is cool, allowing you to add great effects., such as translucent text floating across an image. Want a good mic for camera: lavalier mic.

Why do we do video?

  • another way to show learning
  • good for ELL, LD kiddos
  • impact (“favorite thing”)
  • audience – we need to expand the audience so that kids really stretch

Good news… You can contact Rushton via or Fabulous session!

May 31, 2008
by blogwalker

Articulating Blog-Reading Habits

NWP colleague Kevin Hodgson is a guiding light in many ways. For several years now, he has sponsored the Youth Radio project, a podcasting project connecting classrooms across the nation and world as students share topics and projects from their own classrooms, neighborhoods, and regions. It’s been my privilege to connect with the YR project locally by joining A3WP colleague Jim Faires and his students as they listen to, respond to, discuss, and even take to a worldwide audience YR topics.

In the blogging workshops I currently teach, I always direct teachers to Kevin’s classroom blog. In every session, there will always be a teacher or two who, after touring the Electric Pencil, has a whole new understanding of how blogging can benefit teachers and their students.

Now I have a new resource to share in my workshops. I’ll be directing workshop teachers to Kevin’s NWP article Bringing the World to My Doorstep: A Teacher’s Blog-Reading Habits article. Often in my workshops, I realize that teachers leave all setup with their own blog (an Edublog), but without an understanding that blogging is all about reading – reading other bloggers’ thoughts, ideas, and challenges – and responding. Kevin’s article makes visible “how the world of blogs enriches his teaching, supports his tech liaison work, provides opportunities for his students, and keeps him connected both to his NWP network and to a wider network of educators.”

His article also explains so well the power of RSS, another topic I rarely get to in a 2-3 hour workshop, but I think by having teachers read Kevin’s article, I’ll have a great starting point for introducing RSS early on in my upcoming day-long and week-long summer workshops. I’ll also be introducing the term social media literacy.

Social media literacy refers to the ways in which bloggers connect and stay informed of each others’ work. One blogger, Chris Heuer , suggests that RSS could be “the fourth “R” in our conception of literacy , noting that RSS-based social media literacy “enables any individual to step into the conversational flow—to not only follow what other people are communicating, but ensure what the individual has to communicate is heard by other people who care about the topic.”

One more time, I want to thank Kevin for his innovative teaching practices, his commitment to bringing others on board with Web 2.0 best practices, and his willingness to mentor 24/7.

November 25, 2007
by blogwalker

Back from NYC

nyc.jpgNational Writing Project and Nat’l Council for Teachers of English hosted their annual conferences last week in New York City. What a treat! I managed to squeeze in some sightseeing coming and going from the hotel to the Crowne Plaza and the Javits Convention Center, and each evening, and all day on Sunday. And even managed a side trip to The Dalton School to visit with Monica Edinger‘s 4th graders.

From each NWP and NCTE session, I gained resources and ideas for presenting Web 2.0 tools to teachers and students. Here’s a smattering:

  • My kick-0ff Thursday session was an outstanding presentation by NWP Tech Liaisons sharing projects under the umbrella of Writing in a Digital Age. Starting with Kevin‘s link to the Pew Internet and American Life Project stats — and ending with Petter Kittle‘s amazing “multimodal” piece on the art of unicycling (note to self: check with Peter to see if he has posted this and samples from his composition class to the web), this session was a great way to start the conference.
  • Friday morning started with Nancy Patterson’s NCTE session. This was my first time to meet Carla Beard ( and Lisa Rozema. Carla started her session on wikis by playing Lee Lefever’s Wikis in Plain English, which drew the audience right into Carla’s humorous, informative presentation (note to self: ask Carla for links to sample teacher wikis shared). Lisa Rozema ended the session with her original screencast on Google Reader (note to self: ask Lisa if she has posted this clip online).
  • Saturday’s Technology Roadshow, organized by Sandy Hayes, was a blast. I wanted to drop in all six table discussions. During the opening presentations, I listened in awe as Sarah Kajder talked briefly about Google Lit Trips. Although I’ve visited the site before, had not considered how dramatic this site is when projected onto a full screen. (Note to self: ask Nancy Patterson if she has posted her student-done “digital narratives” to the web.)
  • Monday’s ACE (Assembly on Computers in English) session – well worth the added cost of two more days in NYC!
    • Got to meet Ted Nellens (, who hosted the session at his Westside HS campus.
    • Got to hear Lisa Rozema present again – this time joined by her husband Rob Rozema (whose student-done podcasts I share with teachers and students alike). To their Google Reader intro, Rob and Lisa added a piece on having students use RSS both for news feeds and blogs to support students in their research projects (note to self: ask Lisa for student samples of blog posts and responses supported by links to articles and posts from their GR accounts).
    • Got to hear Troy Hicks demonstrate the “frustrating parts of wikis” with his reassurance that the “frustration was reversible.” (Note to self: ask Troy for permission to share the wiki he created for this workshop.)
    • Got to work with Ewa McGrail on Copyright and Fair Use Issues for Educators (note to self: ask Ewa for permission to share her activity sheet, which is a hands-on approach to PD on this important issue).

I’m back home now, fighting a terrible head cold but excited to bring with me such great resources to share with my California colleagues, along with memories of the NYC experience.

March 11, 2007
by blogwalker

Blog Rubric – A Work in Progress

I think it’s important that students understand that blogging is different then IMing or text messages – two genres associated with fast, spontaneous dialog. To justify blogging within the school day, I believe our students should gain a sense of audience, which, depending on the blog project, may extend across geographic, socio-economic, and generational boundaries. And let us not forgot the administrator, be it a curriculum “coach” or even a supportive principal. How can we justify the in-class time if we do not promote opportunities for our students to grow as writers?

With enhancing student writing at the core of this post, I am throwing out a rough draft for a rubric. As I toy with this draft, I’m thinking of the students in the Youth Radio podcasting project. The problem with this draft is that it’s my words and does not yet reflect the voices and input of the students themselves – or any exemplars/non-exemplars. I’m hoping to get with Jim Faires’ class when they come back “on track” for some feedback and a revision session or two.


Blog Rubric

A Road Map to Full-Credit Posts and Responses


  • Blog Etiquette – Shows clear respect for the learning process and patience with different opinions. Shows initiative by asking others for clarification, bringing others into the discussion.

  • Critical Thinking – Entries indicate critical thinking and personal reflection about the discussion topic and an understanding of questions and comments before responding. Makes connections from ideas of other Youth Radio members.

  • Writing – Entries show excellent command of Standard English.


  • Blog Etiquette – Shows respect for learning process. Comments often encourage others to participate.

  • Critical Thinking – Most entries indicate critical thinking and personal reflection about the topic. Ideas are interesting enough that other participants respond to them. Comments are logical but may not make connections from other Youth Radio members’ posts/responses.

  • Writing – Entries show good command of Standard English.


  • Blog Etiquette – May make some insightful comments; however, by insisting too forcefully, or by not participating enough, does not contribute much to the overall progress of the discussion. Word choice and tone may send negative messages.

  • Critical Thinking – Posts indicate limited personal reflection about topic. Comments may not always flow logically from previous comments or responses.

  • Writing – Entries contain a number of grammatical and/or spelling errors that may cause readers confusion and interference with understanding.

Not Yet Meeting the Standard

  • Blog Etiquette – Displays little respect for the learning process. May respond about individuals rather than about ideas.

  • Critical Thinking – Responses display a lack of preparation and/or reflection.

  • Writing – Numerous grammatical and/or spelling errors make entries difficult for reader to follow.

My favorite online road map so far to “good blogging” was posted by Susan Ettenheim to the Youth Voices elggWhat’s Good Blogging on the elgg? Intended to be read online, this resource uses hyperlinks to provide examples and additional explanations. It also includes a great list of sentence starters.

And for the billionth time, I’ll reference David Warlick by ending with his guiding questions for evaluating a blog:

When reading a blog, ask:

  1. What did the author read in order to write this blog? What did he or she already know and where did that knowledge come from?
  2. What are the other points of view? What are the other sides of the story?
  3. What did the author want readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
  4. What was left unsaid? What are the remaining questions and issues?

When writing a blog, ask:

  1. What did you read in order to write this blog? What do you know and where did that knowledge come from?
  2. What are all points of view on the issue?
  3. What do you want your readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
  4. What will not be said? What are some of the remaining questions about the issue?

Oh, and I like Kathy Schrock‘s Guide for Evaluating a Blog.

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