Muddling through the blogosphere

May 27, 2012
by blogwalker

Teachers Teaching Teachers – Connected learning for educators

I have a folder in my file cabinet marked Teachers Teaching Teachers. In it are notes I’ve jotted down from various Teachers Teaching Teachers shows – snippets of inspiring quotes from teachers across the nation or sometimes the world, titles to insightful books and  articles, links to thought-provoking websites, and always, always ideas that prompt me to rethink how to empower students as writers and as (digital) citizens.

The notes are not well organized. Some are in notebooks; some on scraps of paper. I wish I had been a little more systematic about including the dates. But in my defense,  more often than not, I’m racing home from the flat lands of Sacramento (where I teach) to the Sierra foothills (where I live) to be online with the TTT group by 6:00 PST, so grabbing a notebook is often secondary to locating my headset or working through connectivity issues.

But so many gems! From the inception of the YouthVoices project (which has included amazing and timely additions, such as Voices from the Gulf project following the BP oil spill) to the recent show on the art and genre of string games, I learn something new from each episode – and log off with an even greater appreciation of this embracing, connected learning community for educators.

This Wednesday TTT celebrates its 300th show, an event made possible by the leadership and commitment of my friend/mentor/National Writing Project colleague Paul Allison. If you’ve not had the pleasure of joining a Teachers Teaching Teachers show, the video below will give you a glimpse into the many ways Paul promotes connected learning for both students and teachers.

Hope to see you in the TTT chat room for Wednesday evening’s 300th episode:-)


August 11, 2011
by blogwalker

Teachers Teaching Teachers – via Google+ Hangout

I try to keep Wednesday evenings free (6:00-7:00 pm) so I can spend an hour with the always amazing group of educators joining EdTechTalk’s  Teachers Teaching Teachers session. With Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim at the helm, the TTT hour is an opportunity to learn about, discuss, and question innovative tools, strategies, and programs for energizing classroom practice.

Last night’s session was no exception. I had my first encounter with Google+ Hangout – and was impressed. Unlike our Skype audio sessions, 10 of us were able to participate via microphones and webcams – and I don’t think anyone lost their connection (as so often happens with Skype).

The main topic was Youth Voices,  “a school-based social network that was started in 2003 by a group of National Writing Project teachers…for the purpose of bringing students together in one site that lives beyond any particular class.”  A goal for the new school year is to bring more K-12 classrooms into the community. We also talked about building on “collaborative issues that tend to connect everyone” (such as last year’s Voices on the Gulf).

Looks as though gardening will be the opening collaborative issue, with multiple themes and possibilities:

  • Aquaponics: Adam Cohen shared his website and passion for aquaponics and urban farming.
  • Window farms: It was about a year ago that Teachers Teaching Teachers included a discussion on Woolly Gardens.  I am equally excited to start conversations with colleagues on creating window farms!
  • Horn of Africa: Paul Allison will be bringing his students on board this year with Peter Little’s work.

Once again, following a Teachers Teaching Teacher session, my head is spinning and I am in awe of the amount of thought-provoking content shared in a single hour.


January 20, 2010
by blogwalker

Teaching about Haiti

So glad I made it home in time tonight to login to Teachers Teaching Teachers and join the conversation on teaching about Haiti and its devastating earthquake.

New York Times Learning Network editor Katherine Shulten shared the dynamic resources she and her co-editor are developing for the Teaching and Learning with the New York Times site. Check out 5 Ways to Teach About Haiti, and the new lesson plan: Project Haiti: Holding a Teach-In.

Other resources shared from the chat room included:

Despite audio issues with Skype, tonight’s TTT session was too good to end. So mark your calendars for next Wednesday because Katherine Shulton has agreed to join hosts Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim for a second session on teaching about Haiti.  Katherine invites us all to visit the above resources and to bring questions and suggestions to next week’s session.

How are you and your colleagues teaching about Haiti?

June 6, 2009
by blogwalker

Resiliency – What are we learning from our students?

I’m intrigued by the topic of resiliency. I’ve spent quite a bit of time at several Title 1 elementary schools this year, working with 4th graders on technology-infused projects.  What I have observed is that, despite grinding poverty levels and what are often intolerable, grossly unfair home situations, for the most part, kids are amazingly resilient.  In each classroom there are three to four students who are unable to maintain and need a bit of physical space away from their classmates, but the rest of the class manages to get through the day much the same as as their more affluent counterparts at wealthier sites. Why is that? What’s the key to being resilient? And what can we learn from our students about resiliency?

When Paul Allison‘s email arrived last week, with an invitation to listen to a Teachers Teaching Teachers podcast on resiliency, I rearranged my work schedule so I could make it home in time to join Wednesday’s conversation. It was worth risking a speeding ticket in order to join NWP ‘thinking partners’ Lynette Herring-Harris, Suzanne Linebarger, and Vanessa Brown, and others who would be  leading the discussion.

I’ve learned to keep a notebook with me during the TTT sessions to record resources, strategies, and great quotes, such as:

I’ve added the above titles to my summer reading list and also made a note to myself to contact Suzanne Linebarger directly to learn more about the work she is doing up north in Butte County with third graders, especially the program she developed to combine technology with the genre of cooking to build resiliency in her students.  I’ve known Suzanne for about ten years, through our Writing Project connection, and am always blown away by her insights, her work – and her humor. Her latest gem was during Wednesday’s TTT session, when she mentioned how she deals with the lack of Internet connectivity at home that is a reality for most of our Title 1 students: Start them thinking about where they can get online: a neighbor’s house, a relative’s house, the public library, etc.  On Thursday, when I headed in to work with a classroom on a VoiceThread project (please checkout the project embedded below), I found myself ‘going live’ with those same problem-solving strategies.  When I asked how many had Internet access at home, few raised their hands, but when I threw out some suggestions, heads started nodding.  OK, Suzanne, where are you posting your work?!

My contribution to the topic of resiliency is to share a bit about that VoiceThread mentioned above. Halie Ferrier, the wonderful teacher who had asked me to come work with her students, had also organized in May a Day of Tolerance unit for her 4th grade team.  I suggested that she invite Marielle Tsukamoto in to speak with the students on tolerance and resiliency.  Marielle has worked with me on the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project.  We’ve tried to capture through interviews the lived experiences of those citizens of Japanese heritage who were denied their Constitutional rights following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Each interview is testament to resiliency.

Following Marielle’s visit, along with a reading of Yosiko Uchida’s The Bracelet, Halie’s students stepped back in history, assumed the role of internees, and wrote letters to a friend back home, along with an accompanying piece of art. Thanks to VoiceThread, the students’ historical fiction is now crossing genre lines and mixing with biography, as Marielle and others who experienced discrimination, exclusion and forced removal first hand begin to join in the discussion:

Oh, and the image of bamboo – It symbolizes resiliency in all its forms.

    Image copied from

February 26, 2009
by blogwalker

VoiceThread + Teachers Teaching Teachers

Of all the Web 2.0 tools, VoiceThread is probably my favorite, so powerful, yet easy to learn. So when I saw Paul Allison‘s email invitation to join last night’s Teachers Teaching Teachers session with VT developers Ben Pappert and Steve Muth, I grabbed my headset and logged in, ready to learn about VT’s new Groups feature.

I’ve learned to always keep a notepad by me during the TTT sessions to jot down gems.  And last night’s session was filled with them, both by the guest speakers and in the chatroom discussion.

In looking over my notes, I see I’ve highlighted insights shared by Bill Ferriter. I follow his blog and therefore already had an appreciation of his strategies for engaging students with VT in meaningful ways. Here are a few gems from last night’s conversation:

  • We need to teach our students the skill of commenting! Bill provides students with guidelines such as “find a point made by someone else and respond to it.” To keep students focused, he limits them to adding only one new thread to a conversation.
  • We need to teach – and model for – our students the art of “collaborative dialogues,” including the skills of “productive conflict.”  Challenge them to find something they don’t agree with and in their commenting, “respectfully disagree.”

As soon as Paul has added the link to the last night’s discussion, I’ll return to this post and add it.

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:

February 17, 2008
by blogwalker

At What Age Do We Introduce Students to “Genocide”?

I’m still reflecting on yesterday’s article in the Sac Bee about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial mandate that all 5th graders “adopt the memory of one of the 11,000 Jewish children in France killed in the Holocaust, learning about the selected child’s background and fate.” And following that article, today’s article on UC Davis students attending a conference to learn what they can do to stop the genocide in Darfur. These two projects involve students from ages 10 through adult. Is there a minimum age level for teaching about genocide?

The above articles are coming on the heels of a recent Teachers Teaching Teachers Skypecast during which someone in the chat room (Mr. Mayo?) introduced the Many Voices of Darfur blogging and wiki project, an invitation for students to make their voices heard to a worldwide audience.


Apparently, students as young as 3rd grade will be participating in this project and posting to the blog for 48 hours on March 4.

In my school district, I think many 5th grade teachers introduce the word “genocide” as they delve into the unit on Columbus’s arrival to the “New World,” but without the availability of primary source documents such as those that tell of the last hours of individual Jewish children removed from Paris to extermination camps.

Last week I visited an elementary school library that happened to have on display 4th graders’ California Mission projects, including models (parent-done, I’m pretty sure) and some tri-fold displays (which also looked parent done). Kind of took me back to my 4th grade days. However, I’m still thinking about the tri-fold, I believe on Mission San Juan Capistrano, that included the statement “the local Indians were friendly and happy to work.” Maybe 4th graders are too young to learn about the government sanctioned genocide of California Indians, but I suspect that 4th graders at this school will end their year without a clue that “missionization” was NOT mutually beneficial.

But again I ask, at what age do we introduce students to “genocide”?

February 11, 2008
by blogwalker

Taking a Chance on Words: Why are the Asian-American kids silent in class?

While teachers are concerned about this lack of participation in classroom talk, they are also often relatively accepting of these quiet students who don’t pose a discipline problem, who turn in homework on time, and in general, get passing grades.

I am pulling a few quotes from Carol Tateishi‘s article Taking a Chance with Words, which she has published with Rethinking Schools. Carol shares insights from her own background of growing up Asian (Japanese-American) in a post World War II era as she observes through recent visits to San Francisco Bay Area high school classrooms “the lack of participation by students of Asian descent in the oral language activities of the class.”cover_200.jpg

In interviewing Asian-American students, she found four shared qualities:

  • Oral Language tends to be used functionally
  • Speaking publicly about one’s problems is discouraged
  • That restraint in talking is valued
  • You don’t talk about feelings or personal experiences

Yet as teachers, we commonly share a very different set of beliefs:

  • Oral language can be used to negotiate meaning
  • Risk-taking in talk is valued
  • Speaking in class increases engagement
  • Classroom dialog deepens learning

Carol points out that there is more at stake than “better learning of the curriculum.” Her concern is how the lack of strong verbal skills impacts future career paths for many Asian-Americans. “It mattered in the 1940s and matters again today if Asian-Americans have the words and voice to speak up for themselves and their communities. It matters if we have lawyers, writers, activists, educators, business leaders, elected officials, and ordinary citizens who understand the power of language and use it”

I will be passing this article on to colleagues whose class rosters include Asian-Americans. As Carol Tateishi points out: it’s easy to overlook the needs of students who seemingly pose no problems.

April 11, 2007
by blogwalker

Hard Questions for Teachers Who Teach Blogging

I am looking forward to tonight’s Teachers Teaching Teachers Skypecast. Susan Ettenheim has posted a list of questions shared and voiced by many teachers who have been “out there” a while blogging with students.

I have another question to add, but it’s technical not pedagogical, yet impacts a group of Youth Voices students’ ability to maximize features: What do you do if your access at school is via Macs and it doesn’t matter if it’s OS 9 or OS X, the interface is horrid!!!! Students have to scroll all over the place to find anything. I’m asking this question based on yesterday’s visit to Bob LeVin’s classroom at Florin High School, where many students do not have access at home. I am hoping there might be a simple fix for the Macs. With last year’s Youth Voices Coast to Coast (West Coast, that is), we learned that for full functionality of the Manila interface, for instance, we needed to use Firefox.

(Oh, and I did open Blogwalker in both versions and was happy to see that the Edublogs appearance and interface on a Mac are identical to being on a PC. Thanks, James. 🙂
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