Muddling through the blogosphere

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

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.

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:

January 30, 2008
by blogwalker
1 Comment

Escape from Kenya – Current Events in a Digital Age

Sunday morning, I received an email via the NWP Tech Liaison’s listserv from Scott Floyd. It was an invitation to check out a post in his A Piece of Mind blog about the recent violence in Kenya:

I was fortunate enough recently to be in contact with someone who lived the Kenya unrest firsthand. She (Ellen) and her twelve year old son were in Kenya volunteering at an orphanage when the presidential race unfolded and the violence began. She shared her story of escape in a blog post on Guy Kawasaki’s blog. I contacted her, and we worked together via the Internet to create several versions of her story using various Web 2.0 tools. I used it this past week while training school staff on integrating more technology, and we are going to use it with our high school world history students where Ellen will video conference with them via Skype after they view her story and send her questions about the events. The feedback I received from the teachers showed just how powerful digital storytelling can be regardless of the subject being taught.”

Scott has shared not only an amazing story but also another take on the possibilities for telling stories – even a current event – in a digital age.

It just gets better…Scott will be joining tonight’s Teachers Teaching Teachers session to share more about the project. And Scott will be joined by David Karp, 21-year old founder of tumblr, and Felicia George, who will share highlights from EduCon 2.0. Many thanks to Paul Allison for his organizing time and efforts! I already have the headset out, ready to logon at 6:00 pst.

July 8, 2007
by blogwalker

Overcoming the Achievement Gap – Can It Be This Simple?

To pass the time on my flights to and from NECC, I grabbed – and dusted off – a few magazines from my nightstand. The first article to catch my eye was from the April/May 2007 edition of George Luca’s edutopia: Overcoming Underachievement – How a simple writing exercise dismantled negative racial preconceptions. I’ve since reread this short (2 pages) piece several times. The article describes a study run by researchers from Yale, Stanford, and the University of Colorado, with many quotes from lead researcher Geoffrey Cohen. The researchers had a theory that “the disparity in academic performance between white and African American students is partly fueled by a psychological effect called stereotype threat.” To narrow the achievement gap, they proposed using “a simple fifteen-minute writing exercise.”

What really grabbed my attention about the experiment is that the setting could easily have been a middle school from my district: “… a middle school attended by about even numbers of African American and white students, mostly from middle or lower middle class families… this school already had positive forces in play – sufficient resources, devoted staff, academically prepared students…” Nevertheless, an “invisible obstacle” was blocking African American students from “fully exploiting those benefits.”

The 15-minute assignment (randomly assigned with a control group given a different set of choices) was “to choose from a list of attributes the ones they value, such as relationships with friends or being good at art, and write about them.” The researchers believed that allowing students to write about things they cared about would “counter the fear of being stereotyped long enough to boost their grades on the next assignment.” And it did. Grades improved not only on the next assignment, but on their final grades too.

It’s a no-brainer that letting students write on topics that are important to them fosters improved writing. But what jumps out to me is that the significant achievement gains were attributed to a single assignment. Teachers are under tremendous pressure right now “to fit it all in,” but I think they can always squeeze one more thing in if they see the value. I’m going to pass the article on!

Of course, I couldn’t keep from thinking what if… the students were invited to go “live” with their essays in a Web 2.0 environment?!?

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