Muddling through the blogosphere

October 2, 2010
by blogwalker

NWP + Technology = Successful EETT Model

The video below will give you a window into my two-year journey as coordinator for my district’s EETT grant. In exchange for the funding to purchase laptop carts and cameras and to provide professional development for 4th and 5th grade teachers and students at three elementary sites, I was charged with helping teachers and students use more technology … in ways that would improve student writing.

We (my wonderful evaluator Carl Whithaus + 3 outstanding graduate research assistants + a little input from me) submitted our final EETT report to the Dept. of Ed last week. WE MORE THAN MET ALL GOALS OF THE GRANT!:-) 🙂

I facilitated workshops and support on blogging (Edublogs), podcasting (Audacity & VoiceThread), and movie making (Movie Maker 2). But the heart of the grant stemmed from workshops from Area 3 Writing Project (A3WP) teacher consultants, who shared strategies, resources, and best practices for grade-level specific topic and genres. Writing was at the center; the technology simply provided tools to extend writing beyond the walls of the classroom and to promote sharing, collaboration, and inclusion in online learning communities.

Would the grant have had the same results and impact without the A3WP partnership? I don’t think so.  Many  EETT teachers shared with me that they had attended technology trainings in the past, but somehow, regardless of the specific tool, it seemed more like an add-on or a “Fun Friday” kind of activity, not something that could be seamlessly integrated into the core curriculum.

The A3WP is a local chapter of the National Writing Project (NWP), an organization that is fighting for funding . An organization founded on the concept of “teachers teaching teachers.” An organization nationally recognized for being on the leading edge of blending digital media with writing. Similar to my EETT video, the videos on the NWP site demonstrate the depth, breadth, and commitment of Writing Project teachers to help fellow teachers realize “the tremendous benefits of using digital media tools to teach writing.” In a nutshell, so much depends on continued funding for the NWP.

NWP + Technology + EETT = Student Empowerment

July 25, 2010
by blogwalker

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom: Argument #7

One year later, I have another argument to add to my July 2009  Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom post: Filmmaking empowers students.

In May I watched a  team of Lesley McKillop’s students (see argument #6 in last year’s post) once again step onto the stage and into the limelight to accept a 2010 SEVA for their PSA entry – totally challenging both the state-assigned student labels of FBB (far below basic), BB (below basic), B (basic), P (proficient), or even A (advanced) and the school labels of Title 1 (high-poverty) and Program Improvement (PI).

And Rudy Alfonso’s students (also at a Title 1, PI site)…what can I say?! In the previous school year, I watched many of them begin to engage with technology in Teresa Cheung’s 4th grade classroom. As they moved on to Rudy Alfonso’s 5th grade, they were ready and willing to step up to the challenges and multiple roles of filmmaking and increasingly took charge of all facets of producing movie after movie.

Towards the end of the school year, I asked one of Rudy’s students what she liked best about being a filmmaker.  She talked a bit about the collaborative aspects, and then added that she enjoyed having people from different parts of the world comment on her productions via the class blog. Filmmaking is bringing the world into Mr. Alfonso’s classroom – and it’s a two-way path. These students (like Lesley McKillop’s students) know their work is being viewed and enjoyed by an authentic and worldwide audience.  Now that’s empowerment!

July 5, 2010
by blogwalker

Harps for Hope – One teacher making a difference

Imagine hearing the peaceful music of the harp drifting across an elementary school campus at the close of a busy school day. This image might bring to mind enrichment programs typical of more affluent school sites. But if 4th grade teacher Teresa Cheung is awarded a Pepsi Grant, students at David Reese Elementary School, a Title 1/Program Improvement site in my district, will have access to an after-school program that could be life changing.

Life changing? One student’s story inspired Teresa to apply for the grant:

Thanks to an EETT grant, over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of spending time in Teresa’s classroom. She is an exceptional teacher, who cares deeply about her students, and continually strives to inspire a love for learning.

Please, please help Teresa fund a set of harps for her after-school program – Harps for Hope. It will take you less than a minute to login to vote – And you can vote every day up to July 31st.

As of today, Harps for Hope is ranked number 125.  If we (you, me, and anyone you know who cares about leveling the playing field) can bring her proposal into the top 10, Harps for Hope will be funded!!!!

May 8, 2010
by blogwalker

Waiting ’till testing is over’ – 3 questions and a quote

I certainly understand the pressure teachers and administrators at low-performing schools are under right now to raise test scores. Not surprisingly, not all teachers respond to test-prep mandates in the same way.  Many believe in the power of months of drill to improve scores, and will, accordingly, consider allowing students time for a technology-related project only  “when testing is over.”  A few brave teachers, however, integrate technology throughout the year, across the curriculum, believing that student engagement, collaboration, and creativity will boost standardized test scores.

Considering the above and knowing that the state of California is proposing to redirect EETT/ARRA funding from classrooms and, instead, add the funding to the pot of money that has already gone into over a decade of developing the CALPADS project (state’s student data system), I have a couple of questions on my mind. The questions jumped out at me this morning as I as a clicked on a Tweet from Kent Manning, which led me into his View from Here blog:

Question #1: Are students recipients of information or creators of information? – Thank you, Kent, for uploading and sharing this short gem from Marco Torres!

Question #2: Are we building on students’ strengths or weaknesses? – What if we (teachers, sites, districts, states) acted on middle school teacher Paul Blogush’s suggestion and began teaching to students’ strengths?

Question #3: What if you give a child a tool…? – First grade teacher Kathy Cassidy makes visible (and accessible) what students as producers looks like in a primary classroom.

While I do not question the value of educators having access to student data, I do wonder if extending CALPADS to the proposed PreK-20 program will actually improve teaching and learning in our state.  Will the program address the important distinctions/divides/gaps between students as consumers and students as producers? How about student strengths vs. weaknesses?

I’ll end with a quote gleaned from a conversation with CUE director Mike Lawrence, following this week’s visits to the State Assembly: “Weighing the baby does not make the baby  healthier.”

May 4, 2010
by blogwalker

California’s Great ‘Bait and Switch’ Trick

saveedtechI’m headed to the Capitol this morning to fight for our EETT ARRA funding. CUE director Mike Lawrence sums up the issue in a sentence: “California directed schools and districts across the state to spend millions to support Educational Technology, then failed to distribute the over $72M in stimulus funds to pay for it!”

Having seen first-hand the positive ways the meaningful (beyond multiple-choice) integration of technology into the curriculum can impact teaching and learning in my district’s EETT classrooms, I have a few thoughts to share with our Assembly members:

Honorable Members of This Subcommittee:

My name is Gail Desler.  I am a technology support teacher for the Elk Grove Unified School District. I am here to today to urge you to honor the primary goal of the EETT ARRA grant:

“to improve student achievement of the state content standards and technology literacy in grades four through eight with expanded access to technology, electronic resources, professional development, and enhanced communications.”

In EETT Rounds 1, 2, and 4, the Elk Grove USD met and exceeded performance goals, with students in grades 7 and 8 at all 5 targeted middle schools showing substantial growth on California Standardized Tests (CSTs) in the academic area of English/Language Arts. As for technology proficiency, students and their teachers also exceeded performance objectives.

We are currently in our second year of EETT Round 7, this time working with grades 4 and 5 at three elementary sites.  Two have been classified as Title 1 for a number of years; the third school more than meets the requirement for free and reduced lunch and awaits reclassification.

I recognize that, when looking at student achievement, the State restricts its definition to standardized test scores.  Last year, all three EETT 4th grades improved their CST scores in English/Language Arts – and showed huge gains in technology proficiency.  At David Reese Elementary School, for example, 4th graders showed a 6-point gain in English/Language Arts (which included the 4th grade writing sample) over the previous school year and substantial gains in their abilities to use information technology.

Regardless of the EETT Round, thanks to the on-going assessments of our external evaluators, the explanation is clear and simple: the gains in student test scores can be attributed to the fact that EETT funding is being used as intended – providing students with access to digital literacy tools and providing teachers with the training to effectively integrate those tools into the English Language Arts curriculum.

Through a partnership with the Area 3 Writing Project (local affiliate of the National Writing Project), teachers receive professional development on  best practices for improving  literacy, with the recognition that new definitions for literacy no longer distinguish between literacy in general and technology literacy in particular.

At a time when low test scores have locked many Title 1 schools into a daily grind of students working in isolation on multiple-choice/fill-in-the-blanks test prep, I have watched our EETT sites use the training, support, and tools to unlock higher order thinking skills, allowing students to engage in complex tasks that foster collaboration and creativity, much like their counterparts at more affluent school sites. I have witnessed what can happen when EETT funding gets feet walks into classrooms.

I invite you to visit Elk Grove’s EETT sites so that you too can see first-hand how the technology and training are providing an at-risk student population with opportunities to expand and learn beyond the confines of ‘basic’ or ‘proficient,’ beyond the walls of the classroom, and beyond the margins of their surrounding communities.

California should seek alternative funding for the CALPADS program and not take away from this already established and effective program. On behalf of the Elk Grove USD and all the districts that have applied, I implore you to stop holding EETT ARRA dollars hostage and to immediately release the funding – while there is still time to ensure that teachers will receive the professional development needed to bridge unacceptable achievement gaps and digital divides.  Using the EETT ARRA money to provide students with better access to information technologies and teachers with the training on how to use those information technologies makes a key difference in our schools—not just in improving CST scores but also in increasing students’ and teachers’ abilities to use 21st-century literacy tools.

I’m told it’s basically a done deal: the Assembly will take the EETT money from the classroom and use it to fund the P-20 data-gathering program Calpads.  Already knowing that yet one more program for measuring academic acheivement is not likely to directly benefit students, I think it’s worth our time and effort to fight for a program that is making a difference, especially in our Title 1 schools.

January 4, 2010
by blogwalker

Mr. Alfonso – Part 2: Modeling for students

One of the best things about heading into 2010 is the opportunity to follow Rudy Alfonso and his 5th graders as they continue their journey into the art and process of filmmaking.

If you haven’t visited his EETT & Making Movies blog, I recommend starting with the First Entry (from October) and working your way forward to December.  What an amazing window into the all stages of the guiding students through the filmmaking process!

Not surprisingly,  before Mr. Alfonso and his students headed off for winter break, he shared one of his own recent productions: Sleigh Ride

“Since this is a blog about students learning how to make videos from a teacher, a teacher has to model making videos right? Here’s one I made that I showed my students about using music and being creative.”

Lucky me! As the coordinator of the EETT grant, I’ll get to visit with Rudy and his students throughout the remainder of the school year.  Lucky you! I’ll continue to share gems from Mr. Alfonso’s classroom, including some soon-to-be-posted interview clips.

December 21, 2009
by blogwalker

Movie Making with Skype?…Meet Mr. Alfonso – Part 1

Skype is great tool…but movie making with Skype? Meet Mr. Alfonso, one of my EETT teachers, who I’m guessing can take any technology tool to a new level. His Meet the David Reese Bunch video is but one of a growing bank of samples of how movie making can promote shared learning communities.

A visit to Rudy Alfonso’s classroom blog will provide you with a window into what the act/art of digital composing looks like in his 5th grade classroom.  Forget any stereotypes of Title I teaching (sometimes limited to multiple-choice, lower-level thinking activities); they don’t apply to this classroom.  Based on a recent visit to Mr. Alfonso’s classroom, one of my resolutions for the New Year is to document his students’ year-long learning journeys, including video interviews. I’m pretty sure the end product will be an invaluable resource for other educators who want to provide a 21st century curriculum to their elementary students, but just need some tips and models.

Wouldn’t you love to hear first-hand why Serena, for instance, who has completed her storyboard for her second movie and is now ready to move into production, has decided her first scene will open with the particular ‘Establishing shot” shown in her storyboard?!

At the very minimum, I’m planning to add a monthly update on my digital travels with Mr. Alfonso and his class.  I hope you’ll join me – and contribute to the conversation with links to what new technologies look like when they get legs and walk beyond workshops and into your classrooms.

May 8, 2009
by blogwalker

SEVAs 2009 – The long walk to the “Red Carpet”

Last night I joined students, parents, and teachers as we filled the Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento for the 2009 SEVAs (Student Educational Video Awards). For the third year in a row, I sat back in complete awe of the video projects K-12 students have produced under the four categories of PSAs, documentaries, instructional, and school news.

It has been my privilege this year to support a number of teachers through my EETT grant in their efforts to bring filmmaking into the 4th grade curriculum.  In a test-driven climate, many teachers and administrators view filmmaking as an after-school activity or when-testing-is-over activity.  I think if they could sit in on a session or two, they would see that, unlike the daily worksheets, as students delve into their 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 could 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).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be gathering interview clips from the EETT SEVA teachers and their students to document their journeys into filmmaking. My goal is to write an article, modeled after my NWP colleague and mentor Peter Kittle’s multimedia style, that teachers can use as a resource and/or argument for justifying “time spent away from test prep.”

But back to last night’s event.  In a word – magical. What about the digital divide?  Were Title 1 schools able to compete with their more affluent counterparts? Yes!! Some differences were visible, though. The Title 1 projects, for instance, were filmed on site, not at home using personally owned video equipment. And unlike their more affluent counterparts, many whom arrived in shorts, jeans, tee-shirts, flip-flops and other casual attire, the Title 1 students were dressed to the nines.

The six young filmmakers who sat with me (driven to the theater by their amazing principal) were without words for much of the evening, starting with their walk down the red carpet. Only one had the courage to speak into the microphone as various “paparazzi” attempted to interview them. They filed into their seats, where they sat mesmerized by the work and acceptance speeches of other students. But when the PSA finalists for grades 4-6 were announced, and they saw footage from their Blog Safely video, and were then asked to come on stage to accept an Honorable Mention Award, each one stepped up to the mic and into the blinding light to give thanks for those that had helped them on their journey to walk the red carpet.

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom …who could argue against it?!?

Note: Bloom’s image copies from

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

April 19, 2008
by blogwalker

Entering the Grant Writer’s World

cde.pngFor the last two weeks, I’ve been immersed in writing the application for my district’s EETT Round 7 grant (federally funded grant, administered through the state). The form and requirements are enough to put off a grant-writing newbie such as myself from jumping through all the hoops required in time to meet the April 23rd deadline. Why would I volunteer for such a task? In a nutshell, I want to provide three of our low-income elementary sites with the equipment, research base, and professional development needed to transform the current language arts program into multimedia/multimodal opportunities to take a publisher’s scripted program beyond the walls of the classroom and into the 21st century. In large part, the inspiration for writing the RFA comes from:

  • The DOLCHE project: I am awed by the film projects coming out of our DOLCHE classes, along with the teacher testimonials for how filmmaking has enriched their curriculum and engaged so many of their students in the learning process. A significant percent of this year’s SEVA entries are from the DOLCHE project. The project has clearly had an impact on students and teachers.

As part of the proposal, I am therefore very enthusiastically including Mathew Needleman, who will connect from Los Angeles Unified SD via interactive videoconferencing to work with teachers and students on the skills needed to take an Open Court (district-adopted language arts textbook) theme through the steps required to create an language arts rich production.

  • Will Richardson‘s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms: Will’s book (pages 8-9) made it easy for me to lay out Teachers’ Use of Technology to improve student achievement (Section 2e of the proposal). In a matter of minutes, I was able to explain the teacher toolbox, with its “mix of tools that publish, those that manage information, and those that share content in new collaborative ways”: blogs, wikis, RSS, social bookmarking, and audio/video-casting.
  • Greg kearsley & Ben Shneiderman’s piece on Engagement Theory: A framework fro technology-based teaching and learning. I know it’s a no-brainer for anyone reading this blog, but for administrators who have fallen into the “it’s all about test scores” chasm, this research sums up the need to move in a different direction: “The fundamental idea underlying engagement theory is that students must be meaningfully engaged in learning activities through interaction with others and worthwhile tasks.”

    Given the cost of textbooks, not surprisingly, in those first few years following an adoption the focus is always on teaching. A few years down the line, as we are with Open Court, we can once more, thankfully, shift our focus back to learning!
  • California Department of Ed’s definitions for technology literacy and technology integration (p 21). As much as all the tables, forms, assurances, etc., required in the EETT application suck away my creative energies, the state’s new definitions provide us with the argument – back at our districts, sites, and classrooms, for moving beyond technology as simply a vehicle for student assessments, ala multiple-choice test taking, to technology as tool for learning:
    • Technology Literacy is the ability to use appropriate technology responsibly to communicate, to solve problems, and to access, create, integrate, evaluate, and manage information to improve learning of state content standards in all subject areas and to acquire lifelong knowledge and skills in the 21st century.
    • Curriculum Integration involves the infusion of technology as a tool to enhance the learning of state content standards in a content area or multidisciplinary setting. Technology integration enables students to learn in ways not previously possible. Effective integration of technology is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally. The technology should become an integral part of how the classroom functions – as accessible as all other classroom tools.
  • EETT Partnerships – In addition to partnering with Mathew Needleman’s to bring filmmaking into the elementary language arts program, we’re also very fortunate to include the partnerships with:
    • Area 3 Writing Project – I’m really looking forward to introducing A3WP teacher consultants to the EETT target teachers.
    • UC Davis Writing Program researcher/writer/professor Carl Whithaus – This will be a dream come true for me to have Carl Whithaus and his grad student researchers observing, evaluating, and publishing about the connections between technology and improved student achievement – and engagement with school in general and reading/writing in particular.
    • California K12 High Speed Network – Without the HSN, including edZone, it would not be possible to seamlessly build in videoconferencing and to have unlimited storage for the video, audio, and documents that will be created and shared across the 2-year grant period.
    • California K20 Education Technology Collaborative – This new collaborative will provide the Skype/Elluminate- like component to make desktop videoconferencing available to target teachers. This could be a great school-to-home connection!
    • Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) – Another opportunity to work our wonderful SECC to document via video best practices and make these videos available to target teachers.

On this beautiful California Saturday morning, I wish all of you across the nation applying for the EETT grant (and working on the RFA over the weekend) the best of luck:-)

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