Muddling through the blogosphere

July 25, 2015
by blogwalker

More Than Words – Middle School Kids on Literacy

I love it when students speak out on issues that impact their learning – such as ways educators can promote – or kill – a love for reading. Of course, having the always-learning, ever-inspiring Jim Bentley encouraging his 6th graders to delve in and create a documentary really helps in moving a project from vision to reality.

Here’s the driving question Jim’s students worked on during and beyond the school day: How can we as filmmakers show middle schoolers the importance of developing literacy skills? I’m pretty sure you will agree with me that in 15 minutes, Jim’s students have produced an important piece for a broad audience. Drum roll, please …..

More than Words: A Documentary on Middle School Literacy

I am very fortunate to be working in the same school district as Jim. Whenever I need a little inspiration, his school is only a 10-minute drive from my office. Because Jim loops with his students (5th/6th grade), I’ve had the good fortune to follow their work over the last two years. Several times I’ve taken teachers to visit with Jim’s class. Although his students are always busy with their research and production schedules, they’re happy to provide a tour of their classroom and video production studio (former janitorial closet) and to answer visitors’ questions.

More Than Words is a wonderful example of student-driven, project-based learning (PBL) and of good things happening in public education.

May 14, 2008
by blogwalker

David Warlick at SCOE

I’m at the Sacramento COE this morning for Dave Warlick’s Preparing Students with 21st Century Skills workshop.

Opening comments are by SCOE’s Ben Anderson delivering his Educating in a Google World – To catch the full flavor, and Ben’s engaging sense of humor, you need to watch his slide show, which included a live Skype call to a friend in Warsaw, Poland – pretty amazing how seamless it is to connect virtually with colleagues thousands of miles away. If his preso is online, I’ll come back and add the link.warlick.jpg

Dave Warlick has started his presentation…without PowerPoint. Presentation is posted to Slideshare. Handouts are at

Below is a mix of some of his tech tools and words of wisdom:

  • For the first time in history, the best thing we can be teaching our kids is how to teach themselves
    • They need to be literate – knowing how to do what you need to do now
    • Plug for Wikipedia – information escalates but it’s still as easy to navigate – As an educator, don’t go back to the good ol’ days of books as sole source of information. THE SHAPE OF INFORMATION HAS CHANGED. We need to teach students to prove the authority of the information. We need to be journalists with openers like “according to this source…” Our job is not to teach which sources to teach, but to show students how to evaluate. Wikipedia is really good about currency of information e.g., announcement of Pluto’s fate – if you check date and minute that article is published – Wikipedia less than a minute behind BBC news.
  • RSS ( – Shift in that information comes to us. We’re training information to find us. Recommends because it’s web-based, you can make your aggregator look like a newspaper. Demoed from view point of social studies teacher. Cool tab feature. Went to Technorati, “which is to the blogosphere what Google is to the web.” Enter a specific term such as cartography, find blogs that are specifically about maps. Go back to Netvibes, tell it where link is – then drag down into tab box. Strange Maps – very cool (but I can’t find the link). Flickr example -grab – so only photos labeled with “map” will come up
  • New model is more about us modeling new literacies than teaching them
  • What about arithmetic? – 2 things have happened in last 15 years: we’re working with digital numbers (in the 1000s) – into his Library of Links (from Technorati) – For a demonstration of a raw data link, he showed the ANSS site (connected to seismographers all over world). Started by copying data, grabbing Excel and pasting it in – used text to column feature to clean it up – went through wizard and used scatter plot in graphing tool – You can “make numbers tell their story.”
  • Words of Humankind – Searched for presidential inaugural addresses – and tag clouds – TagCrowd – new tool! Allows you to for example top 75% – added new Web 2.0 twist. Gives you ability to zoom out and look at content in new way.You could compare Churchill’s “Blood, Sweat, Tears speech to Roosevelt’s “Day that will live in infamy” speech.
  • Today, all information is made out of numbers. It’s about the ability to use the information to accomplish goals.
  • The Long Tail – 1998 study – Developed by Chris Anderson – calculating line where everything to the left shows hard copies of books available in store because they’re lucrative enough; to the left books, etc, not lucrative enough to market – but are available online. Dave uses to surprise to publish his books.
  • 21st century – we have to communicate with multimedia. Information now competes for attention – therefore kids must learn to write well, including with images and animations. – used iCan sweatshop video.
  • Beacon HS in NY – Humanities school (alternative) paperless school – teachers evaluate quality of work based on its strength as communication piece, not the technology component – Othello assignment -What was the difference in entertainment from 1500s to today? Students produced movie trailer and in the process became script writers, collaborators, videographers.

In a nutshell – 3Rs to 3 E’s: Expose truth,Employ information, Explore ideas – spam (costs US billions in investments to block it out) – Cost of controlling HIV/AIDS. Any definition of literacy in 21st century must explicitly include a conversation about ethics – k-12! Right and Wrong on Internet – A student & teacher information code of ethics – grabbed from journalists association. Students must be able to justify how something they’ve cited is true – teachers must model this accountability. Spam peaks in august – kids bored – and don’t have ethical background in place.

I couldn’t stay for his afternoon hands-on session, but I’m glad I made it to the morning session.

January 7, 2008
by blogwalker

Thinking about Writing

I spent the weekend revisiting some of my favorite mentors on the art of teaching writing: Nanci Atwell, Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher. Thank goodness the many, many post-it notes are still in place; so it did not take me long to find the gems that made for the perfect writers’ workshop while I was still in the classroom. A post earlier this week by Miguel at Around the Corner was a the impetus for revisiting my collection:

“In fact, blogging isn’t a medium for sharing what you’ve learned, but writing your way into understanding, or as Toby Fulwiler (Teaching with Writing) writes, a way of bringing order to chaos. To deny students the opportunity, and what Nanci Atwell refers to as the TIME and OWNERSHIP of their ideas, is incredibly problematic.”

This morning I read through Carolyn Foote’s Desparately Seeking Engagement post in which she mentions another hero from my past, Ken Macrorie, whose iSearch approach to research-based writing is structured to help emerging writers find a life’s passion to research and write about. Since this is the time of year many seniors in my district are expected to crank out a “senior project,” I want to thank Carolyn for her insightful list:

1. Give students time to consider their interests. How many of us could “generate” a topic when approaching it completely cold. The bells rings–okay, pick your topic.

2. Consider having students, as I mentioned above, write about things that interest them or collect information for weeks or months prior to the assignment.

3. As you move through your curriculum, have students keep a “research idea” log as things in the curriculum pique their interest.

4. Consider conducting research across an entire semester or year. Two of our teachers are trying this this year–having students gradually collect articles of interest, compare Wikipedia with other sources, use delicious or furl to bookmark items, keep their eyes out for news stories on their topics and so on. (Interestingly, this was partially driven by the fact that our main library will be closed in the spring when they will be writing their paper, but it’s been very very effective educationally.)

5. Consider completely rethinking the “research project.” Tell students they will write a research paper sometime during the year when it feels right to them. Scaffold everyone at the beginning with assistance on logistics, but let students “strike when the iron is hot.” (I know we are dealing with high school students, but….they might enjoy having this flexibility and spontaneity).

6. Have students establish a blog or use a class bulletin board online as a way to explore topics, ask others for help and work collaboratively. (What would have happened for the student above if the teacher had said–well, if you want to do this topic, and if you and the other student agree, how about the two of you working collaboratively on your research and your paper? And then supported that with sharing web 2.0 tools that would have assisted them?)

7. Consider how writing a blog entry or several blog entries is like writing a research paper–where you explore, document and share your investigations and passions. Could a “blog” be a research paper and be even more meaningful because it’s published?

8. Consider making the process more open-ended for students. Every researcher does not end up with the same product in “real life.” Why can’t the product grow organically out of the topic and student’s process? Some students may want to create a video to inform others, while others may want to write a blog, and yet others may want to create a slide show and present their information to their peers. Empower students to make those choices.

9. If you are a classroom teacher, then realize that your librarian is and wants to be a real partner with you in research(and your tech coordinator may as well!) Most school librarians have teaching degrees(in some states, this is required) and most have taught. (and many were English teachers!) Your librarian sees research in action every day, sees the problems students are having, sees where help is needed and wants to collaborate with you and plan with you. Seek them out and don’t feel like you are bothering them or inconveniencing them. (And librarians, don’t ever make teachers feel like they are inconveniencing you!)

But whatever you do–think about how to engage your students passionately in their research. Think about how to make it authentic for students. Rethink how you were taught the “research paper” and rethink how you teach it. Throw out the old “box” and see what happens, because your students will benefit tremendously in the end. And imagine “grading” research papers where every student was so engaged and passionate about their writing and their topic that they transcended the form. Wouldn’t that make the process worth it for everyone? It could even become the spark that leads a student on a life-changing path as they learn to shape their own learning.”

And my last resource and inspiration for writing comes from 9 year old Adora Svitak on Teacher Tube.

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