Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Upgrading Assessments!

I’ve been working with a local school district here in Western New York on updating and revising their curriculum maps this week. Much of our conversation centered around mapping language, evolution of the maps, and how the maps were reflective of both horizontal and vertical conversations.

Within our conversations we talked about upgrading the assessments to include technology resources many students are already using. We talked about how these tools can provide just as clear evidence as paper and pencil tests where students DO something with their learning and prove that the learning is enduring and ready to be utilized for their next academic task.

I wanted to share what one group of 7th grade Math teachers came up with as a technology integrated product. Note that they are still in the planning phase, but I wanted to share their frame of learning, as what they were talking about doing with their students was exciting to me—and I knew that their students will be thrilled with this:

Rather than a traditional paper and pencil final exam, these math teachers brainstormed other ways to have their students provide evidence that learning has taken place. We talked about embedding technology and what pieces of content were important. Through the brainstorm, we were able to identify skills and content pieces that will ultimately become new components on the map. (See Pics…) We were also able to articulate how this would be assessed, some activities to be embedded within the task, and resources the students would need to be successful. The pictures represent all of our ideas, from which we drilled into the essential information to create the frame for the project design.

What they ultimately came up with was a project where students, in groups, will visually represent what they’ve learned in a movie format using video functions on cameras or some of the school’s new Flip cams. They can use both pictures and video, along with narration, to create a movie about their chosen topic, which is to be one of the six major content pieces taught during the school year.

The teachers have wikis and each group will be given access to their own page where they will embed their video and give some sort of textual support for what they’ve done visually. Additionally, they will learn to use a “fun” web application such as Glogster, Animoto, xTranormal, etc. to enhance their wiki page. The project will involve a presentation piece where they present what they’ve done to the rest of the class, reinforcing the learning for all. They will also participate in a peer review process by using the “Discussion” tab within the wiki to answer essential questions and have ongoing dialogue about what they created. They are going to be graded with a rubric that evaluates not only their performance and understanding collectively, but also their individual contribution to the group.

I’ll post more on this later as I help them hammer out the details, but I was just really proud of what these teachers have decided to do as it exemplifies the notion of “doing what’s best for students,” “creating learning events” rather than rote and traditional lessons, and it does all of this within a solid curricular frame that provides powerful evidence of student learning. Their students are the ultimate beneficiaries here—not to mention the fact that they are going to really enjoy this learning opportunity!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Web Stuff 01/24/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Where does a teacher start with technology?

I did a workshop yesterday with Policy Board members for a local teacher’s center.  As part of the workshop, I surveyed them to gauge their interests to make what I did as meaningful for them as possible.  One of the questions I asked on the survey was, “What is one thing teachers need to know about using technology in their classrooms?”

These are a sampling of their responses:

§         how to EFFECTIVELY use it.
§         It's hard for me to say since I am overwhelmed already...I don't know anything about them except how to work in word programs and not very effectively either I might add.
§         How to teach using technology to supplement their teaching.
§         Their students will always know more so let them go…
§         I think that they need to be comfortable with trying new technology; but the districts need to be comfortable with opening up new technologies without thinking that the Internet is "bad."  The more technology a teacher uses the more relevant their lessons will be...most students are techies and they need that connection.  We can't afford to ignore technology.
§         They should embrace technology - it isn't going away.
§         They should know enough to be able to understand what their students are working with or involved with in technology.  They should also be knowledgeable enough to be able to use a variety of technology strategies to offer a more varied way of teaching academic materials.
§         how to communicate effectively.

What I gleaned from the survey and from our subsequent conversation is underscoring the fact that students have already arrived, and the teachers are now playing catch up.  In Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ new book Curriculum21, she talks about how students go through a “time warp” at school.  In their own lives, they live and breathe and communicate and interact in a 21st Century environment.  Then many go to school and go BACK IN TIME! For many students, 21st Century skills are not being used or reinforced during the time they are at school and so the learning that happens is nowhere near what it could be.

The landscape of what is available is incredibly overwhelming, especially considering the fact that most teachers are digital immigrants—they are coming into technology without growing up with it permeating their everyday lives from birth, the way kids today are.

So what can teachers do about it?  To begin with, they can just take a deep breath.  You don’t have to learn the entire scope of what’s available on the Internet by tomorrow.  But, there are starting points:

  • ==) Know that it’s not about the tool as much as it is about the task. I told the teachers in this workshop yesterday that although the plumber has some pretty cool tools, they wouldn’t be very helpful to the roofer.  It would be better to develop a “toolbox” of web tools so that you can choose the right tool for the task, rather than trying to fit a task to a particular tool.
  • ==) Don’t be afraid to take risks. It’s true, the students may be far ahead of you technologically, and it’s okay to give up the “sage on the stage,” “sit and get” mentalities.  You don’t always have to be the teacher—there’s a lot of value in being the learner sometimes. Let the kids teach you something.
  • ==) Find out what other colleagues are using in their classrooms and ask if you can either observe how they do it, or at least explain how they use different technologies.  If you are investigating a particular web tool, program, or gadget that those around you are already proficient with, then you have “go-to” people to help if you need it!
  • ==) Ask the students what they would like to use and let that be your framework for learning something new.
  • ==) Check out Clif Mim’s “Just One Thing” series on his blog to help you focus on a starting point.
  • ==) Start with what you know.  If you are already proficient with Microsoft Word, for instance, perhaps a good technology starting place would be to investigate online, collaborative word processing environments like Google Docs or Etherpad.  Both use a Word-like interface, but have the added benefit of being able to be manipulated by a group of people rather than just one at a time.
  • ==) Go slow.  There is nothing to be gained for you or your students if you are overwhelmed.  There’s too much out there at this point and it’s too easy to drown in what’s available.  Extend your comfort a little bit at a time and build those knowledge bases.  Do what you would have your students do!  Let what you learn inform where you’ll go!  Over time, especially with web tools and applications, you’ll begin to see that many of them have similar functions or use similar operational skills, and once you get the hang of a few of them, new ones will be that much easier to learn and integrate!
  • ==) Make one small change. Do it today. What one new thing can you learn that will help make a difference in the way you teach or the way your students learn?  In Heidi’s book, she talks about starting with assessment.  Perhaps that would be a good place for you as well?  Rather than paper and pencil traditions—what if your students were given the option of turning in a new type of evidence of learning that involved technology?  They could create a video, they could tell a digital story, they could create a website, a weblog, or other online multimedia content.  They don’t need you to show them how to do it, they just need the opportunity of choice.

The time has come to embrace all of this technology in some way. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing and invitational.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Web Stuff 01/20/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Teacher Comments

Last week, someone in my Twitter network was discussing teacher comments and wondered what a WORDLE of the comments might show. I thought it was a good idea, and asked a local school district to share their comment list so that I could copy and paste into the WORDLE interface.

Here is the resulting WORDLE:

I was looking particularly for an overall positive or negative tone, or a message that particular behaviors were more important than the content or associated skills. With this WORDLE, I get an overall neutral message. There's not anything jumping out at me that screams all negative or all positive.

There are some words missing though, I think, such as "Proficient," "Mastery," and "Assessment." Words like "improved," "outstanding," and "quality" should be bigger, meaning that they represent a higher percentage of usage than words like "missing," "weak," or "failure."

I think what I'm really looking at here is an opportunity. For many teachers/schools, the report card is the sole communication tool. With a little tweaking, we could have a more positive frame around the comments that go on that report card associated with the representation of learning that has taken place.

What are your thoughts? What would your "Teacher Comment Wordle" look like?


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Don't Lose Your Web-Based Content!

It's been coming up more and more often lately that some of the web tools we depend on may not be there in the near future. Due to a number of issues, and most likely in the wake of our unstable economy, we've lost Lookybook, Mixwit, Switchpod, and more this past year. Because we are increasingly becoming creators of content rather than consumers, this is not good. Even worse, when we use these tools with kids and all of our work disappears, sometimes without notice, what do we have to show for all of the hard work that was done?

Early last week, I got a Facebook message from a teacher who was using Etherpad with his students. Etherpad had gone down and the students' work was inaccessible. Luckily, Etherpad was just having a moment, and was soon back and fully functional. Some of you will remember several weeks ago when Etherpad seemingly shut down operation, as they were bought by Google. Pads that were already created were to be accessible through May 2010, but a Twitter backlash changed the course of their implementation plan for the time being.

This little scare got me thinking: What if my wiki services, or blogs, or other sites I depend on suddenly went belly up? I started thinking about the necessity of saving my information elsewhere besides the services I'm using and I wanted to share what I've done here--in the hopes that should anything happen down the road, we all are prepared!


To begin with, DROPBOX offers 2 GB of online storage for you to save your files online. With some of what I am about to describe, you may want to consider it a good backup choice for the things you save and also as an opportunity to save the files you use online so that you have anywhere, anytime access to them!

Most of my wikis are created in Wikispaces, which offers an "EXPORT" function. Under "Manage Wiki," EXPORTING is an available option under "Tools." The resulting saved webpage may lose some of its formatting, but the content is still there.

In PBWORKS, "Backing Up" your page is available from the "Pages and Files" link in the upper right hand corner, then the "Settings" tab. The "Back Up" link then appears on the left side menu, but note that backing up your space is a premium feature that a user has to pay for.

For Ning Pages, right now it looks like one can export the list of members and their associated information to a .CSV file. This is done through the "MANAGE" settings, then clicking on "Members," and scrolling to bottom for link to "Export." Other than that, I don't see any other Export/Back Up features. You may need to do a little Copying and Pasting (to a Word Doc) in order to save Critical Information.

Youtube videos can be backed up and saved with "KickYouTube" or ""

In Etherpad, you must use the Import/Export tab to export your work either as a PDF, a Word Doc, and RTF file, an HTML file, or an Open Doc File. If you export as a Word/RTF file, it is still editable, just no longer collaborative, unless you upload it/import it into another collaborative service such as Google Docs.

For your Blogs, Skype Conversations, and even TodaysMeet interactions, your best bet may just be copying and pasting to a word doc. (Additionally, with TodaysMeet, you can scroll to the bottom of the conversation, click on "READ ONLY" and view the whole conversation, making it easier to copy and paste to save it.)

For Twitter, there are several ways to save important information. I don't think Twitter's going anywhere, anytime soon, but just to be on the safe side--there are a couple of things you can do. For one, you can just copy and paste a favorite tweet and save in Word. You can also take screen shots of favorite tweets and save them as a jpeg image. To do this, click on the time stamp underneath the tweet in the regular web version of Twitter. That will isolate the single tweet so that you can grab a screen shot in whatever way you normally do that, and save the image to your computer. If you want to save an entire conversation, consider using a hashtag so that your conversation is easily searchable through Twitter, or another service such as Tweetdeck or Tweetgrid. Additionally, there are other web tools that let you thread a single conversation that started with a particular tweet, such as Twickie. All of these will allow you, in one way or another, to collect the tweets you want so that you can copy and paste them into a Word processing document. (I'm sure there are other ways to do this as well--and I welcome your feedback in the comments section!)

Google Docs allows exports and saving offline from the "FILE" menu.

Animoto, Slideshare, MyPlick, and other web services allow downloads and exports of their hosted content, though you may have to pay a premium fee to do so.


The bottom line is that many of us are creating tons of content online at this point, and it would be a real shame to lose what we've created, especially as it relates to student work. The number of web tools that are out there now is staggering, and unfortunately, many are ephemeral. I hope this gives you at least a few ideas about saving your valuable content and underscores the need to save what you've done outside of the "web." Additionally, feel free to add your own tips and tricks in the comment section if you know procedural elements for exporting content from web tools I didn't mention!

Hope this was helpful!