Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tags and the Infinite Universe of Information

One tool for turning the infinite universe of information into knowledge is the tag. Unfortunately, few students and teachers - or few people for that matter - know what a tag is or why it might be useful for easily making sense of overwhelming amounts of information. It turns out that tags and the act of tagging (no, not the urban practice of spray painting graffiti in public places... well it's a little like that) are also difficult to explain.

In fact, when I use the new googlepedia extension in Firefox to search both Google and the Wikipedia at once, I discover a general lack of clarity on the subject... at least at the time this post was written.

The Wikipedia article on Tags is, well, tagged for not meeting quality standards... the introduction is too long. How is one to explain the concept of tags succinctly when the Wikipedia article, which has been edited over 500 times, doesn't seem up to the task?

The top Google results appear little better at first glance. The excerpt shown from the top site, Technorati (which tracks updates to millions of blogs), seems to presume the reader already knows what a tag is: "Here you'll find the top tags, sized according to popularity. We're currently tracking 11.1 million tags." Whoa. That sounds overwhelming, not helpful, and it doesn't seem to help explain what a tag is.

However, if we click through to Technorati's Tag Page we actually find that "Tags are like labels that people use to categorize their blog posts." If we click through to the next result in Google, Flickr (a photo sharing service), we learn that "You can give your photos a 'tag', which is like a keyword or category label. Tags help you find photos which have something in common. You can assign as many tags as you wish to each photo."

So, tags are like keywords? Yes. By assigning a tag to a blog post, a photo, or any other piece of information, you can make it easier for others to search for and find that information when they need it. But tags generally have an important additional feature... tags are clickable. By clicking on a particular tag, you can find all blog posts or pictures (or whatever type of information you are searching for) that are associated with that tag. For instance if you click on the flower tag at Flickr, you'll see any picture that has been tagged with "flower."

At the next Google result, (a social bookmarking site... for sharing bookmarks or favorites online), we learn about a tag cloud, or "a list of tags where size reflects popularity." It turns out there is a tag cloud right here on the ITM... see it on the right-hand side of the site... under the video images? (This tag cloud is automatically generated by ZoomClouds.) Right now the most popular tag on this blog (by far) is "students," followed closely by "digital." You can tell at a glance that these are two important words or topics here at the Infinite Thinking Machine without having to skim all of the blog posts and shows. And, if you were only interested in posts about a certain topic, say... video, you could click on the video tag and see only those posts that discuss video. This saves time and helps you make sense of the mass of information here at the ITM, doesn't it?

So, there are a few ways tags might play a role in the way you and your students interact with information online. First, whenever you post anything on a blog, photo sharing site, social bookmarking site, or other service that supports tags... take the time to tag whatever you are posting. This will help you (and others) find it again later by either searching for the tag or clicking on the tag in a tag cloud. Second, of course, you can locate things that others have posted or shared by searching for or clicking on a tag. Finally, you can also use a tag cloud to learn at a glance what a given web site is about. These three things can save a good deal of time when searching for information and determining it's relevance to the task at hand.

Are you getting the idea at this point? Let's check your understanding, or rather, my explanation... how might you (or your students) use tags to make sense of information encountered while completing an assignment? Do you know of an example of students or teachers using tags? Share your ideas (or your questions) in the comments for this post. (The link for comments appears at the top of the post.) I look forward to reading your contributions.

What Happens When We Share

In his recent post, The Internet as a World of Wonder, Wes Fryer steps back in awe at the "empowering nature of the Internet today" to "connect people and bring them closer together in virtual space." The Read/Write Web is transforming the world we live in, providing educators with a growing number of wonderful collaboration tools, such as those referenced by Lucy Gray. Along with new tools, The ITM bloggers are providing educators with examplar models, sound strategies, and best practices for using collaborative tools.

One model project, The Vermont Midi Project has been using the power of the Internet to connect musicians and music composers with K-12 students producing more than musical talent. Over the past ten years, this project has crafted the art of online collaboration and tested strategies for Reflection and Critique and Mentoring. The project website also shares authentic and concrete examples of the Online Mentoring Process in action, providing a glimpse into best practices for educators preparing to use online tools for sharing.

Along with examples of "What Sharing Looks Like," educators also could benefit from inspirational stories of "What Happens When We Share". Stories about the impact of online collaboration on students such as that of aspiring composer, Matt Podd, can provide tools to help address the "fear of using social software" which can sometimes be a barrier for innovative educators ready to use online collaboration tools. Sharing his music in the VT Midi Project's password protected site provided Matt with the skills and confidence he need to participate in the more global Sibelius Music Community. The power of the Internet to connect provided a student from a small rural town in Vermont the opportunity to have his music compositions played in four different countries and experience to compete with students from more urban cultural centers for limited slots in the college admission process for music composers. As your digital toolkit grows, don't forget to pack it with inspiration and best practices.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More on the Wide and Wonderful World of Wikis

Kim Cofino is an IT teacher and the IT integration specialist for Mont’Kiara International School in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This past August she read Will Richardson's book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom, and discovered the new world of Web 2.0 for schools--in particular, the power of wikis.

Most people have heard of Wikipedia, the wiki-based collaborative and free encyclopedia, but don't really understand what wikis are, and are maybe a little intimidated by thinking they will need to learn a lot in order to work with wikis... Not true! For a simple overview of wikis, click here. And consider taking the plunge, because wikis are truly incredible and empowering.

Kim took the plunge, and helped the science teachers create a wiki for the 6th grade students across three different classes to model the creation of a medical clinic. The "Strings" (orchestra) class wiki has students researching different kinds of music to present to each other. She also has an IT wiki and a study skills wiki, both of which allow the students to become the authors of the material. And she is working on a wiki for IT teachers in middle schools to collaborate together on the use of technology, called The Tech in the Middle.

Listen to a "Take 5" short interview where Kim describes her work with Web 2.0 here. Get free educational wikis at Wikispaces. See examples of other educational uses of wikis here. Read Tom March's previous post on Wikipedia. And take the plunge!

Friday, November 17, 2006

ITM 3: Living in 3D

ITM #3 is finally here! In this episode we share tips and tools related to visual design. So put on your cool 3D glasses and let's go for a ride.


> Quicktime (52 MB)

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"control" + click the link above and select "save link as..."

Show Notes:

NASA's team at the Lewis Center for Educational Research runs the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) in a desert region outside Los Angeles, CA. They conduct a full educational program where students team with scientists to conduct cutting edge research leading to discovery. This is a great learning opportunity for kids to control and operate a deep space radio telescope. GAVRT provides training for teachers and detailed lessons plans, such as Mapping a Radio Source. And you can even see the live video feed of the GAVRT operation control center.

Since we're talking about space, you might want to check out NASA's education site, the NASA Kids Club,, and the xPrize Foundation.

The EVS-Islands website is produced by "Mr. Minton" - a teacher from San Diego, CA. With the help of his students, he is creating and sharing vector-based images of shorelines from around the world. Basically, he's combing basic shoreline maritime maps with real satelittle images and turning them into stunning, colorful maps that can be used by the rest of us. Much of the work is done with 20-30 students afterschool. His map collection is impressive, and you can download and use all his maps for FREE. He even gives us detailed map making techniques, so we can can join in the fun.

Sharing videos on the Internet is extremely popular with kids. If nothing else, you need to check out YouTube, MySpace, and Google Video, just so you know what kids are up to these days. While much of the videos are produced for fun, a growing number of teachers are using video sharing websites in the classroom. These websites make it extemely easy to post videos, and, in some cases, you can even control who sees them. How are you taping into this craze? Post your thoughts in our comments section.

And don't forget about sites like the Internet Archive, which houses thousands of PUBLIC DOMAIN videos that students can download and re-edit. Some of my favorites are Thomas Edison's news reel on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 1952 classic"Duck and Cover" , and a 1963 production on how to use film in the classroom.

SketchUp is FREE software that empowers students to be 3D designers. SketchUp is a great tool for easily teaching kids to construct 3D models of buildings, trees, cars, and anything else they can imagine. You can use it as a stand-alone tool or in conjunction with Google Earth and the 3D Warehouse. On the main SketchUp website you can find a gallery of student examples, case studies, tutorials on how to use the tool, an educators forum, and even a book on how to use it in the classroom.

As one of the original inventors of the Internet, Vint Cerf is widely recognized as a leading thinker on how 21st century technologies are transforming our daily lives. Learn more about Vint on Wikipedia. In this segment, Vint talks share his thoughts on how technology is changing how we design things.

Learn more about the convergence of design and technology at the Designing Interactions , a book, DVD, and website from Bill Moggridge, one of the founders of IDEO. Check out the other feature articles on design on the IDEO website.

ITM 3 Homework: See if your kids can help you find out what the image is and where it is located. It's tougher than it looks. If you don't have any luck finding the answer, let me know, and I may release a few hints in the comments section. : )

Thanks to the students from Mr. Hernandez' class at Price Elementary School in Anaheim, CA, for helping us explain what the Infinite Thinking Machine is!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What’s in Your Digital Bag of Tricks?

In this era of burgeoning internet resources, how does one choose the right tools when developing a professional work flow? Assistive tech expert Brian Friedlander recently shared via his blog a web site that catalogs a plethora of Web 2.0 applications called Go2Web20. While I am a huge fan of these user generated content sites, I am sure the available choices must be overwhelming for some of us! It occurred to me that every teacher seems to incorporate “a bag of tricks” into their teaching repertoire and while keeping it simple, I’d like to share a few resources that I’ve found to be essential additions to my own digital repository.

The other Lucie mentions in her previous ITM post a web site called NoodleTools. NoodleTools, and in particular the tools NoodleQuest and Choose the Best Search for Your Information Need, have long been in my digital bag of tricks. Both of these services match digital search tools to the needs of the user, and I appreciate that guidance.

Another amazing resource has been ALTEC’s 4Teachers web site. Numerous tools for both teachers and students are available here including an online quiz creator, a floor plan designer, and a lesson plan builder. Because much of my teaching revolves around digital projects, I regularly use this site’s rubric tool, Rubistar, to create and store evaluation tools online. I also am a big fan of their customizable project-based learning checklists.

I also often find that comprehensive resource databases are helpful when looking for activities and lessons for my students. My personal favorite is the Michigan Teacher Network which contains annotated descriptions of educational web sites. Visitors are also able to rate and comment on these sites as well.

And finally, as a computer science teacher, I use a great deal of software. I recently found a nifty Web 2.0 app for cataloging the software I use and sharing it with others. It is called MyProgs and you can look specifically at some of my software mainstays here. Best of all, for my fellow RSS geeks out there, you can subscribe to this list of software in your newsreader and you will be able to track any updates.

The aforementioned sites are just a few of the resources I’ve incorporated into my professional life and I’d love to hear what you consider essential to your success as a teacher. Please share any ideas in the comments section!

Photo Attribution

Monday, November 13, 2006

Blogging to Learn English

Craig Wherlock teaches English as a foreign language in Thessaloniki, Northern Greece, to 13- and 14-year-olds during the day and adults at night. He estimates that only 1-2% of homes in Greece have access to broadband, and recently read that only 27% of Greeks have ever even used the Internet--so while he would love to involve his students in podcasting or video sharing, it's only realistic to do blogging right now. And blogging his students do!

Each class has a class blog, and he gives assignments to the class to write posts from home in English. One of his most successful assignments was to ask each of the students to post "10 special things you have done that very few other people have done," for which he got very enthusiastic responses.

Blogging can have an incredibly powerful, transformative effect for some students, and Craig describes the excitement when students realize that they can quickly have an international "audience." A great place to learn about educational blogging ("edublogging") is at, a collaborative wiki built by "edubloggers" themselves, and that lists (and allows you to search) over 300 blogs, websites, and articles on educational blogging.

Listen to Craig describe his blogging experiences in a quick five-minute audio interview here, visit his own blog here, or visit one of his class blogs here.

Why Do People Share?

Are you one of the many educators who have struggled with how to provide students with music and photos that students can ethically use in multimedia presentations? The increased access to photos and music available on the Internet increases our responsibility to model and teach computer ethics and help our students understand copyright. The Read/Write Web has created a wealth of opportunities for anyone to publish text, images, video, or music. With these increased opportunities for creative works to be shared, came the need to redefine the way we share.

Along came - Creative Commons with the mission of "Enabling the legal sharing and reuse of cultural, educational, and scientific works.” Creative Commons has changed the way I teach "intellectual property". While I still use valuable resources like Kathy Shrocks's Copyright and Citation Resources as a reference and the free NoodleBib MLA account by Noodletools , I no longer start by introducing students and teachers to "what they can't do" because of copyright and the restrictions of Fair Use Legislation. Instead I start by introducing them to what they CAN do because of new ways to share and grant permission for others to use your work. Creative Commons new comics and videos make it fun and easy to help students understand copyright and also spread the spirit of sharing.

I still stress the importance of proper documentation and respecting copyright. I show them my email correspondence with author Tom Friedman granting permission for me to use some of his materials in my presentations as testimony to how the Web has made it easier than ever to contact authors of copyrighted materials for permission. But now I start my lessons with a different 'essential question' --- "Why Do People Share?"

We explore Yvonnie Kim's insight that "Some might share because it is more fun, some might share because they believe it is for social goodness, and some might share because they want more people to see what they have done. No matter what motivation individuals might have for sharing, it seems obvious that ’sharing’ is related to the issue of how people are motivated and eventually how they are rewarded.”

I have discovered that the approach to teaching intellectual property combined with the spirit of independence and sharing that is an inherent part of adolescent development makes the students desire and seek out legal resources instead of grumbling that they can't use "Green Day" as the music to their presentation.

Consider the Simple English Wikipedia

G'Day all,

Wikipedia has certainly altered the world in the last few years. It seems people have a love / hate relationship with the upstart encyclopedia. I'm not going to try to change anyone's mind, but to point to a few sites that contribute to the discussion and then share an activity.

Background & Reading

Class Activity for Middle - High School
Of course everyone knows about the main Wikipedia site. It's the one that always comes up in Google when you search for just about anything these days. Most people also know that Wikipedia is translated into heaps of different languages (see the bottom of this page).

What a lot of people don't know about is the Simple English Wikipedia. Designed for people with different needs: students, children, and adults with learning difficulties or of limited English ability. Take a look at some sample topics with links to both the regular Wikipedia and the same topic in the Simple English version:
The clever viewer will notice that the only difference in the Web addresses is "en" or "simple" as the sub-domain (the first bit of the URL). So here are two ideas:
  1. When studying a topic, either model or have students compare the "en" and "simple" pages. This is a good way to represent the range of learning possible on the topic. Also, reading the Simple version can help students set up their cognitive schema, to see the "big picture" of the subject, before getting into the details.
  2. The real problem - as I see it- with Wikipedia is that students and schools largely see it as a source to learn from, not a knowledgebase to add to. How about having your students contribute to the Simple English Wikipedia? Simplifying a complex topic can be a good exercise. Especially when trying to stick to the Basic English. Why not give it a go?
Carbon Trading in Wikipedia & you can create it in Simple English Wikipedia

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cerf's Up: Writing

Internet Pioneer Vinton Cerf shares his thoughts on "writing" and communication in the 21st century.

> Quicktime (22 MB)

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Show Notes:

As one of the original inventors of the Internet, Vint Cerf is widely recognized as a leading thinker on how 21st century technologies are transforming our daily lives. Learn more about Vint on Wikipedia.

There are so many great writing resources. Here are just a few to explore:
- The National Writing Project
- NCTE Beliefs About Teaching Writing
- New York City Writing Project
- Ideas for Teaching Writing
- "The New Literacy" by David Warlick and Sara Armstrong
- Publish your own books with services like: LuLu, iUniverse, and Cafe Express.
- The Read/Write Web in the Classroom
- More resources on educational blogging
- Check-out these online word processing tools: Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Zoho Writer, AjaxWrite, and ThinkFree.
- Here are some other tools for writing and collaborating online: JotSpot, WikiSpaces, PBWiki, Blogger, LiveJournal, and Word Press.
- Safe email and blogs for students: Gaggle.Net, ePals, and Blogmeister.
- What is a wiki?
- What is a blog?

What's your favorite web resource on writing? Share it in the comments!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"The Human Factor"

At a meeting recently, I heard a speaker refer to the use of technology in her school and subsequent questions arising from this as “ The Human Factor”. Will technology rob us of what is authentic in schools? Will technology invite us to abandon face to face communication? Will technology trivialize education? How do we preserve our humanity in this digital world? Perhaps you’ve heard some other permutation of these very valid concerns as our society becomes more digitally oriented.

My personal viewpoint is that technology enhances education and brings additional experiences to people. While there is no substitute for field trips, books and face to face conversations, these sorts of activities can be built upon and amplified for learners. The trick for teachers is to carefully think about how technology is being deployed in their classrooms. Are you using technology for technology’s sake within a lesson? Or, are you using digital tools to demonstrate a concept to your class in a new and exciting way? This can be difficult territory to navigate when trying to improve instruction.

An example of using technology just for its pizzaz factor would be the one I cited in my Jump In post. In my early technology adoption years, the glamour of technology enticed me to use it in pretty superficial ways. I’d like to think that I’ve evolved in my thinking and that my class projects have improved as a result. One such project of which I am particularly pleased was a result of a collaboration between my students at the Laboratory Schools and Steve Bergen’s students at the Chapin School in New York City. Using email as a communication tool, our kids were paired up to research various millennial terms. Each group compiled facts, cited their sources, and then Chapin students built web pages by hand using HTML. Lab students designed banners using Photoshop and critiqued their partners’ handiwork. We also talked about New York City and Chapin while viewing an image of the school's neighborhood using Google Earth. While the primary goal was to help students develop a sense of our digital world through the study of millennial vocabulary, these kids also learned to collaborate over distances and to hone their written communication skills. Additionally, they learned a bit about the lives of kids living in another city. This two week project worked for us because it was simple, purposeful, and had specific deadlines. And, I might add, the social component of interacting with other middle schoolers was certainly appealing to my students!

This year, I morphed this assignment and just kept the project in house as Steve was working with older students. Using a wiki I created in Wikispaces, my students worked in teams to create an encyclopedia of digital terms. They included hyperlinks to sources cited and relevant embedded videos from Google Video. My students used the discussion tabs of our wiki to communicate about their work and peer edited the rough drafts of the project. I surveyed the kids afterwards using Quia and the feedback was generally very positive. My point in bringing up these projects is that effective instruction should change and improve over time. No one should be teaching the same thing 25 times.

Clearly, as noted in this recent New York Times article entitled The Overconnecteds, kids are learning and communicating in different ways and I think we are doing them a disservice if we do not address their changing learning styles and interests. Good teachers make the material come alive for their students and technology can play a role in this. Let us not stay the Underconnecteds!

technorati tags :

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Power of Multiple Media, Including Video

I enjoy writing for a blog, but I know better than to think that every student will - or even that every teacher will. I've always been a writer. I was a literature major most of my undergraduate years, and I taught literature to high school students, so it is natural that I prefer the written word as my medium of expression. However, I have colleagues who prefer listening to (and creating) podcasts and some readily admit they are auditory learners.

I don't have much of a commute myself and I prefer to uni-task when working, so I have difficulty finding time to listen to podcasts. And even though there is something of a performer in me, I've never been terribly motivated to create audio (or video) podcasts. It is very time consuming.

However, I recently created three hour-long videos for the k12 Online Conference. It was time consuming and challenging for me, but regardless (or perhaps because of the challenge) I had a blast. Video can be a fun medium. (Check out Alton Brown's very fun - and very educational - Good Eats on the Food Network for an excellent example.) My experience was what Seymour Papert likes to call hard fun.

This experience refocused my attention on a recent Internet phenomenon, YouTube. According to the (hard to find) about page, "YouTube is a place for people to engage in new ways with video by sharing, commenting on, and viewing videos." For several years now teachers have seen the benefit of downloading audio-visual instructional media from sites like Atomic Learning and United Streaming, but unlike these fee-based services, the free service at YouTube also allows teachers and students to upload and share videos. This is a bit like Blogger for visual learners.

It might take a little bit more work to find content that is related to educational goals, but I thought I'd search for material on the pyramids in Egypt, for example, and I quickly found several videos like these two bite-sized clips that will bring to life the pyramids and the sphinx for students around the world. Check out the shadow of the man walking next to the sphinx - or the camels on the ridge behind it for a sense of scale!

A quick scholar search for articles on the use of video in education turned up this literature review about "the use of digital video and iMovie in k12 schools." The focus is on "pedagogical issues relating to the process of learners capturing, editing, and generating their own digital video... on the 'student-genreation' of these artifacts and associated outcomes and support structures, rather than the actual digital video products per se."

This, and my own recent experience, reminded me of the powerful learning process required to create a video; students must master the content (in the same way we learn content best when we have to teach it), plan and storyboard their video, execute the recording (while paying attention to the shot frame, lighting, sound, and many other variables of cinematography), assemble and edit the final product (to efficiently achieve their purpose), and usually all the while working as a team with other students. Add to this the ability to share their creation online (via YouTube for example), and students now also have an authentic purpose and audience for their creation - not to mention it might actually benefit other students elsewhere. It's clear to me that asking students to create and share a video not only addresses content standards, but several 21st Century Skills as well. Best of all, it can be hard fun.

Of course, video won't be for everyone either...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cerf's Up: Maps

Internet Pioneer Vinton Cerf shares his thoughts on the important role that "maps" play in the 21st century.


> Quicktime (15 MB)

Windows Users:
right-click the link above and select "save link as..."

Mac Users:
"control" + click the link above and select "save link as..."

Show Notes:

As one of the original inventors of the Internet, Vint Cerf is widely recognized as a leading thinker on how 21st century technologies are transforming our daily lives. Learn more about Vint on Wikipedia.

There are so many great resources on maps. Here are just a few to explore:
- links to map collections
- historical maps for students
- the art of making maps
- geospatial technology and careers
- Green Maps: collaborative project for students
- U.S. Census maps
- FREE maps to use in your classroom