Friday, October 31, 2008

An Electronic Voting Machine: Turning Data Into Information

With only a few more days until the U.S. Election, I'm sure many American classrooms have been buzzing with election theme activities. Some schools will be collaborating and comparing data using programs such as the National Parent/Student Mock Election Project., [check out your state's ballot] while some classrooms will be tallying paper ballots.

Vermont middle school students from St. Albans City School will be doing a little bit of both. Class lists will be used as a voter checklist during lunch periods where students in Grades 5 – 8 will receive a paper ballot to cast into a ballot box. Kinesthetic learners will benefit from the physical act of going through these motions and touching a real ballot and ballot box.

Next, students will get a chance to cast an electronic vote using Google Forms. The following form will be available on a Google Site loaded on one of several computers located next to the ballot box. These votes will be automatically tallied into a Google spreadsheet that updates blue and red graphs immediately available for teachers to use with their students in Election debriefing sessions.

  • Some classes are deliberating the pros and cons of electronic voting.
  • Other classes are comparing their grade's results to the voting results in their community.
  • Junior high student using Google Apps for your Domain: Eduction Edition will be working with their teachers on the process of turning data into information.

They will examine the process by which each piece of data was collected, analyzed, organized, and presented into meaningful information.

  • In math class they learn how to create graphs.
  • In social studies class students are using data representation to discuss social issues. Google Forms allowed them to collect information from other students querying which issues were most important to teens. A core group of students analyzed this data and used Google Docs to organize research in preparation for a school wide assembly featuring their mock debate. The results from the actual mock election will be contrasted to the pre-debate poll data in analyzing the success of their debate.
  • In science class, students are preparing for a scientific inquiry project that will require the collection, analysis, and presentation of data. Being actively involved in the process of turning data into information gives students real experience as background when designing their own science projects.

Feel free to download this Google spreadsheet template to edit and use in your own school as an electronic voting machine, or simply as an example of how Google Speadsheet can be turned into a voting machine on any topic or issue you're studying.

Insert "countif" into the search box of this link to learn more about working with the countif formulas used in this spreadsheet. The spreadsheet template also models the concept of linking data between sheets where the original data collection worksheet was linked to other sheets to help aggregate data and turn it into information and graphs.

I'm hoping readers will use the comment seaction to share their own spreadsheets templates. Check out this tip on how to add &newcopy when sharing your own spreadsheets links to allow teachers to download a clean copy of your spreadsheets as a tempate in their down Google Docs accounts.]

Friday, October 24, 2008

Amplifying the Possibilities with K12 Online Conference

Are you looking for ways to amplify possibilities in your classroom this year? How about connecting and learning with other educators from all over the world by participating in one or more of the 40 workshops offered this year in the K12 Online Conference.

The conference started last week, but no need to worry. You can join other educators on this learning journey anytime, anywhere, by pointing your browser to No travel cost! No leaving your family behind! No lessons plans for substitute teachers! You can participate in your pajamas, on your commute to school, or even during your daily jog.

The K-12 Online Conference is filled with audio, video, slides, handouts featuring innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. The 2008 conference theme is “Amplifying Possibilities”.

Check out the pre-conference keynote or workshops that were posted from October 13 - 24, or join one of the upcoming live events scheduled October 27-31. The easiest way to see the conference offerings at a glance is to check out the Conference Schedule

Start by clicking on workshop titles that catch your interest. Approach the workshop using the methods you learn best.
  • Perhaps you'd like to scan the handouts?
  • Perhaps you'd like to explore the presenter's background?
  • Perhaps you'd like to watch the video or slides on your computers?
  • Perhaps you'd like to listen to the workshop while you're folding laundry?

    You decide.

My preference is to download all the audio clips in a k12onlineconference folder on my computer as they become available. I rename them starting with the date and abbreviated title and make sure my I-Tunes syncs that folder to my IPod. With the latest k12onlineconference workshop audio on my Ipod, I can pick up nuggests of knowledge or inspiration anytime I have some listening time -- while standing in line, on my ride to school, or taking a walk!

I like the fact that I don't have to be sitting at my computer to learn. I take note of the workshops that I want to revisit because the audio left me wanting to know more and "see" the rest of the story. I bookmark the workshops with handy handouts and tag them using my account.

This two week online conference provides me with enough learning material to last all year if I let it. But usually it just whets my appetite for more and leads me to new contacts for my personal learning network and a wealth of networked resources to explore and share.

But best of all, the K12OnlineConference models connected learning. It engages us in opportunities to walk the walk, not just talk the talk of Learning 2.0. Hope you'll amplify the possibilities in your professional learning this year by participating in the 2008 K12OnlineConference. I invite readers to recommend some of their favorite discoveries from this year's conference.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Freedom to Read

The Book Fair Safari filled our school library all week as it was the host to The Scholastic Book Fair - one of the most popular events in our school. Kudos to our school librarians and community volunteers for encouraging our students to Read, Dream, and Grow (this year's book fair theme). Today was also the the last day of Banned Book Week (September 27 - October 5) which

"celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even
if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the
importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular
viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can
exist only where these two essential conditions are met "
And if Doug Johnson's suggestion was adopted we would also be displaying Blocked Bytes Week Posters and be promoting the Freedom to Read more than just books. A year ago, Wes Fryer posted a chart comparing Internet content filtering he experienced in China, and the Internet content filtering he was experiencing in a U.S. public school district. And earlier this spring, Bud The Teacher, posted a request for designs for a 21st Century version of the “I Read Banned Books” buttons which yielded some wonderful designs and a campaign for reducing filtering constraints in our schools at NECC 2008. All you have to do is read the 90+ comments responding to Will Richardson's recent post - Filtering Fun, to realize that the freedom to read continues to be challenged in our schools today.

But filters are not the only thing limiting our childrens access to 21st century reading. In my work with teachers, I often hear that there is not enough time for using computers in the school day because the school's researched based curriculums mandate large blocks of uninterrupted time working with prescriptive strategies to improve reading and math scores.

When I suggest strategies for integrating technology into classroom literacy time, some teachers question whether these strategies would be "approved" activities. Many of the research based materials were developed around teaching students to read using print media. We need literacy specialists offering professional development in schools to also include strategies that integrate reading digital media. This year the Vermont Reads Summer Institute for teachers included workshops by reading specialist, Julie Coiro, that gave our teachers 'permission' to integrate technology into their literacy time. Our teachers came back from this summer institute with their own print version of Reading the Web by Maya B. Eagleton & Elizabeth Dobler which added credibility to the tech integration strategies I've been promoting for years. Thank you, Julie, Maya, and Elizabeth!

There are many strategies you can learn from these and other reading specialists that can give students the skills and access they need to read in a digital age. Here's one small step you can start with. Try allowing the computer stations in your room to be a choice during sustained silent reading time. Here are a few sites to get you started.

    The Screen Actors Guild Foundation reads stories aloud to children. This site includes videos,related activities and downloadable activities guide. What a great listening center activity.
    Give students access to some online fiction and nonfiction books with pictures for younger readers to read online from Starfall- a site full of reading resources targeted for early readers.
    Roy the includes guided reading stories, interactive whiteboard reading activities, literacy lessons, and resources that have been developed to help emerging readers learn to read.
    Big Universe is a web community devoted to beautiful children's picture books. READ hundreds of offerings from today's best children's book publishers, CREATE e-books with the help of an easy-to-use Author Tool, and CONNECT with other Big Universe members to share your creations and to learn what books they have read, created, or recommend. Parents, teachers, kids, authors, and others can share and learn while they enjoy this educational and entertaining website.
    Have you tried giving students print and audio access to books in the public domain?
    Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Look for Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes… and many many more. For sites that offer audio versions of some of these books check out:
    Or how about having your students record themselves reading aloud and contribute to the project itself.

And don't forget students for whom increased access means having the ability to see and hear what they read online. Try using one of these free websites that read text aloud to students, or install a free utility like Zoom It for students who need help seeing the screen.

Thank you to all of you who are promoting increased access to reading materials for our students and those of you teaching our students the skills they need to read more than books! I've mentioned only a few here, but would love to hear from readers about more resources and strategies to give our students the access and skill to be 21st century readers.