Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tuning into Educon 2.1, you can, too!

Last January, I had the privilege of attending and blogging about one of the most invigorating events of my educational career, Educon 2.0 held at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia. This exciting event is again being hosted by SLA this weekend (January 23 - 25, 2009).

At Educon 2.1, you will find some of the most well-read, most challenging thinkers and doers in the world of education and technology gathering in Philadelphia for conversations around the following Axioms:

  • Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.

  • Our schools must be about co-creating -- together with our students -- the 21st Century Citizen.

  • Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.

  • Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate.

  • Learning can -- and must -- be networked.

Unfortunately, this year I'm not in Philadelphia, but home with flu symptons, but thanks to today's technology I am joining many others by participating virtually. You can, too!

I've been watching a steady stream of snippets from the conference, ranging from links, quotable quotes, and Aha's from my Twitter network. You can, too!

I'm watching a live video stream from Clay Burrell's blog. You can, too!

I will surely, be watching more videos from the conference which will be archived on Educon's conference wiki. You can, too!

Would love to hear from both attendees and virtual participants of Educon about some of your experience with Educon, including reflections and aha's.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration 2009

There is certainly no lack of educational activities available for students to participate in celebrating this historic day. Both Lucy Gray and Lucie deLaBruere were unable to limit their weekly Friday Five list to only this week.

But even with this plethora of activities, I saw an opportunity to demonstrate the engagement potential of using a Smartboard and the variety of "game show" type templates that can be downloaded online to teachers in my school. So at the midnight hour, I added content to this PowerPoint Game from creating a Historical Inauguration Jeopardy Game that you can download to use in your school.

The questions are challenging for even those who've been around for a while. So you might want to modify the rules to engage your students by teaming them with adults who have seen a few Inaugurations. Here are some ideas for playing this Historic Jeopardy Game.

  • Give students a chance to use the Internet to search for answers. Perhaps use the Jeopardy Music as a timer.
  • Have two classes challenge each other with their ‘teacher’ where the students picks the question and has the choice to let the teacher answer it for “half the points”.

You might want to start the activity by watching this National Public Radio Slide Show of “First” for Inauguration Day.

This historic day also generated opportunity to show the power of Voice Thread in student learning. a VoiceThread is an online virtual space that has a unique commenting environment for shared media like images and videos. Students can comment by webcam, microphone, telephone, or text. The Inauguration Day Voices project has encouragd educators who have developed VoiceThread projects that capture the voices of individuals exploring and expressing their own perspectives on this historic event to tag them with "inauguration09". Help your students find their voice today by participating in one of several Inauguration Voice Threads or create your own. If your new to Voice Thread, take some time to explore Collette Cassenilli's Voicethread 4 Education wiki, which is filled with tips and tricks for teachers interested in using this powerful tool.

And if you have not stumbled upon the New York Times Interactive Inaugural Words, stop everything you're doing and go check out one of the best examples of how technology provides the tools to redesign learning activities. This site takes a look at the language of presidential inaugural addresses from 1789 to present. The most-used words in each address appear in an interactive chart, sized by number of uses. Words highlighted in yellow were used significantly more in this inaugural address than average. Just hover over each word to see how many times they were used and click on the word to see it used in context (through the years). I challenge readers to use the comment section to share the "questions" they used with their students that challenged their capacity as "Infinite Thinking Machines".

I leave you with a last gem I discovered during my exploration of Interactive Inauguration Activites - the blog of Larry Ferlazzo. Larry's talent for combing the Internet and discovering the best websites for teaching ELL, ESL, and EFl has earned him numerous awards, but more importantly it is filled with invaluable resources for teachers of ALL students on a variety of students, including the Inauguration.

I hope you enjoy this last minute goodies and share how you and your students celebrated this historic day in United States history.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pondering New Years Resolutions (Digital Access)

My last post began a series of reflections on the New Year's Resolutions I made on Infinite Thinking Machine back in 2007. It focused on

#1 My resolve to update my collection of keyboarding resources and promote keyboarding skills in ALL students.
This time I'd like to look back at the second of five resolves I made that year.
#2 I resolved to know which students lack access to digital tools at

A few years ago, I was encouraged by the data that we collected about the number of students who have computers and Internet access at home. I was encouraged that in a high poverty area such as ours, almost 90% of our students had access. Computers were becoming more affordable and multi-functional; even families that didn't always see the value in investing in educational tools at home, were purchasing computers as they took on entertainment value.

But this year I became discouraged by an increase in the response “we use to have Internet” or our computer doesn't work anymore. Discretionary items such as “internet access” are being cut from family budgets during increasingly challenging economic times. I also became discouraged when I learned that local public libraries do not have the resources to keep up with increased demands and use. I recently gave a student without home access a thumbdrive to save her work so she could continue it after school at the public library. She returned it the next day and shared that the only computer available to her didn't allow for thumb drives. (Photo Credit)

As we increase computer resources and Internet access in schools, teachers are integrating more technology tools in the classrooms. As a technology integration specialist I am excited about the increased use of tools like Google Earth, wikis, blogs, and social bookmarking in our school. But students with access at home are definitely at an advantage. Although I consider myself sensitive to the population of our students without digital access, I worked on the premise that these students at least had access to these resources in our public libraries. But I recently realized how challenging it is for libraries to keep up with increased demands.

Part of the challenge for libraries is that those who need computers for homework, filling out job applications, or accessing information only available online are competing with an increased use of library computers for accessing MySpace, playing video games, or accessing other entertainment websites. Libraries like those in Palm Beach, Florida are challenged by increased need for computers after the local food stamps office closed, forcing local residents to apply online. (Photo Credit)

The community library in Williston North Dakota reports increased use of its computers as the economy suffers. Upgrading or repairing home computers and keeping Internet access in their family budget has become increasingly difficult for many families.

For years libraries have been balancing the needs of their patrons to have access to essential nonfiction materials with increasing request for fiction; just because the circulation for fiction materials was higher, did not mean they stopped purchasing nonfiction resources. This dilemma continues in a world filled with digital information and entertainment. How do libraries make computers available for both those who seek to use them for entertainment and those who need them for homework or everyday living tasks?

Thus my evaluation of my 2007 resolve has just been expanded to not only inquire about student access at home, but to also find out about the access possible outside the home. Does it exist? To what extent? What are the parameters?

And finally, I resolve to start dialogues between community libraries and schools about how we can better support each other and collaborate towards the goal of greater digital equity in our community.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Future of Education: The New Secretary of Education's Five Questions

I want to encourage you to share your thoughts on the new "Future of Education" Community.

I've started this community to provide an opportunity for those who care about education to share their voices and ideas on charting the course of education in a networked world. It's a place for thoughtful discussion on an incredibly important topic. The site will launch officially at the end of the month with the start of a weekly interview series, but I'm inviting some participation now because of an email Carol Broos sent out.

Carol is one of twelve teachers who have been invited to participate in a round table discussion concerning the direction of education with the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on January 21. She was sent the following questions, and is asking for feedback and ideas. You can respond either at the new site or her wiki at Here are the questions:

1. What is the one most important education issue you wish Secretary Duncan to focus on during his tenure and why?
2. How shall the tenets of the No Child Left Behind act be altered or invigorated? What are its positives? How can its negatives be improved?
3. How should the new administration respond to the nation’s need for better prepared and more qualified teachers?
4.What should the new administration do to increase student engagement in mathematics, the sciences and the arts?
5. How should funding equity issues be addressed?

There is also a discussion topic on what questions were not asked that might have been.

Thank you so much for helping Carol. If you like the idea of this site, and would like to help or have any ideas, please let me know at

[Cross-posted from  Driving into the unknown photo by]

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Pondering New Years Resolutions

New Years Day resolutions are all around us. One of my resolutions is spend more time writing about the educational issues I've been thinking so much about lately – starting with more regular post to Infinite Thinking Machines. But while I'm making my resolution, others are boasting that their resolution is “no resolution” --claiming most resolutions are lofty goals that are never met.

I sat back and asked myself, “what's my stand on resolutions as I enter 2009?”. Am I feeling hopeful or discouraged when I think about “resolutions”? In thinking about this I went back and read my first New Years post on Infinite Thinking Machine (January 2007) and reflected on the progress that came from my resolve. What progress have I made? Do I feel both hopeful and discouraged?

Perhaps the best place to start meeting my resolution to “write more” is with a series of posts that examines my 2007 resolution, why I feel hopeful about, and what I plan to do about the areas I'm discouraged about.

My 2007 resolution focused on digital equity and included 5 areas where I planned to make a difference in making sure “no child was left behind in a digital age”. This week I'm going to reflect on the first of the 5 areas I pledged to focus on in my digital equity resolution, with thoughts on the other 5 areas in upcoming posts.

1. I resolved to update my collection of keyboarding resources and promote keyboarding skills in ALL students.

As I watch the fifth grade teachers bring their students into the computer lab this year, I noticed that many students are writing more freely and quickly filling screens full of text during their visits-- thinking less about finding the “z” and more about the story they're writing. A fifth grade girl called me over to her computer, during her first visit to the computer lab. I thought she needed help; she pointed to a paragraph on the screen and said proudly “I typed this all without looking”. It made me hopeful that my commitment to teaching the 3rd and 4th grade teachers HOW to teach keyboarding was making a difference.

But I also saw students still struggling to find the keys and barely finish a paragraph during that same visit. After a little research I found that many of these students had completed less than half of their “Type to Learn” lessons; I found that many of these students had been pulled out for math or literacy intervention during the keyboarding time. It made me discouraged that we had not provided these students with the same tools for success as their peers. Not only do they lack the skill to complete the “quantity” of work expected for their grade levels (a standard that increases as their peers continue to produce longer and longer writing pieces) but they are deprived the opportunity to focus on improving their writing process by having to focus on finding letters on a keyboard instead of the flow of the writing.

I heard an ed tech leader this year say that we should stop wasting time teaching kids and that this skill will come naturally as we give them increased access. I don't disagree that increased access will help; but Michael Phelps didn't win 8 gold medals by having access to a swimming pool. My old typing mentor use to say “Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”. I'm going to continue to mentor our new generation of elementary teachers in the technique of teaching keyboarding – so that no child gets left behind in an increasingly digital world because they can't keyboard (especially the kids who are being pulled out for different intervention – they need every advantage they can to close the gap).

Elementary teachers! -- One of the most powerful things you can do is to model and to attribute importance to hands on the keyboard and correct techniques as they use computers in your classroom. Find time for students to practice and build keyboarding skill. Reward proper technique with praise, certificates of completion or other incentives for knowing the alphabet without looking. I try to update this wiki on strategies that work for learning to type including links to free keyboarding software that you can send home with students or to this very effective KeyGuide for learning to type.

As I think of what else I can do to grow in this area in 2009, I resolve to add the ability to effectively use voice recognition technology in 2009 so as to better assist students with special needs.

In the next few post, I'll reflect on the progress and the work still to do in the remaining parts of my 2007 resolution -- “making sure “no child was left behind in a digital age”

#1. I resolved to update my collection of keyboarding resources and promote keyboarding skills in ALL students.

#2. I resolved to know which students lack access to digital tools at home.

#3. I resolve to promote sensitivivity to lack of or slow Internet Access.

#4. I resolve to revive the TechSavy Girls program and create new opportunities for girls to build skills and confidence in their use of technology.

#5. I resolve to make Web-based and Open Source Software available to students to increase home access to digital tool.