Thursday, December 14, 2006

Virtual Blogging

Aiyoh! (as we say in Singapore) How can a month have passed since I last blogged? Does blogging in my mind count? If so, here's what I blogged about since November 18...
  • how my students coding web pages project has gone, including what they've learned , what I learned, and how I plan to work with it next school year
  • budgets, budgeting, and the gleeful feeling that arises when the budgets are done
  • server quotas, server quota software, and what happens when automatic warnings regarding people's accounts being too full are blocked by the malware catchers
  • the next twist in our interactive whiteboard pilot
  • Questions about structuring effective professional development for the big things and the small things
I'd really blog about those things now, but tomorrow is our last day of school before the winter holiday. Sunday at 6:00 am I climb on a plane to head to Minnesota. Life just keeps moving!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Kidpixing in their Zone of Proximal Development

Two weeks ago I had the good fun of introducing (or reviewing) all the main tools in Kidpix to my third grade classes. I felt like Santa Claus as they oohed and ahhed over each new tool.

This week, they needed to use those tools to create an illustration. Exactly what they needed to create varied by class. Some teachers wanted them to create an illustration for a story they typed. Others wanted a picture of something from their assembly. Still others were creating cards.

In all cases, I told the kids that this was a graphic art and design unit, so we weren't going to use the stickers, stamps, animations and backgrounds that are already in Kidpix. Those are off limits because they are now learning to create their own.

The assignment was challenging. They've been using Kidpix for years, but relying on those ready-made elements. This pushed them to really get to know the tools, to experiment with different sizes of lines, different brushes and textures.

Most kids were frustrated. Give them a crayon or a marker and they could have translated their idea to paper in 15 minutes. Here they worked for 30 minutes and most were just starting to find their way by the end of the session. However, I could tell they were in their Zone of Proximal Development because they weren't quiting. It was tough, but it was an interesting challenge.

I was pleased to see a number of things.
  1. Few children were erasing the entire picture if their was one mistake-- they were able to use the small erasers and make revisions.
  2. They are starting to make efficient use of the tools, such as using the fill buckets to fill large areas rather than coloring it all by hand.
  3. They are exploring and refining their skills. I watched them figuring out and then staying with the most effective line sizes, types of media, etc.
  4. They are learning from each other. One child used the pattern fill bucket to create a design on a person's shirt. Soon we had patterned carpets, buildings, etc.
  5. Very few gave up or were so distracted by the bells and whistles in KidPix that they couldn't stay on task.
We should finish up the pictures this week. I think we need to follow up with another assignment that is "same same but different" as they say in Thailand.

Wikis + Webquests = Perfect Union?

I was replying to a post on the EdTech listserv the other day, when I came up with an idea I like... why not make Webquests using a wiki?

For those of you who teach teachers to create web quests, it gives you a lot more bang for your buck because you are helping them become familiar with wikis while also creating web quests. Your students (and you) will be able to comment on each other's works in progress. And they will see each other's works which may raise the over all level of quality as one good idea leads to another. It would also support teachers working together on the same web quest if you offer that option.

You could create a class wiki and within that create a page for that term. All your students could create a link on that term page to their own web quest wiki, giving your class a one-stop place from which to reach each others' wikis-in-progress.

At the end of the term, you could have them place a link to their wiki on a category page in your wiki (e.g. Science Webquests, Elementary Math Webquests). This would give you an ever-growing library of examples for future classes to explore and build upon.

I think the teachers should create their own wikis (especially since Wikispaces gives teachers free, ad-free) wikis rather than make each of theirs an actual part of your class wiki. That way, they have their own wiki when the class is over. They can continue to add to it, use it with their students, etc.

There is a lot to be said for adding web quests to some of the repositories already in existence, but if you don't do that with your classes, try this-- and let me know how it worked, since I'm not teaching any college courses this year.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

No More WebGenies; Welcome the WebMonkies!

Tonight I was actually using the HTML tags that I've been teaching the kids. I was creating a survey in Zoomerang and using the tags to format the text and lists.

Unfortunately, the font was being dodgy. The title was in a different font than the rest of the page, so I decided to go into WebGenies (which I wrote about earlier this week) to find the tag for setting the font.

Imagine my horror when I received this message...

After 5 years WebGenies: Website Design for Kids has now closed. Thank you to all those people who emailed to say they found it useful.

For excellent information on website design for kids please see WebMonkey for kids

Talk about bad timing! Fortunately, the WebMonkey site is excellent and it even goes into a much more detailed explanation of tables, which I know my students will need to help them with layout.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"Web Page Success!" or "Why I Love Teaching Fourth and Fifth Graders"

A big thanks to everyone who commented on my idea of teaching my students to write HTML code rather than using FrontPage to create their student web sites. I appreciate your insights.

Based on your feedback, I have decided to go ahead and teach my fourth and fifth graders how to code their own pages. We may eventually switch back to FrontPage, but for now we are working in Wordpad and previewing in Internet Explorer (because that is the only browser we HAVE.)

I am using a site called WebGenies as the backbone of my lessons. Thus far, it is written at just the right level, or rather, it is in their Zone of Proximal Development, which is just what I want.

In lesson 2 it gives them guidelines for designing their site. After reading those, students fired up Inspiration and began to develop their web plan. For now, those plans are long on ideas and short on actual content, but at least the students have begun thinking.

Next, we jumped ahead to lessons 6-8 which introduce HTML, first the idea, and then the actual tags. It steps them through coding a really simple web page.

I do a lot of modeling. For example, today I showed them how to line up two different windows on their desktop so that they can see the directions and their code at the same time. I modeled right-clicking on their index.html file so they can "open with" Wordpad and Internet Explorer. I modeled typing the opening and closing tags for a section first, and then clicking between them to insert content. Most importantly, I modeled the repeated process of re-saving the Wordpad document and then refreshing their browser window so they can view changes.

I figure this first page is the most difficult because they need to get their brains around the idea of a computer language, of tags, of opening and closing tags. To my delight, they are getting it.

I worried that these tech savvy kids would be underwhelmed by their efforts to code, since most have already used FrontPage to some degree and they all visit complicated sites on the web. Thus far my fears were unfounded.

My hopes that because coding is a constructive, generative process, that the children would see the value and experience success have proven accurate. The class sessions are full of Ahas! In typical nine-and-ten-year-old fashion, cries of "Yes! I rock!" can be heard when they first view their very simple page in Internet Explorer. I've seen a few happy dances and a great many broad smiles of self-delight.

One fifth grader took an after school class last year that involved coding web pages. She remembers a bit of it and is already one of our "experts". In general, I am delighted that kids are starting to develop a playful, "I wonder what happens if I do this?" attitude, which is just what is needed, both in this activity and in life. Many of our students, especially our Asian students, are afraid to take risks so I rejoice to see them boldly tweaking tags and quickly refreshing their browser to see the results.

The class sessions fly by because I am so busy. We are just starting to grow our own experts so for now, I am in big demand. I worried that the kids would get frustrated waiting for me, but many of them have said as they walked out, "Class was short today" or "Was that really 45 minutes?"

Our next lesson helps us spice up our page with formatting tags such as bold, italic and color. After that, we need to go back to planning, figuring out the navigation links they need on each page and on the home page. We'll also learn how to create a template so that they aren't coding each page from scratch. I am thinking I should create a few resources on the server as well, such as writing the code for a basic table so that they can copy that and paste it in. I'd rather have them tweak that code than spend days creating their own from scratch. I only get to work with them once per week, and this is one project that their teachers won't be able to work on outside of class, at least not until we have a few more student experts.

[UPDATE: The WebGenies site just closed! Fortunately, they recommend using WebMonkey which is another excellent resource.]

Kayaking for Airfares
I'm 0-2 so far with travel agents here in Singapore. We used one agent for our Depavali trip and he messed up costing us a bunch. I used a different agent to book my trip back to the USA for Christmas. I booked back in August. Due to some lack of communication between Northwest Airlines and my agent, my ticket has now doubled in price. I am not amused.

And so, I spent a chunk of time online tonight to see if I could find replacement airfare. In the process I learned three things...

1. Many of the discount airfare sites such as Travelocity and Orbitz can only book flights originating in the USA.
2. As bad as the new price for my ticket is, my travel agent was quoting me the cheapest current price.
3. finds the most flights at the best prices.

Kayak is an interesting site. It really is a meta search engine. It checked over 300 airlines. It found far more flights from far more carriers than the other flight search engines I tried, and I tried a bunch of them. It found prices as cheap as the carriers' web sites which usually boast that they have the cheapest flights. Kayak's price quotes include all airport taxes.

I hope you never find yourself in my position. But if you do, check, Kayak. They also book hotels and rental cars.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Protect Your Creativity and Share Your Ideas and Work

Wonderful Creative Commons has made it even easier to license your work. In the past, copyright was your only way to protect your work. Now there is Creative Commons which is free and much more flexible. The licenses run the full range from almost total protect under copyright to total permission of Public Domain, and everything in-between. It applies to all types of creative work including audio, video, images, text and educational materials. To get a feel for it, scroll down to see the nifty new Creative Commons banner in my sidebar. Click on it and you can see the license I've placed on this blog.

I love the idea of Creative Commons because I believe the increasingly restrictive copyright laws in the US are stiffling creativity and the movement of ideas. However, I've also watched as generous educators freely shared their work online, only to have it picked up and sold commercially by unscrupulous companies who provide no support to the original author. Creative Commons allows you to prevent that type of abuse, or at least gives you recourse if it occurs.

I also love Creative Commons because it allows me to bring my students to places like Flickr and use Flickr's Creative Commons search section to find images that we absolutely, positively have permission to use, and it makes it easy for us to give the creator credit for their work.

To add a spiffy Creative Commons license and banner to your blog, wiki or other creative work, the Creative Commons website has a really easy to use tool to create your own license. It asks you questions, and then based on your responses creates your license and spits out the code so you can add it to your blog or wiki.

To add the banner and link to your blog or wiki, you do need access to your blog or wiki's code (e.g. In Blogger, I go to my Dashboard and click on the template tab.) Alternately, you can save the banner as a graphic, and just upload it to your blog or wiki and then make that image a link back to the Creative Commons license of your choice on the Creative Commons website. I had to take that route on my WikiPlaces project. All Wetpaint wikis are protected under a Creative Commons license, but I wanted it to be visible on my wiki so I added it that way.

And as long as we are talking about Creative Commons, it is their annual fundraising time. If you are so inspired, you can support them financially. You can also support them by spreading the word. They have this nifty banner on their web site to help you do that.

Google has added Jotspot to its Web 2.0 Empire

Google has acquired Jotspot, so now Google has a wiki as part of it's Web 2.0 empire. Jotspot is not accepting new users as it migrates to Google, but you can leave your address at Jotspot's old home page and they will recontact you when it opens. I read notice about it today (which now I can't find it so I can provide a linktation to it) that said the wikis would be free. However, I'm betting they won't be Google Ad-free.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thoughts on Student Web Pages

Our fourth and fifth graders create web sites using FrontPage. The focus of the page varies from class to class. Some teachers want the site to be an eportfolio. Some tie in with a science or social studies unit. Others are open to student choice.

I'm liking how enthusiastic students are about the project. They are busy creating backgrounds in Kidpix and creating logos at However, they are already comfortable using Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. They aren't learning much by creating web sites using FrontPage. It does the coding for them, so at the end of the unit, they really won't know much about creating a web page.

I've been toying with the idea of teaching them to write the pages from scratch. I see a number of benefits in this...
  • Being able to create something from nothing is empowering.
  • Coding web pages is more constructive, more generative than using a WYSIWYG editor.
  • Pages will only be as complex as students learn to make them-- this may motivate students to learn on their own, to learn by reading.
  • As motivated students learn new skills, they will become experts in the class and other students will come to them for assistance. Although it sounds like that could be destructive to a classroom community, I find it usually has the opposite effect.
  • Being able to read and write HTML source code is a transferable skill. Even though I use a tool as easy as Blogger for creating this blog, I still need to be able to read code to add items to the sidebar. Knowing basic HTML tags comes in handy when posting to bulletin boards and forums. It transfers to working with other Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and Moodle.
  • It is a programming language of sorts. Our elementary curriculum does not have any programming in it yet.
  • Microsoft Office 2007 will not use the proprietary formats we are used to such as .doc or .xls. The new Office applications will save as XML, a mark up language. It isn't the same as HTML, but from what I read about it, having experience coding HTML will make XML easier to understand. (Makes me think of the days when I used Word Perfect and would use the Reveal Codes command to troubleshoot when something wasn't working correctly.)
Of course, in this day and age, part of me says it's daft to code by hand. No one does it. It is too tedious, too easy to mistype something and then spend ages pouring through code to find the error. I'm also turning an easy to teach unit into something much more challenging to teach. I seem to do that often.

I did look at using a combination of blogs and wikis instead of creating web pages. However, that was presenting hurdles that I don't have time to resolve at the moment. For example, none of the school-friendly wiki platforms work well at my school due to how tightly the computers are locked down and because we only have Internet Explorer which often seems to play poorly with Web 2.0 apps. There are battles worth fighting in there, but I can't do it all right now.

So what do you think? Do the benefits outweigh the hassles? Is HTML a dying language or a valuable skill for the future? Is it age appropriate for 9- 11 year olds?

Free Weather Stickers For Your Site

Living in the tropics is a bit of a stretch for a Minnesotan like me. Minnesota still has many farms, and the weather in Minnesota can change drastically from day to day, even from morning to night. As a result, Minnesotans talk about the weather. Often.

When I moved to KL, I found that I didn't know how to start conversations because no one discussed the weather. No one discussed it because it was always pretty much the same.

Eventually I got over it, but now that I'm back in S.E. Asia, I found myself thinking about weather. To my delight, I discovered free weather stickers for your website from Wunderground. I've chosen a pretty basic one here with a white background so that it will be visible in my sidebar. However, they have all sorts of spiffy ones. Some are even interactive.

I'm thinking my students would really enjoy putting these on their web sites. Living overseas seems to make many children patriotic. They could put their hometown instead of Singapore.

To get your own banner ...
  1. Go to
  2. Enter your city (or country) in the search field at the top of the page.
  3. When it takes you to your place's weather page, scroll down to almost the bottom of the page to the link for Free Weather Stickers for your Homepage.
  4. Choose the style you would like.
  5. Copy the code that is generated into your blog or web site's template.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Google for Educators

I received an announcement today that Google has an outreach program for educators. To quote from their web site...
Google recognizes the central role that teachers play in breaking down the barriers between people and information, and we support educators who work each day to empower their students and expand the frontiers of human knowledge. This website is one of the ways we're working to bolster that support and explore how Google and educators can work together.
Read more about it here:

Sunday, October 08, 2006

WikiPlaces: the Essence of Your Favorite Places

Do any of your classes study a country or a city? Study your own community or neighborhood? Does your school have a photography class that needs a focus? If so, they may be interested in a free, online project titled WikiPlaces: The Essence of Your Favorite Places.

This project is open to all ages. Participants are asked to help us see the essence of a place by creating an alphabet book page for that place. For each letter, tell us a word and include a photo of that object. This may be a simple type of alphabet book with just the word and its image (e.g. M is for Mosque) or it may include information about the object (e.g. H is for Hornbill. Hornbills live in the tropical rain forests of S.E. Asia. They are important members of the rain forest ecosystem because of the role they play in seed dispersal.)

Participants are not required to address all 26 letters for their place. In fact, leaving some letters blank invites others to add to your pages. Pages are easily edited and revised.

The project is built on the WetPaint wiki platform. WetPaint was chosen because of its EasyEdit interface, its elegant page look, and its ease of working with images. No wiki programming is required. After clicking on a page's edit button, you are given a toolbar which allows you to add links, add video and images, and make formatting changes.

Registration at Wetpaint is required. Registration is free and does not lead to spam. Teachers may register a class as one user; multiple people may be logged in under the same username.

How to Take Part
(Note: If you are viewing this as plain text and cannot access the links in these directions, they are listed again at the end of the page.)
  1. Go to

  2. Explore the site, especially the home page, the Getting Started page and a page in progress, such as Egypt. If you are new to using a wiki, you may want to look at the Wetpaint help page.

  3. Choose a place. It could be a country, a region, a city, a neighborhood, a building or even a room.

  4. Brainstorm what features, elements, objects make that place unique -- or what makes it special to you.

  5. Gather images. You could take photos, use a drawing program to draw your own JPEG pictures, or find photos via Creative Commons in Flickr. Make certain your images are no larger than 400 x 500 pixels and that your file size is no larger than 500 K. If you are using someone else's images, make certain you have permission to do so. Make sure you have their URL so that you can link back to the original- that's showing good net manners.

  6. Go to and register. Registration is free and doesn't lead to spam. Teachers can create a class account-- multiple people can be logged in at one time on the same account. (Note: We are requiring registration to cut down on spam and malicious edits.)

  7. Login and start adding to WikiPlaces. If there is already a page in progress for your place, add to it. Don't worry that you are editing someone else's page. That's how wikis work. Or, if you'd rather, create another page for that place.

    If there isn't already a page, add one. You might want to copy and paste this template text onto your page to get your page going quickly.

  8. Celebrate by inviting friends and family to view and leave comments on the pages you created.

What You Need
  • digital images (from a digital camera, scanned, created in a drawing program, from an online site such as Flickr)
  • a way to reduce your images to no larger than 400 by 500 pixels. File size should be no larger than 500 k.
  • Internet access
  • a reasonably current web browser:
    • Firefox 1.0.7 and higher for PCs and Macs
    • Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 for the PC
    • Flock
    • Some functions of Wetpaint are supported on Safari, others are not.

A Word on Internet Safety

Taking part in this project should not compromise your students security in any way. Students do not sign their wiki entries. People who view the page history can see who has made edits to that page. However, they only see the user name. Since participants are not identified by name or by image, no special parental permission should be required for taking part in this project.

Please share this notice with colleagues.
WikiPlaces home page:
Getting Started page:
WikiPlaces Egypt page:
WikiPlaces template:
Wetpaint Help Page:

The Check-In Problem Solved

Bud Hunt hit it right on the head... there were ways to solve our check in problem using our existing systems. He suggested voice mail and a clipboard. That's pretty close to what we've put in place.

I brought my dilemma to our Friday IT Coordinators meeting. We bandied a few ideas back and forth until Judy said, "Just schedule it as a meeting in Outlook and invite the entire staff." Duh! I was making this more difficult than it needed to be because I had forgotten Outlook's meeting schedule feature. Most staff do not use the calendar section of Outlook, and most meetings are recurring so we don't receive invitations to them. However, that feature is built right in.

This is a brilliant solution for many reasons, including...
  • all our staff are familiar with our email system (possibly too familiar!)
  • staff can easily access their email account via our web page (so no new web address or logins to learn)
  • our staff email address book is very current; new staff members have an email address before I even know they have been hired
  • we can create mail rule filters so that all the responses sort into one folder, making them easy to tally
  • one person who is traveling with other school colleagues can inform us that all of them are safe: they do not all need to tie up Internet access contacting the school.
One weak point is that not all local staff has internet access at home. However, administration will tell all staff at our meetings this week that they need to check in if there is ever another disaster while we are on holiday. They may check in online via email or they may call the deputy principal. We all have his phone number and have been encouraged to take all the administration numbers when we travel.

Does your staff have a check in system in place? A phone tree may not work over the holidays when families are traveling.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Checking-In at Times of Danger

Yesterday, my administrator charged me with having in place by Monday's staff meeting a very simple online system that we can use for staff to check-in if we should have another disaster such as the tsunami.

It doesn't work to just have staff tell us their travel plans ahead of time because the staff is too large and plans change too easily. We need a super simple, online way for staff to quickly and easily check-in to let us know they are safe, and maybe give contact information for where they are on their holiday.

As I try to get my brain around what this should look like, We've come up with the following criteria.
  • Should be linked to our school web site or have such an easy URL that staff will remember it.
  • Should allow one person to check-in everyone they are traveling with. (Yes, this can lead to problems--everything related to user-entered data has potential for problems. It is all a balancing game.)
  • Should have a comments field.
  • Should have a password, but it should be one we all know- fortunately we have one of those.
  • Should allow administrators to easily sort to determine who is not yet checked in.
  • The basic login should take them to a form that helps them search for their record. However, users should be able to browse through the database in list view so that they can see that colleagues are safe.
I won't allow users to delete records, but I may need to allow them to add a new user since our school is large and I am not automatically notified when someone new is added to our division. However, that almost guarantees that users already in the database will re-enter themselves. Maybe users should have to option to search by name or by their school email address. Hopefully we won't have both their name and their email address incorrectly entered into the database.

I've checked out a number of applications. I first thought to use Google's spreadsheet tool, since Google's servers are so stable. However, it leaves the data too vulnerable. It's too easy for users to accidentally delete data.

Next I looked at ZohoCreator. I love the idea of that tool, but I find it terribly confusing. Every time I try to use it I watch the demo videos, and I still find myself endlessly generating views and forms and never quite getting what I expect. Despite my struggles with it, this tool could work. It allows me to create a private database and then add users to it. I can group the users and give different groups different privileges, so that staff could enter data, and administration could do more with it. ZohoCreator has the added benefit that I can embed the form on a web page or blog and still have the data stored at Zoho. We could add a page to our website and embed the form on it, making it easy for staff to use.

Then I realized that we are able to access our FileMaker server via our web site. The down side is that it is not pretty; the user is given a rather cryptic list of databases from which to choose. Another challenge is that the passwords for accessing that are already set and not as easily remembered as I want. However, I may be able to change that.

Filemaker is an appealing tool because we already have it and I've been trying to increase my abilities to create databases using it. It is powerful enough to allow us different access for different users. I can make the pages visually easy to use. I think it is the tool for the job. I can easily set up something basic, and as I have time, I can improve upon it. Wish me luck.

I welcome words of wisdom regarding the project in general or Filemaker in particular. I've taken good Filemaker courses, but I have very little experience actually creating databases.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Photos the Easy Way on Blogger

Another example of me being under rock while I figured out my life in Singapore -- I hadn't heard that Blogger changed their photo options. Now you can upload photos from your computer; you no longer need to pull them from an online location, such as a Flickr account. Possibly this option was available a long time ago for Windows, but last winter I didn't see it when uploading photos from my Mac.

When you upload them, it lets you set the alignment (left, centered, or right aligned). I had struggled to get the alignment right when I'd upload photos from Flickr.

Here's a photo I took with my camera phone on the way to work. I remember in Minnesota when I'd go into a flower shop to buy flowers to make an arrangement, flowers such as this were too dear for my budget. Here they grow everywhere. Notice the snail making a breakfast of the flower; I hadn't seen one so far out of its shell before.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New Look; Same Blog

Yep. It was time to change my blog's template. The old shade of green was making me wince each time I saw it. Not sure if this one is my final choice either. It will do for tonight.

I wonder if the color even matters anymore... does anyone actually visit blogs these days or is everyone using an RSS reader of some sort? That's a question to ponder another night, as well.

Teaching Hacks for Teachers and Tech Coordinators

I've been researching wiki platforms (again) and in the process, I rediscovered a really great resource for teachers and tech coordinators. It is a wiki titled Teaching Hacks. I think I must have visited it before because I discovered it in my own set of bookmarks -- nice to see that I find such good resources :D

In any case, it has become a most impressive resource. The page with information about wikis in education is well organized and stuffed full of useful information. Here is a partial list of it's contents.
  1. What is a Wiki?
  2. Quick Ideas Around Classroom Uses of Wikis.
  3. Pedagogy
  4. Software (hosted wikis, server-side wikis, desktop wikis)
  5. Practical Advice for Classroom Use (including model collaboration, assigning roles, assigning tasks, looking at contributions, recording accomplishments, using the style guide)
The actual list is much longer than this, so check it out yourself. That last item I listed really has my attention. As I read through it, I got a bunch of practical ideas for how to make wikis work in my curriculum. These aren't project ideas; they are process ideas. That information always feels like a set of power tools when I am lucky enough to find it. It jump starts me into a successful project.

And here is a list of the entire wiki's main contents. (Note: I pasted it here. Clicking on any link will take you to the actual wiki's table of contents where you make find and click any of these individual links for real.) Enjoy!

K-12 Educators Guide To Web 2.0
Weblogs in Education Alpha Stage
Social Bookmarking Tools in Education Ideas Stage
Folksonomy and Tagging Ideas Stage
Wiki: Collaborative Editing in Education Beta Stage
RSS Ideas in Education Beta Stage
Creative Commons Ideas Stage
Instant Messaging Ideas Stage
Geocaching for Educators
Information Literacy Ideas Stage
Photo Sharing in Education Ideas Stage
Video Sharing in Education Ideas Stage
Google Earth 101 for Educators
Cyberbullying 101 for Educators
Ideas for Repurposing Online Tools Ideas Stage

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Blogging Webquest

Anne Davis, one of my original inspirations to start blogging with kids, has created a great blogging webquest for students. She used Bernie Dodge's Quest Garden to create it. She uses a read, pair, share strategy as the process. In her evaluation section, she even has a 6Trait Blogging rubric. It's a great tool and I am eager to use it with children.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Few Tips for Getting Started With New Technologies

I'm enjoying Kim Cofino's blog. She's been reading Will's book and she's diving into using new, collaborative technologies with students.

Today she blogs about being overwhelmed. At the moment, she seems to be faced with insurmountable options; there are so many good things to try, what should she try next?

Her post got me thinking about a few lessons I've learned as a technology specialist. As I typed them as a comment into her blog, I decided to also post them here.

I don't know that it so much matters where you start. Just keep these things in mind...

  1. It takes three years to get most new ventures really solid. The second year is better, but the third year is golden. Multiply this by 3 if you are trying to move an entire school in a new direction instead of just yourself. (And so, be patient with yourself.)
  2. Start small so that you don't have to fix each mistake 32 times (as in, for each of your 32 classes.
  3. Keep it simple until the kids make it complex. I've seen too many tech projects on which the teachers did most of the learning (and most of the work) because the project was too big and too complex for the students. The final product looked great because the teacher did good work. On the flip side, I've seen great things happen when a few students ran with an idea. They showed up before school, after school, during recess because they were caught up in what they were doing. I don't make them keep it simple :)
  4. Start with one really enthusiastic teacher. Again and again, I've found that one excited classroom teacher who had a good success with a new technology has far more power to get other teachers on board than you will ever have as the tech specialist.
  5. If possible, keep on adding things in for your pilot class. What I find is that once they have an understanding of blogging, adding wikis or Moodle or something else doesn't take as much start up time. I found that each new thing I added (within reason) required less start up time than the one before it. It doesn't sound equitable, but remember that this is a pilot and that you'll be using what you learn to involve more classes at a later time.
  6. There isn't time to fully document what you are doing. The two most important things to try to write down are your sequence (e.g. week 1 we showed the kids the blogs, set up the accounts and got everyone logged in), and to keep a notebook that is just a list of what to change for next year. It doesn't need to be pretty or organized. It just needs to be ONE place to track all those Ahas! of how you should do it differently next time. -- And DON'T wait to do it all at the end of the unit. You will have forgotten half of it, and you'll be too busy gearing up for the next unit to write.

There. None of these are earth-shattering. All of them have been said better by someone before. Now they are here. I hope they help someone.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Back to Flock

I was using Flock as my main browser for many months. Then a month or two ago, it developed a bad habit. When I was surfing, it kept popping up a window related to, asking for my login name and password. It was doing this on all sorts of sites, even some sites that don't require a user name and password. Not only would it ask for that information, but it was slow to ask for it and then would complain via other pop up windows when I wouldn't give it the information. It was making the browser unusable.

I wracked my brain...

Am I running an old version of Flock? Nope.
Is this a virus on my iBook? If it was, it was Flock-specific.
Is this some extension gone bad? I kept looking in my list of Flock extensions trying to figure out what could be causing it. Being in a new country and working in a new job, I didn't have time to keep dealing with it, so I switched back to Firefox.

Before switching I submitted a bug report to Flock. To my amazed delight, I received a very informative letter in response to that report. One bit of information was especially helpful. It mentioned that was making some changes on its end. That gave me hope that it wasn't really a Flock problem, but just something related to some extension that was using

Today, while trying to fix my RSS feed problems, I opened Flock again. As usual, the pop up windows began demanding information. I gritted my teeth, opened up the extensions list, and deleted all but my most trusted extensions. I restarted the application and for the first time in months, was NOT greeted with a pop up window. Were I a good scientist, I would have deleted the extensions one at a time to identify the culprit. Instead, I'm a harried tech coordinator who is delighted to have this item checked off my to-do list.

To celebrate, I'm drafting this blog entry using the Flock blogging tools. It feels good to be using this rich tool again.

[P.S. In the end, I couldn't get it to publish via Flock and had to cut it and paste it directly into Blogger. I guess all problems aren't solved. ]

Elusive RSS

When I first started aggregating blog feeds to make it easier to keep up with my favorite blogs, I often had trouble finding the correct subscription address.  This was complicated by Pluck.  I was using an early version of it and when I would click on a link to someone's RSS feed, Pluck would feel obliged to launch and complicate matters, since I didn't want to store the feed in Pluck.

Over time, as Pluck matured and became a stable tool, I came to rely on it to help me find elusive RSS feeds.  I would then copy the address into my NetNewsWire Lite.  This has worked well for the past year. 

Now I am having troubles again.  Numerous times in the past week I've wanted to subscribe to the feeds on new blogs, but haven't been able to get the real feed URL.  The one that Pluck gives me doesn't work in NetNewsWIre.  I tried using the Live Bookmark feature in Firefox instead, but that was no better. I tried finding it using Flock, a web browser designed to play nicely with social web technologies, but that isn't working either. 

I thought it might be a problem with NetNewsWire Lite.  In the forums I see people are having trouble with the latest version- it isn't always updating feeds.  However, I  see no mention of my particular problem, and my feeds seem to be refreshing just fine.

I'm wondering if some of the problem is arising from new bloggers using templates with built in feed links.  It may be that they haven't activated the RSS feed feature.  I'm especially having trouble with Edublogger blog feeds, which would make sense as new teachers, not familiar with RSS, make their first attempts at blogging.

Is anyone else having this problem lately?  Anyone found a solution? I'd love to hear about it.

technorati tags:,

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Geography Alert: Minnesota Suddenly Moves Closer to Singapore!

One of the most difficult aspects of living in Singapore is being so far from my family and friends back home.

One solution has been using instant messaging and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocal) programs such as iChat or the free Skype program. I also put money into a Skype Out account so that I could use my computer to call people's telephones. To get a Skype Out account, I just followed the link within Skype. I used a credit card to purchase ten euros worth of talk time. I'm paying USD $0.02 cents per minute when I call the USA. [NOTE: Skype Out is free until the end of 2006 for making calls from computers in the USA to telephones within the USA.]

Sound quality with Skype Out is better than it was with many of the calling cards I used to purchase in Malaysia. It helps that Kent purchased an Altec Lansing headphone/ microphone combination. It plugs into a USB port and greatly improves the sound. Without a headphone, the microphone would pick up the other person's end of the conversation that was playing through the speakers. This caused annoying echoes.

When I first arrived in Singapore, I discovered that my iBook G4 didn't play nicely with Skype when running on battery. It would work fine for a few minutes, but then the person I was talking to would suddenly not be able to hear me at all. I could hear them, but nothing, including hanging up and calling them again, would restore the sound for them. Kent didn't experience this problem on his Powerbook.

Recently, Skype became even better. There is a beta version out that allows people using Macs to video chat. Although it is a beta, we have found it to be stable and easy to use. The video capabilities have been available in the Windows version of Skype for a while, so it's good to see it finally available for the Mac.

In the past week, my life took a good turn. Since moving to Singapore, I had not had much contact with my parents. I did not yet have a telephone in my home, and my parents had virus-plagued, old Windows computers so they were not able to get onto the internet at home. Tired of this situation, I bit the bullet and purchased a refurbished iMac for my parents. A great friend back home configured it and spent a few hours helping them make it play nicely with their Comcast account. This is their first foray into broadband. This is also their first Mac.

The day she brought them the computer, I received a photo they snapped of themselves using the built-in iSight camera. I am now receiving regular emails from them, and they are having fun exploring the iapps such as iTunes.

The best part came two days ago. I had the pleasure of opening Skype and seeing that my parents were online. I called their computer and within moments, I could see them and they could see me. I was able to turn my camera around so they could see my apartment and watch the cats scampering past. I could see them sitting at the desk in my childhood home. All of sudden, Minnesota feels much closer to Singapore.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

USB Printer + Airport Express + Rendezvous = Wireless Printing

Did you know that if you plug a regular old USB printer into the USB port on an Airport Express base station, it will show up on your home network? You need to turn on Rendezvous, which is built into the Mac OS. As soon as you do that, voilá! The printer shows up in your printer control panel and everyone on your wireless network can access it.

We hadn't know this would work, but I noticed the USB port on the base station and had a chat with a friendly technician at the Apple Store on Orchard Road. He confirmed my suspicions and we were able to buy a Canon Pixma IP4200 instead of purchasing the more expensive wireless model or passing the printer cable back and forth when we need to print. Gotta like that!

Steep Learning Curve

Today I was amazed to realize that almost a month had passed since my previous post. I could have sworn I posted just last week. However, that is typical here. Each day rushes by and before I know it, another week has passed

As you would expect, my to-do list continues to grow each day despite my own increases in productivity. My new job is a fascinating mix of roles. Within my division, I am the web master, the first stop for all tech problems, head of technology-related professional development (especially in the form of just-in-time, one-on-one instruction). I am expected to provide vision, balancing he wishes of teachers, students, and administrators, with the need to keep the network stable and feasible to maintain. I am in charge of the tech budget and the tech inventory. I am the liaison between my division and the school's tech department and other technology divisions. The list goes on and on. In addition to my coordinator duties, I teacher 15 student classes per week.

I am loving it, but dearly wishing that I were not new. I think that in the past, this position has most often been recruited from within. Since I am new, I have had to get up to speed while also getting settled in a new country and learning the structures and procedures in a new school.

On top of that, this is my first tech job in a Windows environment. It has been humbling to go back to step one. Now I am the person watching in awe as my tech colleagues zip through short cuts while I plodding search menus for needed commands. It has been good-- helps me relate better to the teachers who are not comfortable with technology.

I love all the learning I am doing. With the help of an excellent team of assistants, teachers, technicians, web masters and engineers I am now proficient at using the Active Directory to manage user accounts. I've started receiving email copies of all the work requests, so I'm getting a handle on the range of tech problems in my division and how they were resolved. Our web site permissions problems are resolved and I am easily helping teachers with their sites and getting better at updating our division's site. I am starting to get up to speed with our SmartBoards-- we have six as a pilot program. Finally, I'm learning the quirks of students using Windows so I recognize what they probably did to cause a problem, giving me a clue how to resolve it.

All this learning, along with my own teaching, planning, meetings and such leaves me feeling chronically behind. The need to get settled in our home keeps me from working as late into each night as I would wish. I vascillate between relishing the progress I have made, and quailing at how far I have yet to go before I'm good at this job.

However, all things considered, we are pleased we made this move. This is an excellent school and we are both growing personally and professionally. We are loving Singapore. Who could ask for anything more?

Lessons Learned about Clickers

Clickers, wireless presentation remotes - call them what you will, we unexpectedly gathered the following data when we borrowed 20 of them so that all our teachers could use their new data projectors on Back to School Night. You probably won't ever use the exact same ones we had, but I suspect there are universal clicker truths to be gleaned...

  1. If the clicker isn't working try the following...
    1. Check the batteries (many of ours didn't have batteries installed)
    2. Check for an on/off switch
    3. Check the receiver. The clicker is wireless so it needs a receiver- this is usually a small USB device or a larger USB device. You need to plug it in before the clicker will work.

  2. If the clicker is working erratically...
    1. Unplug and then replug the receiver
    2. Click the "connect" buttons on the clicker and the receiver
    3. Put in fresh batteries
    4. Check for hidden force fields between you and the computer, such as things with motors or high voltage in the ceiling or floor or wall

  3. If the clicker's forward and back buttons aren't working correctly...
    1. Try other buttons. I think the clickers we borrowed were programmable but hadn't been programmed, so on some of ours the buttons worked fine, on others, you had to push the pause or some other button to advance the slide show

  4. If your clicker also has a little trackball that enables you to use it like a mouse...
    1. STAY away from the trackball during your presentation -- it might just open up other applications or do other things you aren't expecting.

  5. And of course, anyone using a clicker needs to be prepared for Plan B: ask a parent to sit at your computer and push the forward key.
Our teachers, being consummate professionals, all tested their clickers before hand so we were able to learn and pass on this information prior to their parent meetings. I hope this information saves others some frustration-- or at least gives them a laugh as they envision 30+ teachers discovering these "truths".

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Data Projectors and Wireless Mice

The pace keeps getting quicker as I figure out more of my job. One interesting thread this week has been data projection. Over the summer, data projectors were installed in the classrooms. The classrooms already had Touch Media boxes. Those allowed teachers to order video on demand from a central location and display it in as many classrooms as needed. For example, all the grade four classes could watch an oceans video at 10:00 from their homerooms. The new data projectors are tied in with that, so teachers are able to display their television or their computer through the data projector. It is a slick set up and I can see it getting lots of use.

Of course, being good teachers, they immediately began pushing at the edges of the situation. Before the first day was over, I had requests for wireless mice and keyboards. That seems like a logical request, since their computers are in a fixed location and in most classrooms that location is not near their projection screens. All teachers know how effective it usually is to be standing behind the class while trying to interact with students-- many of them want to watch you rather than the screen.

I brought up the request at a department meeting and was told that a different division had done a pilot project with Bluetooth mice, but the signal bleed through into the next classroom. I can imagine all sorts of merry mishaps when one teacher is inadvertently controlling the computer in their colleague' room.

Since Bluetooth was out, we decided to test a few radio frequency mice. In a highly scientific study that involved me roaming around the room and down the halls with a wireless mouse and my teammate sitting at his desk watching to see in which situations the cursor moved, we determined that the wireless mouse worked all over the classroom and into the hallways but not into the next room.

My next step is to find a good price for a bulk purchase on wireless mice. The price here seems significantly higher than it would be in the US. I need to see if that is indeed the case or if I'm not yet getting the "best price", as we ask for here when bargaining.

(Anyone know a good place in Singapore to buy a lot of wireless mice? I'll get quotes from Parasilk and Challenger. Anywhere else I should be checking?)

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Died and Gone to Resource Land

It's been a really fast three weeks.

The school has taken great care of us. We've been wined and dined and toured around town. They set us up with Lilian Lim, realtor extraordinaire who, despite the competitive real estate market here in Singapore, found great condos to show us. We decided on one that's just a fifteen minute walk to work. It's across the street from HDB flats so we have a grocery store, ATM, and hawker stalls nearby. The MRT station is just fifteen minutes away as well. And it's only a ten minute taxi ride from the quarantine station where my poor cats are waiting for August 20 when I can spring them from kitty jail.

We spent last week taking part in new teacher orientation. In my division, that meant lots of classroom time for teachers. I still need to get my brain around the teaching side of my job. I find it more than a bit unsettling that all the returning staff that I've met have made comments to the effect of, "Oh! You are the new tech coordinator? You're going to be really busy." -- All right; I'm not too unsettled. I knew I was stepping into a big job and I'm following someone who did it extremely well. I hope I can uphold his high standards.

One of the delights of this job is all the resources. In my previous tech position, I only dreamed of being able to offer my staff resources such as BrainPop and United Streaming. This school has all that and much more. They even use Conversar to stream videos directly into the classroom. Teachers are able to preview the videos and bookmark them so that they can jump directly to the desired sections. They all received data projectors and six teachers are piloting Smartboards. I love seeing technology used to support teachers so well.

I have a ton to learn but my department has been wonderfully supportive, and good fun. We feel a bit amazed that we've landed in such a good school. Now, to get some sleep so I'll be awake for a day full of meetings...

Let Your Voice Be Heard: Revise DOPA

Brian over at Bump on a Blog is making it REALLY easy to contact your representative regarding DOPA.  He has a nifty little thing in his side bar. You select your city and state and it pops open your default email program and addresses a well-crafted letter to your senator.

And then he goes one step further and gives you the code to paste into your own blog template so that you can offer the same service.  I've pasted it in my sidebar for your convenience, but I'll have you go to his blog to get the code.

I may be half way around the world, but I'm still heartsick that DOPA has gotten this far. Please take the time to contact your representative.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

72 Hours, and Counting...

No. I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.
It's just that we move to SINGAPORE on Monday.
If you saw our home, you would not guess that it needs to be empty by Monday morning. Thankfully, our family and friends have turned out in force this week to help us. We truly could not do it without them. Thanks to them, we may even get to sleep a bit Saturday and Sunday nights - the last times I moved I pulled a few 48 hour days.

Things are happening.  In the past two weeks we have acquired...

  • new water heater
  • new roof
  • new driveway (which can't be driven on until after we leave)
  • new flooring on first floor
  • new furnace
  • central air
After 5 years of renters, there are so many little things that need doing.  Most of the renters were really good renters, but a 19 year old house is ready for upkeep.  Now that the house looks so great, is anyone looking to rent a 3 bedroom, 3 bath house in White Bear Township?  Call Metro Home Maintenance and ask about renting in White Bear Township.

It has been such a mad rush (and still is) that we will have some reckoning to pay later in terms of catching us up mentally with where we will be physically.  Thank you for reading.  I hope you'll continue to visit this blog after it is being authored in Singapore.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Here and There Japan

I am greatly enjoying a blog written for children. It is titled Here and There Japan. The author is Annie Donwerth Chickamatsu. She is writing from Tokyo.

Each post focuses on one aspect of daily life. Reading it is almost a meditative experience because it forces me to slow down and focus on a basic detail of life. Recent topics have included a view from a train platform, summer is here, department store carts. Each post includes at least one well-crafted photograph. It is a wonderfully accessible look at a different culture. I hope many people find her blog and read it regularly. She would especially like to reach children, so please pass on this news.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Reading About Reading and Writing

My new school is in the midst of professional development focus on reading instruction.  As a result, I've been more aware of articles on this topic.  I'm reading more of them, and finding edublogger who are writing about that.

Konrad Glogowski publishes one of my favorite edublogs, Zone of Proximal Development.  I consistenly enjoy it  because he pushes my thinking, helps me see the bigger picture and shows me how to move forward. He often references the researchers who are my gurus, and he shows me how he is implementing their ideas.

His recent post, Progressive Discourse, brilliantly lays out the metamorphic change that blogging brought to his classroom this year.  This is one post that I know I'll be rereading.  I'm eagerly waiting for him to write more.


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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Flock Extensions

Interesting to me that so many of my favorite edubloggers switched to the Flock web browser at the same time that I did.  I'm glad to see such an innovative brower being so well received. 

I made Flock default browser a week or two ago, but still found myself returning to Firefox to refer to the Forecast Fox extension. (I live in Minnesota and we have lots of weather here, and it can change hourly some days.)  Imagine my delight to find an extensions menu in Flock.  It lead me to a link for more extensions, and there I found all sorts of useful extensions, including a Flocked version of Forecast Fox.

So if you were considering using Flock but didn't want to give up your Firefox extensions, you may not have to do so. There is even an extension that converts Firefox extensions for use with Flock.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Have You Ever Fallen in Love with a Place?

I did. I fell in love with Malaysia when I had the good fortune to live there. Most of my time was spent in Kuala Lumpur, but there are other places around the country that I also hold dear.

When I knew I would be leaving, I went into a sort of mourning. To ease my sadness, I conceived of the idea of making my own photo alphabet book of Malaysia. I began a list of personal icons of Malaysia. While waiting in lines or riding in taxis, I'd take it out and work on it, pondering important questions such as, "Should M be Mont'Kiara, Merdeka Square, mosque or macaque?"

Unfortunately, I ran out of time to actually create my book. Now that I was back in the USA, I figured it would never come together. Then one day the team at Wetpaint invited me to be one of their Early Adopters to try out their new wiki platform. (I first mentioned Wetpaint here.) I readily accepted, but had no idea of what type of wiki to create. Then I realized it was the perfect opportunity to finally make my alphabet book. Now, not only will I create my keepsake of my time in KL, but others will have a place to do the same for cities or countries that they hold dear.

Wetpaint will soon have it's public launching. I've been scrambling to add content so that there is something to show in time for the launch. I invite you to come play around at my wiki. I've titled it wikiPlaces: The Essence of Your Favorite Places. I'd be delighted if you added a few photos of places that you hold dear. No expectation that you illustrate all 26 letters, just try your hand at it and let us experience a bit of a place through your eyes. I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Learnerblogs Are Good Things

Our summer blog is underway! As I mentioned before, we are using Thus far, I am liking the multi-user Wordpress blogs that James Farmer makes available for students for free. I had never used that platform before, but I am finding it easy to use and powerful.

Even this early on, I am impressed with how well it fits educational purposes. For example, although students need an email address to register, I was able to create all the student accounts using my own email address; many sites won't let you do that. I appreciate being able to choose whether or not people need to give an email address to be allowed to leave comments -- many children don't have email accounts and this would have prevented them from leaving comments. I love that I can choose to moderate comments before they are posted. And of course, I am able to set up my students as contributors which means their posts go through me before they are visible on the internet. One wish is a way to leave editorial comments for the blogger prior to approving the article for posting. Thus far, I've just typed a note in itallics at the top of the draft, but the student may not realize I've left them a comment; they may just think I haven't gotten around to approving it yet.

I like that the posts from all our users appear together on the main page, but that by clicking on the students' names in the category list on the side of the blog, you pull up a page of just that student's posts. This combination gives the students the feel of having their own blog, while still giving them the increased visibility that comes with a multi-user blog.

That brings up my biggest worry; since we are no longer in Blogmeister where other students are likely to find us, and since Learnerblogs doesn't have an index that makes it easy for others to find us, I worry that no one will visit our blog.

If you are interested, please visit our new blog and leave a few comments. The writing will be rougher than our previous blogs because I'm no longer editing with them, but the enthusiasm is high. If you still have students, please feel free to have them visit our blog as well. Please let us know where you are writing from if you leave a comment.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How Much Support?

I listened to one of the EdTech Talk podcasts today while I jogged. As you would expect with good interviewers and someone as well-spoken and wise as Will, it was an interesting interview. There were many points I wanted to think about, but promptly forgot as new ideas over-wrote them. However, near the end they were discussing support for teachers using Web 2.0 technologies. Will asked how much support teachers were receiving-- I immediately thought, forget support; how much direct hinderance were they ?

It made me realize that by and large, many teachers have done great things with very little support. As long as they were not being actively opposed, they found ways to make good things happen for kids. It is now that districts are filtering out more and more of these collaborative technologies, and tech budgets are being cut deeper and deeper, that true barriers are placed in the way of teachers, as opposed to just not supporting them.

It is ironic that just as blogging has moved past its early, giddy childhood, and moving into a place of wider acceptance, these technologies are being actively blocked and filtered.

Monday, June 05, 2006

New Life for the eMates!

I feel that most things I did this year were approximations. That is always true to some degree, but this year, my constant mantra was, "Next year, I'll know to do x instead." Our eMate experience was no exception.

I feel our pilot was a success. Students loved using them right from the start. There was a very low learning curve, and all the time we spent on keyboarding in the fall paid off as soon as we started using the eMates. Unlike so many word processing machines that find their way into schools, the eMates have a large enough screen that you can see a paragraph or more of text. This leads to much more coherent writing that when you can only read one line at a time. Add to it the spell check, the ease of editing, and the novelty of having a laptop computer in school, and it is no wonder that the children wrote up a storm on them. The changes were the most dramatic with reluctant writers. Even children who would not write when sitting at a desktop computer were able to overcome writers block with an eMate on their lap. Maybe it was because they could sit under tables or sprawl on the floor with these nifty devices.

If I had them to use next year, we'd still start the year with keyboarding, but move as quickly as we could into working on the eMates. I'd set them up for different users with a login for security. More importantly, I'd have a better organized writing curriculum so that we would be using them more-- we didn't use them a lot until we were working on DARE essays and blogs this spring. However, they were a success and I was sad to think of them languishing unused next year.

Therefore I am more thrilled than I can tell you that our eMates will live on next year. Due to budget constraints, my school is reconfiguring by adding split classes for part of the day. One of the teachers will teach all of the writing for the fourth/fifth grade team. She is interested in using the eMates. Not only that, but my highly supportive and resourceful principal has found the money to fix the hinges and replace all the battery packs. She has also located the original cart which can be used for storage and charging. To sweeten the deal further, the wonderful person we are hiring to fix the eMates will donate a few printers.

Last Friday, most of the fifth grade and part of the fourth grade was gone at Valleyfair. I used that opportunity to introduce the remaining fourth graders to the eMates. They worked through the built-in eMate Tour and Works Practice. The children loved them. One child didn't want to quit to go to lunch! They all came back to work on them again in the afternoon. I doubt they will remember it all next fall, but it will let them be more expert than the other children in the fall. And their enthusiasm will excite the other children. Nice to start the year with the children eager to start writing.

An Even Better Idea... Learnerblogs

I love how much I get done when I should be working on report cards. If only I were this driven all the time

I have changed my mind since the previous posts. I have decided to set up a class blog at I found great directions for how to do so at This will solve all sorts of problems. All the students will be posting to the same place, so at least they will be reading each other's blogs. I can still monitor the experience, and learn HOW to manage it all as a hobby before I need to use it on my new job. Finally, it does permit me to moderate, which gives a bit more control as these children continue to blog.

It may be that none of them continue to blog; I know all about good intensions coming to naught when we finally switch to summer mode. However, this seems like a good option, and I can open it up to other children on the team, since it will be moderated.

Possibly best of all, it gives me a legitimate reason to play around with a new blog when I should be working on reports.

Once Again, What should we do with our Blogs?

Monday starts the last week of school. My students are asking questions about their journals and their blogs. I'm not certain what to do. The blogs are easiest to think about. I see a multi-tiered approach. I think I will send home a parent letter with the following options.
  1. Do nothing, or tick the "Remove Blog" option. - I will remove the blog at the end of the year. This is the easy option. I will remove it rather than just leave it there to free up server space and to keep visitors from writing comments that are never read by the blogger.
  2. Let Blogmeister blog remain in place, with parent agreeing to oversee content. I will continue to monitor comments and delete the inappropriate ones, but I will not continue to monitor quality before an article is published. That becomes the parent's job. This option has the advantage of letting the children continue to use a platform they are familiar with, and keeps me in touch with them.
  3. Move blog to a new platform, or start a new blog on a new platform. I am thinking of offering to help the children set up a blog at either Blogger or Learner Blogs. Blogger has the advantage of being easy to use, of having spell check, and of me knowing how to use it well. It has the problem of being out there on its own so no one may find their blog, and it has that darned button at the top that randomly takes them to another blog which may or may not be appropriate. I can take that button out, but if they change templates, it will be back again. Learner Blogs are more powerful, and may link them with other student bloggers, but none of us have used Wordpress, so there will be a learning curve for teacher and student just at a time when we are not going to be seeing each other. I personally plan to start an Edublogs blog so I can learn Wordpress. I may want to use it with teachers in Singapore, so I want to get up to speed.
In terms of the journals, I am at more of a loss. They can remain in Moodle, but since I can't get Moodle to notify me when something new is posted, I'll need to keep checking it manually. That seems like a set up for failure. I checked Nicenet, but it won't notify me either. I wish they just had email accounts; they would meet our needs beautifully. I could offer to give the students Gmail accounts, but it requires that families already have an email address, and my most avid journal writers don't have that. We can get around it using my .Mac aliases, but it all seems iffy. They just may have to write me letters! One final option may be I need to check it out to see if it will work for us. The registration period may take too long.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Collaborative Diagrams

Recently, Clarence was writing about using a simple matrix from the Medici Effect to thing about educational change. He then created a wiki to allow us all to join in the discussion. I love the entire project. My only frustration was that in a wiki, the information was no longer in a matrix, making it visually more difficult to process.

I wish the information was in some form on online, collaborative concept map instead. However, I have been unable to find a tool that allows us to create them. I had been looking just a few weeks ago. I even sent a note to the Zoho team suggesting they create one, since it is clearly missing.

Today I heard about Gliffy. It is an online, collaborative app for creating diagrams such as flow charts, concept maps, and room maps. I thought it might be just the tool for projects like this. I registered for a free account and gave it a try.

I liked how easy it was to use, and the well-organized sets of icons. My disappointment was that what I really want is a tool for easily generating concept maps, a sort of Inspiration online. What I found was that I can most certainly draw concept maps, but I must create the text with a text tool, find the icon, resize it to fit, combine the text and graphics, draw connecting lines, etc.

It IS a great tool and it allows you get the diagrams onto your wikis and blogs quite easily. I suspect I will use it, but not when I am trying to brainstorm. I'll use it when I want to create diagrams to be posted online.

[P.S. I couldn't add text at all when I was using Flock as my browser, but it worked fine with Safari and Firefox.]

[Addition: Clint, the Co-Founder of Gliffy left me this comment: "...In Gliffy, you can automatically add text to an object just by starting to type while the object is selected or by double clicking the object. Hope this might solve some of you're frustration. Also, we might be adding more concept/mind mapping capabilities in the near future."]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Library Books Due Before Auction

That title goes with the article that was posted here. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant for this blog. It was meant for my school blog. This is the second time this week that a blog post has gone to the wrong blog. The first one was because I posted from Flock and I neglected to use the drop down menu to select where to send the post.

This post I actually wrote within Blogger and looked at it and failed to notice that I was posting to the wrong blog. And here I thought I was coping pretty well with our move and the end of the school year. Maybe I'm a bit more overwhelmed than I realized.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Combining Blogging and Comprehension Toolkit

I've been using Heinneman's "Comprehension Toolkit" created by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. It is really good stuff for really helping kids comprehend real texts. Then today I was reading Nancy McKeand's post of her reflections on blogging with students this year. She blogged with her middle school reading students about what they were reading. Made me realize how rich this could have been combining blogging with the Comprehension Toolkit. The toolkit does a good job of scaffolding gradual release of responsibility from the teacher to the students. This could be the step after the lessons. I love having kids comment on sticky notes, but I can never get around and conference with them enough to help them grow more. If they were blogging from their sticky notes, I could do that outside of class, saving the face-to-face follow ups for where they were really needed.

Yeah, I know, this isn't truly unique thinking on my part. But it is thoughts of how to build on the good and make it better, which is progress.

Now, I must get back to preparing for our shippers. They arrive Wednesday and we are far from ready.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lessons Learned from our Wikis

Journal Wiki
I'm learning a great deal from the two student wikis we have in use. The first one is the journal wiki that I've written about before except its lack of change notification. I received a good suggestion from Diane P; she is making great use of Nicenet and suggested that it might meet my needs. I'll check it out if I can remember my old Nicenet user name and password.

Important Poems Wiki
Since my wonderful communications class has mastered every bit of technology that I've thrown at them, I decided to give wikis a try as well so that they would have the exposure and I could get a handle on how they worked so I could plan for their use next year.

Unlike our journal wikis which are private, our entire class can edit the poem wiki. At this point, that has proved to be more of a weakness than a strength...

We spent a few brief periods in the lab working on it last week. The index page of the wiki was to be a list of their names. Their names would be links to their pages where the poems would be. I had thought of creating the list of names myself, but I wanted them to have some experience with the CamelCase necessary to create links in the Moodle wiki (or at least, necessary when you are running such an old OS that you don't get the toolbar in edit mode).

The first problem arose on the second day when kids would click the edit button on the index page and make their changes. When they tried to save the changes, they were told the page was in use because other children were editing it at the same time. As I realized what was happening, I told them to all leave and I'd type the list. After I typed in all the names, I realized that one child had NOT logged out and so I hunted him down and had to type all the names again. Finally, all was working well.

This afternoon we were in the lab. Some children were commenting on each other's Important Poems in our Poem Wiki in Moodle. Other students were still trying to get their poems into the wiki. Unfortunately, this became impossible for a brief period. It all centered around one student. This poor kid had his computer crash last week when he was drafting the poems. As a result of the crash, his own computer didn't have the poems, but even after a restart all other computers claimed the couldn't access the file because it was in use. Fortunately, we used the Apple OS trick of opening a recent document and that pulled it up.

Today when we were back in the lab he was eager to get the poems onto the wiki where they would be safer. Unfortunately, he's not real big on reading or listening to directions and he managed to delete the index page of our wiki by pasting his poem over it. I tried using the wiki's revert to previous draft feature, but I couldn't get it working. I'll need to read up on it.

In any case, I asked everyone to once again get out of the index page. I retyped all the names. To my relief, the new list of names was linked to the children's poem pages. If that hadn't worked, I didn't know how to relink them.

A few minutes after all the links were restored, the poor kid's friend helped him to do the exact same thing AGAIN. His friend pasted the poem over the index page. It was a teachable moment as I showed them how to tell what page they were editing, and then I typed all the names again. Actually, a few of the names survived this second assault so I only had to retype half of them.

So, up to this point, the highly editible nature of wikis has been a hindrance to progress. However, I think that as we move ahead, they will master wikis and be able to respond to each other's writing even from the old computer lab where the forum module won't work correctly. In the future, I'd use one of the online wiki platforms that allow comments and provide a real-world audience. Until then, I'll probably get really quick at retyping.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stupid Grade Book Tricks using Easy Grade Pro

I started the year using Makin the Grade as my grading program. Our district has a site license so I invested in the OS X platform version and began using it. In the past, I have always created my own grade books using Excel. I'd merge these into our report cards which were in MS Word. This worked better than what teachers had been doing before, but the spreadsheets always became complex enough that they had trouble merging correctly. We figured out tedious work arounds, and it was still quicker than working by hand, but it wasn't ideal.

My district uses an online report card system. Merging grades into it from Excel or any other program isn't an option, so I decided to use Makin the Grade. I tried it for a term, but it didn't fit me well and my middle-age eyes found it difficult to track across the screen.

A friend and colleague was also questioning whether it was the best program for him to use, so he did some research and settled on Easy Grade Pro. It has suited my work style and been much easier for me to read and to locate information.

All worked fine until yesterday when I printed out Almost End of the Term grade slips to help my students track their progress. Normally I print a summary of each category at the top and then include an itemized list of all missing assignments at the bottom. This time, the summary at the top would list X number of missing assignments, but then there would be nothing listed in the itemized section. I hadn't noticed this discrepancy, but a few of my astute students did.

It took me a while to track down the problem. In the assignment set up window, one of the settings had somehow been changed so that the assignments were supposed to be included in the scoring but excluded from reports. I have no memory of toggling on that setting, but once on, all new assignments carry that attribute until you choose a new one. Normally this is a useful feature-- as long as you are awake enough to notice what you are doing. Fortunately, my furniture ships to Singapore on the 31st. Hopefully after that I'll be a bit more aware of what I'm doing on the job.

There. That's probably far more than you wanted to know, but hopefully of use to someone.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Do You Have a Favorite Children's Book?

What's your favorite children's book (besides Harry Potter)? If you have a few minutes, please go to my new Vaestro channel and tell us about it.

Vaestro is a new, free, online service that lets anyone set up a channel where people can have an asynchronous voice discussion. You don't need to sign in or subscribe; to leave a comment, just go there and take part. All you need is a microphone. I just used the tiny pin hole microphone on my iBook and it worked quite well.

To add your comment, click on the reply button, then click the record button and start talking. Don't worry; you get to listen to your recording before it is posted. It is up to you to delete or approve it.

If you experience technical difficulties, anything from the site being blocked by your school's filters to the URL not working, please post me a comment here. I'm asking all of your to be my guinea pigs before I release the link to my students. Thanks for you assistance.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Arianna's Nutrition Expedition

I'm working on a nutrition unit with my fifth graders. My pre-testing showed that with a few exceptions, my students do not already know the information I plan to teach. The students who did score 15/20 points on the pretest had been playing around on my SchoolNotes page over the weekend and had already tried out many of the resources. I found it encouraging that students are voluntarily using the resources on my site even before I introduce them.

I started the unit by setting up a journal in Moodle in which students told me what they knew and wanted to know about nutrition. Next, they took a pre-test in Moodle. I adapted it from the pre-test provided in Arianna's Nutrition Expedition, a nutrition unit available online from the National Dairy Council. In the past, I've shied away from teaching materials from groups with a vested interest, but these resources are excellent, not merely an advertising venue for the council.

As they finished the pretest, they played the Blast Off! game I mentioned here to expose them to the ideas and information they will be learning. Next, we began using the lessons in Arianna's Nutrition Expedition. I found the lessons very age-appropriate. They held my students' interest and engaged them in thinking about the topics being taught. For example, after an adventure story that taught about the different food groups in the food pyramid, the students completed a worksheet in which they had to identify which foods were placed in the wrong groups. I heard students having good discussions with each other as they tried to figure out which foods were misplaced. After that, they responded to journal questions.

The final activity was to go to the lab and play the first of four online computer games that are part of the unit. We played Quintricious! First students had to use colored eye droppers to label each food to indicate the food group to which it belonged. Each pair of students were stumped by a few foods. Peanut butter was the trickiest overall-- many pairs of students had to try it in all of the wrong groups before figuring out it went in the meat group. This gave us a natural lead-in to helping them rename the group to the Meats, Beans and Nuts group. This will become clearer after we start discussing the nutrient basis for assigning foods to groups.

When the foods were all assigned to the correct group, the game took the students through three levels of a Tetris-style game where they matched up foods from the same food group. This part of the game was well-scaffolded. In level one, all the foods retained the color coding the students had given them. By level three, there were no clues as to what food group each food belongs.

I hope the worksheets and games continue to cause spontaneous, focused discussions occur. I tend to shy away from science worksheets in general because they tend to require such low level thinking, but these are doing just what they should. If you teach fourth or fifth grade and have a nutrition unit at your grade level, I hope you find these resources useful.