Saturday, December 19, 2009

Help Needed with a Blog/Forum Assignment

Yesterday the other 8th grade physical science teacher approached me about doing some blogging with our students after the start of the new year.  Specifically her idea is to have a weekly assignment for students that would review science content from previous years as a way to prepare for the upcoming PSSA tests.  Biting my tongue so I don't launch into a diatribe about the ridiculousness of a standardized test on a non-standardized curriculum, I do believe this could be a great idea.  The question is how to pull it off considering it would be done with a total of 120 students.

I was reading the Tom Barrett's blog "Do You Have a Class or School Blog?" and found some great ideas but nothing to really aid me in figuring out how to pull this off.  I love the idea, presented in one of the comments, about having students taking turns blogging about the days class and then using their blog to start class the next day.  This might work really well with my environmental or biology classes in the high school, as well as with my 8th graders.  However, if we are going to do this with a PSSA focus, and such a large number of students blogging on a weekly basis, I think we need to come up with a different approach.

I am wondering if we would be better off doing this in Moodle using one of the various forum styles or setting up a blog page like Edublogs or Blogger.  I love the flexibility that Moodle offers for an assignment like this, but it lacks the more public appeal that the blogging sites have.  Maybe with the  specific questions students will be addressing, and the number of students that will be responding, the public aspect is not needed or even appropriate.  I would love for people to leave me some feedback in a comment to help me think through this assignment.  How would you approach this and what platform would you use to pull it off?  Maybe someone with a large following could retweet this to help increase the collaboration.  I am pretty new to this world and my PLN is fairly small right now... :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The right focus!

I am really enjoying all the new doors that have been opened up to me as an educator since I started playing with this blog, reading other educator blogs, and twittering.  It seems like there is a never ending stream of new ideas and resources now flowing into my world.  During my cyberspace travels I keep seeing the phrase "personal learning network" being thrown around, and I really could not agree more with this assessment.  While I am reading and browsing through my new found personal learning network I always take the time to check out new Web 2.0 sites that I see mentioned.

Tonight I was reading and clicking through some links and I ended up at Jonathon Wylie's Top 10 Wordle Lessons.  You can find this resource here:  His blog peaked my interest so I decided to visit and play for a bit.  To see wordle in action I entered the product of the "One Class, One Paper..." project I did with my students, and a link to this blog.  I spent some time looking at these wordle webs thinking about what they mean and how they might be used in the classroom.  Both wordle webs are pictured in this entry.

I finished this little 2.0 experience with two thoughts.  One, I should share this resource with a specific teacher in my district who I can see putting it to great use.  What better way to promote using these technologies in our own districts than by sharing what we learn online?  Two, I am very happy to see that the word "students", apparently the more a word is mentioned in the input the bigger and brighter it will be, was the predominant word on my blog's wordle web.  I am very new to this blogging thing, but apparently I am getting one thing right and have not lost sight that students should always be our main focus.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Your valuable tools should be off and in your locker!

Cell phones in school
By hanoverscience | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

I have been playing with the idea of trying to incorporate the use of cell phones into my classroom.  Classroom 2.0 held a live webinar today entitled Cell Phones as Classroom Learning Tools with special guest Liz Kolb.  This was an excellent presentation and I highly recommend taking the time to watch the archived show on their website.  Just beware, there is so much good information being offered in this show that you might find yourself sitting in front of a computer for a very long time.  I finished watching this webinar amazed that we are not making better use of the devices our parents are happily paying for and sending to school with their students everyday!   

Personally, I think it is going to take me a while to digest everything I learned, and I probably will be watching the webinar again myself.  Of immediate interest to me was the information provided about the website.  I took some time to play with this site already and think that this is going to be a great resource.  I have been loving the toondoo website and let my juniors and seniors create cartoons as a way to review some of the concepts on their upcoming test. provides a great way to not only collect these cartoons, but to let the students view and comment on them as well.  Add to that the possibilities it presents in incorporating cell phones into the classroom, and I think my class and I are going to be trying some new, fun, and motivating things with it in the near future. 

Check out the following sites: 


A great Simpsons episode dealing with cell phones - Bart gets a Z   

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Link to a cartoon about the History of Tech in Schools

This cartoon reminded me of my first post on this blog. I feel that those of us that are using new technologies, and are constantly trying to encourage other teachers to use them as well, are watching the divide grow larger every day. When you consider the exponential rate in which new technologies are being developed, teachers that are hesitating to jump on the technological band wagon are falling further and further behind. The cartoon ends with the author waiting for the next big thing... my guess is that the wait will not be long!

The highlight of this cartoon for me was recalling my "programing" days in middle school...

10 print technology
20 goto 10

The Innovative Educator: A (Subjective) History of Tech in Schools

Funny Green Men!

Funny Green Men
By hanoverscience | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

While trolling the 21st Century Learning blogs tonight, I discovered the fun to be had at  This website allows the user to easily create cartoons.  Later, while going over my son's site words with him, we decided to try and incorporate some of them into a cartoon of our own.  Above is the results of our efforts.  We were able to incorporate five site words into the cartoon above and changed their font to make them stand out a bit.  He loved this and is so excited to go to school tomorrow and share it with his teacher and classmates.  He is really hoping she will let him share his cartoon with his class on their smart board!  We had so much fun I couldn't resist posting this...

Check out Toondoo here.

Here are some links to other blogs about using toondoo in the classroom:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

One class, one paper...

I have been spending an over abundance of time considering the new doors technology can open in the classroom.  Using technology, just for technologies sake, just does not sit right with me and I am constantly trying to ensure its use is justified.  One of the things that has been running through my mind deals with the ease in which Google Docs allows collaboration to take place.  In education collaboration is really nothing new, I certainly can remember swapping papers with other students to get feedback on rough drafts.  What I have been pondering lately however, is whether or not we can take collaboration a step further, and start exposing students to the creative process their peers use when working on a project.  What would be the educational benefit for students to be able to witness other students collecting research, writing, proofing, editing, and documenting each others work?

With this thought in mind I set out to have my environmental science students write a paper on seed dispersal.  I have had my students research a method of seed dispersal for the last couple of years.  They would write a small paper and then we would discuss what they found and how it relates to succession.  This year I decided to do something different.  I expanded the paper to relate seed dispersal to succession and include multiple examples of seed dispersal.  I also decided to have the students follow APA guidelines for the paper's format and documentation.  In the past this was done as a quick assignment to gather examples to discuss in class.  Besides making a major increase to the requirements of this assignment, I made one more major change.  The class would be writing this paper as one large collaborative effort.  Thats right, a group of twenty!

My environmental science class is definitely a heterogeneous group of students.  Before proposing this assignment to them I came up with seven different roles and a description of each.  I then went over each role with the students, and had them volunteer for the role in which they thought they would excel.  I will include a link at the bottom of this blog to the roles and descriptions that I came up with.  Once the roles where selected I let the students get to work.

I would love to report that this activity went off without a hitch, but as is so often the case when we venture into uncharted territory, it has had its fair share of problems.  The first major problem I ran into was a limitation imposed by Google Docs.  Apparently only ten people can edit a document at a time.  More can view the document, but they will not have editing rights.  This problem was easily solved by splitting the paper into sections and only sharing it with those students working on each particular section.  The students that took on the roles of editors have access to all sections and are responsible for cutting and pasting the final document together.  I also rearranged the room so students working on a particular section would be sitting together to better enhance communication.  I found it funny when one student asked me how they would know when a student in another group was done.  My response was to simply ask.  It does not all have to be done with sophisticated technology.           

Another problem, which I realized even before starting the assignment was the fact that the researchers would be busy at the beginning of the process, and the proof readers and editors would busy at the end.  Thinking about the progression of the whole process I realized that student activity would basically take place on a bell shaped curve.  I accepted this reality before starting and have looked for ways to try and keep all students active throughout the entire process.  This has been achieved by having students aid others and sometimes pick up the roles of other students who were absent.  I have also run into issues with some students who just are not able to get their job done in a timely manner.  This unfortunately has a rippling effect on the project, especially if that student has one of the preliminary roles, like that of a researcher. 

With all these problems in mind, and granted I am writing this before the project is even finished, I would like to share my initial thoughts on the success so far.  Quite honestly I have had a blast doing this project.  I think in the future, with applying what I have learned in this attempt, this definitely will be an even better learning experience for the students.  We have worked on it now for three days and I definitely hope to finish it up tomorrow or the next day at the very latest.  Each night I have found a few minutes to sit down and look through all that was completed during class that day.  I have used Google Docs ability to go through and leave comments where I felt they were needed to help give direction for the following day.  I have had a ton of fun with this and really feel that I have had the opportunity to facilitate the learning taking place during the writing of this paper.  I have also been impressed with the comments students have been leaving for each other and have been amazed to watch paragraphs totally reconstructed and made better because of them.  One of my goals for this project, besides the content in which they are being exposed, was that students get the opportunity to witness each others creative process and learn from each other.  So far, it seems that this is taking place.

Link to the roles and descriptions -

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Spontaneous Collaboration... How cool is that?

Google Docs has officially been added and I did some preliminary testing with it this week.  What a cool addition to the available technology we have at our disposal to use with our students.  The thing that has really blown me away so far about using it with my students is how easy it is to manage.  Beyond that, I can not believe how quickly many of my eighth graders began using it, and using it to its full advantage.  I showed them Google's Love Letter video clip and the next thing I knew, students were signed in, sharing their work, and leaving comments for their peers.  Wow, spontaneous peer reviews!  It really doesn't get much better than this.

The thing that makes Google Docs so useful in the classroom is it's collaboration capabilities.  I shared it with my eighth graders with two thoughts in mind.  First that it would provide them with an excellent avenue to work on their assignments both at school and at home without having to worry about how to move files back and forth.  Second, as a means to collaborate on a slide show.  Part of their current assignment is to create a visual aid and some students are creating slide shows.  I thought Google Docs would aid them in doing this since they can collaborate on the project at the same time, from different computers, at different locations.

I really did not expect them to embrace this technology so quickly and start using it to review each others work without being asked.  Granted not all students did this, but the handful that did was pretty astonishing.  There are so many educators/administrators out there that think many of us use technology just for the sake of using it (this thought could be a blog in itself someday).  That attitude is unfortunate because they miss the fact that by putting the tools in the student's hands that they use in their daily lives, we find that students often exceed our expectations and create the productive learning environment we strive for on a daily basis.

I am also in the process of having my junior and senior environmental science students collaborate and write a paper together.  I created roles for the students and gave them a topic related to what we are learning about currently in class.  This little experiment started off kind of rocky because I did not realize only 10 students can edit a document at a time.  So I have retooled a bit and I am ready to see where they take it after thanksgiving break.    

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It is one more thing!

I truly wonder if teachers throughout the ages received the same looks and complaints that I sometimes get when I am advocating for using a new source of technology in the classroom.  Imagine the first teacher to show up to school and hand out pencils with erasers attached.  How about the first chalk board or ditto machine.  Did people complain when the first modern copier showed up to replace the ditto machine?  Can you hear it?  "You want me to throw my dittos away and start over?  You are always adding... one more thing!"

Paper, the automatic pencil, pens, overhead projectors, film projectors, slide projectors, VCR machines, and DVD machines were all at one time new technological advances to the classroom.  Although I have no physical evidence, I imagine that these technological advances were easily accepted and received eagerly by the teaching community.  Why?  My guess is that teachers could see an immediate benefit to using these technologies in the classroom.

The question now is why do so many shy away from you when you start talking about google docs, moodle, youtube, social networking, cell phones (really!), digital cameras, smart boards, wikis, and what seems to be a never ending source of new software, internet experiences, and devices?  Unlike the introduction of the pencil, these technological advances are not as easily used in the classroom.  Actually, maybe it would be more appropriate to say that they are not as easily understood and applied by the instructor.  Today's students are commonly referred to as digital natives.  This accurate little label gives educators the ability to explain why our students are so adept at using technology while they continue to inhabit the days of old.  This isn't intended as a dig at the technologically impaired, but instead it is a reality check.  Yes our students have grown up using this technology, and it is definitely time that educators realize we also need to jump on the technology band wagon.  I don't feel that we will be left behind if we don't, but I am pretty certain our students will.  

To me technology in the classroom should be considered in how it affects both the students and the teachers.  Our students are in fact digital natives.  This is the world they are growing up in and it is the world we need to prepare them for when they leave school and hopefully become productive members of society.  Just like the technological advances listed above, some which are considered classroom relics, and others which are still in heavy use today, current technologies provide teachers with new ways to engage our students.  Beyond that, they also make our job easier.  I know that is a taboo thing to say in some circles, but it is the truth, and more importantly, it is a good thing.  Using technology to reach our students increases parent/student communication, aids in using performance based assessments, helps to gather data, and organizes our classroom/materials, increasing our productivity and time spent working with students.  Educators don't have to be a digital native to incorporate new technology into their classroom either.  In fact, they don't even necessarily need to know how to use it.  More on this later, as looking at ways for educators to incorporate technology into their classrooms will mostly be the focus of this blog.    

I don't know how often I will post to this blog, truthfully I never had anything to blog about before, but this is a topic where much of my time and interest in education is currently focused.  I have spent a lot of hours trolling through the wealth of information on the web about using technology in the classroom and hope to pull the fruits of those efforts into a valuable resource here and on my classroom website:  Suter's Education Page.