Thursday, August 21, 2008

Joining the Community

One of the best things about teaching in the 21st Century is the way that technology allows us to be a part of a larger community through newsgroups and listservs. I have gotten so many good ideas and useful tips from the ed listservs that I belong to. That's not to say that my inbox isn't cluttered, it certainly is, but the nuggets that I get are worth the clutter. One of my favorites is Middle-L, a listserve for middle school teachers.

Another one of my favorites is a huge listserv that educators from all over the world subscribe to is WWWEDU. On this list, you'll find educators at all levels discussing everything from technology in the classroom to curriculum development and classroom management. "We Do" is so big that it has its own sessions at NECC!

Another great place for teaching ideas is the Education World weekly newsletter. ED World's website is crammed with teaching ideas, how-tos, and information, and not all of it is tech-related. I also subscribe to Blue Web'n a site sponsored by AT&T, chock full of well-designed lesson plans. They grade the websites they find and will only send out the ones that are of the highest calibre.

For everything from using a document camera to getting stains out of my clothes, I turn to Kathy Schrock. She's the Ed Tech goddess. She's been a teacher for a gazillion years, and has been an ed tech leader for just about that long. You can subscribe to her "Sites of the School Day" news letter and almost every day receive a quick tip or a link to a high-quality website.

There are loads and loads of ed sites out there--join at least one and become part of the worldwide education community!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Netflix for Books?

One of the education blogs I read is the "Infinite Thinking Machine." The folks who post to this blog are educators and power users of technology, so there's always something useful on the blog. I was scrolling through the RSS feed I have set up for ITM and discovered this post on finding sites for kids to search and comment upon books, much like Netflix does for movies. I thought what Wes Fryer, the blogger, had to say about the three sites he's found was interesting. The comments that folks have left him were equally interesting. Have a look!

It works!

I love it when technology does what it's supposed to do even though I don't know what I'm doing!

I set up my Gabcast account to embed in this blog, not being very sure that it would do what I thought it would do. I recorded a podcast, and when I went to view the blog, the podcast was there! Miraculous! Click on the icon to listen to the pearls of wisdom, or scroll down the page to ignore the podcast.

Gabcast! TechTeacher's First Try #2

In Defense of the Wiki

Much of the attraction that Web 2.0 applications is that these tools allow for very powerful and meaningful collaboration. The theory is that none of us is as smart (or dumb, depending) as all of us. Wikis are perfect example of how a community can be created and wisdom and knowledge shared without ever physically meeting the other members.

A wiki is a webpage that can be edited by any member of the community. Wikipedia is the most well-known example, and despite the reputation that it has, it is still the most powerful example out there of shared community knowledge. Numerous studies have been done, and despite what people think of it, it is as reliable as the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica. One of the reasons for that is that there are so many people reading and editing the pages at the same time. Another reason is that Wikipedia staff are constantly monitoring the pages and vetting the changes nearly as soon as they are made by a user. That's not to say that at the moment you access a page there may be an inaccuracy, but it's pretty fair to say that others are checking the facts and trying to keep a page current.

Having said all that, there are countless wikis out there that organizations, groups or even individuals have created for all sorts of reasons. One that I just found (thank you, PNAIS TechDirectors listserve!) is the ISTE Independent Schools wiki. The purpose of this wiki is to allow teachers and tech folks who work in Independent Schools to collaborate, share ideas and solve problems. Here, you'll find lesson plan ideas and support from others who teach in independent schools all over the country. What a great idea!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Word clouds and such

I love my listservs! I get so many good ideas from the communities of educators that are members of such servs as WWWEDU and Net-Gold. Today's gem comes from WWWEDU.

One of the things we'll be talking about at Camp is tag clouds. Tags are key words that you can apply to items posted on many Web2 applications like or Flikr, or even this blog. The tags make searching for a specific item easier. Tag clouds are a graphic way of looking at the tags of an item, and they are set up so that the most frequently used tags are larger than the lesser used ones. Wordle is an application that allows you to cut and paste your own text or the text of a blog or even a user's tags and create your own tag, or word, clouds. You can then save the picture to the gallery, or print it. Here's the cloud I made using the text of the first three posts to this blog. What makes this tool more useful, I think, than TagCrowd, is that you have three different options for the source of the cloud and you can customize it by changing the orientation, altering the shape and changing the color scheme.

Big deal. So I can make pretty pictures out of the text of my blog. What's educational about that? Well, something like this would make a great introductory scaffolding activity for reading. Let's say that you teach Earth Science and you have a new chapter you want the students to read. Type the text of the introductory section into Wordle, create your cloud, and show it to the kids. The largest words are going to be the ones the students will need to make sure that they understand. But, the activity also highlights the major vocabulary for the entire section. Better yet, have the students make their own word clouds.

Or, you're working on writing a paper with your class. Have the students cut and paste the text of their paper into Wordle and they can see for themselves if they are over using a term, or under utilizing a specific term that is important to their theme.

A great tool for ELL students as well as students who struggle with reading and writing!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Digital Booktalks

A short post this morning. I was reading my school email and one of the posters to a listserve I belong to does a website called Web English Teacher. Today, she sent a link to a site she uses for some of her literature students, Digital Booktalk. These are short videos, some shot by students, that discuss a particular book. The site has all the tools students would need to create their own booktalk videos. I checked their list of books, and was going to suggest a couple that we use, but decided that would make a really powerful project for, say, the 8th graders to create for "In the Time of the Butterflies." It would also be a really useful tool for the ELL kids to use as a prereading exercise, too!