Sunday, March 29, 2009

Looking for my Sweet Spot

I recently spent some time listening to Bob Marzano deliver a keynote speech at the March 2009 CUE conference. The CUE (Computer Using Educators) organization's goal is to advance student achievement through technology in all disciplines from preschool through college.

Bob Marzano's keynote (you can find it embedded below) addresses the question "What do we know about the effect of technology on student achievement?" The title intrigued me so I spent some time listening to what he had to say. The results are quite interesting and caused me to reflect quite a bit on my own teaching practice. The research focused on three practices: The use of white board technology, the use of technology in formative assessment, and teacher feedback and teacher interaction.

I'm new to the world of white board technology. I've rigged up a little eInstruction setup with wires running up from my computer, along the ceiling, down to the whiteboard sensor. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don't. I know I need more training, though I'm learning quite a bit teaching myself. Though Marzano's research focuses on Promethean Technology, my eInstruction works almost as nicely. Marzano mentions the "Sweet Spot" as being the conditions under which you get the projected highest increase in student achievement. What do I need to do to find my "Sweet Spot"? Here's what his study stated:
  • You must be an experienced teacher (have good grasp of instructional strategies,)
  • Who has been using the white board technology for two years,
  • Who uses it about 75% of the time in class,
  • Who has had enough training to be confident in their use of the technology.
So, how do I measure up? I have experience on my side. I've been using the technology for a few months and I have to admit sometimes I get so frustrated by not being able to manipulate the program I give up on the technology. I'm not even close to using it 75% of the time and I certainly am not confident in using this technology. This doesn't mean I'm not willing to try. The video encourages me to keep trudging along the road of the unknown. I wish there were someone else in the school joining me on this journey. Any takers? Trouble is, there's only one eInstruction setup.

He goes on to discuss the research relating to formative assessment - all of which want to make me use our clicker system more. Part II is available after you finish Part I. More on that later.

The video is worth watching.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How’s Your PLN?

It’s spring break and I’ve been spending some time reading, fiddling with my new iPod Touch, relaxing and hanging around with friends and family. I can’t remember the last time I had hours on end to do what I wanted, educationally related or not.

We’re pretty fortunate in this day and age to have so much information at our disposal, all of which started me thinking about how I am developing professionally as a teacher. Learning looks very different to me now than it did several years ago. For instance, just yesterday I spent an hour with Don Tapscot, the author of Growing Up Digital. A free hour mind you, no fee attached. I happened upon a webinar sponsored by Discovery Learning through a social network called Twitter. I’m learning and staying abreast of all sorts of educationally related issues via my new “friends” who happen to live all over the world. I’m instantly connected with many well-known and respected individuals who have a wealth of information to offer in all fields of education.

Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) have been around for a while. Now, thanks to the development of Web 2.0 technologies, they have become stronger and more relevant. The trouble as I see them, is that so many organizations haven’t figured out they exist. Despite emphasizing a 21st Century approach, their models of growth feature 20th Century Learning. Sure they have jumped on the bandwagon (and a good bandwagon it is) of online learning, but most have ignored the mounds of information social learning networks like Twitter and Diigo offer, in addition to the interesting and rich insight blogging provides.

It would be great for educators to receive credit and recognition for the countless hours spent reading, listening, and implementing what other educators and experts have to say about Pedagogy, Technology, Science Education, and 21st Century Teaching. The resources providing free professional development are immense if educators are aware of them.

So exactly what does my Personal Learning Network (PLN) look like? Here’s a sample of how I spend the first half hour of every morning learning before I go to work:
  1. Check my email.
  2. Check in with Twitter and Classroom 2.0 to see what people are saying, blogging, what websites are being referenced, or what webinars may be available later in the day.
  3. Visit interesting bookmarks shared through the Diigo groups I belong.
  4. I’ll check into Facebook to see what friends and relatives, some personal some professional, are up to this day.
  5. I’ll check my school and student email. (Students use a unique email to access me.)
  6. I’ll check my blog to see if I need to respond to anyone or perhaps I’ll add a new post.
  7. I’ll review the new posts of the many blogs I follow.
  8. Whatever new comes my way that day, I’ll click and check it out.
All this before I even leave the house. Of course, I follow up at work when and where I am able. My expanded PLN is fairly new. I can’t imagine what this list will look like in a few months.

If you're interested in developing your own PLN, check out this blog page by Lisa Nielsen, author of The Innovator Educator. She does a nice job of summing up PLN's. She includes a great video by Will Richardson that will easily get you on your way.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Teacher of The Year

Receiving the 2007-2008 Colorado Teacher of the Year sponsored by Teacher's Insurance was quite an honor and surprise. I owe many thanks to the students at school. Without them, there would not be an award. They are the reason I aspire to great teaching.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Professional Development

I loved reading about Social Camp - Memphis. Social camps, or unconferences are facilitated, participant-driven conferences centered around a theme or purpose. The idea caused me to wonder if Social Camps, such as the one in Memphis, might be the future of professional development for organizations. I rather like the idea.

Social Camps work as follows:
  1. A call for ideas is sent out to all participants. Those interested prepare a three minute introduction on a topic delivered on the morning of the conference or "camp."
  2. When the three minutes are up, the floor is transferred to the next idea or introduction.
  3. Attendees listen to the series of introductions and then vote on the topics they are interested in learning more.
  4. The topics with the largest numbers of votes are presented in the following sessions.
I think social camps could work. I like the idea of increased exposure to a multitude of ideas because even if those ideas are not selected to be presented the seed is still planted. If people are interested in finding out more about a certain topic they have an immediate contact.

I think social camps are innovated and fresh and offer a great deal of diversity to educators. Anybody in?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Throughout the year my students have completed several podcasts and I've not been very pleased with the masses as only 1/5 of the groups do a decent job.

There are some elements of podcasting that I've been sure to include in each project. Still, it doesn't seem to be enough to push students into the successful category.

Essential Podcasting Elements
  1. Creation of a script or storyboard.
  2. Clear requirements and guidelines.
  3. Periodic due dates.
  4. Documentation of images/copyrighted information.
  5. Listen to podcast examples prior to start.
Struggles in podcasting with whole classes:
  1. Last minute scrambling to get podcast published.
  2. Developing ownership in the project.
  3. Adequate space to record quietly.
  4. Students suddenly locked out of iPhoto, can't incorporate photos.(Think this is a network issue, though it affected kids doing iPhoto books, not so much podcasts)
I'm not ready to give up yet so I'm thinking about how to improve the process for next year.
Improvements for next year:
  1. First time podcasts are short, and viewing of podcasts is for feedback purposes. (We did this but the second podcast came too late.)
  2. Try single group podcasts - one group per week instead of whole class. This step eliminates the noise factor and may help to develop ownership in the podcast since it would be the only podcast published in a given week.
I'd love your feedback. Have a listen to some of the podcasts in the archived link on our podcast page. Note the links at the top of the page are not podcasts, but iPhoto books. To view the podcasts you'll have to start at the bottom and work up.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Kids are Finished Early, Now What?

My students are finishing up podcasts this week. Inevitably, some groups will be finished with plenty of time to spare. We all know the importance of being prepared for such events. Two 8th graders with a class period of doing nothing is an invitation for trouble as much as it is a waste of their time.

Someone in the EdTechTalk group on Diigo bookmarked Pixton, a website used to create comic strips online. Perfect! The site is free and easy to navigate. All a user has to do is register, wait for an email invitation (arrives immediately) and they can be on their way to creating comic strips. Once the comic strip is published, code is provided for the user to embed the comic strip or share it via email with a friend.

This coming week students finishing their podcasts early will be creating comic strips dealing with weathering and erosion and then embedding the comic strip onto their blogs.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Internet Hoax and Copy Cat Postings in Germany

Seems like the subject of yesterday's post may have been a hoax as police in Germany are searching the young man's computer for proof of the conversation in the chat room prior to the school shootings.

Yesterday I asked my 8th grade students what they would have done if they were chatting with someone and that person would have mentioned a threat. Their reply - if it was they're friend, nothing, they would know they would just be kidding. If it was someone they didn't know, they'd tell their parents. No one mentioned this kind of chatter would never have occurred.

The above scenario is the goal of teaching appropriate use to students in schools and the message in yesterday's post. Students don't have rules about what is appropriate and inappropriate. Basically, anything goes.

My suggestion from yesterday still stands, stronger than ever despite the fact that the current investigation may be leaning toward a hoax. We, as educators, need to be guiding our students into the land of appropriateness so they may grow and be better citizens.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Danger in the Chat Room - A Message to Educators - Teach Appropriate Use

The school shootings in Germany and the shooting rampage in Alabama have left me sad, frustrated, and wanting to take action especially after reading about how the shooter in Germany warned of his attack in an internet chat room hours before. The news article states that a father came forward after his son told him of his conversation with the gentleman the night before. The conversation ended with the shooter stating "No reports to the police now, don't worry, I'm just baiting you" and an "lol"(Laugh out Loud.)

Why don't students report this sort of traffic to authorities? All sorts of explanations may be given. It's easy to react to such attacks and search for reasons.

I suggest it's time for schools to be proactive, pick up the slack and hammer appropriate use in all settings - hallways, email, cellphones, classrooms and chatrooms. Immerse our students in these settings and teach them what is right and how to behave. Young children continue to set their own rules because there aren't many adults teaching them otherwise. One only has to look at the recent academic suspension on a student due to his comments about a professor on Facebook. Stupidity or ignorance?

Though the argument may be made that it's a parents job to teach these applications, the school setting is consistent and steady. As educators, we aren't expecting parents to teach mathematics, why are we expecting them to teach appropriate use. Times are changing and it's our job to adapt. The effects of not doing so are beginning to emerge. Does that mean inappropriate behavior will stop - probably not. But at least we've done something to educate others regarding the right thing to do.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stuck Between Two Centuries of Teaching

Why is it I feel so stuck between 20th Century Teaching and 21st Century Skills? I mean, I get that technology in the classroom is a mindset, not a skill set. I get the pedagogy has to change to be effective in reaching students today. I even get that learning and living with technology need to be somewhat equivalent in the classroom if I am ever going to completely immerse myself into 21st Century teaching. Trouble is, I'm struggling with how to do this well with a tool set available only once a week.

Learning to differentiate the mindset from the tools when the tools are only available once or twice a week has been an increasing challenge as I move away from a teacher centered classroom to a student centered one. I'm just wondering, is it truly possible? Is it beneficial to students or is it a distraction?

Does learning to think differently require total immersion into the new thought process? Does bouncing back and forth between teacher centered instruction and student centered instruction confuse kids or is it just confusing me?

I've had the luxury of utilizing our laptop library everyday for the past two weeks due to our state testing schedule and I don't want to go back to my one day a week laptop schedule. That's when I feel like learning is about the tool set, not the mindset. I'll go back to thinking - "how will I use the laptops today instead of using the laptops?" and take two steps backward.


And fortunately, in our classrooms there are laptops to use.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Element - Ken Robinson

I'm in the midst of reading The Element by Sir Ken Robinson. I love the idea of arriving at your element so I decided to wordle the following:

The element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion.
It’s the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.

When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves, most inspired, and achieve at their highest levels.
Sir Ken Robinson

Here's what I came up with:

You can watch Sir Ken Robinson on Youtube.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Unlocking the Door

About mid-way through a multimedia project I'm asking myself why I'm using old teaching methods with new technologies. It's like I'm afraid to change the bath water. There's something comforting about the Johnson's Baby Soap that makes me want to stick with it. I'm a bit frightened to switch it out for something a bit more relevant to my students. I wondering if this need to stick with traditional instruction methods stunts creativity. No one wants to be creative. Everyone wants to take the path of least resistance. I'm breeding this like mosquitoes in my classroom. Why? I'm thinking my pedogogy needs to change.

Here are three important factors to remember when incorporating technology into Learning:

1. Using technology in the classroom is a mindset, not a skill-set.

2. It’s not about the technology, it’s about the pedagogy.

3. We need to learn with technology the way students live with technology.

These are taken from a blog post by Kim Cofino.

The Cult of Done Manifesto

I was doing a bit of professional reading for the Adam's State/Colorado On-Line class when I came across a link to Daniel Pink. His latest entry discusses the Cult of Done Manifesto.
Here's how it reads:
1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.

2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.

3. There is no editing stage.

4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.

5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.

6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.

7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.

8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.

9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.

10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.

11. Destruction is a variant of done.

12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.

13. Done is the engine of more.

So, I decided to wordle the text and here's what I came up with:

Wordle is a cool website that can creatively generate word clouds from text provided. You should check it out.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Attendance Vs. Engagement- Part II


I find many students have learned this behavior of just existing. I observe students walking in, having the correct materials, and sitting down. This is all a good start. However, many students stop there. I deplore this culture in our school; yet, I have a feeling it's pretty widespread.

The previous post about attendance vs. engagement definitely addresses this. It's a paradigm shift. Our students are supposed to strive for excellence, yet this culture of existence doesn't demonstrate a pursuit of excellence.

In this culture, wouldn't it be great for a teacher to have a daily assistant? The assistant (every class period) would make all of the anecdotal notes about student engagement, questioning, participation, etc. Couldn't we truly be professionals then? That's a pie in the sky idea, but when we are referred to as professionals, we should have all the tools and resources available to professionals in other fields. A tangent... I know.

Without the help of an assistant to keep accurate and interesting records, my mind goes back to a culture of excellence and learning. It has to be pervasive in a building- almost contagious. Kids are here to learn, not just to be. Kids are here to question, strive, seek, find, etc. Excellence begets excellence. Attendance vs. engagement wouldn't be an issue if our culture shifted.

Attendance vs. Engagement

Every day we take attendance. Every period we take attendance. Wouldn't it be interesting if instead of giving students credit for attendance we gave them credit for engagement. Sure you were physically present, but were you engaged? And if not, why not?

Sure you were here yesterday, but did you complete the class work? Did you ask questions related to the area of study? Were you an active participant in learning?


Sure I planned a lesson for my students today. Sure they were present. No, no one asked any really good questions, they just sort of went through the motions. They were present, not engaged. No credit. Why not? Marking for engagement vs attendance would certainly change the way I design my lessons.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Open Test Booklet Debate

Is it good practice to force students to keep their test booklets open for the duration of an administered test? I think yes.

Keeping the book open serves multiple purposes. Students who are thorough in the execution of their work benefit from such a strategy for they are no longer under any sort of peer pressure to close their test booklet or finish when the majority of the class finishes.

The student who is finished early has the opportunity to go back and check over their work, something that isn't often completed to the fullest extent when the book is allowed to be closed at any time.

When a writing draft is staring you in the face for 30 minutes, you're more apt to look it over and make some changes, perhaps even write a bit more supporting the topic. I saw this happen with 10 minutes left to the test.

I've seen this strategy benefit students in our test taking session today and I'm glad we all agreed to try and implement such a strategy. The kids can always put their head down and take a nap if it is really bothering them.

Of course, the down side of booklets being left open is it requires active proctoring. Moving around to be sure students aren't moving ahead or looking back to previous tests is very important and requires a bit more effort. Guess I'm willing to make that effort - I should probably have been doing it anyway.

I also feel I haven't had disruptions due to the fact students are not allowed to read a personal book. I guess I'm thankful I'm teaching a group of really nice, well-mannered kids.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I am officially in love with Twitter. (Please don't tell my husband - well actually, I think he already knows.)
Here I have found more resources and been involved in more professional conversations than I thought possible.
To make following others even easier, there are a plethora of applications that make Twitter even easier to use.
What's the lure? Quick status updates that give the reader a glimpse into the writer's mind and thought process throughout the day.
You have to be a member of twitter to follow someone on twitter but the good news is it's free to join.
If you want to check out my twitter account go to

If you decide to Twitter, here's a terrific slideshow that details applications to be used in conjunction with Twitter which bring a whole new level to the subject. Twitter Slideshow