Friday, April 30, 2010

Weekly Tech Tips - Digital Natives, Peer Teaching, & Student Empowerment

Weekly Tech Tip:

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Will this book really make you a better teacher?

Do you see anything in any of the clips shown in this video, promoting Doug Lemoy's book, Teach Like a Champion, that:
  1. Are Learner-Centered?
  2. Engage Kids in Real-World Problem Solving?
  3. Model Individualized Instruction?
  4. Assess Student Understanding?
  5. Integrate Technology in the Classroom?

...Neither did I.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Web 2.0 & Connectivist Learning

#edchat @siemens @courosa @sschwister #edubloggersalliance

Last fall I wrote a post where I asked this question:
So, at the very least, here is the rub: Why is it that I can get 1 continuing ed credit for sitting in an hour-long presentation by an obviously biased corporately-employed presenter and not engage myself meaningfully in the topic at hand but for an hour of reading and meaningful career related reflection in my PLN I get nothing institutionally recognized?
How do you take all the great informal learning that happens online through personal learning networks (PLNs) and fit it into the institutional framework of schools, colleges, and universities? I think I finally have an answer. Drawing heavily upon the work of George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Alec Couros I will be offering an open course through Hamline University beginning May 28th titled, Web 2.0 & Connectivist Learning.

I just started a new position in March, funded by an ARRA grant, with the East Metro Integration School District in St. Paul, Minnesota. This position is closely linked to my adjunct position at Hamline University in St. Paul. A big part of the grant is to offer, for teachers in our district, two graduate courses on technology integration. One of these courses is this course. The grant stipulated that this course was to be a small course sustained over 4-6 four hour sessions spread throughout the school year and focus on web 2.0 technologies and personal learning. Hamline will be able to offer this course in two methods: East Metro Integration School District teachers will have the option to take this course as a co-sponsored course, anyone else interested in taking this course for graduate credit will be able to take it as either an online course or as an individualized study. We also hope to have in place a method for issuing continuing education units (CEUs) for those wishing to take the course but not pay for the credit.

If this goes well we hope for it to be an ongoing offering. We also hope to make this scalable, as open courseware, so other Universities can take what we are doing and replicate it in their own institutions. The ultimate goal is to have a network of schools of education hosting their own PLN courses with common meeting spaces online and provide a method of getting PLN engagement recognized as high quality professional development for teachers through accreditation.

There already exists within online communities of educators a wealth of high quality professional development opportunities that we intend on tapping into for this project. Steve Hargadon, through Classroom 2.0, offers a wide range of high quality presentation sessions in Elluminate each week, the Educator's PLN engages their members in reflective dialog through their Twitter conversations using the #edchat hashtag, and groups like the Edubloggers Alliance provide welcoming support for educators blogging about their profession just to name a few. These opportunities ought to be recognized by our institutes of learning as valuable, high-quality professional development.

So, this is my invitation to you. You may participate at any level you like. We will kick things off on May 28th. The "for-credit" registration does not need to be done or decided until our November session and everyone is welcome to participate at any level. If you are interested, please fill out this form so I can estimate how many online seats I will need (If we go over 50 I need to to switch live streaming methods).

Friday, April 23, 2010


Tim Berners-Lee remembers the moment he switched on the web



Available since Mon, 1 Feb 2010.

Social Web & Social Boundaries

This is an interesting discussion between Aleks Krotoski from the BBC and Danah Boyd from Microsoft on the social impact of social tools. The focus special attention on teenager online activities. Enjoy:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Weekly Tech Tips - Crowdsourcing & Participatory Cultures

Weekly Tech Tip:

This past 8 days have seen two interesting turn of events that have by coincidence converged in my own experience of them to produce this week's tech tip. First was the announcement last week that Ning was going to phase out the free version of their highly popular social networking tool and the subsequent collective action of the online communities I am a part of to work together to find alternatives. The other was the publication of the TEDxNYED talks on YouTube. While the topic TEDxNYED was education most of the talks seem to revolve around this idea of participatory culture and crowdsourcing.

Additionally, for our teachers at EMID we are going to offer a PD course (optionally for Hamline Grad Credit) on "Web 2.0 & Connectivism" where participants will through the course of a year build their own personal learning networks and explore the potential of these technologies both in their own learning and the learning of their students. This course will also be available to non-EMID staff members as an online open course beginning May 27th. (online participants will also have the option of taking it for credit). For this open course synchronous sessions with EMID staff will be streamed online and asynchronous engagement will be facilitated online through social tools. I will post more information about this opportunity in the upcoming weeks.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

New Additions to the Digital Backpack - Social Network Platform Special Edition @courosa #edtech #edchat

A disproportionately high percentage of the edtech community has for the past few years used Ning as the platform of choice for creating and growing education-related social networks. Many of us have come to rely on Ning for it's ease of use and how accessible it has been. One of the biggest reasons so many of us flocked to Ning was it's cost. Ning offered a nice free option for small networks not needing the advanced resources and support that many larger commercial networks need. Last week Ning announced a new company strategy whereby they will be phasing out free accounts within the next 30 days.

This obviously causes a dilemma for many of us who have built networks on this platform. While it would be good practice to support a tool we like by paying for it I fear that the pricing options will be too high for many many valuable networks created for non-profit organizations and many networks created for personal learning. Essentially, the problem posed by asking free users to pay for premium service is those who have networks of under 100 members will be charged roughly the same as those who have tens of thousands of members. Therefore, it will be necessary for many of us to bail on Ning and find other options.

While I agree with Alec Courosa that for long-term sustainability networks need to be self-hosted (and there are a lot of great open source options for this out there) for those educators who do not have access to a server or who do not need their networks to exist forever self-hosting is not a viable option either.

Luckily, there are a plethora of options available for network creators who don't have the option to self-host or funds for premium services. Many of these options are openly courting our education community and nearly all of them have been working to find ways to make the transition from Ning as easy as possible. So, the following are new additions to the Digital Backpack that support free hosted social networks for educators:

  • - Create your own social educational network. (offers 10gb free storage, forums, group pages, integration with Google Gadgets, Wiki, file sharing, and RSS) Students under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - Create your own social educational network. (offers 1gb free storage for photos, group pages, forums, and RSS)
  • - Create your own social educational network. (offers forums, group pages, Wiki, file sharing, and RSS) Students under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - Create your own social educational network. (only offers 100mb free storage, supports group pages, & forums with threaded discussions and very robust WYSIWYG editor for posts) Students under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.

Consequently, I have a handful of Ning networks I have created and maintain. I do not have any funds to buy their premium services. Therefore, in the next few weeks I will be migrating these networks to other services. Most of them will become networks since that platform offers the most short-term promise. (They also offer this handy Ning migration tool: If you are a member of any of my networks (iTeach Mobile, Minnesota Educator PD Commons, or Crosswinds Teacher Network) you will be notified shortly about this move. With any luck you will hardly notice the transition.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Social Network Platform Comparison

Click Here to see the original Google Docs File

File Sharing
Storage Space
Other notable features
Facebook Integration

Has a built-in money collection tool for group events and fund raisers.

Has a built-in polling feature.
URL is not customizable

Grouply has a message board feature but it does not offer threaded discussions. Each post is independent.
Looks a lot like Ning
Admin determines when they setup the group
free version gives very little storage

Does not support threaded discussions

Does not support Groups or file sharing.
yes, but as it's own category. Can't attach files to forum posts
Highly customizable.

Simple interface.

Has wiki feature
Templates are not as visually appealing as other networks.
yes, but as it's own category. Can't attach files to forum posts
Highly customizable.

Many template choices.

Easy to use interface.

Looks and feels a lot like Ning.

Has many features that Ning doesn't even offer such as a site search engine, map modules, wiki pages, a file download module, and games.

Integrates with Google Gadgets.

still in beta, who knows if it will remain free, could suffer the same fate as Ning
Simple interface
very limiting

no layout or feature customization for admin

Conclusion: hands down wins this battle and is a serious contender that could rival Ning even if Ning kept it's free accounts.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Weekly Tech Tips - Using HTML on Teacher Space

Weekly Tech Tip:

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

John Taylor Gatto

I have always been intrigued by John Taylor Gatto. I find his work thought provoking. At times his work borders on conspiracy theory and the fact he did an interview with Alex Jones gives me pause. But, whether the inequalities that exist within the system that Gatto so blatantly points out are intentional at present day or residual of past systemic maltreatment they are certainly worth considering. Last night I came across this series of videos on YouTube. This video series is a single long video chunked into 19 parts where Gatto talks for over two and a half hours about schools, education, project-based learning, individualized instruction, history, and everything else under the sun. If you have the time I encourage you to watch all the videos in this series. If you don't have the time I encourage you to make the time:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Open Letter to Diane Ravitch @DianeRav #edchat #lrnchat

Dear Diane Ravitch:

This week I watched your interview with Book.TV where you explain why you think we need to focus on good strong curriculum. This focus concerns me.

When I first began teaching I was committed to the idea that k-12 schools should, above all else, provide students with a rigorous curriculum. As an art teacher I saw what many teachers did in their classrooms as simply putting paints and crayons in front of kids and saying, "have at it, now don't make too big a mess." I spent countless hours writing curriculum and developing lesson plans that would expose students to the splendors of art history, the thought provoking ideas in art philosophy, and a strong foundation in aesthetic theory. I loaded those lessons full of such rich content that I thought there would be no way my students would be bored in my class or that they would walk away from eighteen weeks in my classroom not knowing more than I did when I took high school art. Why then was I always surprised when most of my students did not find the content as riveting and inspirational as I did? Sure, occasionally I would expose them to an idea or introduce them to an artist that would capture their attentions and their imaginations but not always, not by a long shot.

Six years of working with "at risk" or "non-traditional" students later in environments both traditional and online and three years spent with the majority of my time in the back of the classroom observing, I have a far different perspective. I think I understand why my original beliefs about teaching and learning were false. The more time I spend in the back of the classroom the more strongly I feel that there is nothing, no matter how hard they try or how good they are, that a teacher can do to impart knowledge or information to a learner. Learning comes from the learner, not the teacher, and the only thing a teacher can do is set conditions for the learner to discover the understanding for themselves.

What I failed to realize when I was a new teacher was that in so carefully crafting a rigorous curriculum for my students I was robbing them of the element that made the curriculum exciting for me. I was robbing them of the opportunity to discover many of these things for themselves. Discovery is fun, discovery is the ingredient in the learning equation that provides the fuel to keep going. It is why we like adventures and exploring. It is this thrill of discovery that can motivate lab researchers to spend years on painstakingly boring and repetitive tasks in the pursuit of knowledge. And, it is what was largely lacking in my classroom my first four years as a teacher.

What makes this story even more perplexing is every time an administrator or mentor observed my teaching in those years, while they all recognized that something was missing, no one identified this problem. I have a theory for why that was. The model of teaching and learning that has become so synonymous with school that it is etched into the vision nearly every teacher, student, and community member has is based largely on two resounding principle beliefs: 1. students learn through instruction; and 2. The depth & breadth of the curriculum define the level of learning in a course. These are false assumptions and there is very little data that I have seen that prove otherwise.

Last week I posted a clip where as part of it Alan Kay very eloquently describes the Montessori model of school and how the Macintosh OS was based on Montessori principles. Users of the computer discover how to use it by encountering cues in the digital environment. This discovery propels the user to dig deeper and explore more until soon they understand how to navigate and use the computer. Our classrooms need to be more like the Macintosh OS. I started to come to this realization about teaching and learning about four years ago, just before I started this blog and titled it Techno Constructivist.

In that same clip Seymour Papert goes on to explain, with precision, exactly why it is so hard to change the education establishment. There is a lot of money invested and people's jobs that depend on the proliferation of the curriculum and instruction myth. However, just as with my early experience teaching a rigorous art curriculum, the pressure schools have had to be more rigorous under NCLB have diminished a vitally important variable in the learning equation. I fear Race To The Top (RTTT) will only work to further extinguish the flame.

A rigorous curriculum poses another problem. Even if it doesn't extinguish the thrill of discovery in students it still represents a fundamental and troubling truth about the purpose of school. Curriculum always discriminates by what it includes and especially what it excludes. Howard Zinn knew this and made it his life's work to explore this equity issue within the context of US History curriculum. At it's best, curriculum reinforces mainstream values. At its worst, it oppressess and excludes people and ideas. But, maybe that is what the goal of NCLB and RTTT is. If you deprive someone of the thrill of discovery they loose the love of learning and diminish their ability to engage in critical thought. If you focus on rigor in the curriculum you reinforce the values and biases in that curriculum.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Additions to the Digital Backpack

I have not had a chance to update the Digital Backpack with new tools since February 11th so this list today will be extensive. Since Twitter 3rd party apps make up a sizable amount of this list, and because they cannot be used independently without a Twitter account, I have put them in their own list.

Twitter 3rd Party Apps:

  • - Twitter Automation Service: auto follow, reply, & DM users based on keywords, schedule tweets, and more.
  • - Twitter Automation Service: auto follow, reply, & DM users based on keywords, schedule tweets, and more.(Also will work to auto post to Facebook or your Blog)
  • -allows the Twitter user to compose a list of future tweets, and schedule their release.
  • - Displays a map of what topics are trending based on location. Great visualization tool.
  • - List of tools that let you send DM to multiple people, follow multiple users with one click, and analyze followers.
  • - Twitter user bio search engine.
  • - Twitter follower analysis tool
  • - Displays the 50 most tweeted links and shows you what people are saying about them.
  • - Twitter keyword search/Google Map mashup tool. Search for people tweeting keywords within a set radius of a specific geographic location.
  • - Clean up and manage who you follow, find out who isn't following you back, find out which inactive accounts you follow, easily search inside your Twitter stream.
  • - call anyone on Twitter
  • Backup tweets from multiple users into one PDF!
  • - push your RSS feed to Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin
  • - Create a post-it note on a a webpage, upload a file to that post-it to share with others, then share the post-it on Twitter.
Web Apps & Services:
  • - Search and view content on iTunesU from within your browser without downloading iTunes (works but layout is poor)
  • - Edit movies online
  • - Upload files up to 2GB in size then share them via email or social media sites like Facebook & Twitter.Students  under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - Create an internet chat room on the fly and share the link with people you want to chat with.
  • - provides you the possibility to literally draw your website's code.
  • - Create a homepage with 52 quick links and a Google search bar.
  • - Super Simple Project Management Online Application
  • - Upload and share files with friends. Allows you to set an expiration date on the download link for anywhere from 30min to 1week.
  • - Scribble on Google maps and share your annotated maps with others.
  • - This link is to Edmodo's mobile website, great for use on cellphones and iPods.
  • - simple group text messaging (SMS) service for cellphones. Send one text message to Swaggle, and we'll send it to everyone in your group. When someone responds, that goes to everyone in the group, as well. (Free for up to 17 group members)
  • - Free group TXT messaging via mobile phone or the web with unlimited number of groups, members, and messages and no spam.
  • - StoryJumper is a place to create and discover stories for kids.
  • - Simple to use group calendar tool.
  • - real-time text collaboration (Etherpad replacement)
  • - Online tools for musicians (includes a metronome, drumbot, guitar tuner, and pattern sequencer)
  • - very nice and simple blogging and website hosting platform.Students  under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - upload your photo, record your voice, share with friendsStudents  under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - upload photos of your house then edit them to see what your home and yard would look like if you made changes.
  • Text visualization tool.
  • - Convert any text, document, email, or rss feed to a text-to-speech mp3 file.
  • - Visual search engine for Wikipedia.
    - Wiki Search engine (Searching 21,964,380 articles in 1,158 wikis.)
  • - Put the heads of yourself, your friends, famous people, anyone on these videos!Students  under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - Combines a personal homepage, RSS reader, and bookmarking.
  • is a high-tech way to have adventures, explore your surroundings, and discover awesome places hidden right around you and all over the world from any mobile phone.
  • - fun tool that lets you upload a picture of a person, then upload another picture and see what it looks like on that person as a tatoo.
  • - create a message board where people leave their comments via audio recordings. Students under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - while not technically a video tool, Mikogo is a tool used to share your screen online with another person. Great for 1:1 web conference.
  • - Nice online drawing tool with unique drawing effects.
  • - Converts text you enter to an image composed of letter images found on flickr.
  • - Make your own 3d photographs.
  • Raphael Color Picker - Choose your color on the color wheel and it tells you the hexadecimal number for that color.
  • - Host your own radio show on Spreaker!
  • - Conduct large-group phonecalls for free, stream them on the internet, and then publish them as a podcast.Students under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - Host an event live on Vokle and include viewer discussion.
  • - Upload presentation materials to then they give you a free conference call line and chat box.Students under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - Build a start page with your favorite links organized by tabs.
  • - People Search Engine - combines information from phone directories, social networking, and social media services
  • - Search the web for DRM-free music, podcasts, speeches and much more.
  • - livestream, publish, & share video and pictures from your mobile phone online.Students  under 13 must have parent permission to use this tool.
  • - Upload a batch of photos and apply the same edits to all pictures in the batch at the same time.
  • - Create your own social educational network.