Monday, November 24, 2008

Cool 3D Design: Roxik

Check out this web-based tool from Roxic.  I drew a person, clicked a button, and it began to dance in 3D!  Next time, I'll take more time and add some color.  Hope you have as much fun trying it out as I did! How do you think this can this be used in a K-12 classroom?

Come to the MACUL Conference

This year's Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) Conference will be on March 18-20, 2009 at the Cobo Center in Detroit.  It is always an outstanding conference! Here is a short promotional video:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Home from 3-Day PBL Workshop

Project Based Learning is an instructional method that I totally "buy into."  It fits beautifully with technology (especially 1:1 learning).  I've spent considerable time helping teachers see the benefits of PBL. 

All of us who attended the workshop picked up some new ideas, design tools, and management strategies. The two 7th grade social studies teachers and I created a  project about the impact of human actions on the environment (called Messin' Up the Environment: How Humans Screw Up the Earth).  Not only did we learn about good PBL design, we learned how to encourage and teach cooperative learning, how to assess projects (both formative and summative), and how to mangage a PBL classroom. 

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to learn more about PBL assessment, specifically how to assess both individual and group work.  Mr. Ross recommends that teachers use several rubrics to assess content, presentation, critical thinking, and other 21st century skills.  Assessing skills with more than one rubric gives a truer picture of student performance.  The project receives a group grade, the other assessments are given to individuals. 

What I've learned and experienced over the past three days has helped me see more clearly how standards-based PBL can and should be used in today's curriculum-packed classroom.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PBL Session in Boyne, MI

Today a bunch of Michigan educators braved the ice and snow to participate in a 3-day Project Based Learning Workshop at Boyne Mountain.  The facilitator is David Ross from the Buck Institute for Education.  He is in the picture (middle) with Marilyn Totten and David Schade, 7th grade social studies teachers from Walled Lake.

Today was an enjoyable day of collaboration and learning.  We began by brainstorming qualities that we think are important for all high school graduates (being a team player, problem solver, communicator, tech savvy, etc).  Mr. Ross says that educators expect our students to have all these qualities, yet we do not necessarily provide them the opportunities and learning experiences to help them attain these qualities.  He believes (as do I) that project based learning instructional methods, when done right, can help us better prepare our students.

Tomorrow we will work on the process of designing effective projects.  I am particularly interested in learning new strategies to make students individually accountable for group projects. The Walled Lake team will be identifying a project to go along with new 7th grade social studies curriculum.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Edublog Award Nominations

Here are some blogs that I'd like to nominate for the yearly Edublog Awards:

Best individual blog: Cliotech

Best group blog: Digital Learning Environment Blogs

Best resource sharing blog: Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day

Best teacher blog: Langwitches

Best educational tech support blog: Teach42

Best educational use of audio: Parents as Partners

Best educational use of a social networking service: MACUL Space

Best educational use of a virtual world: DEN in Second Life

Monday, November 17, 2008

Week 2: 30 Days to Being a Better Blogger

Steve Dembo at Teach42 is hosting a 30 day challenge to bloggers, and I have kept up with his challenge.  I continue to enjoy the daily tips and ideas to improve my blog. 

Here are some of changes I made to Yes Tech!:

  • Created a new RSS feed.  I may have inadvertantly lost some of my previous subscribers in the process (sorry about that), but it didn't appear to be working well.  We'll see what happens! 

  • Learned about Browsershots, a tool that lets you preview any web page in many different browsers with one click.

  • Spiffed up my sidebar: added a pull-down menu to my archived blog posts.   I've been blogging for two years now, and the list was getting too long to keep in the sidebar.  Happy birthday to Yes Tech!

  • Added a "contact me" form to make it easy for folks to easily ask questions and keep in touch.

  • Laurie Fowler from Fresh Fowlers was a guest blogger on my blog, and I was a guest blogger on her blog.  I really enjoyed this swap with Laurie!

  • Created a "Best of Yes Tech!" page with links to some of my favorite blog posts.

  • I continue to watch the data from Google Analytics.  I am now able to see where my readers come from, what sites referred them, what keywords they used in a search engine to land at my site, and more.

Thanks, Teach42, for organizing the challenge!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Plurkin' and Lovin' It

What a treat!  Laurie Fowler is guest blogging today.  See her entry below. 

I am a guest blogger today on Yes Tech! Pam Shoemaker and I are partnering to complete one of the many tasks assigned to those of us taking part in Steve Dembo's 30 Days to Being a Better Blogger. So here is my post. Please take a look at her post on my blog, Fresh Fowlers.

I joined Plurk in July 2008, probably as the result of a blog post about it or because of something I heard on a technology podcast.  I really can't remember. Or maybe that is just when it started.  At first, I was not sure about it. But then, I played around with Plurk and found that just like my Gmail it kept my microblogging entries or plurks grouped together in conversations. I found that you could add friends so I looked for names I knew from podcasts, blogs, and online projects. Wow! I found over 100 people who share my passion for technology and education; and, much to my delight I found people who love to talk about important stuff like politics, fun stuff like games to play, and silly stuff like TV show and sport updates.  Plurk is truly a unique circle of friends and colleagues with which I am privileged to be associated.

In my short tenure at Plurk, I have witnessed some Awesome Plurk Incidents. Here are some of the ones I can remember:

  • I reconnected with a friend who moved from AL to NC several years ago.

  • I met people I had listened to on podcasts or whose blogs I read regularly.

  • A group of us "plurkers" were able to offer support and encouragement helped a fellow community member who was having MAJOR trouble getting her dissertation accepted by her committee so she could graduate.

  • I met all kinds of teachers from across the world—UK, Australia, NZ, Canada, South Africa. And I have met a ton of teachers from across the U.S.

  • I have created this extensive network of technology coordinators, teachers, library media specialists, and retired teachers who are always sharing links to great articles, videos, student created projects, collaborative projects, podcasts, and web sites.

  • I have a great support system for my new venture into Weight Watchers.

  • There was a mom with a son in college in Chicago was able to get a plurker from Chicago to check on him when he had a kidney stone. That is a powerful network when you can reach across the country to help an online friend!

  • Another mom with son accepted to the University of Alabama wanted to know information about Tuscaloosa from me.

  • And finally, I connected with others who are doing the 30 Days to Being a Better Blogger especially Pam Shoemaker who invited me to share my thoughts on her blog here today.  Thanks, Pam!

About Laurie:  "I operate my own professional development consulting business, Ready, Set, Think!, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I have a BA in ENglish and Classics, a Master's in Educational Administration, and a Ph.D. in Instructional Leadership with an emphasis in Technology.  I have 18 years of experience in the K-12 arena and have also taught undergraduate and graduate classes at the University of Alabama and the University of West Alabama respectively.  I am a self-avowed Geek Girl and love to play with new technology and new web sites."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beliefs about Grading

Dennis Keeney, my district's Technology & Data Analysis Director facilitated a presentation/discussion at a principal's meeting.   It was eye-opening and thought provoking.  He talked about a book he recently read, by Rick Wormeli, Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom

Dennis talked about the reasons we give students grades: to document student progress; to provide feedback to students, parents, and teachers, and to inform instructional decisions.  With these reasons in mind, he discussed some common grading pitfalls according to the author:

  1. Avoid nonacademic factors (behavior, attendance, etc).

  2. Avoid penalizing for multiple attempts at mastery.

  3. Avoid grading homework.

  4. Avoid recording zeros for work not done.

  5. Avoid group grades. Cooperative learning helps students learn, but is not an indicator of proficiency.

Gulp.  Teachers I know are all over the board with deeply ingrained beliefs about grading.  I have changed my own thinking about grading over the years. I totally agree with #1, 2, and 4.  When I was in the classroom (my last year was in 2001) I was no longer giving zeroes.  I get that... I did the math and was convinced that a zero skewed the info, so I gave a 55 instead of a zero.  I also believe that students should be given the opportunities to demonstrate mastery of concepts - test retakes (if they are given a different, but equal assessment),  I also believe that students should receive the highest grade.

Homework is a toughie.  I always graded homework because I thought at the time that the feedback would help students master the concepts, and I thought that students wouldn't do the work if it wasn't graded.  I have no idea if I'm right or wrong about that.  This would make a nice question for an action research project.  Will students do homework if it isn't graded?  What factors make homework more meaningful for students to complete?

Giving group grades is also one that I grapple with.  I think that an occasional group grade can show mastery, if set up with an evaluation rubric, checkpoints along the way to make sure everyone is doing the work, and clear expectations.

As a parent, I can look at my two children to make some general conclusions about how they learn and what they know.  One of them could care less about the grade & didn't always do homework, but he would ace the test. The other did every single homework and extra credit assignment and also aced the test.  GPAs were vastly different.  ACTs were very similar. 

These important conversations must take place in schools.  Mr. Keeney was masterful in facilitating a conversation about this topic.  He pulled individual student data out of our student information system (removed names) for discussion purposes.  As a group we discussed how they were graded and if the grades were indicative of their mastery of the content.   It seems to me that discussing individual situations somehow nudges people to think much differently than talking about generalizations, and is the way to go.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Week 1: 30 Days to Being a Better Blogger

Steve Dembo at Teach42 is hosting a 30 day challenge to bloggers, and I decided to begin the journey with him one week ago.  I have really enjoyed the daily tips and it has re-energized my desire to keep my blog up-to-date.  I recenly am finding a lot of benefit from microblogging with my professional learning network on Plurk, and spending less time writing thoughtful entries on my blog.  I know that writing blog entries makes me a more reflective practitioner, and I now have new goals to spend more time thinking, setting goals, and sharing with others on my blog. 

During the first week of the challenge, I learned that a professor at the University of Rhode Island uses one of my blog entries, "Cover the Material or Teach Students to Think" as part of her grad class' curriculum.  I wrote this entry in Feb 07 after reading an article in Educational Leadership magazine.  Students read the original article, then my blog post, then comment on a class wiki.  I learned this as a result of signing up for Google Analytics.  Pretty cool!

The other major highlight of the week was learning about the Google Translate widget.  You can convert an entire webpage to another language (35choices) with one click.  I added this widget it to my blog, and then shared it with my district's Bilingual/ESL Coordinator.  After a brief look she was anxious to share it with her staff.  I tried posting the widget on our district webpage, and it worked there as well.  This little widget could really help many families who speak a primary language other than English!

There were other benefits to participating in this challenge.  I found some dead links on my blogroll and added a Creative Commons License.  I also met some new like-minded people who are also participating in the challenge. 

30d2bbb image by Jason Robertshaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Broccoli Brain

I recently read an Edutopia article, "Broccoli Brain: Developing Enthusiastic Consumers of Nutritious Knowledge" by Hugh Osborn.  I loved the author's analogy.  His premise is that kids are always too full to eat their broccoli (yuck), but somehow they have room for ice cream (yum).  Their broccoli stomach fills up much quicker than their dessert stomach!

The author states, "I believe that our children also have a broccoli brain and a dessert brain. Unfortunately, it is the broccoli brain that is being fed at school, while the dessert brain stays hungry. And now, with standardized assessment defining public school curriculum, the broccoli brain is being stuffed to overflowing with drill-and-kill test prep."

Mr. Osborn believes, as I do, that innovation is the critical piece that must be in place for effective education.  There are ways to ensure that the state-mandated curriculum is taught that utilize students' dessert brains.  There are pockets of classrooms across the country that feed students' dessert brains every day.  The challenge is figuring out a plan to make this type of learning possible on a nation-wide scale.  I think a lot about how to make this possible on a district-wide scale, since that is my job (and my passion).  Perhaps my title should be "Dessert Brain Specialist."

I believe that lessons that feed students' dessert brains often utilize technology.   I think of the improvement in writing and presentation skills when students are given the opportunity to create a digital video in any content area.  I think about the importance of students knowing how to solve problems with others who may have different opinions, personalities, and talents; skills that are becoming more important than ever in today's global marketplace, with technology making it possible. 

I will work tirelessly to support teachers in my district as they learn to teach the district/state curriculum using strategies that feed students' dessert brains.  In future blog posts, I'll be writing about some of the innovative projects going on in classrooms across my district, state, nation, and world.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I made this graphic with Wordle, a tool for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

I used text from my own blog entries to find out the most common topics and themes I write about most often.  Pretty cool, eh?