Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Help Students Pay Attention to the 2009 Inauguration with Engaging Lesson Ideas

It’s only fitting that as students begin to watch the Inauguration of America’s most tech savvy president they are given the opportunity to engage in some technologically innovative lessons. Innovative educators eager to Pay Attention to their student’s desire for a relevant and engaging education, will like these ideas for Inauguration Day lessons and educational experiences. Below are some great sites and technologies with ideas of how to use them to enhance student learning around this important historical event.


Have your students make their own movies as if they were to give an address as the president of the United States using Xtranormal. Xtranormal’s mission is to bring movie-making to the people. Everyone watches movies and they believe everyone can make movies. Their revolutionary approach to movie-making builds on an almost universally held skill—typing. If your students can type something, they can turn it into a movie.

See how students can explore past inauguration speeches and use what they learn to compose and produce their own inauguration speech which can be made into an Xtranormal movie at Inauguration Speech Lesson.


Interactive whiteboards are gaining in popularity in schools. The SMARTBoards in the Classroom blog points us to this Inauguration Day .notebook lesson designed to help students develop an understanding of the US election process and explore the Presidential Inauguration. According to the blog, SMARTBoards are one of the most powerful tools teachers can have in their classrooms as it is a unique device that enables us to reach students who learn through multiple learning styles. It also allows teachers to reach the learner who just can't sit still. Additionally, it helps teachers reach the tactile learner who learns by touch. SMARTBoards thoroughly engage visual and auditory learners and accomplish the first rule of teaching - "First get their attention and then keep them engaged."

The lesson has the following learning objectives:

1) Differentiate Literacy and Social Studies instruction to reach multiple modalities of the diverse learner through the use of Interactive Whteboard Technology and Web 2.0 tools. 2) Discuss the purposes of Primary Day, Election Day and inauguration Day. Note similarities and differences. 3) Discuss the three major events on Inauguration Day. 4) Examine the Presidential and Vice Presidential Oaths of Office, learn new vocabulary and contrast and compare. 5) Research prior Presidential Inaugurations and compare traditions. 6) Share our understanding with our families.

Renzulli Learning – Let's Celebrate Inauguration Day!

Renzulli Learning has created an easy-to-use online assignment template with activities and resources for teachers to supplement classroom activities surrounding this January’s historic Presidential Inauguration! To view one (or more) activities included in the assignment template, simply click on the hyperlink of your choice:

To use the Renzulli Inauguration template (subscribing schools only):

1. Log into your Renzulli Teacher page.

2. Click the "Lesson Planning and Differentiation" tab.

3. Click the green "Your Assignments" button.

4. Click the orange "Create a New Assignment" button.

5. Click the green "Create a New Assignment from a Template" button.

6. From the drop down menu, click "Celebrate Inauguration Day"

7. Click "Use this Template" button.

The assignment template was designed to address a broad range of grade and ability levels. You may wish to modify the assignment template to meet the specific needs of your students – or group students for differentiated learning according to their Renzulli Learning Profiles!

Teacher Tip! Have students do a basic search of the Renzulli Learning site for additional Presidential Inauguration resources. Use key words such as: Inauguration, Presidential Inauguration, Inaugural Addresses, etc.


Use VoiceThread to explore the meaning of this year’s presidential inauguration to all Americans, both as individuals, and as a group. VoiceThread's are simple online virtual spaces that provide a commenting environment and can be used as part of an Inauguration Voices Voicethread project. Interested teachers and their students can join the Inauguration Day Voices group which was created to try to capture the voices of individuals exploring and expressing their own perspectives on this historic event by responding to President Obama’s mantra, “Yes We Can…,” and calling on students to share their thoughts on what it is they think we can do.

To participate, visit and click “Join Now.” If you are a currently registered user, sign in, or register for an account. Once logged in you'll land on your 'MyVoice' Page and will see a number of VoiceThread tutorials in your default view. Click on the button that says 'Showing All' and select Inauguration Day Voices from the drop down menu, you'll see all of the VoiceThreads being shared by participants.

For more ideas on using Voicethread in education visit the Classroom 2.0 conversation at Wanted: Voicethread examples for wiki.

FREE Inaugural Video Clips

To ensure your students are prepared for this historic, teachable moment, HotChalk is providing 25 FREE high-quality video clips on U.S. inaugural addresses from content partners PBS, The History Channel, NBC News and more. Check them out here.


Have an inaugural speech contest and select contest winners from your school to broadcast their own inaugural speeches live on UStream using a password protected channel accessed by those in your school community. Ustream.TV is the live interactive video broadcast platform that enables anyone with a camera and an Internet connection to quickly and easily broadcast to a global audience for free. In less than two minutes, anyone can become a broadcaster by creating their own channel on Ustream or by broadcasting through their own site, empowering them to engage with their audience. You can click on broadcast now to start a broadcast or learn more about broadcasting.

Depending on how a school would like to implement this idea, the broadcast can be viewed in classrooms with internet access and projector. Viewers can comment and chat on the broadcast with facilitation from their teacher. Parents and other community members can be invited to participate.


Students can write and deliver a part of the inaugural address or a response to the inaugural address using a personalized Voki. Voki enables students to express themselves on the web using a talking character. Students can customize their Voki to look like and/or take on the identity of lots of other types of human and nonhuman characters. Vokis can speak with the student’s own voice which is added via microphone, upload, or phone. Students can also choose to insert text and have the Voki use a variety of existing voices with more than a dozen different male and female accents to choose from.

Once the student Voki’s are created they can be inserted into a class blog, wiki, website, and more. From there the school community can comment on and discuss one another’s work and keep the conversation going.

Write an essay.

Johnathan Chase and Nancy Bosch shared these ideas for essays on the Instructional Materials for Inauguration Day discussion on Classroom 2.0.

Contributed by Johnathan Chase

Back in November I had my 7th and 8th grade students write an essay about Barack Obama's Election Night speech and the results were very good. The question could be used for his Inauguration speech as well. You can find a link to the assignment and the essays at "Yes We Can" Essay Assignment.

Contributed by Nancy Bosch

I'm going to use Mrs. Chili's essay assignment with my gifted 6th graders. We'll see how they do.

Inauguration Materials

Places to go for inauguration materials courtesy of Gerald McMullin on Classroom 2.0.

Additional Resources
Inauguration Resources Searching - From School Library Journal
Inauguration 2009 resources - From the History Tech blog

These are just some ideas to inspire innovative educators in their upcoming work with students during this historical Inauguration year. Please contribute feedback, other ideas, or share your experience implementing one of these ideas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

8th Grader’s Advice for Questions Peers Might Ponder On Their Road to Achieving Success

I was recently asked to come up with recommendations for questions that 8th graders should ask themselves to prepare for success in the area of technology. After reviewing the ISTE Standards and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills materials I developed some questions, but I knew that the best people to come up with 8th grade advice isn't those sitting in a Central Office, but rather the tech-savvy students sitting in 8th grade classrooms. So, I went to Jason Levy the Principal of CIS 339...a school that uses 21st Century tools to bring learning to life in impressive ways. I asked him to please see if he had a teacher who would be interested in doing this type of just-in-time, authentic work with his students. He did and they did not disappoint. I provided the class with my initial thinking and asked Mr. Levy to have his students discuss, refine, and revise my thinking to make it kid-friendly. Under the guidance of their teacher Ms. Jenny Johns, here are the questions these students recommend their peers consider.


Current: Do I know how to tell the difference between a fake or false and legitimate online resource? Do I know how to use these resources in my academic work?
Looking forward: How can I create my own online resources that are legitimate, useful, and meaningful?

Current: Am I involved in online environments, simulations and/or games (i.e. Tabula Digita, Sim City, Rise of Nations, Teen Grid) that will support my creative thinking and my academic growth?
Looking Forward: How/where can I learn to start building and creating my own online games and simulations?

Current: How can I create a community of learners by politely and appropriately commenting on other people's published work online (blogs, videos, podcasts, and more)?
Looking Forward: How can I publish meaningful, creative work online that focuses on areas or subjects that are interesting to me?

Current: Do I know how to talk maturely and professionally when using online tools and learning networks?
Looking Forward: How can I use the online communities to help me learn more and to communicate my learning to my peers and the outside world?

Current: Am I using educational websites and online programs that are appropriate for my age and school?
Looking Forward: How can I begin creating work online that reflects the person I am today and want to be tomorrow?

I was happily pleased and impressed with these questions. The experience made me realize that educational policy and test makers, material producers, curriculum writers, etc. aren't much in the habit of checking the pulse of students and their teachers when doing this type of work and/or making decisions. This is indeed a habit worth changing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You Can Get a Dalton Education at a NYC Public School

My boyfriend recently shared that his friend spends nearly $100,000 PER YEAR to put his 3 kids through private schooling in New York City. “Why?” I asked. “The NYC DOE has some of the best schools in the world.” He shared that his friend believed his “privileged” status caused him to feel this was something he was obligated to do to maintain his family’s standing among their peers. Additionally, he believes because of the world folks like his friend are involved in, there is little knowledge that a solid education is available in public schools. 

Unfortunately for people like his friend, and for public schools, they will continue to pour more than a million dollars in private education rather than placing their energy toward a school system that could provide the same education for free.

I visited one of those schools today. A school that Barbara Slatin says is comparable to the private Dalton-type schools of New York City. Slatin is the Principal of PS/MS 188 – The Island School where staff strives to nurture the Multiple Intelligences of all students through a rigorous program for talent development using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. Through this model the school staff systematically identifies student’s strengths, nurtures skills, and creates authentic opportunities for students to utilize these skills not just as students, but as practicing professionals providing experiences and opportunities to work and learn with others in the fields in which they are interested. These opportunities create pathways for future study, employment and lifelong pursuits. This is one of those schools where the world inside the school walls mirrors that which students will experience out in the real world.

I was fortunate to be invited to spend the day at the school where I visited numerous students, teachers, and rooms. As I weathered the elements to make my way to the school on a cold, windy, rainy day, I nearly missed the school which was tucked away in the bottom corner of Manhattan and hidden by scaffolding. The journey was well worth the effort. Upon entering I discovered an Oasis for journalists, artists, movie makers, scientists, dancers, writers, violinists, actors, percussionists and more.

Notice the word “future” does not precede the description of these students. They are practicing professionals with authentic work, for authentic purposes and authentic audiences in the present. Every student at The Island School knows they’ve got talent and they are at a school that fosters and nurtures the development of these talents. There is evidence throughout the school that this is their mantra.

As I walked through the halls I saw they were decorated with art inspired by some of the artists I saw during my recent visit to renowned Art Basel Miami. The artwork is produced in the art class where I visited students producing amazing pieces that may also make their way as work displayed on the school walls. When speaking with the art teacher he shared that he is in talks with the local art galleries about exhibiting student work and is creating a school-based art gallery to display the student work as well.

When I entered the magnificent school theater, a student chorus was working with a professional musician from the Third Street Music School Settlement rehearsing a piece for the school show. Third Street is dedicated to providing quality arts instruction to young people who might otherwise never learn to sing, play an instrument or perform before an audience. The School is widely recognized as a training center for serious music students. While I was watching the children perform the principal explained that a couple of those students have been recognized by Rosie’s Broadway Kids to work with to develop as Broadway performers. The organization is an arts education organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children through the arts. Using professional teaching artists, Rosie’s Broadway Kids provides instruction in dance and music and a professional theater experience for children who might otherwise not have the opportunity. The organization does this at the Island School by collaborating each year with the school to produce a Broadway style show performed right in their own school. This gives them the opportunity to deeply know the students and accurately access who may be right for the limelight. They also host trips for students to attend Broadway shows.
Next stop was dance. The Island school has a dance studio complete with mirrored walls and a hardwood floor on which students can perform and practice. Students were rehearsing a self-choreographed number that they were very excited to perform for us. The dance class was facilitated by a teacher with a passion for dance who kept students dancing on beat and provided advice on stage presence and performance style.

As I continued through the school I was impressed with students who were taking a violin lesson meticulously working on a difficult piece of classical music. I then went on to watch a percussion drumming group. This group I learned was taught by a man with a psychology background who was interested in working with adolescents with anger management issues that could be resolved through drumming. The principal shared many of these students in addition to having behavior issues were also ADHD. You wouldn’t know any of this when watching them. The kids were energetic, focused and impressive. So much so that the principal explained these kids take their show on the road performing all around New York City at places like the Pierre Hotel and local retirement homes to enthusiastic audiences.

There really isn’t a moment where opportunities for talent development don’t exist at the school. At lunch time the learning continued where I witnessed students focused on working in their area of interest in the lunchroom. I saw a group of students working on a craft project with a teacher. I also noticed that many students were using internet accessible computers in the lunchroom which the principal explained were the result of their school custodian who refurbished old computers so they could be used by students at lunchtime. Students were also engaged in playing various sports they were passionate about.
As an instructional technology specialist with a background as a literacy coach and library media specialist, I was very excited about my visit to the Internet Café which serves as a technology center by day and a Scholar’s Lab by night. In the Café I met the school’s Techbrarian, Lou Lahana whose blog my colleague the Technomnivore recognizes in his post, “Techbrarian’s Blog is a treasure trove of amazing tech integration ideas.” Mr. Lahana, now a doctoral student at Teacher’s College was the founder and brains behind the creation of the center.

There I spoke with Sabrina who was one of Mr. Lahana’s many students who has a blog. You can read her blog, as well as the blogs of other students at Techbrarian: Talent Through Tech. Sabrina shared that the blog has been a terrific outlet for her to capture all her thoughts, ideas, and musings that previously were bursting to come out...sometimes, as she shared, much to the chagrin of fellow students and teachers. She explained that she often just had so much on her mind that she was excited about, that at times, others found her sharing a little much, but the blog has noticeably changed her personality for the better in the eyes of many at the school. Her blog has recently received some attention garnering a request to be a contributing blogger from the Gotham Schools which is a news source and online community for teachers, parents, policy makers, and journalists interested in learning about what works and what doesn’t in New York City schools.

Another place I encountered students with literary aspirations was in the schools beautiful library where we had a chance to speak with the journalism team who puts out the school’s monthly newsletter. When speaking with the students some shared that partaking in this group and having the opportunity to produce something that is the buzz in the school has provided an interest in possibly pursuing journalism as a career. One student mentioned how great it was to have teachers and students approaching to comment on and discuss the articles they produce.

Mr. Lahana explained one way that he masterfully combines the literary and digital talents of his students is by involving them in digital movie making. He shared that he collaborates with the literacy and social studies teachers around the movies that students make. Most recently he challenged students to Turn your ELA Story to a Movie. He shared with his students that their writing was, “so good, they should be made into movies. He encouraged students to, “use this really cool site called XtraNormal, to create a scene (or many scenes) from your story.” You can visit his post for an example of this work. He also shared that students have produced iMovies that are entered in Film Festival contests and that the school is proud to have winners of the TriBeCa Film Festival. Another great example of bringing student work into the world outside the classroom.

Not only does great work happen during the day in the Internet Café, but it also occurs from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. each night as the Café turns into the Scholar’s Lab available for middle school students to increase academic success. On hand in the lab each night are pedagogues to foster academic growth across the content areas. It is at this lab that students can dive deeply into content areas with support from subject area instructional specialists.

The school has a many structures in place to allow for all the wonderful things happening there to occur. Classes at the school are taught by a mixture of NYC DOE pedagogues all with their own special talents to share with students, and experts from more than a dozen partner organizations. This allows the class sizes to be quite small since the number of those working with the students is increased. The principal also fosters talent development in her staff and encourages and funds professional development opportunities for staff members to develop various talents. Staff and students are surveyed on interests to inform the development of the school offerings. The school is in session from 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. each day allowing for a well balanced day of enrichment classes and the traditional academic curriculum. In addition to enrichment opportunities available during the traditional school day, everyday from 3:45 – 5:15 students can select from a variety of enrichment activities including Playwriting, Sewing, Cooking, Songwriting, Chess, Football, Gymnastics, Basketball, Computer Animation, and more.

The principal shares that she serves as her student's Jewish-mother advocate—like those commonly seen at the Dalton’s of the world—for all her students and, she wants to ensure her students get the same type of education given to those students. I thank Principal Slatin and dedicate this post to those like the friend of my boyfriend who may be surprised to learn that a public education can rival, and even surpass, that of a costly private one. Perhaps if there were more people who didn’t fall into the vortex of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education so they could maintain their social status, and instead invested that time and energy into an education that would benefit both the advantaged and disadvantaged, all of New York City’s children and their families would be better off.

For more information visit the The Island School website and be sure to watch the school videos or the Techbrarian’s Blog.

Read Techbrarian’s Blog is a treasure trove of amazing tech integration ideas for an overview of the work of the school techbrarian and Techbrarian and
Inspiration for your classroom blog.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Starting a Student Support Team in Your School

If we want students to succeed in a global economy, we need to provide them with access to technology in the schools, but until the past year, this was nearly impossible due to the prohibitive cost of laptops. Now that low cost laptops have hit the market (see Low-Cost Laptop Cheat Sheet; Get Small for Fall), the idea of ubiquitous computing in education can become a reality with truly remarkable results in classrooms like the one written about in X's & O's for the OLPC XO - A View from the Classroom.

However, while more and more schools are able to purchase devices, they are now struggling with models to put in place to support the hundreds of devices being used by students and staff. As history has shown, dumping devices into a school without a well thought-out model for instructional and hardware support is a recipe for disaster. Schools that want to have success using laptops must have a well-thought out plan which includes the development of Student Support Teams to create and maintain a successful 21st Century environment. These support teams are made up of students who will provide instructional and hardware support around 21st Century tools, skills, and hardware. They are great for students because they help them to begin developing a passion and expertise in using and teaching technology skills which they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. They are great for schools, because it allows them to utilize their best resource to support instruction…their students.

While schools realize the importance of the development of such teams, they often struggle with where to begin in launching such a team. As part of my role as the manager for professional development services for the Office of Instructional Technology as the NYC DOE, I have been helping technology-rich schools develop Student Support Teams called iSquads designed to improve a school's capacity to integrate technology into teaching and learning for a few years. Here are some ideas to get started.

Come Up with a Plan
Download the iSquad Student Tech Support Team.doc to begin developing your vision for your iSquad. To see what some other schools plan to do visit iSquad Fact Sheets.

Develop a Common Definition of What A Student Support Team Is At Your School
Student support teams vary from school to school. What will your Student Support Team be? How will you develop a common language in your school to share with students, staff, and parents. Once the definition is set be sure to use it in all flyers, correspondence, posters and other materials. You can see how some schools are defining their Student Support Teams at What is an iSquad?

Designate a Student Support Team Adviser(s)
Your school should designate a Student Support Team Adviser fully responsible for the implementation of the program. This will include recruiting students, determining the schedule for meetings, teaching students, ordering shirts and/or lanyards for team members and more.

Determine When Teams Will Meet
Think about when your Student Support Teams will meet. Does this program occur during or outside of school hours? Here are some options that schools are implementing:

Before or After School Program: Teams meet before or after school 1 – 3 days a week.

--Schools allocate funding to compensate the Student Support Team Leader.

Lunchtime Program: Teams meet during lunch 1 - 5 days a week.

--The Student Support Team Leader has a schedule where student’s lunch periods are working period for the Team Leader and the Team Leader has a lunch break before or after the students.

Saturday Program: Teams meet on Saturdays for a select number of hours.

--Often teams meet on select Saturdays across the year and special field trips (i.e. Sony Wonder Museum) are scheduled.

--Schools allocate funding to compensate the Student Support Team Leader.

Cluster / Special / Talent Program: Teams meet during the week as a scheduled class.
-Because this program emphasizes career development, leadership, and 21st Century Skill development, many schools have incorporated a Student Support Team class as an elective in their school program.

Establish a Trouble Shooting Ticketing System
Put a ticketing system in place that allows school members to report issues anytime from anywhere that can be accessed by the Student Support Team Advisor and Student Support Team members. Google forms is a terrific and free tool for this and all data is time stamped and populated directly into a spreadsheet. See this Sample Ticket Report form for ideas of what you may use at your school.

Determine Services Your Student Support Team Will Provide
There are numerous types of services your Student Support Team can provide. Ensure you have clearly laid out what this will consist of at your school. The answer to this question should be derived through conversations with staff and teachers. You may also choose to start simple and grow in the services you provide over time. You can see the type of services schools are providing at the discussion “What are the three services you want to focus on for having iSquads provide at your school?

Think About Your iSquad’s Goals and Benefits?
Schools should have a clear and distinct awareness of the goals and benefits of having an iSquad. Think about what your goals and benefits are. You can visit iSquad Goals and Benefits to take a look into goals and benefits realized by other schools with Student Support Teams.

Join the iSquad / MOUSE Squad Social Network
Join the conversation with dozens of other schools using Student Support Teams at the iSquad / MOUSE Squad group in the Innovative Educator social network. There you can write to others who have set up squads in their schools, pose questions, read other’s questions and answers, and discover what successes and challenges have been encountered in other schools. You’ll need to join this network to access several of the documents mentioned here.

Join the iSquad Discussion forum

Find out about topics such as:

-iSquad Plans at Other Schools

-iSquad Ideas and Successes

-iSquad Challenges and Trouble Shooting

Access a Bank of Lessons
Faculty advisors have created a bank of iSquad Lesson to implement with Student Support Teams. These are hands-on lessons that take place in 45 minute periods and address a variety of topics from customer service to connecting laptops to the internet, to setting up a SmartBoard and using the help menus in Word, PowerPoint and Excel. To gain access to this private space you must request membership and indicate the reason you are interested in joining.

Professional Development
See if professional development is offered in your area to help schools set up a Student Support Team. At the NYC DOE schools can search and search for “Student Support Team” in the “Instructional Technology” Department.

Visit Other Schools with Student Support Teams
Find out who already is running Student Support Teams in your area and set up a visit to one or two of these schools. At the school you can speak with the person running the program and ask to sit in on a meeting with the Student Support Team. You should have questions prepared in advance to ask them. You may want to bring a couple students with you on the visit. At the NYC DOE some ways you can find out who has Student Support Teams is to ask your Borough Instructional Technology Specialists which schools in your area have attended iSquad professional development. They can find this information in the online registration system. NYC DOE schools can also write to to find out which schools have purchased official MOUSE Squads. Schools who sign up for MOUSE have added support from an outside organization in setting up squads.

Become a MOUSE School
MOUSE creates technology-based opportunities that motivate students to succeed in today’s information society. A MOUSE Squad is a student-driven technical support help desk program that addresses the technology needs of elementary, middle and high schools. MOUSE Squad supports 21st century skills development for over 1,600 students that participate in the program, while simultaneously providing critically needed, on-site technology support services for over 113,000 students and 8,000 teachers and administrators. These schools saved over $3 million in technology support costs. For more information please it might be helpful to review the iSquad membership_packet_0809.pdf for the 08/09 school year. The cost of participating is approximately $1175 for new schools with a $675 yearly renewal.

Attend the MOUSE Educators Conference
This yearly conference provides inspiration around innovative ways school’s Student Support Teams can benefit students, teachers, and entire schools in creating and maintaining a successful 21st Century environment. You can read about some ideas I took from the conference at 5 Innovative Ideas for Student Teams that Support 21st Century Teaching & Learning.

Good luck in getting started with a Student Support Team at your school. As you launch your Student Support Team remember you can reach out to the iSquad/MOUSE Squad group, discussion forums, and your borough instructional technology specialists for support.


The Innovative Educator in the news.

Gotham Schools

Remainders: How to start an IT help desk run by students