Thursday, August 27, 2009

Opportunity for Innovative Educators to Get Recognized as Expert Evaluators in Tech & Learning Magazine

Tech & Learning has an opportunity for teachers to be recognized as expert evaluators of products that might be of interest to other innovative educators. Qualified candidates (if you’re reading this blog, that’s you!) will be selected to evaluate products for its annual Awards of Excellence. This will be a piece of cake for innovative educators who are already using many of these products. This is an opportunity to share what you know about the products you love (or do not love) by evaluating at least five of the products mentioned below by October 5. Evaluation criteria include the following: quality and effectiveness, ease of use, creative use of technology, and suitability for use in an educational environment. Each product will take 30 – 60 minutes to evaluate and results are submitted here.

Judges will be recognized in the December Awards issue of Tech & Learning. They will also receive a free subscription to the magazine and will be entered in a drawing to win an all-day pass to the New York Tech Forum. To become an evaluator simply email with “Awards of Excellence Evaluation Candidate” in the subject line. Share that you are a reader of this blog in the body of your email.

Acuity Assessment System
Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro
Adobe CS4 Master Collection
Adobe Digital School Collection
Avid Media Composer
CompassLearning Odyssey High School
Convey Solutions
CustomGuides Online Learning Resource (CLMS)
DyKnow Monitor
Faronics Anti-Executable
Faronics Power Save
Faronics WINSelect
Ignite! Math
MusIQ Lab
NetSupport Notify
NetSupport School
PBS TeacherLine Peer Connection
RM Math Player
RM Sonica ESL
SchoolFusion Classroom
Serif Design Suite
Skatekids Online
SMART Classroom Suite
SMART Notebook SE (Student Edition)
SMART Sync classroom management software
StockTrack Portfolio
Study Buddy
Studywiz Spark Mobile
K to the 8th Power Technology Literacy Curriculum
K12 Inc, High School Product Suite
MathXL for School
Miller & Levine Biology Digital Path
Operation Resilient Planet
Ramps To Reading
Reading Analysis & Prescription System (RAPS 360)
Response Ware
RtI Package™ for the Academy of READING®
SAS Curriculum Pathways
SchoolCenter Website Management
SchoolRack -- a free service online for creating teacher websites or education blogs
Sketchpad LessonLink

Awards of Excellence
2003 | 2004 | 2005 |
2006 | 2007 | 2008

2008 Product Gallery
2007 Product Gallery

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Using Mobile Tech as an Instructional Tool on ABC Channel 7 News Tonight at 5

Rumor has it I was featured in a promo today for a story running on ABC News in New York at 5:00 tonight. The story is about how mobile technologies can be used as instructional tools. I don't know if I'll be in the actual story, but it will be of interest to innovative educators. If you'd like to check it out visit Using phones instead of fighting them where you can watch the video and read the transcript.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to School Questions for Innovative Families to Ask Their Children

Over at the Technology Teacher blog Mrs. V shares how she took Will Richardson’s blog post about his children starting at a new school a step further. Will (one of my favorite bloggers!) shares that he has high hopes for an authentic education for his childmeaningful POSTERren at their new school stating that he wanted to be sure to ask his kids more interesting questions than the usual “How was school today?” or “What did you do at school today?”Learn about world POSTER

After reading his suggestions, Mrs. V did what Technology Teachers do. She took his idea and added a little innovation by turning the questions into posters.

Every innovative educator should be sharing questions like these with their student's families and these posters really bring the questions to life.

Working with POSTERHere are some more ideas for questions from Will:
-->What did you teach others?
-->What unanswered questions are you struggling with?
-->How did you change the world in some small (or big) way?
-->What’s something your teachers learned today?
-->What did you share with the world?

I recommend schools come up with their own additional questions and consider making posters with students. Perhaps this is even some sort of contest. These can be shared on the parent/family page of their website or wiki and be printed out and used as reminders for family talk. I am sure innovative parents and other family members could think of some great ways to capture student answers using a traditional journal, or perhaps a blog, or video collection of answers or maybe even status updates on Facebook or Twitter with a special tag for this topic.

What are your questions? What are your ideas around using these questions?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

5 Back to School Must-Haves for Innovative Educators

By Dana Lawit

As the smell of school supplies fills the air, back to school lists often include the usual pencil, binder, loose leaf, sharpener, eraser, etc. While those traditional items might lighten the wallet of families and come out of Teachers Choice for educators in NYC, innovative educators like me are preparing a slightly different list geared toward engaging our digital native students and supporting my own 21st century practices.

Here is my list of five must-haves for innovative educators.

1) Digital Voice Recorder. I bought two of these over the summer to use with student journalists. Digital Voice Recorders are small, cost around $50, and link to a computer using USB. Beyond using them with student reporters, I plan on having students record their thoughts prior to writing, and recording voice and other audio for Podcasts.

2) Google Voice. I set up a phone number through Google Voice so that it would be easier for students and parents to reach me by phone. I like that Google provides not only a transcript of voice mails, but incoming calls as well. It's also a quick and easy way to get audio recordings from your students. Give them a reflection question for homework along with your Google Voice number. All their answers will be saved as audio recordings that are easy to share online. See The Innovative Educator's comprehensive overview of the ins and outs of Google Voice to learn how to get started.

3) Google Templates (through GoogleDocs). Recently, Google introduced the ability for users to share GoogleDoc templates both publicly, privately, and within your domain. Over the summer I created a template writing organizer. Students opened GoogleDocs, and created a new document from my template. Then they shared their new document with me, and as they developed their writing, I could provide individual feedback directly in their documents. This allowed us to have dialogues about their writing without me carrying a stack of papers home every night. During the year I plan on using templates not only with students, but colleagues as well; allowing us to more rapidly create uniformly designed lesson plans and curricula.

4) Librevox & Odiogo.
I'm constantly searching for ways to get rich material to low level readers, one option is to have students listen to audio recordings. Librevox is a site that provides audio recordings of texts in the public domain. If the text isn't available, you're welcome to submit a recording. I haven't browsed their entire collection but there are definetly some pieces I will be able to use, as well as some room for student submissions. Odiogo (used on this site) is a text to speech service for rss feeds and online text. This will allow me to a get a wider range of online text to students.

5) Flip Video Camera. This tool instantly ratcheted up student engagement either by getting it into the hands of a student for them to use during an assignment, recording a performance assessment, or documenting field work. I'm excited to continue to find new uses for the Flip.

Those are my 5 must-haves that I hope will keep my students engaged, parents and families connected, and me organized. What are yours?

To share your ideas, please leave a comment on this blog or leave a voice recording by selecting the Google Voice widget below.

Enter Acer Drawing to Outfit Your Classroom for 21st Century Learning

Innovative educators interested in low cost computing options, have until August 31st to enter for a chance to win a 21st century classroom outfitted with Acer and Intel technology, which includes up to 30 systems each of netbooks, desktops and LCDs. Three runner-up winners also will win Acer and Intel technology for an entire classroom of 30 netbooks. The contest is designed to help schools explore and access the latest technology. All applicants will have an opportunity to test out an Acer netbook. Innovative educators will appreciate the opportunity to test drive technology options for their classrooms.

How it works

The Acer Education Technology Initiative gives schools access to a free 30-day trial of the Acer Aspire One Netbook. After the 30-day trial, applicants can choose to either return the product free of charge and shipping or purchase the netbook at a special price only available to applicants. In September, all applicants will be entered into a random drawing to determine winners for the computer lab and classroom technology prizes outfitted by Acer and Intel. To enter, submit your very short application (completion takes under a minute) by Aug. 31, 2009 at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ideas for Engaging Students in Passion-Based Learning - Pt 2

Editor's Note: Below is an excerpt from a post written for the International Society for Technology Educator's "ISTE Connects." This post was published at the ISTE Connects site which targets educators engaged in improving teaching and learning by advancing the effective use of technology education.

Technology provides the window to connections and learning around areas of passion and deep personal interest that were never before possible. Some educators I have discussed this concept with have scoffed at the idea for various reasons believing it would be too much work for them to make individualized, differentiated connections for each student. I’ve suggested that their job is not to determine a student's passion, or find the experts and make the connections, but rather to support their students in doing so. And, that doesn’t mean have all the students in your class create blogs where they respond to your prompts or make a podcast about a topic you are studying in social studies. That really, isn't an effective means to helping students explore their passions, publish authentically to an audience they care about, or connect with others with their similar interests. This is a big shift. Here are some smart ways educators might engage in passion-based learning with our students.

Ideas for Engaging Students in Passion-Based Learning

Discover and Consume

First you need to support your students in finding area of passion and deep personal interest which is an ongoing journey. Next you may want to connect them with other students and teachers who share these interests so they have a face-to-face (f-2-f) connection with others with like interests. Once they have identified an area of passion, help them develop strategies to learn more about their topic of interest.

  • Finding Passion
    Help students discover what passions and interests they may have. One way to do this is by having them take an interest inventory. While I am a fan of the Renzulli Learning Profile that helps students discover interests, learning styles, abilities, and expression styles, there are many different types of interest inventories out there. While this is a good idea for starting on the road to helping your students discover their passion, take some time to explore multiple ways to helping students find their passion.
  • F-2-F Connections with Others with Similar Interests
    Ideally an entire school student body and staff would engage in taking a learning profile. If so, this is a terrific way to connect students with other students with similar interests and even identify teachers with interests shared by students. These interests can turn into elective classes in the school and provides a tremendous opportunity for students to make deep connections with other students and their teacher. If a school wide implementation is not possible this is still powerful even if partnering with other classes or finding common interests within your own class. As an educator you'll want to work with your students on some conversation guidelines, starters, and extenders to support your students in engaging in meaningful and perhaps accountable talk.
  • Researching Your Passion
    Once you’ve helped students determine some areas of passion, help them learn more about their area of interest. Perhaps start with an encyclopedia then move to supporting students in using smart search techniques about their area of interest. You may want to show them how to use Technorati to locate bloggers who are writing about the topics they are interested in.
  • Following Your Passion
    Once you've supported students in searching for and finding their passions, show them how to follow their passions. An RSS aggregator like Google Reader is a simple, easy to use tool made just for this purpose. You can learn how to get started by going here.

To find out innovative ways you can support students in “Communicating and Connecting” and ‘Creating and Producing” read the whole story by clicking here. Be sure to check out (and leave) comments too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Engaging Students with Passion-Based Learning - Pt 1

Editor's Note: Below is an excerpt from a post written for the International Society for Technology Educator's "ISTE Connects." This post was published at the ISTE Connects site which targets educators engaged in improving teaching and learning by advancing the effective use of technology education.

Recently I attended Alan November’s Building Learning Communities Conference where I participated in a session for educators exploring how to become transformational leaders. A participant at my table said, “This is all nice, but kids need to learn that school isn’t always interesting. Sometimes school is just boring.” “Not true!" I responded. "School shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be boring.” When I shared this with Alan he recommended I ask this participant, “Which teachers should teach students that they have to learn that school is boring?“ This certainly would not be me. While I’ve witnessed teachers who accept that students are disengaged, sometimes even falling asleep in their class, I do not believe a teacher passionate about his/her career would embrace the idea that it is okay for their students to be bored. In fact, I contend that if every teacher prioritized just one thing, we could eradicate boredom in our classrooms, deeply engage students, and dramatically decrease the dropout rate. That one thing is...

Supporting students in finding their passion.

To find out how, read the whole story by clicking here. Be sure to check out (and leave) comments too.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Why, What, and How of Getting the Benefits of Student Response Systems without the Cost or Equipment

Student Response Polling OptionsMany innovative educators are familiar with student response systems (SRS) a.k.a. clickers. Common brands are eInstruction, Sentio, TurningPoint, Activote. The systems run about $2500 - $4000 (depending on various options selected) for a class set and allow educators to track student learning, engage an entire class as they collect real-time responses from students, and enables them to quickly assess understanding and achievement. While I believe these are valuable instructional tools, I’m not convinced they are the best tool to accomplish these goals in all situations.

Here’s why.
As an active participant using such devices I have witnessed that the distribution, collection, and maintenance of devices is a bit cumbersome. I have also observed that even tech-savvy, innovative educators have enlisted others to support their use. They've needed help from a specialist to engage in using the software to upload questions, maneuvering from one question to the next and sharing the answers.

I have also found when answering questions, typing on a phone-like keypad without a letter on each button makes submitting a response rather cumbersome. Most recently I was disappointed that my slowness in doing so resulted in my answer being omitted. Additionally, the clickers just don’t look like the technology I am used to using in my real life. They seem like artificial or manufactured constructs that I can’t imagine incorporating into everyday instruction. While I have been interested in this technology it has just seemed like an add on rather than a practice I would incorporate into my daily routine. There is also new software that has to be installed and requires a bit of a learning curve. While I am guessing there may be some innovative educators that have seamlessly incorporated these devices into the classroom, I have yet to see this for myself. In fact, sadly, I think I know of about a half dozen schools where a tech savvy teacher or coach has ordered these devices and they remain in an unopened or once opened box in a locked closet (shhh-don’t tell).

For mobile computing professional like me who want to present and operate mobiley the idea of traveling with 32 clickers is unappealing. So, while I love the functionality, the practicality of passing out clickers, configuring voting software, and lugging around bags full of difficult to use keypads has not seemed feasible. Fortunately, I have discovered ways to use everyday tools for free while still being able to harness the power these systems offer without needing either the equipment, software, or funding.

Here’s what they are.
I have found three tools that provide a similar function as student response systems and do so for free and with technologies many of us already have access to inside and/or outside of school. Furthermore they do not require downloading or learning how to use software. They are Google Spreadsheets and Forms, Twitter, and Poll Everywhere. All can be used with no cost, no software, and without the purchase of equipment for those with access to either cell phones or laptops.

Here is how to use them.


Twitter is perfect if you want to know what your audience is thinking, feeling, or seeing. No software to download and all your audience needs is a cell phone or laptop to contribute. Simply go to and set up an

account. You can Tweet from your phone by entering your number at When exploring a particular topic, you need to select a short tag (an approximately 6 letters or less searchable word or acronym) and then have your audience’s tweets include that tag (i.e. Marta Valle High School might be MVHS). They can contribute using a laptop or through text on their phone. You can capture the Tweets in any number of forms. The easiest is to do a simple Twitter search for the tag. You can click here to see what the Tweets from a recent conference look like. Of course one of the more famous tags that made Twitter popular was IranElection.

Google Spreadsheets

Do you want to poll your audience? Do you want to do a pre and post assessment? Google spreadsheets is your answer. Recently I used Google Spreadsheets to poll school leaders about what name we should select for our learning network. After they Tweeted their nominations from their laptops or cells, I placed their nominations on the Google spreadsheet and then placed their names across the top of the spreadsheet. They each had 5 votes to use to select their top choices. I set up the spreadsheet to record their choices and had their results captured in a chart on a separate tab so they could instantly see the results which I projected. You can see what it looked like here. This was done without any equipment beyond their laptops.

Of note is the fact that not every person voting needed their own polling device. Participants had 24 hours to vote. They could have voted any time they had access to a computer and accommodations were set up for those who could not vote in advance because they didn’t have access to the internet. We spent 10 minutes the next day where I projected results. A few participants were recorders who captured responses for those who had yet to vote or for those who wanted to change their vote.

Google forms is another free and effective option to capture responses from your audience. Not only does Google forms look nice, it also easily allows you to capture participant results without participants being able to see what other respondents have answered. Here is a sample of a form I used at the same conference to capture conference reflections. It can also be used effectively for assessment with students.

Poll Everywhere

Your audience votes with their cell phones by sending the option number to our number, 99503.Poll Everywhere is a great tool that can be used by anyone who knows someone with a laptop or a cell phone they can send a text message from. For educators in schools without laptops and where phones are banned, this can still be a powerful tool that students can use outside of school by students who have their own phone or laptop or have family, friends or a public facility with a phone or laptop they can use. Futhermore Poll Everywhere is free for people who need to collect 30 or fewer responses per poll, and for schools who have not made Adequate Yearly Progress.

To use poll everywhere the teacher sets up an account at which they’ll be assigned a number or url for participants to send their answers. Within the message students enter the code corresponding to their response. This looks similar to what you see on popular shows such as American Idol. Without any additional equipment or need to download software within seconds educators will have student responses. Another nice feature is that it doesn't matter what device your students are using as text message, web, and smartphone responses can be instantly combined.

If knowing what your students are thinking is important to you and you are not able to invest in student response systems Twitter, Google Spreadsheets and Forms, and Poll Everywhere are few alternatives well worth investigating.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Please Turn on Your Cell Phone

Editor's Note: Below is an excerpt from a terrific post written my personal learning network colleague Juliette LaMontagne who, among other things, is working with schools to expore ways to harness the power of the mobile devices students use (i.e. iPods, phones, cameras) for instruction. This post was published at The Design Observer Group which features news about design and social innovation.

Mobile devices aren't distractions in schools; they're machines for learning.
By Juliette LaMontagne

It might surprise you to learn that students from New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods arrive at school each day with personal computers. The problem is that they deposit these powerful learning tools at the nearby bodega — where they’re held like a coat check service for a dollar a day — because their personal computers are cell phones, and they are banned by New York City’s school chancellor, Joel Klein. Many students will circumvent the ban by blind-texting from their backpacks or from the bathroom. But it’s not that simple for those who have to pass through metal detectors and scanners to gain entry into the school building each day.

The rationale for the cell phone ban will not surprise you: critics claim the phones are distracting, can be used to cheat and add no educational value. In a speech to the National Urban League, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “You come to school to learn, not to play games or send text messages.” Apparently, his words were aimed at students and administrators alike; last month, text-messaging service on all Department of Education issued devices was disabled. Only weeks earlier, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, came out in support of cell phone use saying, “Finding ways to use cell phones to deliver lesson plans to students would improve education and meet federal guidelines.”

To read the whole story click here. Be sure to check out (and leave) comments too such as this one.

Will Richardson 08.13.09 at 08:12
There is no question that schools in general are not taking advantage of the potential learning power of phones, but as with most technology integration, that's because of a fear of change and a lack of pedagogical understanding on the part of educators. I ask teachers all the time, "how do you use technology (read: the Web, your phone, etc") to learn?" and it's difficult for many to answer. Like many students, they've never had models for effective learning with technology (as opposed to information retrieval, which admittedly, hasn't been great either.) I'm not blaming them, but I am suggesting that if we want to take advantage of the undeniable potential for learning with technology, we have to help educators be learners in those contexts first. I want my children to be taught how to use their mobile devices to create and publish and connect, but I also want that done by adults who know how to do that for themselves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wiki Established to Explore Use of Educational Networking

By Dana Lawit

One of the most liberating characteristics of the Internet and Web 2.0 technology -- the ability for an infinite number of individuals, communities, and networks to broadcast and exchange ideas instantly -- is also perhaps the most maddening.

What the web lacks, for better or for worse, is an editor.* And while I consider myself a savvy Googler (made more savvy thanks to The Innovative Educator's recent post spotlighting Google Search education), sometimes I don't want to search. Instead, I'd like to browse and wander around a world of ideas the way I'm able to do on those lucky Sunday mornings with the New York Times.

All of this is say that I really appreciate a good editor, or perhaps a more aptly stated would be that of curator. That's why I'm excited that Steve Hargadon has established a wiki to explore the uses of Educational Networks (social networks devoted to education). The site even includes a listing of current educational networks. It's nice to have a place to start my web wanderings that is vetted by a reputable curator.

Who are your favorite web curators? Where do you go for the digest? Suggestions welcomed.

*I don't want to imply that I think that web content should be filtered or edited by one individual, or organization. Wikipedia's model of an active editing community is an incredible example of group think. What's missing from so many blogs is an exchange between writer and editor.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Teaching Search in the Classroom with Google

Innovative educators know that web search can serve as a remarkable research tool for students. Google knows too and they have been working to help educators teach search skills in the classroom. Working with Google Certified Teachers, Google produced an initial set of nine search education lessons that cover everything from developing criteria to clicking on the right results to succeeding with the most challenging searches. The lessons will help students and educators alike to get the most of Google search in the classroom. You can see for yourself at:

To introduce the lessons, Dan Russell, along with Google Certified Teachers Kathleen Ferenz, Cheryl Davis and Lucy Gray will discuss how to teach search in the classroom in a Google Webinar next week. Having developed
Google's Search Education Lessons, they will discuss how you can customize the contents to the needs of your class and how guide your in-class discussions. The webinar will take place on Wednesday, August 19 at 5PM. You can register online here and invite fellow educators to join.

If you liked this post you may want to read
Get Going with Google Apps in Your School.
The Free Technology for Teachers blog also suggests watching Common Craft's video Web Search Strategies in Plain English which is an excellent introduction to any lesson on web search. You can view the video in Dot Sub form below or watch it directly on Common Craft here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I received my Google Voice Invite and You Should Too!

Last week I was talking to a friend on the beach who told me she couldn’t read an email I sent her because she didn’t have her BlackBerry with her. Instead she explained that she only had her personal phone. She said sometimes she just carries her work phone. Sometimes just her personal phone, sometimes both. I asked her how she manages all this phone swapping and inquired as to why she would even want two phones to carry around and switch off. She answered by saying that she couldn’t just use her work phone in case she changed jobs, so she needed a personal phone so that everyone would know how to reach her should she switch jobs.

Well! All the phone swapping is exhausting and hard to keep up with. So much so, that during a recent swap attempt a phone went a flying and splattered causing her to miss a good portion of our next day on the beach dealing with its replacement. Now, if my friend had Google Voice, this would not be an issue.

Google Voice gives you one phone number that is tied to you. Not a particular phone or location. Additionally, you can chose to have that phone number ring any phone you’d like. As a result, you can pick just one phone to take with you and all your phones will ring into it. Users never again need to carry multiple phones or swap phones. While that alone is a reason to use Google Voice, there are many other reasons. The biggest impetus for my getting Google Voice was that I learned that it converts all your voicemails to text and sends your phone a message with the converted voicemail to text. How fabulous is that?!?!!! Never again do you need to transcribe a message, or sort through 4 voicemails to get to the one you were trying to listen to. But wait, there’s more! Google voice allows you to let a call go to voicemail and allows you to ListenInTM on your voicemail messages while they are being left. If you decide to take the call, you can connect to the call by pressing “*.” You can also record your conversation and listen to it later. A simple and easy way to capture audio for podcasts or conversations with experts that students can listen to at any time. Google Voice also provides conference calling.

This video provides a nice overview of what you’ll get with Google Voice.

If this sounds good to you, here’s how you get started:


Request an invitation

Visit to sign up for Google Voice.

Accept the invitation

Be on the lookout for an invitation from Google Voice to your email. You’ll accept your invite there.


Choosing Your Number

Next you will be able to select a phone number that will be yours forever. Choose wisely. What number do you want? You’ll need to select an area code. Many of the most popular area codes aren’t available (for instance 212 and 646 are unavailable), but there seems to be codes for every city (for instance, I was able to get 347 for New York City).

Your number can also spell out a word. After a lot of experimenting, I found it’s best to figure out a four letter word. My number is 635-LISA. You’ll want to have a word in mind when you set up your account.

Selecting Which Phones Ring

You can determine which phones ring when this number is called. Think in advance if you want your cell, work, home phone to ring when calls come in.

Importing Your Contacts

Next you’ll want to ensure all your contacts are in your new Google Voice account. This is surprisingly easy to do. These two posts provide everything you need to know. How to Export Your Outlook Contacts to a CSV File and Importing contacts by CSV. This took me about 5 – 10 minutes to do.


Test it out

Get your significant other, kid, or friend to try it out with you. Have them call you and leave a voicemail. You’ll see how it comes in as a text. Have then call you again and listen in as they leave a voicemail. Have them call you again and record your conversation.

Share Your Number

Once you’ve tested the service and are comfortable, it’s time to share your number. I updated my number on all our communication systems at work. I also updated my email signature in my BlackBerry and in Outlook. You’ll also want to update your business cards.

I really love my Google Voice and am thrilled to be able to share with other innovative educators what you can do to get started with your very own Google Voice number too! When you do, drop a comment here and let me know how it’s going. I'd also love to capture any cool ways innovative educators are using this in education. For inspiration check out how high school teacher Chris Fritz is Managing Student Calls with Google Voice.


Question from my Facebook Friend:

Renuka D GurnaniRenuka so i have one basic question...what is the cost?
Lisa Velmer NielsenLisa Velmer Nielsen It's Google! It's free!