Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Engage Your Future Students Today with Flashforward

Innovative educators looking for an engaging project for their students should visit http://www.flashforwardexperience.com. This site takes information from student’s Facebook pages and provides a unique glimpse of “their” story. For those who don’t know, Flashforward is a cutting-edge, new television show with the premise being that the world blacked out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds and during that time, everyone (well almost everyone) had a vision of their lives six months into the future. The world is now trying to piece that together in a project called the “Mosaic Collective” to achieve a global picture of the future.

Innovative educators can have their students visit this site and share what they found, or what they think their glimpse six months into the future could be. This could be collected in all sorts of innovative ways: audio clips, Vokis, powerpoints, Voicethread, wikis, Google Earth, and more. If, like me, you are not educating students, but rather adults, this could also be a great ice breaker. Where will they be as a transformative educator or leader 6 months in the future, 1 year, 3 years. What will their classroom or school look like? Capture their answer using TwitterFall or Polleverywhere.

In schools or districts where personal learning devices are banned and sites are blocked, this can still be a terrific assignment students can begin away from school and produce their work at school.

If you haven’t already, check it out for yourself by visiting http://www.flashforwardexperience.com.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Game-Based Learning Site for Innovative Math Educators

Innovative math educators looking for engaging ideas to enhance teaching and learning should check out this newly launched, curriculum-based, online math game site for 11 – 16 year olds.

UK-based www.mangahigh.com features math games that go beyond mental arithmetic and help kids to enjoy practicing quadratic equations and trigonometry. The site has developed engaging math games that students enjoy playing while they learn complex math concepts by solving authentic, real-world problems.

The fun to play games are designed to make math challenging, yet playable in a gaming context. The games allow students to grasp and practice sophisticated math concepts in an entertaining way. The initial launch includes the following games which are available for free with limited features. An upgrade can be purchased.

1. Save Our Dumb Planet – protect Earth from meteors and other space hazards by using algebra skills to calculate accurate trajectories for a life-saving surface-to-space missile. Players use algebraic substitution, indices, coordinates and graph-plotting to plan their missile flight paths, leading them through linear, quadratic and, eventually, cubic equations.

2. Flower Power – grow and harvest valuable and exotic flowers to make your horticultural fortune. Players practice their knowledge of fractions, decimals and percentages with beautiful results.

3. Pyramid Panic – help a prematurely-entombed mummy escape from a pyramid by solving geometry puzzles to build a path across the burial chamber to the exit. Set in Ancient Egypt, players start with simple puzzles involving areas and lengths of rectangles, triangles and kites, through more complex applications of Pythagoras’ rule, to the ultimate challenge of solving problems involving trigonometry.

4. BIDMAS Blaster – Professor BIDMAS' roborators have run amok and need to be destroyed. In this fast-paced action game, players practice their skills with brackets, indices, division, multiplication, addition and subtraction.

5. Mangahigh’s most powerful game is Prodigi, a math learning engine that features thousands of math problems with worked solutions and hints that adapt to each student’s ability and learning speed. Students, teachers and parents can customize Prodigi by skipping items that have already been mastered in the classroom, or focusing on areas that need specific attention. If necessary, students can learn using Prodigi with a minimum of intervention from educators, as it guides the student through the math curriculum in a logical, pedagogic order.

“Math is frequently perceived as boring and irrelevant by students. Mangahigh aims to make math fun and engaging through the use of games and also to spark an interest that reaches beyond the curriculum,” said Dr. Marcus du Sautoy, Chairman of Mangahigh’s Board of Advisors, currently Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. “Mangahigh will give students context and a deeper insight into math, as well as provide interesting facts that they can share with their friends,” he added. “Mangahigh aims to fuse online games and math. Having observed millions of players hone their game-playing skills at King.com, I realized that, if this same motivation and stimulation could be bought to mathematics education, it could be a game-changer,” added Toby Rowland, founder of Mangahigh, formerly the co-CEO and co-founder of King.com, one of the world’s largest casual games companies.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Innovative Site for Connecting with Student's Families

HomeEducators interested in innovative ways to connect with student’s families, may want to investigate Parentella. Parentella is a site with the philosophy that family involvement is critical to a child’s success, so they have developed an interactive site that makes it easy for teachers to keep families informed, organized, plugged in, and actively involved in what is going on in their classrooms. The site is free for both families and teachers and offers great benefits to all parties.

On Parentella, teachers can easily set up a safe, private and trusted network for their class(es). Teachers can then upload homework assignments and post dates for upcoming activities, such as tests, field trips, special programs and class parties. They can also post pertinent news, interesting information, photos and more. There are useful tools for recruiting family members to help out for various activities, such as a “sign up sheets” for helping out in the classroom, attending field trips, or bringing needed items for parties and special projects. The site even sends automated reminders so that family members don’t forget what they signed up for.

One of the best features of Parentella is that parents and families can see all of their children’s schedules on one calendar, even if the children go to different schools or are in different school districts. Family members can look at the calendar and know exactly what each of their kids are supposed to be doing for homework and make sure the assignments get done properly. Families know exactly what the classroom needs are and can schedule their time and resources accordingly, making helping out more feasible. Parents and families stay more intimately connected with what their children are involved in. They can also connect with other families within the school and community to share useful information with one another, such as what extra-curricular activities are available.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Innovative Educator’s Birthday Wish – Help Me Fund Innovative Classrooms By Supporting My Donor’s Choose Giving Page

A year has gone by since I had not 1, not 2, but 3 SPECTACULAR 40TH birthday celebrations with family and friends in Napa Valley, Las Vegas, and the North Fork of Long Island. I spent nearly an entire month where all those close to me celebrated ME and I felt truly blessed and thankful. A year later I’m turning 41. I’ve had enough of celebrating me.

For my 41st birthday, the best gift I can get is funding innovative educators. As @kevinhoneycutt rhythmically explains in this YouTube video, students need their teachers to learn and there are teachers who are stepping up to the plate. Please take a minute to take a listen.

Honeycutt shares this message with teachers in his video, “Kids are changing any fool can tell and the ways that you’re teaching have to change as well.

Unfortunately, even though it is the 21st century, equity and access to modern resources is considered a privilege rather than a right and even students who have their own personal learning devices are banned from bringing them to school in many districts. Fortunately there are teachers ready to take on the challenge of preparing students for the 21st century, but they need our help. You may have noticed a recent addition on the right side of my blog where the DonorChoose.org widget has been established for just this purpose. When you click on the widget you are brought directly to The Innovative Educator's Giving Page at DonorChoose.org. All the projects are specifically focused on innovation. You can help grant my birthday wish by going to The Innovative Educator's Giving Page and clicking on the below widget on the right-hand side of my page or below.

My birthday is on September 20th and I’m asking for all my friends, colleagues, and readers, to make a tax deductible donation in increments of $41 dollars for my 41st birthday. Early presents and late presents are encouraged! If you fund a project you will get photos and a letter from the teacher and his or her class too. My goal is to help educators raise $1000 dollars toward helping them incorporate innovative practices into their teaching and learning.

I’ve started off the process by donating my $41 dollars to a project called "Getting In-Touch With Our Latino Community". I have helped 125 students through this project and already received my thank you letter. Pictures will be coming once the project gets underway.

If you are an innovative educator who is looking for funding for your classroom please include your project on DonorChoose.org and I will add you to The Innovative Educator's Giving Page. Simply share your link and your request for donations as a comment to this post or email me with a request. You can challenge your friends and family to support the work you are doing with your students too. Everybody wins!

DonorChoose.org is a fantastic organization that I began using close to a decade ago as a literacy coach. I worked with teachers to write proposals to fund classroom libraries. Every project was fully funded. For my birthday wish, I invite you to please join me in supporting teachers who are doing this important work.

If you're an innovative educator who would like to spread the word about DonorsChoose.org I've created a short video overview that you can share.

Like Classroom 2.0? Try Gov 2.0.

by Dana Lawit

Innovative educators know that web 2.0 technologies have added another dimension to the ways we teach and learn. Whether using a Ning to spice up an ELA literacy circle, or GoogleVoice to engage English Language Learners, web 2.0 technologies have the potential to engage students, when they might otherwise not be. Political campaigns over the past few years have increasingly embraced web 2.0 technologies seeking to engage more voters. Viewing candidates' websites in the 2008 presidential election felt more like visiting a social network than a mere parking lot for platform text and publicity photos.

In a recent blog post, I asked: How educators and schools can prepare citizens and netizens for a world of work and private life infused with information and communication technology.

A recent summit organized by O'Reilly Media (widely attributed with the coinage of the phrase web 2.0 in 2005) called Gov 2.0 asked the following questions:
  • How can we use technology to make government more transparent and accountable?
  • How do we bridge the culture of web innovation, forged around the world and in Silicon Valley, with the culture of political innovation?
  • How do we focus the power of the technology community on solving the nation's most pressing problems?
  • How can Web 2.0 approaches such as crowdsourcing and collaborative development create new models of public-private partnerships?

There is a lot of worthwhile material from the summit. I recommend starting with watching Tim O'Reilly outline his thoughts about Gov 2.0:

For me, whats most compelling about O'Reilly's argument is the notion that communication technology can awaken civic engagement. If using a Ning learning network over the summer can engage students in reading (a task that all year they had difficulty with), then perhaps this new web culture of contributing to social networks, producing content, and connecting with others can help to increase engagement of individuals with their communities and governments.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Innovative and FREE Strategies to Support English Language Learners in Becoming Information Consumers and Producers

I was a bit intimated about providing a keynote presentation at the NYS Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) conference this month because of my own rather unpleasant memories of being made fun of for my "white" accent in high school, and later in college, Spanish classes. I always envied those who could roll their tongues and speak with a proper accent. I can not. I speak with one accent. It is very Caucasian and often laughed at. I remember when I took Spanish in high school how uncomfortable I was when we had to speak out loud. The other kids seriously laughed out loud at me. I laughed too, because I really did sound ridiculous. Because of this experience, I hated speaking Spanish. Years later, my experience speaking the second language of Spanish gave me a little insight into what English Language Learner (ELL) students may feel. The fear of embarrassment and the trepidation about sounding wrong or different kept me, a normally outspoken kid, pretty quiet. Even though I wanted to learn another language, my discomfort, combined with less than effective instruction, were not a recipe for success. When I went to school to get my master's degree in education, again I was told I'd have to have completed 2 years of language study. Gulp. I couldn't handle the idea of my embarrassing accent so instead I came up with a solution to all that...I took sign language.

The inability to feel comfortable when trying to speak another language has been an issue for me most of my life, that is until I became The Innovative Educator. Today, as an adult, I can read, understand and communicate in more than a dozen languages with some fluency. But it is not because my language acquisition skills have improved, but rather because as innovative educators, we all have a number of resources available to us to support us in understanding and communicating with basic fluency in our non-native language, for free, and without Rosetta Stone.

I have broken the strategies I believe innovative educators will find useful into two categories:

  1. Innovative ways for speakers of languages other than English to CONSUME content.
  2. Innovative ways for speakers of languages other than English to PRODUCE content.

As you read about these strategies, please reflect on ways you can use what I am sharing in your work and consider publishing your feedback, experience, and ideas in comments to this post.

To set the tone for those wondering if I can really speak multiple languages with an accent that is not laughable, please allow me greet you in a few different languages at Global Welcome from The Innovative Educator. If you speak any of the languages in my greetings, you'll notice that while not perfect, the accent is respectable and you can understand the intent of my message. I've come a long way! There's much more available to provide affordable and innovative resources to students to enable them to break the language barrier and become effective consumers and producers of information. To follow are ideas I find particularly promising.


One of the best ways to help students get excited about learning anything is by helping them discover and explore areas of deep personal interest and passion
. (To learn more read these articles from ISTE Connect -
Engage Me or Enrage Me! (Pt.1) / Engage Me or Enrage Me! (Pt.2).

Ideas for ELLs @ school / home.
  • Technorati

    • Help students by showing them how they can use technorati to find people who are blogging about topics of interest.

  • Convert Text to Speech

    • We all know that student’s listening level is higher than their reading level. How about enabling them to access more difficult material by suggesting they find websites that read passages with tools like Odigo. While the voice is rather robotic, it does provide students with the ability to access the content. Here are some useful text to speech (tts) tools to help students consume information.
    • Odigo for Websites and Blogs
    • iSpeech - For any text
    • Online Translator - for performing real-time translation for various languages
    • TTS Voice presented by animated speaking characters will read the text in the most realistic, human-sounding way in a variety of languages: English U.S., Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian and European Spanish.
    • Why: Educational Value of Text to Speech (TTS)

  • Google Translation Tools

    • Google Webpage Translation Gadget: Since your students are ELLs recommend they find blogs that use translation tools such as The Google Translation Gadget or BabbleFish. These tools let you take any blog and translate it into more than a dozen languages. If the blog does not have a tool for a blog or site that may be valuable, a student can write to the author asking them to install this tool.
    • Google Translate: If your student is reading content that does not have a translation tool, use Google Translate to translate the entire page.
    • Google Translated Search: Enter a search phrase in your own language to find information in other languages.
    • Google Toolbar: Or your student can use the translate tool in the Google toolbar to translate specific words by hoovering over them.
    • Google Reader: Show them how to subscribe to these blogs using Google Reader.


    Learning through media (movies, music, etc.) is one of the best ways to learn a new language. The clips below will improve your listening comprehension skills, helping you to learn and practice English as spoken by normal people every day! These particular clips are from recent movies. Good luck!

Ideas for ELLs on the go.
Note: If your school or district has policies banning personal learning devices, you can still empower students to harness the power of technology away from school i.e. as part of their toolbox for life as well as homework.

One of the best ways to help students get excited about learning anything is by helping them become content producers in areas of deep personal interest and passion.

Ideas for ELLs on the go.
  • Google Voice

    • Use Google Voice and set up a widget and have students enter their phone number where they will receive a call from their teacher's Google voice account. Ask them to please leave a message with their spoken one minute report about their selected subject. Here's an example of what this looks like.

    • To get a Google Voice Account visit I received my Google Voice Invite and You Should Too!

Ideas for ELLs @ school / home.
  • Microsoft Word - Word Talk

    • Text to Voice
    • Students can check their writing by having the computer read it back to them.
  • Google Translate

    • Enables students to draft their thoughts in their own language and translate to English. This enables them to participate in all types of online communities such as discussion boards, blogs, chats.
  • Xtranormal

  • Voki

    • Voki provides a great way for students to record their own voice and make talking Avatars that can convey messages, thoughts, ideas.
    • Voki can speak in a number of languages and accents enabling students to communicate in multiple languages.
    • Students can comment on one another's Vokis with their own Vokis.
      Here's an example

  • dotSub

    • Assigned advanced students the task of creating their own subtitles to existing videos.
    • Have students create and upload videos in their native language and work with other students to provide English subtitles.
  • Blogging

    • Blog Commenting (this is the best place to start)

    • Blog Producing (this is for students with deep fluency in their Native language)In native language which can be translated to EnglishIn English which can be translated into their native language

  • Learning / Social Networks

    • Live Mocha

      • "A powerful opportunity for people around the world to connect with language partners" - New York Times

      • Social Language Learning - Online!

      • Learn languages online at your own pace with fun language lessons

      • Connect with foreign language partners around the world

      • Livemocha blends engaging online lessons and the world's largest language learning community to create the most natural way to learn a language.

    • Facebook

      • Communicate with friends who speak other languages.Lurk to read their walls with status updates

    • Ning

      • Set up a school social network for students age 13 and up

      • Encourage students to communicate and connect

  • Virtual Worlds
    • Second Life

    • The 3D virtual world "Second Life" is full of places to practice a foreign language - you can speak with real people all over the world. In 2007 Second Life introduced a voice system, so you can now talk with people just like in real life.

      Best of all - it won't cost you a penny! Second Life is free to use, so you can travel to foreign countries, practice a language and make new friends - absolutely free - all from the comfort of your computer.

    • Read more at ESL in Second Life - Learning English in Second Life

  • Physical Worlds
    • Meetup
    • Do something • Learn something Share something • Change something
    • Helps learners become independent
    • Join or start

Funding Innovation
Providing students with access to innovative learning tools and resources is a right, not a privilege. It is up to educators to help students gain access to resource that will help them learn, consume, and produce content. In some schools you will find that students already own and have access to a number of personal learning devices. It is the job of the educator to support students in harnessing the power of their personal learning devices at and away from school. If districts and schools allow, teachers should be incorporating student-owned devices into instruction and supplementing that with purchased devices. Today you can get a highly functional low-cost laptop for between $300 - $500. You can read a nice comparison of brands here.

Just as we wouldn't allow a hearing impaired student to be without a hearing aid and/or other assistive technology, or a visually impaired student to be without glasses, schools must do whatever they can to provide their students with innovative technologies that will support their learning. Here are my top two suggested ways to fund innovation at your school.

Funding Source 1

A tremendous resource for funding innovation.

A tremendous resource for funding innovation that includes funding news, grant deadlines, and more.

Funding Source 2

Email me and I'll feature your project on The Innovative Educator's Giving Page at Donor's Choose.

Write a guest post for my blog about what you'd like to do and I'll publish it.

Planning for Innovation
Once you've determined some ideas for educating innovatively, it is time to incorporate that into your unit plan. This handy Technology Integration Planning tool is the perfect resource to get you or your school started. It is a Google collaborative document so you can plan for innovation across your school. The tool also supports teachers in aligning their curriculum to both content and technology standards.

Final Thoughts
As a Spanish Language Learner, I was embarrassed by my accent and as a result didn't practice much publicly or with native speakers. This in part is why I never attained basic literacy in Spanish, however, I have shared innovative strategies that provide non-native speakers with a safe space to practice and communicate in a new language. They can participate as much or as little as they choose. Innovative educators and family members can embrace ideas such as these to support students and themselves in communicating, collaborating, and connecting with those whom they do not share a native language. As students gain comfort and fluency, teachers and families can work with students to become active and authentic consumers and producers of information in ways and in areas that are meaningful, important, and authentic.

Blogs for further reading:

Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…
…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

ELL Classroom

Share your thoughts about topics in this post:
Use your phone to text your feedback at Polleverywhere by visiting: http://theinnovativeeducator.wikispaces.com/ELL+Keynote+Polls.