Tuesday, November 30, 2010

txtN N d library: Ideas for Librarians Who Want to Embrace the Power of Cell Phones

While for some, libraries bring to mind microfiche, card catalogs, and dusty stacks, today’s innovative librarians are shattering these stereotypes using technologies to provide engaging and relevant learning spaces for students. Tamara Cox, Heather Loy, Tracy Karas, Joyce Valenza, and Gwyneth Jones know that to engage 21st century readers, researchers, and writers, they need to use the tools and technologies students love. The following is a collection of ideas these librarians have implemented to successfully engage learners and empower students with the freedom to use their cell phones as personal learning devices.

Phone Basics
There are many standard features that most phones come with that make librarians more effective and efficient. Heather Loy, librarian at Wagener-Salley High School in South Carolina, utilizes the “notes” or “memo pad” feature on her phone to record meeting notes, outlines, and even taking roll at the graduation ceremony. The benefit of this over paper is that it doesn’t have to be transcribed. It can instantly be shared and it is searchable.

Students also enjoy using the notes or memo pad on their phones as well to write short book reviews which they can submit to their teacher right from their phone for posting on the library website.

Even though her school has a significant low income population, librarian Tamara Cox says many of her students have cell phones and in the last few years she has seen cell phone use skyrocket among her students. Knowing research indicates that texting is the preferred method of communicating for young people she felt it would be a great idea to reach out to her students via text. She thought starting with school library notices might make sense so she gave it a shot. Today, students at Palmetto Middle School in South Carolina can sign up to receive text notifications from the library. Ms. Cox can text overdue and hold notices which not only gets information directly into the hands of students, but it also enables her to stop wasting paper.

Another way Ms. Cox tapped into this technology was by placing her book club students in a group so that she can text them reminders of book club meetings and other club news. Her students love being in contact with her in this way.

Phone casting
Book talks are one of the favorite tools in a librarian’s bag of tricks. The purpose of book talking is to get students excited about reading books telling them just enough to whet their appetites, then setting them free to explore on their own. Innovative librarians are using phone casting to create book talks and make them available for students anytime/anywhere. A phone cast enables you to use your phone to record, capture and share audio using your cell phone. There are a number of free services that allow you to record audio from a phone including Google Voice, Voki, iPadio, and Yodio.

Librarians can set up an online space like a wiki or website to list books in the library and use their selected phone casting service to embed an audio recording of the corresponding book talk. Many librarians have also had success inviting students to create book talks as well. Not only is it great for students to hear about books from their peers, but creating a book talk can also be a great project for students. In schools where librarians organize buddy reading with upper grade students reading to younger buddies, having the older partner record their book talk with their buddy in mind provides a built in audience and perhaps even someone who can provide useful insight into if the talk inspired the buddy to want to hear more.

Librarians love Twitter not only because it provides an instant and easy window into what is happening in their libraries, but also because it serves as a tremendous professional development resource as well as a tool to globally connect teachers and students.

Using Twitter right from your cell phone enables librarians to provide the entire school community with a window into their library. Tracy Karas a Librarian in New York City uses her phone to Tweet updates about new books that have come in, to celebrate student successes, to provide reminders about upcoming events and more. All these Tweets are embedded directly on her school library page from the school’s website.

Other librarians use Twitter to help their students connect or reach out for on demand professional development using the hashtag #TLchat (T for Teacher, L for Librarian) started by the popular librarian Joyce Valenza. Using and following the hashtag provides viewers with a minefield of ideas, resource sharing and networking. For example here are some possible librarian Tweets:
  • 13 yr-old male who luvs skateboarding. Book ideas? #TLchat
  • Looking for a student(s) who’s reading or luvs Catcher in the Rye to join our book talk? #TLchat
  • Looking for someone to Skype with our class abt creating a digital footprint. #TLchat
  • Anyone have a resource for free eBooks? #TLchat
Using this tag brings your message to innovative librarians across the globe. Your 30-second investment results in a payoff consisting of plenty of ideas and responses on demand and for free!

Librarians should also be aware of the many notable librarians that tweet. By following #TLchat, you’ll quickly see popular names appear time and again including @buffyjhamilton, @shannonmiller, @joycevalenza, @keisawilliams, and @gwynethjones. You can tag Tweeps (Tweeting People) like these in your Tweets giving them a virtual tap on the shoulder when you think they may have something to contribute. For example, you may Tweet, “Wondering what folks like @joycevalenza think about iPads as a replacement for books in the library.”

Group Response
In Tamara Cox’s library, students are often asked to bring their cell phones when they come to the library. She uses the group response site, Poll Everywhere, to get the students involved. One way she does this is after viewing book trailers. Ms. Cox has her students use their phones to vote for their favorite book. Not only does this engage the students, but it also illustrates to the classroom teachers that they can provide student response to students through the use of cell phones which provides an effective way to collect and capture students thoughts, opinions, and feedback. When teachers see their librarian modeling the use of phones with students they are often more open to the idea of using them in their own classroom. This is especially important in schools that have limited or no access to student response systems aka clickers. Cell phones provide the same opportunity for student involvement without the cost.

Ms. Cox has also had success in using cell phones as an audience response system during teacher professional development where she has engaged participants by introducing a topic and polling them. She’ll have the question shared on the board with directions on how to respond. This involves the teachers immediately while also giving them a relevant topic to discuss as they wait for the meeting to begin.

QR Codes
QR codes are computer generated codes that allow Smart phone users to scan the code and be directed to a specified location online. At Palmetto Middle School where Ms. Cox works, QR codes can be found on bulletin boards and book displays. The book display of the state book award nominees includes a QR code that directs students to the Library Youtube channel, where students will find a collection of book trailers promoting these titles. A QR code on her circulation desk directs visitors to her online business card on ReTaggr. The online business card enables students, parents and visitors to follow their librarian on Twitter, like her Facebook page, friend her on Goodreads and Shelfari and share educational bookmarks on Diigo. Another great use of QR codes for librarians is putting them into books to take students to author pages, a list of read alike titles, or student-made book review podcasts.

QR codes can also be used to conduct a treasure hunt of information in the school library. Middle school teacher librarian Gwyneth Jones, aka the Daring Librarian, uses QR codes to engage students in what she calls “digital discoveries.” Asking the students to bring their cell phones to the library, in small groups or pairs, the kids hunt for sneaky QR codes posted around the library (programed with a free QR code generator) to discover clues that can be scanned that lead to other clues - some asking questions, some that lead students to wiki or webpages with further information, some that require the students to perform a task to discover the final clue and the “treasure” which is a special key code to be submitted to a Google form. Once on the Google form wikipage students input the “key” to a drawing for a chance to win an iTunes gift card or a bundle of free books. Another use is posting QR codes next to book displays & pubic access catalog computers that lead students to wikipages where they can write and read student book reviews.

Because students work in groups or pairs, only about a third of the class needs Smartphones and because she’s done a student survey in advance she knows how much technology her students have. If necessary, being ever cognizant of the digital divide, Jones has purchased several iPod touch mobile devices that students may use in the library or check out to use at home with the preloaded Kindle app and several books, music, & library pics. For more information visit No Kindle Required — iPhone App Review (http://www.geeknewscentral.com/2009/07/18/no-kindle-required-iphone-app-review)

Innovative librarians have come a long way from the days of ol’ where students were dependent upon the a librarian to help access information or thousands of dirty old index cards to find their just right book. The globally-connected, digitally savvy librarian of today empowers students to be independent learners, connected to an infinite amount of resources to meet their interests, passions and learning needs. Harnessing the power of cell phones is a free and easy way to bring this reality to life.

Tamara Cox and Gwyneth A. Jones contributed to this post.

Tamara Cox- Tamara is the librarian at Palmetto Middle School in South Carolina. She enjoys integrating technology into education and promoting reading to all of her students. You can follow her on the Eliterate Librarian blog and on Twitter @coxtl.

Gwyneth A. Jones, aka The Daring Librarian, is a blogger, a tweeter, a plurker, a goofball, a citizen of Nings and a resident of Second Life. Gwyneth is a teacher-librarian at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, Maryland, a member of the ISTE Board of Directors, and the author of the award winning Daring Librarian blog.

The Death of Words

Monday, November 29, 2010

What’s Stopping Educators from Using Mobile Devices Even Though They Know They Should?

The May 2010 Speak Up Report from Project Tomorrow provides compelling findings that overall district administrators, principals, and teachers recognize the value of using mobile devices for learning. The primary benefit cited by all audiences is increased student engagement; however, district administrators, principals and teachers to varying degrees recognize that mobile devices also support social based learning by enabling personalized learning and helping students develop work place skills in collaboration, teamwork, and communications.

According to the report, implementing mobile devices into instruction has the potential to serve a two-fold purpose by meeting both the needs of students and, at the same time, helping to develop teachers’ capacity to further integrate technology into the classroom. First, using mobile devices provides an opportunity for administrators to extend the school day; thereby meeting the students’ desire to learn anytime or anywhere. Secondly, investing in mobile devices has the potential to help teachers develop their own technical skills, and improve communications and productivity.

If educators are supportive of using mobile devices for learning, then what is stopping them?

Even though educators see the value of integrating mobile devices into instruction, only a few teachers are currently using mobile devices to enhance student achievement. Students’ demand for the integration of mobile computers and devices within instruction continues to grow. Yet, the majority of teachers and future teachers do not have the experience or skill to effectively integrate these devices into instruction; highlighting the need to invest in professional development to ensure that a solid foundation is created in order to realize the students’ vision for un-tethered learning experiences. While district administrators are supportive of integrating mobile devices into the classroom, both the teachers’ (76 percent) and principals’ (44 percent) perception that mobile devices will be a distraction may influence that vision and subsequent implementation efforts. Furthermore, while students value the interactivity and accessibility of content and their peers through the devices, teachers are concerned that these highly engaging and compelling devices may cause more distractions than benefits and fear that students will surf the Internet, text friends or play games.

Addressing the barriers
Professional Development
More and more educators today are realizing what many of their students already know. If you want to learn something, you needn’t wait for the learning to come to you, it is out there for the taking. Educators know they should be incorporating the use of mobile technologies into instruction and to do so they simply need to reach out for the knowledge by developing and tapping into personal learning available to them through those who share their interests and through the limitless resources available to them. This barrier can be addressed instantly if educators tap into their personal learning network and accessing resources available by tapping into the expertise of others, joining groups on places like Classroom 2.0, Diigo, and Facebook, and reading articles and books.

Fear of Distraction
Educators must also determine a way to confront their concern that mobile learning will be a distraction. While eliminating potentially distracting elements from the classroom is certainly easier than determining ways to incorporate it, we cannot do so at the expense of what we know is in the best interests of our students. In a recent online learning conference I attended a student panel shared with educators that the number one distraction in their brick and mortar classrooms had nothing to with technology. Instead they shared that the biggest distraction to learning was their classmates. Educators have long taken responsibility for this distraction by putting procedures and protocols in place. The same holds true when technology is an element in the classroom. Putting the right protocols and procedures in place and harnessing the reality that we must embrace rather than shun the social nature of students is most certainly a key to success in the 21st century classroom.

To read the full report visit Unleashing the Future: Educators Speak Up about using Emerging Technologies in the Classroom.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

In his recent Huffington Post article, Don Tapscott (Author of Growing Up Digital which defined the Net Generation and the sequel, Grown Up Digital) lashes out at The New York Times for their recent portrayal of teens in “Growing Up Digital” another in their litany of pieces about today’s generation being more inept because they spend so much time immersed in digital technology. Tapscott’s on-the-mark post conveys my sentiments on the topic exactly. In the lengthy for HuffPo article he shares these nuggets:

Net Geners are better at switching attention and multitasking
When I look at my own children, their friends, and legions of other Net Geners, this is what I see: They're faster than I am at switching tasks, and better than I am at blocking out background noise. They can work effectively with music playing and news coming in from Facebook. They can keep up their social networks while they concentrate on work; they seem to need this to feel comfortable. I think they've learned to live in a world where they're bombarded with information, so that they can block out the TV or other distractions while they focus on the task at hand.

Kids don’t really have ADD, they’re just bored
So why do some Net Geners seem to have attention deficit disorder in class? Isn't it possible that the answer is because they're bored -- both with the slow pace and with the content of the lecture? Researcher Marc Prensky thinks so. "Their attention spans are not short for games, for example, or for music, or rollerblading, or for spending time on the Internet, or anything else that actually interests them," he writes. "It isn't that they can't pay attention, they just choose not to."

Prioritizing passion over homework is alright
The Times piece ends with the story of Vishal, who after a long Sunday on his computer is finally getting to his homework at 11pm. But we learn that Vishal's time online was in fact editing his new film. Vishal is a budding film director! Sure, he should get to his homework earlier. But the reader is left wondering how Vishal's passion for his craft, and his laser-like focus on editing over a 12-hour period is somehow evidence that he has lost his intellect or his attention span.

His conclusion...
The evidence suggests that many young people today are using technology to become smarter and more capable than their parents ever could be; and, like Vishal, to accomplish important, perhaps great things. Rather than kids losing their attention spans there is a stronger case to be made that growing up digital is equipping today's youth with the mental skills, such as scanning and quick mental switching, that they'll need to deal with today's overflow of information. The superior performance for many of them, as evidence by university graduation rates show they know when they have to focus, just as the most intelligent members of my generation did. They may think and process information in a different way than most boomers do, but that doesn't stop them from coming up with brilliant insights, new models of doing business, new ways of collaborating; or, for that matter, creating a carefully edited film as a teenager.

For the full article visit New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Discover the 5 Steps for Harnessing the Power of Cells in Ed - Free Webcast

Educators ready to bridge the digital divide and harness the power of cells in education can listen to Lisa Nielsen and Willyn Webb share their five-step plan. Even if cell phones are banned where you teach, this plan will walk you through ideas for going from banning to embracing cell phones in an effort to engage and empower learners. 

This 60-minute webcast will introduce listeners to a simple and common sense plan that includes ideas, real life examples, further reading and activities to try on their own.

Steps include:
  • Teacher Use of Cell Phones for Professional Purposes
  • Teacher Models Appropriate Use for Learning
  • Strengthen the Home-School Connection
  • Students Use Cell Phones for Homework
  • Students Use Cell Phones for Classwork
This webcast was a part of the Global Ed Tech Conference on Wednesday, November 17, 2010. You can listen to our webcast anytime right here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

6 Ideas for Administrators Who Want to Lead the Way to Texting for Success

Cell phones provide administrators with a powerful vehicle for connecting with parents, guardians, students, teachers and colleagues. New Milford High School Principal Eric Sheninger and New York City Assistant Principal Jacek Polubiec are at the forefront of harnessing the power of cell phones to do their work more effectively. Mr. Polubiec has found cell phones to be an effective tool for classroom observations while Principal Sheninger has embraced Twitter as an essential tool which has improved communications greatly sharing, “I can now easily share all the fantastic things going on in my school and have dramatically increased the amount of positive press coming out of my building. This would not have been possible just a few short years ago.”

Principal Patrick Larkin from Burlington High School in Massachusetts has this advice for administrators who are considering whether to embrace cell phones as a learning tool, “Start now. If you haven’t embraced cell phones as learning tools, you are missing out on a valuable resource to engage students. At the very least you can save money on the response systems that many companies are pushing in schools.” Kurt Clay, a progressive principal in Delta, Colorado, uses a free group messaging service to reach his staff for encouragement, with teaching tips, announcements, and is set up for crisis response. Realizing the time saved and the improvement in communication with staff, he has now started using group texting to encourage the home-school connection. Delta Opportunity School leaders use group texting with response to a Wiffiti board or a Poll Everywhere poll to gather ideas and encourage communication with students, staff, and parents. Improved input and better use of meeting time have been some helpful results.

Innovative educators, know that when an administrator is on board with using technology in the classroom, it becomes much easier for the entire school to follow suit. Whether you’re an administrator who wants to try these ideas out or a teacher who wants to help an administrator get on board, here are specific ways that administrators are using cell phones to do their jobs more efficiently.

Assistant Principal Jacek Polubiec uses texting 24/7 to communicate with teachers and administrators. Texting enables him and his staff to reach one another regardless of where they are physically. For example, it’s not unusual for a staff member to text him at night when they are not feeling well and might be absent the next day. This allows Polubiec to update the Google doc that his school uses to post daily announcements with this information and enables him to get a jump start on being able to plan accordingly.

Another way Mr. Polubiec uses texting is by setting up his cell so he gets updates when teachers update their roll books in Google docs. The teachers don’t need to take time from their day to inform him, and the school instantly has information delivered to all who need it via their cell phones. Polubiec and his colleagues also use cell phone calendars for meetings and text each other to send reminders about meetings, assemblies and other events. He also has all his staff’s numbers stored in his cell phone in case he needs to text them to provide them with timely information or inform them of emergencies. In a nutshell, Mr. Polubiec shares, “I can’t imagine my work without texting anymore.”

The visitors to the Academy Mr.Polubiec supervises are encouraged to text constructive feedback on academy’s hallway learning displays (aka bulletin boards) to Poll Everywhere. This kind of continuous feedback using technology is the backbone of virtual learning walks in which his staff engage.

At Cedaredge Middle School in Colorado the administrators feel texting supports instruction by limiting distractions. According to Principal Todd Markley, “Administratively, we text to communicate throughout the day as we are usually not in the same location in the building. Text messages can be sent to administrators from the secretary if we are needed in the office without using the school intercom which interrupts instruction.”

Group Texting
As instructional leader and manager of the school organization Principals must engage in ongoing communication with staff, parents, and the community. Group texting is a free tool that saves time and enhances communication. By collecting the cell phone numbers of students, staff, parents, and community stakeholders and setting them up in a group text service, a principal can easily reach the masses with one text message.

Kurt Clay, Principal of Delta High School, knows this first hand. Kurt had his secretary put his staff numbers into a group texting service so he could be in contact for emergency response notification and crisis announcements. It wasn’t long, however, before he realized the service could have utility far beyond what he originally intended. Soon he was sending group texts to staff for encouragement, information upcoming activities, scheduling updates, teaching tips, meeting announcements, and more. He found his staff meeting time to be much more productive when he could send out questions or cues before and start the meeting ahead on the agenda. After meetings he texted key points right into his staffs’ hands knowing they literally all left the meeting with the same take away.

After seeing how effective this was with his staff, Principal Clay decided to use group texting to increase the home-school connection with the parents of his busiest students. His seniors. After establishing that group, Principal Clay could now send out important dates and reminders crucial to the success of these students. Principal Clay plans to expand this to all of the parents in his school as he’s found it an effective and efficient way to establish ongoing communication with student’s families and along with that comes the added bonus of saving money on printing and mailing of information that adds up significantly in the school budget each year.

Next for Principal Clay is moving from straight texting, to incorporating free response boards and polling questions to send out questions before meetings with staff, parents, and students so their input is available at the start of the meeting. This enables him to make the best use of everybody’s time and improve communication.

Free Response Boards

Principals will make parent night, staff meetings, and school assemblies a true example of two-way communication with the use of free response boards such as Wiffit or a free text poll in Poll Everywhere. By sending out a group text with a question or request for input and the number and code to send the response to, everyone in the group has the opportunity for input prior to or during the event.

Delaine Hudson, Principal of Delta Opportunity School shares a frustration familiar to educators around the globe. Her weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings are always rushed and end to quickly. There’s just never enough time. Principal Hudson decided she’d try seeing if creating a free response board prior to her meeting would help. Two days prior to her upcoming PLC meeting Mrs. Hudson sent everyone a text with a Wiffiti number and code and the request for input on the main agenda item for the upcoming meeting. Throughout the next two days all of the participants were able to focus their thoughts, share their ideas, and prepare for the meeting. At the meeting Mrs. Hudson was able to display everyones’ thoughtful input immediately by sharing the Wiffiti screen. The PLC time was more focused and communication more effective with the easily referenced responses right in front of each participant. Also, the privacy of being able to text input and the anonymity of the code names Wiffiti assigns created an atmosphere of true sharing. Principal Hudson found the use of a free response board not only saved time, it enabled her to collect thoughtful contributions from all who wanted to share their thoughts resulting in better communication among all.

Polling Services

Polling services such as Poll Everywhere enable administrators to let those who they want to reach out to know they value their thoughts and opinions and want their input. Jacek Polubiec has used both free text and polling successfully during classroom learning walks. At Polubiec’s school learning walks serve as a professional development experience for staff who know exactly how to text observations into polls and free response observations. Those on the walk text in their answers which automatically populate onto the school wiki and during the debrief, learning walk participants can get to the thinking and discussing faster because results and data are already collected, tabulated, and ready for discussion. “Using cell phones in this way has enabled us to take learning walks to a whole new level enabling us to capture data easily using a tool all staff members already own with free technology tools,” said Polubiec.


Principals like Eric Sheninger and Principal Matt Brown from New York use Twitter as a powerful microblogging tool to help strengthen the home-school connection and give the school community a lens into what is happening in the school. Both principals feature Tweets on their school website where visitors can be sure to find shout outs to students and teachers, upcoming events, timely announcements, and more. When connecting Twitter to your cell phone, you can Tweet on the go even as you are face-to-face with a student, teacher, or parent letting them know you’re so excited you are going to shout (or in this case Tweet) it out from the virtual school roof top. Students look forward to sharing their Principal's Tweets with family and friends...especially when they are the star.

Principal Sheninger’s Tweets now serve as a news feed for local media outlets interested keeping their finger on the pulse of what is happening in progressive schools today. As a result Sheninger’s school is regularly featured in the paper, on radio, and television celebrating the work of his students and staff. Having the knowledge and power to control your digital footprint in the message that is being spread about your school is powerful, and Sheninger enjoys using his phone and Twitter as a vehicle to make that happen.

Photo Capture

I had the pleasure of meeting a principal of a K-12 virtual school who uses photo capture as a powerful tool to capture students all year long in a number of ways. While it is extremely valuable to create an ongoing collection of images that connect students throughout the year at a virtual school, the same is also important to capture memories in traditional brick and mortar schools as well. At the virtual school students and their parents come together at times across the year for fieldtrips and workshops. At these events everyone is encouraged to snap photos with their cell phones and email them to the school Flickr page. In the subject they indicate who is in the picture and in the body they share something about what they were doing. Following each event a photo album is posted on the private school site so all students and families can look back at the event. Because Flickr lets you set up an email with a tag no work is done on the part of the Principal. The pictures are automatically collected into the album. All she has to do is copy and paste the code into her website.

Something she enjoys having her teachers do with lower elementary grades is following each unit they ask parents to use their cell phones to take a picture of their child’s end of unit project .They send these to the Flickr email with a title in the subject and description in the message. The projects are posted on the teacher’s site and the students (and parents) love looking at and commenting on one each other’s work. The Principal loves showing off student work to those who visit her school.

As we surge ahead into the next decade of the 21st century it’s nice to know there are innovative administrators out there like the ones cited here who are not only following, but also leading the way for educators, parents, and students to leverage the tools already available to them. I applaud these leaders who are not only thinking outside the ban, but actually breaking it to do what is in the best interest of their school community.

Lisa Nielsen and Willyn Webb begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting are co-authors of Teaching Generation Text (Fall 2011 release). Webb and Nielsen are prolific and well-respected experts in the field of education and innovation with more than 20 years of combined experience working to support students, teachers, leaders, and parents. As frequent conference presenters, keynote speakers, and published authors, Nielsen and Webb are often the go-to persons when the media wants to know what works in educating today’s students.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Differentiating Instruction is NOT Hard if We Tap into Student’s Passions!

I hear the term differentiating instruction thrown around all the time, but when I go into schools, I often find there’s not necessarily a whole lot of differentiation going on. There seems to be confusion about what this method of teaching actually entails and as a result it can be considered a daunting and unrealistic teaching method. The reality is, however, when we shift the focus to the student passion, differentiation just happens.

Here are the innovative educator’s tips for differentiating instruction.

Determine your student’s talents, interests, passions, learning styles, and abilities
Start by helping students identify their talents, interests, passions, abilities, and learning styles. You can do this with a paid for program like the Renzulli Learning profiler or for free by creating your own survey with something like a Google form that feeds into a spreadsheet that children can be invited to update. By doing this, you’ve helped students begin to develop their personal learning network where they can connect with others with similar learning profiles.

Allow students to own the learning
As an educator your job is to facilitate learning and support children in being able to become independent learners. While it is your job to support students in reaching their learning goals, it is not necessary for students to all do this in the same way. Begin units of study explaining to students what the learning goals are and ask them, based on their individual preferences, how they might best demonstrate this learning. Encourage them to talk to others they know share their talents, passions, interests, and abilities. Let them know they can work independently, in pairs, or in groups. Once they’ve developed their plan let them present it to you for approval. Give students ownership of how they will demonstrate the learning with you as a guide, facilitator, and final approver of ways in which they can do so.

Allow students to demonstrate learning using the tools they choose
I’m a bitter ex-student. I’m bitter because I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into a number of papers and reports that went from my hands, to a teacher, to a box in my basement. Why? What were my teachers really preparing me for? What lesson was I learning? That you work your ass off for a letter grade that ends up in a box! It does not need to be this way. Many of today’s tech-savvy learners know how to harness the power of technology to socialize. They make videos, interact in social media, capture photos, make podcasts and audio casts, and publish all of this in online forums where they have hundreds if not thousands of others who are interested in what they do. Invite students to use the tools they love to demonstrate learning. One may contribute a guest post to a blog; another might make a public service announcement that can be used on the website of a cause they are interested in. Others may find a podcast they love on iTunes and contact the host to contribute to a session. One student may choose to compose and perform a song, and yet another might make a video on YouTube to share knowledge and learning with the world.

Allow students to follow their passions when demonstrating learning
I get so frustrated when my boyfriend shares with me the type of work his children are assigned in school. Not once are they ever encouraged or even allowed to investigate a passion in their classes. We need to shift from dictating to students what it is they must read or write, and instead help them find topics they are passionate about learning more. One student, Armand McFadden was encouraged to do this. He loves buses. Throughout school he wrote about buses, shared the history of buses, made videos about buses, engaged in online discussions and more. This authentic experience allowed Armand not only to demonstrate learning, but this high school student is already known as a transportation expert with a powerful learning network and connections that will likely lead to a successfully career.

Incorporating these ideas not only takes the onus of differentiating instruction off the teacher’s shoulders, but it also empowers students to take ownership of their own learning in areas of talents, interests and passion. When following these steps, you have in essence succeeded in giving students the power to differentiate their own instruction using the tools they love, focusing on a topic they are interested in and demonstrating learning in a medium they’ve selected. Providing opportunities like this for our students will not only result in more engaged and empowered learners, it will also result in students finding more relevance in school, and when we help students focus on exploring their passions, we best help them begin to discover what they want to be, not when they grown up, but today.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Celine Azoulay - Making It Happen

One of the most influential members of personal learning network has been recognized today at NYSCATE with the International Society of Technology Educator's "Making IT Happen" award. This is an internationally recognized awards program for educators and leaders in the field of educational technology integration in K–12 schools. The program identifies and rewards educational technology leaders around the world for their commitment and innovation.

Recipients of the awards are educators who:

  1. Apply available technology now
  2. Move forward and don't look back
  3. See students as real people
  4. Teach through relationships, inspiring, encouraging, nurturing
  5. Recognize that further change is necessary, but understand that it is a process
  6. Realize that teacher empowerment is the key element to technology integration
  7. Expect success
  8. Motivate through awareness and access to information
It's no surprise that Celine Azoulay was presented with this award. Though the names, titles, and departments at the NYC DOE change often, what has remained the same is Celine Azoulay. Everyone who is anyone at the NYC DOE quickly discovers that Celine is the go to person when you want to make IT happen. I thank her for helping me and all those who share our passion to "Make IT Happen."

Follow The Tweeter Who’s an Online Learning Leader - Top 200 Tweets from VSS2010

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One of the best ways to get smart about any topic is by building your personal learning network through Twitter. Not only will you discover up-to-date information about a shared interest, you also develop a cadre of learning partners you can turn to when there’s something you need to know. During my recent foray into the world of online learning at iNacol’s Virtual Learning Symposium, I enjoyed my time in various sessions, but for me the real learning took place on Twitter where like-minded folks could discuss, real-time what they were learning and do so without disturbing anyone else. We were all tied together and found one another through the conference hashtag #vss2010.

Not only did I learn a lot from these Tweeps (people who Tweet) but after Tweeting out, “Anyone at #VSS2010 Heading to the airport for a 4:30 flight?” I even found someone with whom I could share a ride to the airport. Another fun Tweetcident (Twitter incident) occurred when I found myself in Twitosation (Twitter conversation) with a fellow attendee in reaction to disappointment in the commercialization of several presentations. We soon realized we were not only sitting in the same session but we were just seats apart from one another. How fun to be able to extend the Twitosation face-to-face.

Innovative educators interested in connecting with others passionate about online learning can take a look at the chart below for a list of Tweeps interested in the topic. (Lookie! I’m top and center :-) If you click on the chart you’ll be taken to the source where you can just click on each person’s name and be brought directly to their Twitter account.

Below the chart you can see 200 Tweets I found worth highlighting sans those annoying commercials from the vendors (come on vendors, add some substance to your Tweets!)

Top 200 Tweets from iNacol’s Virtual School Symposium

Here are some interesting online learning Tweets shared at the conference. Find Tweeps you find interesting and connect with them by Tweeting using “@SelectedTwitter” i.e. “@innovativeedu. Your message will appear in their Twitter feed and the Twitosation begins!

Click here for the 200 Tweets.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Educating Innovatively WITHOUT School

Editor’s note: This is the first in what I hope will be future guest posts by Kate Mende-Fridkis. Kate shares with innovative educators the perspective of a student who never attended a traditional K-12 setting. As she shares in her blog on the topic, she liked it.

We had “group,” which met every week or so—not for French lessons, but for random fun. The kids from group, local homeschoolers of different ages, went ice skating in the winter. We were the only ones on the rink, except for a foul-tempered skate guard with a bristling mustache. We went to parks in the summer. We built a raft out of recycling buckets and plywood and floated on the pond. We were not cool. Some of us ate processed cheese. No one had very much money.

The New York Times Style Magazine piece about trendy Brooklyn homeschoolers, School’s In, both did and didn’t remind me of my own pre-college education. My family called it unschooling, because we didn’t have any classes. My mother leaned a little more in the direction of the Brooklynites described in the article. She liked Kale. We weren’t allowed to watch television, and she grew a giant garden in the yard. But my best friend Emily, also homeschooled, ate sugary cereal and was allowed to watch TV. When I slept over her house, I was mesmerized by her depraved, thrilling lifestyle. Her Barbies had really big breasts. Mine weren’t really Barbies, and they were proportioned like real women.

Of course we ran into the Christian homeschoolers. They were always trying to save me. They always told me that until I stopped being so Jewish, I would go to hell. It was clear to me from a very young age that I couldn’t possibly represent “the movement.” The homeschooling movement, I mean. It was too diverse. But I tried. I was extra friendly to the adults who wanted to ask me lots of questions about whether or not I was learning anything, and whether or not I had any social skills at all.

The Brooklyn homeschoolers sound a little like my family and some of the homeschoolers I knew growing up. They emphasize art. My family did that. We emphasized music, mostly. But they also, ironically, remind me of the Waldorf schools, which they are apparently supposed to contrast with. The reporter describes the children’s fashionable outfits. They sport progressive first names like “Fiona” and “Theo.” They are in a class. Not a big class. But a class. With a paid teacher. My unschooling senses prickle. Paid?! A teacher?! When I was twelve or so, I liked to make fun of the Waldorf kids. By then we’d moved to the Princeton area, and Emily had gone to the Waldorf school down the street for what would turn out to be a brief stint. I said, “Now it’s time for our bread baking class! And after that we’re all going to draw a rose!” I thought this was hilarious. Silly hippies.

Even now (I’m twenty-four), people ask me what my days were like, as an unschooler. What did I do? How did I learn? And the truth is—I’m not exactly sure. Because they were almost never the same. There were some textbooks along the way. Maybe two. I was supposed to complete a certain amount of lessons a week from them. I did a lot of them on Fridays, when I remembered. I remember reading all the time. And writing all the time. And painting. And playing music. I did these things because I loved them. I loved them in a way that I sometimes think people have forgotten they can be loved by children and young adults. Because these activities weren’t school, or work, or homework, or a requirement. They were me. And when you love something enough to do it constantly, it will always lead to other things, and you will always get better at it. It sounds so simple. People want more of an answer. They want to know who my tutors were. What kind of education my mother had. Neither of my parents went to college. They started a business together as teenagers.

Both of my parents are very, very smart. They are both good at networking. They are both creative. But most importantly, in terms of my education, they both somehow were able to agree that I would turn out fine, even if I never sat in a classroom. They somehow trusted that children will always learn, as long as they are encouraged.

The Brooklyn homeschoolers’ world, as described, sounds so delicate to me. Which is funny, because people have always imagined my world to be constructed out of fragile materials and a rare brand of naive idealism. This is a narrative about homeschooling that people repeat. It’s not “real.” It’s sort of a fantasy. It’s not gritty and down to earth and diverse. Maybe this is always at least partly true, but, just as in a traditional school setting, it also just depends a lot on who is doing the homeschooling, or the unschooling.

Kate Fridkis blogs at Unschooled and is an editor at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. She recently received a Master's in Religion from Columbia University and is the lay cantor at Congregation Kehilat Shalom in central New Jersey.