Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Next Step has Moved

I moved my blog over to Edublogs.

Click here to come hang out.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Chiming in on Diigo

Much like I feel in love with Obama after seeing this video, I got hooked on Diigo after a similarly stimulating four minutes. :) Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a little....

A friend tweeted out the above noted video for the Diigo Beta V3 this week and it kicked off a firestorm. I've been playing with Diigo all week, just like the rest of the Twitter Freaks, and am really intrigued. While most of my friends in the network are excited at how Diigo combines the tools from Delicious, Facebook, and Zotero, I'm just ecstatic about annotated url's. Sounds a little strange to say outloud but let me explain.

I hate textbooks. I don't use them, and so far have been lucky enough to avoid them in my four years of teaching. I've always known there was a reason I didn't like them. Used to think it was because they only promoted rich white men, and were super boring, but besides that couldn't put my finger on why they made me so uncomfortable. Then I read James Loewen's book called Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and it all made sense. Between him and Howard Zinn, I decided that I would do my best to avoid textbooks during my teaching career.

Normally I research sites on the web and then direct kids to those sites when I want them to get a piece of info. Sometimes its complicated because I say things like, "click here, read the 3rd and 7th paragraphs." That's pretty silly but without cutting and pasting to create a new document, that was my only option. Enter Diigo. I can go to a site, highlight the passages I think are the most relevant, comment (sticky note) on those passages and produce an annotated url that I can give to my students. That special url comes complete with highlights and comments from me or from everyone who has annotated that page if I wish.

I teach online. Only online. So every lesson I create for my students, whether its for the Web 2.0 class I'm developing for next year, or the Travel course I made last year, all my resources come from searching the Internet. Diigo is a one stop solution to including that material in my courses. There are still some pretty gnarly quirks they have to figure out (annotations don't work all the time, 'twitter this' function is spotty, and lots of stalls in application processing) the potential is ridiculous. And thats after only one week of playing, there is still way more to learn.

For a comprehensive analysis of the social networking benefits of Diigo, check out Kristin Hokanson's blog from earlier this week.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Web 2.0 Spreading Like a Subtle Rash

So I had a really good technology day at work. A few more teachers at my ONLINE HS are moving towards using Web 2.0, taking active steps to incorporate it in their personal lives and online courses. Yes, those are separate... for some. Geez, I need to get off this computer.

It started this morning when our lead Website Designer who is also an education technology assistant at our school asked me about Web 2.o. He said that the NCCE conference last week really got him thinking about the education possibilities for the first time. He came to ask me if I would like to participate in a video he wants to create and put up on Youtube. He was excited about creating media (podcasts, videos) that kids could watch anywhere and use to learn on the run. Then I brought up the idea of the "democratization of learning" and he about lost his mind. Loved it. Wanted to hear all about how to get kids to create their own learning experience. This is good news. A lot of the teachers ask him for help, if he becomes another voice of progress at our school then the 2.0 Rash might get airborne.

A couple hours later a teacher and I were talking about blogs in our courses. I use them, she isn't quite there yet. She teaches in the other hybrid component of our school which is a face-to-face elective course and only recently has begun knocking down those four walls. Our blog conversation led to RSS Feeds and pretty soon I was helping her set up her Google Reader and hooked her up with two must read edublogs: and 2 Cents Worth.

Worlds are a changing, the wind is blowing through our building, I can feel just the slightest barometric shift.

Last and most certainly least, I received a new course shell in my ridiculously difficult to use CMS today. It was a gift of my admin who approved a slightly innovative elective course I've been mentally developing since a nagging thought kept me awake all night about 2 months ago. Its a Web 2.0 course where I teach students how to use all the main online tools that many of us are using already, however, only a small handful of my school's students are using right now. The kicker is, it's 100% cross-curriculum. I will help the kids learn how to use the project tools, but the content for all of their projects will come from their 5 other online courses. For example, they will create an xtimeline using all of the material from a unit in their U.S. History course. Maybe their core teachers will let them get cross-credit for the project they develop in my course, maybe not. But no matter what they will learn more than they would if they just did it one way. Especially if that one way was a very old fashioned way, and that will a rash.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Over 200 Kids in our Social Experiment

Its been several weeks since I posted and undoubtedly the main reason why is because of the social network we are testing out at my online school. Plain and simple, its time consuming.

Really time consuming.... but worth it.

Last school year I began running groups through Facebook as a way to extend my classroom and get more kids actively engaged. Then I moved to my own Ning network the first semester of this year. It was all volunteer and I was only able to get about 30 of my online kids to sign up. There just wasn't enough energy created with such a small group of kids in the network.

In January, I decided that I wanted to expand the network and run a pilot program with several other teachers. We all invited our students, over 500 out of the 725 at our school, and the network began expanding rapidly. With that expansion come quirks and frustrations, but there is something really great going on in our student network. We have 205 students right now and more are joining everyday as the word gets out. Here are some of my initial Pros and Cons after 4 weeks of operation.

1. At an online school there isn't much opportunity for socializing. Our network is really helping to fill that void for some students.
2. Students are starting their own groups. There is a writing group, a music group, a teen help group and many more. Really cool stuff happening there.
3. Students have an opportunity to help each other with school. Before the network, you basically had to randomly meet someone on campus who just happened to be in your online course, or blindly email them from that course, if you wanted to contact them. Now we have a place where kids can communicate about their classes, teachers and other school related issues.
4. While there have been some music uploads and some innapropriate language, for the most part kids are taking ownership of this network and not misusing it.

1. It takes a ton of time. I am logged into the network all day and night until bed. The main issues are moderating comments. We have to be careful students aren't blatantly misusing the network because our parent complaints could cause admin to shut us down at any moment. Its a BIG job monitoring the network with that responsibility.
2. We have some quirky computer issues at our school. Since students come once a week for 4 hours, at any given time there is about 80 kids on campus. They are all using thin clients which connect to several main servers. When a student in Classroom A is on Odyssey of the Mind, another student in Classroom C could log into the first persons account. Beyond teaching kids to sign out of webpages when they are finished with them, not sure how this is fixable. Its a hardware issue that I have no control over or suggestions of how to work around. yuck!

I can only think of two cons, thats pretty good :)

Right now the teachers involved in OOTM are letting the kids get accustomed to the network and socialize. This is a very good thing and helps lay the foundation for what we can do with them once they have bought into the value of this network. However, pretty soon I would like to get kids more actively involved in their course work. Our assistant principal is doing a fantastic job of this with his Government class and has set a good example of what we can do in the near future.

I'm not sure its enough that we have the network just to allow kids to feel more connected to our school. I'm not sure the network is doing everything it can if we only create community. Those are big, but not quite enough. We have to use the network to really get our kids learning on a collaborative level.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Student Voice + Google 20%

Konrad Glogowski presented at EduCon2.0 about using blogs with students. At the beginning of his presentation I was thinking, "well, I already use blogs with my students so not sure if this is going to be useful." I kept my ears open and pretty soon heard something that I've thought about everyday since. One of his main themes was losing your teacher voice and giving the students one. He described how important it was to let students establish the confidence to write online knowing that it could be read by other students. The way he made this happen was by allowing students to write about nonacademic topics for a little while. He would then have a conversation with them through comments. He threw away that teacher tone for the rest of the year. No more looking at writing through the eyes of someone grading it on grammar and punctuation. Talk to your kids about what they are writing, listen to their voice.

Google allows its employees to spend 20% of their time (one day/wk) working on a project outside their job requirements. I've thought a lot about how to apply this to my courses and it wasn't until this week that a light bulb went on and I settled on something. Why not combine Konrad's idea of student voice with Google 20%? Here is what I came up with.

I will encourage students to earn 20% of their points for the week just writing in their blog. For example (a rough estimate), if they have a 100 point project due that week, 20 points will come from their blog and can be applied as extra credit or as a substitute for some of the project requirements. (logistics will fall into place a little later). There will have to be a couple caveats though:
1. Early on in the process they can write about anything on their mind.
2. The students must only write things they are willing to share with other students.
3. As the semester progresses, the blogs will start to incorporate more and more ideas from our content.

Any suggestions? Arguments?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Getting My School Network Off the Ground

On Friday I organized a meeting with about 6 teachers and my assistant principal and discussed the possibility of running an online social network at our virtual school. All the teachers and admin at the meeting liked the idea and have volunteered to be network administrators to help me monitor the content. The pilot program will include the small group of teachers and however many students volunteer out of the 400-500 that I am inviting. When Ive done this in the past with just my online students, I usually get a 25% sign up rate. So there is a good possible we might get over 100 additional students in the network. I've sent out 375 invites this weekend and in the last 24 hours, 15 students have signed up. These are students who are reading their emails on the weekends so its off to a good start.

The main reason for trying to expand this from my 4 online courses to over 10 classes is too try and create a community at my school. Students are not connected at our charter school. They come in once a week and sit on computers (for the most part) and rarely talk with other students. They almost NEVER talk with other students about school related issues. It would be great if kids joined Odyssey of the Mind (pic), made some friends, and eventually began collaborating. It should be fairly easy to get kids working on projects together if they knew each other. To take it a little further, with 7 teachers and a hundred kids, there is no reason that we can't begin doing cross curriculum projects.

There are so many possibilities for our kids if this works. Engage, collaborate, befriend, help, share, expand.......

If anyone has any suggestions or ideas about making this work, you know what to do....

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Nominate an Educator Using Technology Creatively

In a session at Educon2.0 we came up with an action plan centered on getting the word out about what we were all doing in our schools/districts/states to bring technology and learning to the 21st Century Student. This just landed in my lap and thought it would be a great way to promote the people out here doing some fantastic things with kids:

Hello, I am a graduate research assistant from Northern Arizona
University currently working with Dr. Jess House on research for an
upcoming book
Creative Classrooms: Technology in America's Schools.
This book will feature exemplary uses of educational technology in the
21st century. It will illustrate how classroom teachers, technology
specialists, and administrators are creatively integrating technology
into the curriculum and using it to increase student achievement.
Currently, we are seeking nominations for recent programs or projects
from your region that demonstrate unique and creative approaches to
using technology in the K-12 classroom setting. We are especially
interested in projects that are occurring at the classroom level (e.g.
teacher created projects that integrate technology into a specific
curriculum area). We would like to represent fine models from each
state and hope that you can assist us in nominating exceptional projects
from your area.
If you are interested in nominating any notable programs or teachers
for this book, please send nominations to: by Friday
February 15, 2008.

In the nomination please include:
• Location
• Contact information for the teacher or educational professional
• Brief description of the program (technology and resources used,
subject matter, grade level, unique qualities)

Thank you for your time and efforts.
Merri Bath
Northern Arizona University

Simple, but Cool Afternoon with Kids

A little background. Our school is an online high school with a single day face-to-face component. Our interaction with these kids is limited for a number of reasons. They only come on campus once a week and its usually not to see their online teachers (me). Many of the phone numbers they provide us are disconnected and/or they just don't answer. The main form of communication is email, and whenever I send out an email asking for all students to reply back (usually at beginning of semester to set up my Outlook) I get only about a 20% response. The kids at our school aren't the tech savvy teenagers that are rumored to be about and email is often ignored even though that is how we "talk" with kids. On top of all those factors, I'm working from home and taking care of my son right now so even more limited on communication. That's what made the other day so cool.

I received a new student at the 2nd semester and she was turning in her first short essay paper too me. She uploaded a .wps file which our computers won't open so we ask all docs be converted to .rtf. I have a form email that I send out for this very occasion. A day later I received a frantic email from her saying that she tried and tried to convert the document but just didn't understand what my email was saying. I asked her for her phone number so we could walk through it. A few hours later, I was using Skypeout and showing her this process. While we are on the topic I taught her how to make folders for each of her online courses so she could organize her work. Then the little light bulb that is Google Docs went off and made a deal with her to get her Google Doc account up and running (I couldn't do it at that moment because we were 20 minutes into the call and baby was screaming).

A few minutes after I got off the phone with her and the baby had calmed down, I received an instant message from another student. She needed some assistance with a class assignment so we walked through that via chat. An hour later I received another message from my Facebook account that a former student wanted some tutoring for her high school writing exit exam. We made temporary plans to set that up soon. While I was on Facebook another student chimed in with some concerns about a grade he had received at the semester, it wasn't in my class, but as his mentor teacher I promised to talk with his English teacher on his behalf.

Could all of this have happened at a traditional school in such a short period of time? Of course. Could all of this have happened at my virtual school a year ago, no way. The use of these social tools has changed the way I collaborate and interact with my kids. Now just hoping others at the school will see the benefit.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

EduCon Action Plan- Part 1

At the final session on the final day of EduCon 2.o a group of us came up with an action plan to get the word out about what we are doing in our schools that is unique and a part of school reform. Before I can get going to far into that plan, which involves media, politicians, school boards and other powers that be, I have a personal plan to put in place. Part 1 starts with my kids.

A little background...About 12 months ago I began reaching out of our course management system to try and broaden student collaboration. I wanted to find an engaging way to reach students where they spent their time and get them to talk to other students in my courses about ideas. My first attempt was in Facebook. I created a group for each course I teach, limited the members of the group and the action within the group to our school's students, and operated them on a volunteer basis. I had about 10% of my students join up and from there we spent the 2nd semester last year collaborating on a much deeper level than students replying on our CMS discussion board. The idea was to give students a voice and it worked, a little bit. Since then I've left Facebook for Ning and was happy with the results, but still want more. My courses utilize tons of Web 2.0 tools for our projects, but once again they are all optional. I need to find a way to build those into the content, seamlessly.

After seeing the amazing community between staff and students at Science Leadership Academy, I knew I had to figure out a way to foster that with even more impetus at my school. Thats where part one of my Educon Personal Action Plan comes into play. We have to foster community at our school in two forms. Since it is a hybrid school and students come once a week on campus, we have to figure out how to make that four hours of time community and relationship based. This will take some serious rehauling (will address in Part 2 of the plan), so will save for a little later. Secondly, I have to get kids more engaged, more driven, and more of a voice instantly. I can't wait any longer. The first step that I put into place was to implement a blog as a discussion tool for historical assignments in my history through film course. The next step is to enlarge our student network to include students from a variety of courses at our school. As well as a variety of teachers. Then, get them talking about how we can change our school. The third part is to revamp my courses so that a lot of the project based assignments are completed using read/write/web tools but teach them how to use the tools within the lesson rather than giving students an option with dozens of choices. As someone put it at Educon2, "we need to make the technology invisible." This is a start.

I know that technology is only a tool, but at an online school its the best one we have, and I need to make it even better. I'm open for some more suggestions on this topic and will start discussing changing things I can't control in Part 2 of the plan.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

School Reform at Educon 2.0

First off, I know I've been gone a long time. I have been at home with my 6 month old son and completely out of the loop. At least I was, Educon changed that.

Now I know I'm fairly new in the edublogosphere. I also know that I'm fairly new to school reform. My hope is that those 2 things are connected because the only place that I'm really hearing anything about true change, systemic change, is online. That changed when I went to Philly last weekend and spent three days with the students and teachers at the Science Leadership Academy. That school has it figured out and Chris Lehman was nice enough to allow us to all come see his inspired creation and then let us hang out for a couple days and argue ways of change.

This was the first conference I've ever been to where every session (well, almost every session, not everyone got it) was a discussion about how to really change schools. The discussions ranged from how we communicate with kids in class to how we interact collaboratively outside the four walls to here is our action plan to let the world know great things can be done.

4 days later and my mind is still buzzing with what I can do in my online courses while at the same time stewing with how to reform our school. Step one is to take action using the strategic ideas of Zac Chase and our small discussion group. Anyone doing anything special with your students that is a slap to the face of traditional education, please take some of these baby steps.