Saturday, December 12, 2009

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 5

Again, this discovery model of learning has been extremely beneficial for me.  With guidance, I have found new ideas, new tools and new ways of thinking.  The book suggestions at the end of this module are great and will be helpful as I introduce some of these topics in my classroom.  Below are the responses I have to questions posed at the end of the modules.

1.  Ultimately, I really have a better sense of what assistive technology encompasses and how it can be used in the classroom.  I really appreciated all the of examples of AT!  This gave me an idea of not only what was out there, but how it could be used.  I know that my view of AT prior to this experience was extremely limited.  I also have really been thinking about how technology we already have could be used in an assistive way.  For example, all of our computers have access to Garage Band, but yet we don't use this great tool for students who struggle with reading, for whatever reason.  This wasn't intended as an assistive technology, but it sure could be used that way.  I guess I have just been considering more ways in which I can meet all needs of my students.

2.  I would recommend both tutorials, 23 Things and Discovering AT.  Both of these are designed to introduce new concepts to a wide variety of people, at their own pace.  And both focus on concepts that will become even more crucial in the future of education.  However, I did find that the 23 Things was less intimidating in the type of activity and the amount of work required.  Especially in Module 4, the discovery exercises moved us well beyond discovery on our computer and required us ( if you followed instructions) to plan ahead, and arrange a visit and a school program.  To me, this could be a suggestion but not a discovery activity. Also, three links that I tried for this module are not longer available.  That is discouraging when the links that are available for you to discover are no longer there.  That said, time spent on this tutorial would be valuable for all classroom teachers.

3.  I would use those books in my classroom!  I have a few of those titles and I think that it is very important to include them in our classroom collections.  Thanks for the suggestions!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 4, Assistive Technology Websites

The following websites are helpful resources for providing information on assistive technology or could be useful in the classroom setting.

The National Center on Accessible Technology in Education(AcessIT)
AccessIT is designed to help educational institutions find information about assistive technology. The searchable Knowledge Base allows users to search for questions and then answer them with case studies and examples of best practices. This will be extremely helpful for the classroom teacher.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
This page on the ASLHA website offers FAQs about assistive listening devices (ALDs).  A brief overview is given of ALDs, which is followed by descriptions of devices that could be used.  This is an excellent starting place for all teachers.

Assistive Technology for Children with Autism
This online paper by Susan Stokes provides strategies and different levels of technology that could assist students with autism.  As a teacher who has students with autism every year, it is important to keep up to date with this area of assistive technology.

Axistive is an excellent source for the latest review and news about assistive technology, as well as organizations and services.  Use of the site would help teachers stay current on the newest products and opportunities for their students.

LD Online
LD Online provides a host of interventions, strategies and product suggestions for students with learning disabilities.  As the sometimes unseen disability, this is the most commonly encountered in the classroom setting.

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 4, Center for Independent Living

The Freedom Center for Independent Learning is located in Fargo, ND and serves over twenty counties between North Dakota and Minnesota.  According to their website, the goal of the Freedom Centers is to "work toward equality and inclusion for people with disabilities".  The center offers information on topics relating to disabilities and will also refer people to appropriate agencies. They  provide training for a variety of skills, which could include meal planning, personal care skills, and social skills. The center offers training in self-advocacy, but also will provide representation when people are trying to secure appropriate benefits or services.  Finally, the Freedom Center also trains individuals to be peer mentors and matches them people who may be going through similar situations.

The information was retrieved by visiting the Freedom Center's website at

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 4, School Presentation

Because it is Saturday and I need to blog about this by Sunday evening, I am unable to plan a school visit.  I do have lots of questions, however, about planning an event like this.

To begin, how does one design a visit so that students don't focus entirely on the disability, having the reaction of treating the person like a superhero or showing pity (as discouraged by this week's module)?  I agree that students need to interact with people from all walks of life, in order to start building common experience with other people, but I am concerned that just bringing in a person with a disability would send the wrong message.  Is it more appropriate to bring in a panel of people to discuss a particular topic, working to include people with many different perspectives? I wonder if this would introduce students to people with disabilities, but instead of focusing on the disability, would focus on his/her expertise?  Is this working too hard to be PC that it ends up being a meaningless experience?  I am just "writing" out loud here.

Also, I believe that we work very hard in public education to make modifications for students with disabilities that allow them to be as independent as possible.  We also make modifications daily for students without disabilities by providing homework help, organizational assistance, and enrichment.  I think that an important lesson for students is that everyone needs help sometimes.  That people who have an identified disability may just need different types of assistance.  How does one teach this to this students? And does this minimize the struggles that people with disabilities face?  That also would not be my intention.  Again, just writing out loud.

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 4, Quiz results

I just finished taking the quiz relating to people with disabilities.  My results were fair, showing competence in some areas and complete ineptitude in others. I was reminded of a couple of things while reviewing the results.

1.  An other ability (or disability) is only a part (or extension) of a person, not their complete identify.  So instead of referring to someone as disabled, it is more appropriate to say that they are a person with a disability.  I am guilty of this recently when referring to a sector of students as learning disabled, instead of students with learning disabilities.

2.  Although I am still receiving some mixed messages from different resources, offering help when someone with a disability is struggling is not bad.  I am reminded that I would ask a person without a disability if they needed help, and I should offer the same courtesy to someone with a disability.  However, we cannot assume that one needs help and just step in.

3.  Finally, even as I write this post, I am concerned about using the right terminology and not saying anything that would offend.  I believe that if there is hesitancy with these situations, that it is most likely not an issue of being offensive, but of uncertainty. Education, flexibility and understanding are all important to help one another communicate more effectively.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 3, Review

Inspiration is an excellent tool for the visual learners. Geared towards grades 6-12, Inspiration provides tools for creating graphic organizers, concept maps, and outlines.  Users can transfer information from a diagram form to an outline, with very little trouble.  This is a great feature that transitions students from the pre-writing phase to their rough draft.  Users are also able to hyperlink text and utilize a variety of templates as starting point for their projects.  Students will find this digital format of a traditional pre-writing activity extremely motivating and helpful as it organizes their information in several different ways. With licenses available for an entire site ($995.00-$7,200.00), it is possible to implement across the curriculum.  Inspiration is also available as a single license ($39.95).  Users should be warned however, that linking ideas together in the web format can be tricky and may cause problems in the resulting outline if not taught carefully.  Although this is not a reason to forego buying this product, it is something to  consider when teaching this tool to your students.

Kurzweil 3000 is also an impressive tool that will support students in reading, writing, and study skills.  Designed for students across all grade levels, Kurzweil 3000 provides aural and visual support for any reading or writing activity.  Whether scanning print material or accessing web-based text, the software will read and highlight words for the user.  A dictionary feature is also available.  Students will also receive editing tips and spelling corrections when writing.  Kurzweil 3000  comes with a set of study skills tools that are designed help students in all areas of the curriculum.  Of most importance, this software allows students to become more independent, even as they still require assistance in reading.  Priced at $2,695 for a pack of five licenses, the software is expensive but will be an excellent tool for small group of one-on-one support.  Besides the pricing, the downside of this software is the computer generated voice.  The unnatural sound may make it awkward for students and in the context of some sentences, words may be misread.

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 3, Implementation

The software packages that we looked at today were both excellent examples of assistive technology.  In my district we have access to Inspiration and software that is similar in function to Kurzweil, Read and Write Gold.  Using Inspiration as an example, many assistive software is good for all students and not just a specialized population.  The planning and organization tools in Inspiration provide an excellent backbone for all writing or research projects.  All kids can benefit from the visual nature of this software. That being said, implementation of assistive technology becomes easier when we can integrate it into our curriculum, instead of seeing it as an add-on.  The only struggle in this case is getting to the point in your instructional planning that you not only plan for content but also the mode in which it is delivered.  I think this is crucial.  With students who learn in so many different ways, providing multiple instructional modes engages students in the learning style that suites them. By using these software packages that are geared toward the visual and provide tools for information organization, we reach a whole group of learners who appreciate the visual.  So in short, one way I plan to implement assistive technologies is to use the software that we have more strategically, reaching different types of learners within the scope of a unit.

Secondly (and this is short, I promise), I have texts that are difficult for many students.  Those who especially struggle are English Language Learners and those with a learning disability in reading.  In the past, I have used GarageBand to record myself reading the text, as a podcast.  Students can then listen to the text and follow along in the book for visual reinforcement.  I would like to experiment with the software Read and Write Gold.  This will allow me to scan in texts and worksheets, providing my students with support through oral reading. My only concern here is that the computerized voice seems unnatural and may be a distraction to students.  Just a thought...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 2, Websites and Thoughts about Hardware

I appreciate the opportunity to look at products that are available to assist students with learning.  As a teacher in 6th grade, I have never been in the position to even consider purchasing such materials.  In fact, I am not certain how much our librarian even has to do with these purchases.  I would assume many of them come out of special education dollars and occupational therapy money. That being said, I really appreciate EnableMart and how it is designed.  From previous posts, I am sure you have realized that reading is a special interest of mine.  With the organization of EnableMart, I was able to hone in resources that could be used to support students in reading. Instead of just organizing by type of technology, it was categorized by the support it would provide. For the professional who is looking for new tools, this is an important feature.

As evident in the final video we watched in this module, assistive technology is providing opportunities for people to communicate in way that was not possible before.  The keyboards that are available currently can adjust to the particular need of an individual.  I am especially impressed with those that have multiple layers for the keyboard, accommodating many different needs. The touch screens that are available assist those who struggle with poor hand-eye coordination, but also could be an appropriate accommodation for students who are new to communicating with a computer.  I think that this is an important point. Although assistive technology may have certain populations in mind, they are also making communication much easier for many groups of people.

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 2, Accommodations

One possible accommodation is to utilize a modified keyboard for students who struggle using a standard keyboard.  This could be easily implemented in a special education setting but also could be available to classrooms and computer labs.  Having keyboard overlays, such as the ones available through IntelliKeys, allows for many different students to benefit from one product.

Although I did not discover this through the module today, there are many simple ways to use technology to support students who have difficulty reading.  Having directions, study materials, and even text available in audio format will help students who struggle with reading get the necessary information in their content area courses.  In fact, this is an accommodation that could benefit all learners.  Using GarageBand, a teacher could record summaries of his/her lectures, a five minute review session or even an audio version of a portion of text.  These audio materials could assist all students in their learning.

Within our district, I have also observed teachers use the program Tumble Readables to support reading.  This audio book player, is available through subscription and provides text along with the audio.  I have recently had students just sit at my desk and read, using headphones and my computer.  Because our district had made this service available, it took no advance planning and was an easy way to engage a student in reading who was struggling by himself.

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 2, EnableMart

I am always looking for ways to assist students with their reading.  The supports that we often give students with a reading disability leave them disinterested in reading (my opinion only) and feeling dependent.  They are necessary measures, but as students get older they become more and more conscious of the different way in which they are approached.  At the middle level, this is not positive.  The following tools would helpful in keeping students engaged in reading but also allowing more independence.

The Readingpen scans text and will either translate it or define it, allow readers to quickly continue reading.   Students with a reading disability are often stopped, dead in their tracks, by words that they don't know.  And many are not sure how to move on when that happens.  Although this tool won't alleviate that problem, it will make it easier for them to continue while teachers model strategies for them to use when that situation occurs.  This will also be extremely helpful for increasing fluency.

The Classmate Reader is a portable audio book player that will also highlight text as it is read.  It also works apart from the computer allowing the student complete independence.  Students will be able to read texts that engage them, hear them being read, and follow along. If they read out loud, this will help increase oral fluency, which is a crucial part of reading.  Having the support of the audio behind them will be encouraging and enable them to read in ways that they could not without the tool.  However, the iPod Touch, which is only $190.00, compared to over $500.00, can perform the same tasks.  And although it may have limited selection in comparison, the iPod Touch can also be used to play podcasts, which could be just as valuable for struggling readers.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Discovering Assistive Technology: Module 1

In making accommodations in the classroom, teachers don't usually get caught up in the argument of whether or not to make them.  We recognize that we have students that will need appropriate modifications in order to meet the high expectations that we have set. I believe that most of us realize the necessity accommodations.  What is difficult, however, is knowing what is appropriate and how the modification can be appropriately implemented.  It is hard to know how to approach each situation and sometimes we get stuck.

 The first site in our discovery exercise, The National Federation of the Blind, is an excellent example of a clearinghouse that provides technique tips, lessons, and encouragement for teachers who are needing to apply different strategies. The instructional videos on teaching math and science were especially helpful.  Seeing how teachers apply tactile methods to engage their learners in the same objective as sighted students was extremely helpful.  Using the same, or similar methods, with other students who are also tactile learners could be encouraging to blind students who may feel that they are being singled out.  It also is an excellent reminder to include those tactile experiences within our curriculum, making them available to all students.

Although I am still not sure how I would approach introducing Braille in my classroom, I see its value for  creating an environment that is safe for all learners.  The NFB has available curriculum, such as Braille is Beautiful, that is suitable for the 4-6 curriculum. As someone who has no experience teaching Braille, or having a blind student, I would need a more structured curriculum to begin with.  However, I also wonder if using a student who already knows Braille, as an expert, would be empowering experience for that student.  Having a student prepare lessons, with my assistance, may help him/her feel that what makes them different is seen as an asset to rest of the class.  Just a thought...

As I said in the opening paragraph, knowing what accommodations to pursue is more than half of the battle.  For teaching students with a learning disability, I was extremely impressed with the resources available through the National Center for Learning Disabilities.  The center's website,, provides quick and helpful overviews of particular disabilities and what impact they have on students.  Most helpful for me are the lists of modifications that are recommended for a variety of students.  These can be used as reactive interventions but also would be extremely effective when pre-planned.  Although some depend on the availability of certain assistive technology, many of the suggestions are easily implemented across the curriculum and would be great for all kids.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Week 9, Thing 23: Summarizing My Thoughts

As I was considering graduate work in library science about two years ago, a mentor of mine at Concordia College brought this program to my attention.  I was very impressed with its focus and the way in which it inspired "playing" instead of just watching.  Even though I started with the best of intentions, I was unable to keep up with it.  However, as the 23 Things became a part of my coursework, I was thrilled to be able to make a second attempt.

Because I already strive to bring the 2.0 world into my class as a way to engage students, this program just inspired me to do more and think even more broadly.  Tools, such as Flickr and Delicious, had been on my radar, but I had never attempted to use them.  I failed to see what role they could have in my classroom.  The whole idea of social tagging seemed ridiculous and I often questioned the point of its existence.  But as I played with both tools, I saw the advantage of teaching students how to classify and use classification online, as well as use the tagging as way for me to more adequately find sources that other people have deemed useful.  The social aspect of social tagging, ensures that someone finds the tag useful.  And if that someone has the same interests as you do, there is a high likelihood that those tags will be useful to you as well.  Both tools are great resources as we continue to teach students how to determine main ideas, classification of knowledge, and being global (and online) citizens.

I am hoping that this program can be used as professional development within my district. I truly believe it would transform the way that we look at teaching. As a member of our 21st Century Skills Committee, I would strongly recommend the use of the 23 Things as a model for professional development.  One thing that hinders us, however, is the that many of these tool are blocked sites for our district.  I am wondering how we could get around that.  The larger question, is how do change the mindset of blocking to a mindset of allowing with caution?  When we block, we avoid.  When we allow, we have the opportunity to teach how to appropriately use these tools.  For our current middle schoolers, they need lessons in how to communicate in this format.  How can we do that if the tools that we need are blocked?

The only mini-frustration I had was that a couple of the links were no longer active.  To me, it is crucial that those links be checked and dropped if they are no longer existent.  They will just be frustrating to those of us trying to explore and might discourage future curiosity.

That said, this exploration and play at its best!  I took much longer than I am sure I needed because I got caught up in the learning.  Isn't that what we hope for our students?  That they get caught up in it?  Thanks for a great journey!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Week 9, Thing 22: Audiobooks and eBooks

Although I think that not having the physical presence of the book somewhat changes the experience, e-books can be a great gateway for our tech-savvy students who are resistant to reading.  I just read an article published by the University of Central Florida that presented an argument for the use of digital book talks in the classroom (  Their main argument was that students may be more inclined to read if there is some familiar technology involved.  I believe that this argument would also support the use of audiobooks in a similar fashion.  Students may be more inclined to read if the material was in a digital format.  I am impressed with what the Gutenberg Project has been able to do with limited support from volunteers.  They have a wide selection of materials that also can be found in audio version.  The service is great, but the interface leaves a lot be desired.  Also, the fact that each chapter has to be individually downloaded may discourage some readers from using the product.  On the flip side, the British Libraries service has an impressive interface and is the complete reading experience.  You can actually turn the pages, as well as listen to a well-read narration. I was impressed!

As for audiobooks, having the audio available for students is a powerful way to reinforce fluency.  As students are able to read along with a spoken text, they will find that they are able to practice more confidently and possible read texts that they would not be able to read otherwise.  Because there is no audio version of text book available, I have used GarageBand to create an audio version of selected chapters.  This is especially appropriate for ELL, students with a reading disability, and others who may need a supported text.  This also allows students who are ready to read the text on their own, a chance to do so.  But, I am also looking for other sources for free young adult audio recordings.  There are some available through iTunes U, but otherwise I am unsure where I can find them.  Any ideas here?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Week 9, Thing 21: Podcasts

Although I am a complete believer in podcasts, I can only follow about two at a time.  I currently am following This American Life and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me from National Public Radio.  These two casts I have followed for about four years now and I am able to keep up with.  However, I have tried several times to subscribe to newscasts from the BBC, programs about money management, and book review shows, but I have not been able to sustain the third for very long.  With subscriptions, and now  the increased ability to subscribe to everything, one has to consider what they can realistically manage.

With that said, I love podcasts and podcasting!  I am an iTunes user so I was a bit leery about trying a new podcatcher.  I was a little disappointed with 23 Things when I clicked on the link for Yahoo Podcasts, only to find that Yahoo had discontinued their program about two years ago.  I guess I would expect that link to be updated on the blog.  However, I did venture on over to and found lots of podcasts of interest.  I did subscribe to the weekly podcast for middle level educators put out by NMSA.  Their interview format provides helpful insights for teachers at the middle school level.

As far as podcasting for middle school students, I have found that there is huge appeal.  As a Mac school, we have access to Garage Band, which is a great podcasting tool!  It is so easy for students to get the hang of and then to explore to make more advanced podcasts.  I have done big podcasting projects, e.g. the students create a promotional video for their favorite state park.  The only piece I have yet to figure out is how to have a group of thirty kids record without getting background noise from the other students or signing out the lab for over a week.  I also have found that podcasting is a great way for students to share pictures and information from trips they have been on.  Instead of sending students with a lot of homework during their trip, I will often ask kids to bring back photos of important landforms or sights they have seen to make a podcast and share with the class.  This has been a great way to bring the world back to my classroom and to promote learning even while on vacation.  Just a thought...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Week 9, Thing 20: YouTube

I am a frequent user of YouTube, both personally and in my classroom. Okay, so I spend probably a lot of time on YouTube.  When I need a distraction, I look for musical theater clips, stand-up bits, or just fun material that you wouldn't find anywhere else.  In the classroom, I have found excellent clips that I have used for my World War II unit.  I also used YouTube to find campaign videos during my election unit, as I taught students how to find appropriate sources of information.  I find that when I use YouTube, the students are more engaged simply because I am using a resource that they are familiar with and that they use for recreation.  It is almost as if for a brief moment they can plug back into the digital world that we ask them to step away from during the school day.  And I think that when we begin to connect their school world to their home/recreational world, they will be able to make connections to learning in a more powerful way.

During this experience, I spent some time looking at Common Craft videos, as well as exploring the Teacher Tube site.  I had never been to Teacher Tube and I was really pleased to find some excellent resources for the classroom.  The clips I found were short enough that students would not lose attention and they would bring a visual component to the lesson being taught.  In regards to Common Craft, I have seen several of these videos that explain 2.0 technologies.  I enjoy the presentation style of these videos, as well as the "Plain English" that is used to explore each technology.  As libraries look to instruct learners of all ages how to interact in a 2.0 setting, these videos could be an excellent way to begin building background and make people more comfortable to begin diving in.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Week 8, Thing 19: Library Thing

I am a big fan of Library Thing. I have not gotten to the point where I have been networking with other people, but I love the online catalog aspect of it.  I have started creating my catalog for my classroom library and have added a searching tool on my blog.  When this project is complete (I have about 500 books), my students will be able to search my database for books of their choosing.  I could even link it to my class website for remote access.  There are also possibilities for creating collections within my collection.  This would be a great way to recommend particular resources for topics in class or to keep up a list of "Top Titles".  As an example, here is a link to my collection for a unit on Minnesota's involvement in the Civil War (  I am really excited about the possibilities for it in my classroom!

Week 8, Thing 18: Online Productivity Tools

I had heard about some of these tools, like GoogleDocs, but I had never given myself the opportunity to use them.  I can see where this would help people be more productive.  It does allow one to work and post online, making the product available wherever you are, instead of just on your home computer.  To be honest, there have been many times where I have not started something at home because I would not have access to a printer.  So I wait until I go to school and work on it there.  Zoho enables me to type in an online setting, making it available wherever I am.  I am currently using it to create my blog posting.  I like the enhanced editing features in Zoho (as opposed to blog) that will allow me to make more polished posted and then send them to my blog.  I have also started uploading some of documents to make them accessible at school as well.

With students, if we allow ourselves to take a little risk, this could really pay off.  Giving students an opportunity to finish work at home that was started at school, has always been tricky.  By using an online word processor, students can access this document on their home computer.  Teachers may be initially concerned with some dishonest completion practices, but I think it is a risk worth taking.  By showing students tools that are not only usable in school, but also in their "plugged in" existence, we have helped make our tools more applicable in their world.  This could be a gap bridger!  Just a thought...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Week 7, Thing 17: CL2.0 Wiki - Curriculum Connections

I  guess that I came away from this experience a little confused.  As a wiki, I see the purpose: a gathering spot for curriculum ideas using 2.0 tools.  However, I did not find much there that was usable for the classroom.  Was I looking in the wrong places?  I started on the Blog page and I found some suggestions on ways to spice up my avatar.  I did create a new M & M avatar and posted it in the Sandbox, but to me this seemed like a fun idea to add to my own blog and not necessarily to use in the classroom.  As I went to other pages, there were whole pages that had nothing on them. In the Sandbox, I am still not sure of what the purpose is.  My understanding is that the Sandbox is an area where one can just play and not be afraid of what it looks like.  But can't one also do that with a normal wiki page and just not save any of the changes?  Or go back and edit later?  Also, the content on the sandbox seemed less about play and practice with 2.0 tools, and more about storytelling.

This wiki illustrates to me the dangers of creating a wiki for a wide audience with a wide purpose.  Wikis are an extremely valuable tool for collecting information in one spot and allowing more than one person to add content.  However, it does open itself up to creation of content that is less than quality, especially if opened to a wide audience.  What if the managers of this wiki, posted examples of content that could be posted as way to model what this could look like?  Maybe this would help establish some guidelines for posting without setting any stringent rules, which would be hard to manage and would limit the freedom that wikis afford.  Just a thought...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Week 7, Thing 16: Wikis

I have been sold on wikis for about a year now, but have not used them in my class yet.  However, starting this year, all of our classes have our own 2.0 class portals which include wikis, blogs, discussion boards, etc.  In the past we have had to find appropriate hosts and set up the tools ourselves, but now they are already set up for us!  No excuses now, right?  The hardest part here I think will be working together as staff to integrate these tools into our curriculum.  Although at first teachers may be hesitant about these new tools, they will eventually see how much they enhance the curriculum, as well as the engagement of the students.

The library wikis that I saw this time around were used as an information hub.  One such wiki, Library Success: A best practices wiki acts as a collection site for librarians to contribute any information or best practice ideas that they have come across.  What a great tool for sharing, as well as gaining information.  Another wiki, Library Bloggers, lists the various library blogs throughout the country.  Because it is a wiki, bloggers can add their own information, without depending on a manager to do that for them.  I found blogs on this wiki that are extremely valuable and I would have never found otherwise.

As for the classroom, I think that the application possibilities for this tool are endless.  Collaborative projects could be done using a wiki.  Reluctant readers could be enticed into a book discussion group with a tech component, like a wiki.  The collaborative nature of the wiki makes this tool more compatible to discussion than a blog (in my opinion).  Wikis could also be used as the "hub" for gathering information from a WebQuest or other exploratory activity.  As we plan our 6th grade teacher potluck, I am even thinking about introducing a wiki to help organize who needs to bring what.  This could save a lot of our team time.  Just a thought...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Week 6, Thing 15: Creative Commons, Copyright and What's Coming

When working on my coursework last fall, I had developed a blog about public domain.  Through the preparation of the blog, I found Creative Commons and was drawn to it immediately.  Again I am reminded, through the video introduction and another tour of the site, what an amazing resource this is!  People are having great ideas all the time.  Ideas that could be shared, could be refined, or could be adapted to a new audience. Copyright doesn't always allow us to do that, but with the Creative Commons licenses, materials can be protected but also available for public use and even manipulation.  The information on how the materials can be used is available by clicking on the Creative Commons license itself, which then links you to the description what rights the owner is preserving and what he/she is allowing.  By using the searching tool at the Creative Commons website, users can find materials (through Google) that are able to be used freely or with only some restriction.  For teachers, this is a little known site that could make a huge difference in the classroom.  Often times, we plead ignorance in the case of copyright.  But here, we have full disclosure of what is available and how we can use it.  With more and more material not only available online, but also created online, this concept of copyright will only get more hazy.  Creative Commons will help us navigate through the haze.

Week 6, Thing 14: Technorati and Tags

Technorati is a helpful tool for navigating web content.  I especially like the unique design of the searching tool, allowing you to either click on a blog search or a posting search.  I found that both yielded relevant material to a search about "Classroom Learning 2.0".  However, if you wanted a blog that was focused on this particular topic, than the blog search would be recommended.

In an age where user-created material dominates as a primary source of information, tools such as Technorati are essential.  They provide the guidance we need to find the material that we are looking for.  And because there is so much material, the idea of having a controlled vocabulary as a way to index material is impossible.  Sure, tagging might not make it possible to find all relevant material, but there is a high likelihood that the language you use in your profession or avocation, will also be used by the bloggers in that field.  For example, I know that I can find blogs about literacy, middle school, and PLCs, because this is a language is commonly used in my field and most likely act as tags.  The benefit here is that tags are made by people who care about and know about that material.  The deep understanding helps them tag in a way that describes the heart of the material, making the tag a true representation of the work.  I know that don't think like a cataloger and my guess is that most people on the web don't either.  So maybe when looking for blogs or other web-based material, it might be less of guessing game to find what heading will get you what you need.

I don't know that I would using Technorati with students, but how about tagging?  Most likely, some are already assigning tags to material.  But even if not, what a great way to work with students on determining the main idea of a passage.  Especially for students with who are English Language Learners, this could be a positive and less remedial-looking way of teaching them how to find the main idea.  Students could tag materials written by other people or could tag their own material.  This could be kind of motivating, don't you think?  Just a thought...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Week 6, Thing 13: Tagging and

Well...I am hooked!  I really had pull myself away from this tool so that I could write my blog and move on to another activity.  I found immediate application to how I manage my own bookmark and making them more accessible.  I have always wondered about how I bookmark, fairly blindly.  Some I keep in folders, but most I don't.  So what results is a mess of bookmarks that I will rarely use because I don't know where they are.  However, in, the tagging makes it so that I can still bookmark blindly, but now I associate tags to those bookmarks, making them more accessible.  Searching by tags will help me re-discover great sites that I may have forgotten, which actually helps me reach the desired purpose of bookmarking in the first place: actually use the links in the future.

There is a definite future in social tagging.  It really puts the cataloging of material into the hands of the user.  Users can now assign meaningful tags to items and will be able to use it more effectively because the labels should make sense.  With the social nature of a tool like, people will be able to share tags and bookmarks, and really work collaboratively in cataloging web material.  It may lack in a controlled vocabulary, but social tagging aids the user by providing a new form of organization that will guide them to the material they are looking for.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Week 5, Thing 12: Rollyo

I do think that a tool like Rollyo helps provide a more contained atmosphere to teach students online searching.  Teachers can control what students find by establishing what resources will be searched, instead of hoping that students know how to separate the good from the bad.  This would work great for research projects or assignments based on choice.  The Rollyo I created includes sources that describe MN's role in the U.S. Civil War.  I was able use my knowledge of the topic and more advanced searching skills to hand pick materials that they can search from.  It was easy to do (although on Safari this was very slow) and I was able to test for user-friendliness.  The searches I tried came up with desirable results.

My only concern here is that it would seem to take a lot of the evaluation out of searching.  Because we have pre-selected the material, students will not have to evaluate the reliability of the source.  They still will have to sift through information and decide which pieces are useful to their assignment, but they will need exposure to and instruction in how to wade through a number of sources and choose the best ones.  So, although I could see this being used with great success, teachers should also pair it with using other online databases and search engines.  I do think that the format of search engine will automatically make students more comfortable with the searching process and more successful if designed correctly.

Below is the link for my Rollyo, MN and the Civil War:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Week 5, Thing 11: Web 2.0 Winners

I have more Web 2.0 Award winners to browse through, but I really spent some time getting to know Library Thing.  I just realized that this site is one of our future "Things", but I am really excited about the possibilities of this tool in my classroom.  Immediately, I was offered a tour and I took it.  This helped me get acquainted with what this tool offers.  As an end-user, I want to be showed the tour not forced to look for it.  That was a nice feature.  The registration is one step and within 30 seconds I can start exploring.

My 6th grade classroom has a library of about 500 books.  I have been collecting ever since I've started teaching and have developed a decent collection.  Although I have had the students organize and manage the library in the past, I have never had a catalogue.  As I was touring Library Thing, I wondered if this could be a tool for my classroom library.  Making it public, my students could use this as an online catalog to search for books.  I could print it out and keep a copy in my library.  I have added about 25 books so far and found it very easy.  Easy enough that students could help me input books.  I have used the LC information so subject headings are also included.  This will allow my students to even search by subject.  Because it's based on a controlled vocabulary, the success may be limited but it is definitely a start.

This site has me excited about starting my own catalog!  This could be a great tool for classroom libraries to catalog what they have and make it accessible to students.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Week 5, Thing 10: Image Generators

These could be some really fun tools to spice up classroom projects, provide kids with a unique review opportunity, and promote programs that are going on in the library and school.  I know a lot of teachers who have experimented with the software, Comic Life, and have had great success.  Creating a graphic novel for an event in history could make the information more accessible and interesting for students.

I had limited success with some of the generators.  Through our Flickr activity, as well as this week, I have played around with FD Flickr Toys ( and have had a lot of fun!  I found that the applications were easy to use and could be applicable to school projects as well as personal projects.  For example, I easily created a badge with a picture I took using Photo Booth on my computer.  Students could do this with pictures of themselves (maybe for a classroom activity where students are representing others), or to summarizing the most important information about a person they are studying by creating a badge for that person.  I actually think I may try this when we study the first governors of MN.

However, I was not as successful with Image Chef (  I loved some of the frames and ideas for word art.  But I never was able to upload images from my computer.  Also, a lot of these tools were nifty, but I was not sold on their practical application. One small success was being able to create a customized jersey (on the right).  Go Twins!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Week 4, Thing 9: Education Feeds

In the time that I spent on the blog searching tools, I did not find it to be the most efficient way to find blogs or feeds that I would follow.  Starting with technorati, I could not figure out how to find blogs (not posts) that had to do with a topic of interest.  In the tutorial (which was translated from German), I was told that I would find a blog finding tool that would allow me search blogs by subject.  Returning to technorati, I could not find such tool.  Even in using the advanced searching tool provided I struggled finding the kind of blog that I was looking for.  This was easier in Google.  I did find some blogs that pertained to the topic I was looking for.  

To be honest, I find searching blog rolls to be much more efficient and effective.  I have a relative certainty that the blogs I find through other blogs I follow will have a similar appeal.  This is especially true if the blogger's interest in the blog is based on an interest that we have in common.  For in example, I follow The Reading Zone, a blog devoted to middle level reading.  When I have explored her blog roll, I have found many other blogs I could follow because they are devoted to the same topic or interests of the Reading Zone.  In short, what brought me to the Reading Zone, also brings me to these other blogs. In the future, I see myself spending less time using search tools and more time search blog rolls.  

Monday, September 21, 2009

Week 4, Thing 8: RSS Feeds

This was so easy to set up!  Using the Blogline feed reader, I was up and running in less than a minute.  It is really nice to have a registration process that is not so detailed and takes less time to complete. Although a tutorial was recommended, I thought that the process for adding feeds was easily done through basic discovery.  However, I have struggled adding my feeds to my website.  I will need to play with this a little.

The advantage of having a one-stop-shop for blogs and news is evident.  This will be a great way to keep up on daily current events as well as book reviews for young adults and new techniques or technology to be used in the classroom.  I also really like the idea of being able to follow student blogs by subscribing to their feed, instead of having to visit each individual blog.  With all of the content out their, it is so important to have a a guide helping you find what you really want.  In a sense, RSS is able to do that by sending only what you subscribe to.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 3, Thing 6: Blogging about Technology

As a member of our district's 21st Century Skills committee, I had the fortune of meeting with Apple execs late this summer.  Inspired by the instructional uses of tools that we normally tag as "recreational", we were encouraged to not just use technology to substitute for other formats, but let it transform our curriculum and teaching.  This paradigm shift has me really considering my approach.  Not that it is wrong to use technology as a substitution.  I know that the times that I decide to use a new technique or tool, that student interest is automatically piqued.

But what would it look like if my classroom was completely transformed by the technology I use?  Would blogs, photo sharing, social networking, iPods, podcasting, texting, etc. all become new formats for my teaching?  With students often asked to "power-down" before they come in our classrooms, what if our classrooms/libraries were just extensions of their normal tech-filled existence?  Our curriculum and delivery would change, that is guaranteed.  But maybe the change would make our classrooms more responsive to their current needs.  And I know that we often chose to keep computer use appropriate by choosing to ignore many 2.0 tools. But what if, instead of ignoring, we helped students navigate the new choices that they will have to make?  Although many of us instruct students in how to make good choices, the situations have changed.  Maybe by transforming our classroom into a context that matches their own, students will be more prepared to make better choices when they have to go it alone.

Week 3, Thing 6: Mashups

In my previous post, I raved about the geo-tagging possibles of flickr.  As I stated before, this is a great tool for teachers and students who are trying to connect pictures to places and concepts of importance.  Today I looked at some of the production mashups like the motivational posters, the trading cards, and the desktop maker.

I could really see the value of using the poster maker with students.  This would be a motivating way for middle school students to practice summarizing.  Because the poster can only support three lines of text, students would get great practice with efficient word choice and summarizing.  With my posters, I started with a motivational phrase. I liked it, but I soon realized that I could name the location in the title, and then give a brief description below.  I liked this better! Not only could I show this to students but also have them practice making similar products.  Also, this could be used for book or library promotion. Imagine a book talk with posters to leave with students as a reminder the next time they visit the library.  The product is clean and simple, but could really add some punch to the promotional materials we are already creating. I also like the feature that you don't have to have uploaded pictures to flickr to use the tool.  You can easily upload pictures from your computer or elsewhere on the web.  This is a great tool with lots of possible applications.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Week 3, Thing 5: Flickr

Devil's Kettle, Judge C.R. Magney State Park, MN
Originally uploaded by cobberloudogg

Above you should be able to see my first photo uploaded to flickr. I know, I am a little behind the times! This photo was taken this summer at Judge C.R. Magney State Park, along the North Shore of Lake Superior. For those interested, the intrigue of the Devil's Kettle is in the falls to the left: Nobody knows where it goes!

I was extremely impressed with the ease of this site. After a quick introduction, I was able to find pictures of me that had been posted, and pictures tagged by location. As a MN history teacher, what a great resource this could be for finding photos of different places in the state. I found over 300 photos of Grand Portage, MN, including pictures of the fort itself, as well as images of the HIgh Falls on the PIgeon River and the portage itself. Those of you teaching know that students are becoming increasingly visual and almost require some sort of visual stimulus to engage them in learning. For that reason, I incorporate a great deal of photos to help them see the places or objects we are talking about and helping them make connections. A photo sharing site like this becomes an invaluable source of visuals. And being able to search by location is extremely helpful and makes this tool very accessible.

As far as student uses, my students had used some photos on flickr to include in podcasts they were making about the state park system. They were allowed to do this as long as they cited their sources. Because we did not have the ability to travel ourselves, flickr made a project like this possible. However, being unclear with the flickr copyright policy, I am not sure if this was such a wise choice. Does anyone have any other ways that flickr could be used in your classroom/library? Would a middle school library presence on flickr help to promote programming to students? With flickr's privacy settings, I would think that this could be feasible, as well as motivating for students. Just a thought...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Week Two, Things 3 and 4: Blogging

Although this isn't my first blog, it is the first that I plan on tending to over a period of time.  My first blog was when I attempted to start the 23 Things about two years ago and then got caught up in school.  The last one I created was for a class project, reporting information on copyright issues.  Needless to say, that blog also fell to the wayside.  Although valuable as a reporting tool, I am hoping to find that I am more motivated to blog when I am sharing my experiences and opinions.  My investment might spur me on to continue, right?  I do find that the format works so well as a way to show growth or development in a process.  With the possibility of daily posts, one can easily update followers on how things are progressing, or alert them of new developments. And because they are so easy to set up, virtually anyone with access could really be able to create their own blog.  In each of my experiences, either with blogger or edublog, I have found that it is easy to navigate through the setup and customize my blog to fit my purpose and personality.

In regards to students, I would be really curious to hear how others have used blogging.  I have only used it for a limited time with one of my book clubs.  When we set it up, the girls were thrilled and blogged all week long!  How great it was to see my students use this tool to continue their discussion and learning throughout the week.  It also gave them a great opportunity to ask questions of me outside of school.  However, after week one it completely fizzled.  All of the sudden, there was no interest in the blog.  We were still able to discuss the book when we had our discussions, but I was disheartened because the energy and excitement it incited did not translate into long term use.  So I am really wondering if anyone has had success in encouraging students to blog for a longer time frame.  Have you used it in the classroom for class projects?  Those of you in the library, has anyone used it as a way to promote books or programming?  This is definitely a tool that I can see using more often, but I just need  think through what it might look like for larger groups or for my future library.  Something to consider...

Week One, Things 1 and 2: Life Long Learning

I really have always considered myself a lifelong learner. This seems to be common for teachers. Whether it is learning curriculum or new methods to employ in the classroom, teachers are always learning new things.  This would seem only natural for a profession that works to instill curiosity and love-of-learning in their students.  

In my high school studies, as well as undergrad work, I had always enjoyed learning.  In fact, my issue tends to be maintaining focus.  Often times I will be working on a particular project or assignment that will trigger an interest or something I am curious about. This leads me to new paths and new discoveries, some that are far away from my original goal.  But I figure this is a problem I can deal with.  I am not lacking for curiosity or a willingness to try new things.  In fact, for the last two years, I have enrolled in tap dance lessons just because I had always wanted to learn.  This was the same with the pipe organ. Neither of these of led to full-time hobbies, but they have expanded my skill sets and have given me new experiences.

Of the habits mentioned in the slideshow, the one that is the strongest for me is my ability to begin with an end in mind.  As I started my masters program I was especially concerned about being able to establish deadlines outside of a physical classroom.  Would I be able to keep up with the work, while working full time?  As I found out, setting goals for nightly work, as well as long term projects, helped me stay on track.  So far, I have been able to look at the week and semester ahead, and make goals for completion.  They may not always be met, but this has helped me manage the learning and set a purposeful context that provides motivation.

However, I sometimes struggle with viewing problems as challenges.  I do love a good challenge but when there is a hiccup, it only seems like it is an inconvenience.  This may also point to my hesitation to ask questions (Habit #2: Accepting responsibility).  I would prefer  to come up with the answer on my own instead, but I have learned that sometimes that isn't possible.  A simple perspective adjustment from problem to challenge, will help me approach each "challenge" in a more appropriate way. 

But how about our students? How do we encourage them to be life long learners?  I am convinced they will always have the information at their finger tips, but they may just need the motivation to get there.  So as I start a new year of teaching 6th graders, I need to consider how I can inspire this type of curiosity.  How can I use the technology already at my disposal to help along a new generation of lifelong learners?  

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Welcome to In the Middle...

In a recent meeting with representatives from Apple, it was discussed how we expect students to power down during the school day.  We may have access to the internet and are able to produce word processed documents, but students are expected to to leave most of their 2.0 tools behind.  In a sense, we ask them to disconnect from their network while they're at school and learn within the context we provide them.  But what do they do the moment they leave our classrooms?  They power back up.  So what if we cut out the middle man?  What if we didn't ask them to disconnect and instead created learning experiences within their own context?  What would that look like? And how would that relate to the role of the library and the responsibilities of the media specialist?

As I work through the 23 Things project, I hope to answer these questions.  With each new "thing", I will try to address what this could look like in the middle school library.  And hopefully you can add your experiences and your insights to make this truly collaborative. It is my goal to use these tools in a way that will encourage myself, and others, to teach in a new context.