Monday, October 31, 2005 

Clusty for Kids instead of Google

Like most people, I use Google as my primary search engine. It is arguably the best meta search engine available. The problem with Google is that it takes some experience to understand how to search effectively.

For students, this is difficult. Instead, try a search engine called Clusty. Clusty categorizes searches for you. This can help a student narrow results as well as show them how topics are organized. This is especially helpful when beginning research.

What other search engines do you like for kids?

Friday, October 28, 2005 

Maybe you prefer email

I love RSS. But after looking at my blog stats, I'm certain most/many that visit haven't figured out the RSS deal. So I'm going to try using FeedBlitz to provide email subscription options. If you read this regularly but don't use RSS or don't yet really know what it means, you can subscribe via email.

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Workshop blog

I've decided to move all my new workshops to a weblog. Although some of my presentations may call for a PowerPoint, many are better suited to a weblog format.

I haven't abandoned PowerPoint as a presentation tool as some may have, espesically in the light of Dick Hardt's captivating use, but for most of my stuff, the weblog seems most appropriate.

You can subscribe to the weblog as well.


Who needs web design?

The need for teachers to learn web design in a traditional html editor has certainly been lessened as a result of the weblog. I try to advocate in favour of the weblog as a web presence for teachers and students. The Bionic Teacher just posted a question in regards to technology training and I commented in a similar way.
Our school division is about to merge with 5 other divisions on January 1, 2006. This will include some big changes. Our new director has asked a colleague of mine to design the new division site. I designed and basically maintain our present site but am more than willing to pass this task on to Jeff, who is a master web designer. He and I have talked about the use of a CMS as the backbone of the site. I know he'll do a great job of creating a functional and powerful site.
Our current school sites have all been designed by willing teachers who have taken various training sessions with Dreamweaver. The issues that constantly arise is who maintains the site? How often is it updated? What happens if the web designer changes schools? In an effort to address these issues, we had Tim Lauer of Portland talk to our school support teams via Skype recently to talk about his school site. Tim discussed his purpose and some functions of his site. All our schools recognize the need to make some changes and we'll begin by installing a news script inside their existing pages to alleviate the pressures of a single webmaster as well as create a site with updated information.
This represents a first step in developing a culture that embraces communication and makes better efforts to connect to parents and the community. Our new division will likely take this a step further with fully functional blog or CMS back end.
Is web design dead? For most teachers yes. Html and CSS are all still needed but we're starting to understand its limitations.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 

It's always a balancing act

In general, life is a balancing act. This hardly can be describe as a new or profound thought. Two posts particularly resonated with me about balance.

Susan Sedro set the stage for me by confessing, she should have been doing other things. Thanks for being honest. The first post was from Wired News where they write about cracks in Web 2.0. I've been using this term a lot lately simply because I haven't found a better one and it's one that many are now familar with. For many of my local colleagues, it's a new term that likely doesn't have great meaning. Anyway, the article talks about the inevitable problems surronding new technologies. In this case wikipedia is cited as an example of how the openness of access introduces the possiblity of inaccuracies and even pure garbage. True enough. Here's the part that adresses balance:

"Online, free media is one of the contributing factors to the shrinking circulation of good newspapers," he said. "Now, traditional media is shifting away from large investments in bureaus and hard reporting, and towards cheaper content and opinion-making. It's hard for me to imagine participatory media devoting investments to hard, investigative or overseas reporting. The healthiest scenario would be one in which both kinds of media thrive."

The second post was from George Seimens who talks about the joys of shallow thinking. I'm all for that. Actually his post looks at how we need to be able to read in different ways.

What happens when we change how we interact with information? We "ramp up" our processing habits. Instead of reading, we skim. Instead of exploring and responding to each item, we try and link it to existing understanding. We move (in regards to most information we encounter) from specific to general thinking…from deep to shallow thinking. Shallow thinking, in this sense, isn’t as negative as its connotations. Shallow thinking (perhaps I need a better phrase) involves exploring many different sources of information without focusing too heavily on one source. Aggregating at this level helps us to stay informed across broad disciplines. So much of education intends to provide “deep learning”. Often, however, “shallow learning is desired” (i.e. we want to know of a concept, but we don’t have time or interest to explore it deeply). All we need at this stage is simply the understanding (awareness?) that it exists. Often, learning is simply about opening a door…

As an example, today while skimming my Bloglines feeds, I formed a general awareness of lawsuits against Apple, developments with Google Base, blood tests for determining anxiety, etc. I’ve grown in my skills at rapid reading and aggregating information. I’ve also learned to quickly recognize information that is important for deeper exploration. The bulk of this work still happens in my head, but I’m encountering more software tools that assist the process. I don’t think it’s too ambitious to say that we are still very much at the beginning of a new era of learning – one defined by confusion in the abundance of information…and the accelerated need fro determining which information is valuable, and how the pieces fit together.

So it's not that deep thinking is not necessary, but we need both and my sense is that everyone needs to think about how they and their students are balancing both the material they are reading, and how they are reading it.

Monday, October 24, 2005 

What if the STF did this?

When I first entered into using RSS, blogs and all the tools of Web 2.0, I remember saving a couple of posts from Will Richardson in my Bloglines clippings. One was called Shaking Society to the Core and the other was What if I did this as a teacher. These posts spoke to the new nature of the web and how the potential for change is within reach.

I had a conversation this weekend with a friend of mine for the STF. He is one of the administrative executives and was discussing some of the frustrations of the provincial body regarding communication and specifically the last round of provincial negotiations. A recent study on the process revealed that the voting habits of each local was a direct reflection of the position and attitude of their local president. During this round of bargaining, there was some level of misinterpretation and confusion regarding some of the key issues. In addition, the bargaining committee and administration was accused of not being transparent with all teachers.

So we talked about how these new tools might make things different. We wondered what things might have been like had all 11,000+ teachers had direct access to the information and more importantly had direct access to the discussion. While they may have had access to information, most of the information required explanations and discussions that seemed to be different in different jurisdictions. In collecting information traditional surveys are usually the form. If this information was posted, others could respond and react and engage in equal participation. There seems to be a desire on many to control the information. (If you haven't already read the links to the two posts, now would be a good time to read them).

As it was, there was an email sent out to many that included a number of communications with the minister of learning. While this provided some unique and somewhat transparent information, without the ability for me to engage in the conversation, it was just information , not conversation. This is a clear picture of why the web is different now. This conversation takes place on many of the blogs I read. Even though I don't comment on every post, the ability to do so is part of what makes it a conversation and community.

Locally, our school division just spent a full day with Richard and Rebecca DuFour talking about Professional Learning communities. I created a moodle site with a discussion area. I've asked teachers to comment on their thoughts and opinions engage in conversation. Teachers are beginning to understand they can speak freely and have professional conversations based on equal access to the information, in this case a day long workshop. This is one way to get a pulse on the feelings of our teachers. In time, more and more will participate and we'll hear from a variety of teachers, not just the ones who tend to be vocal in public settings.

I'll wrap up with a quote from the Cluetrain Manifesto, which is freely available online. Dave Weinberger talks about how the web changes the way business works but I think you can apply these principles to any organization.

It is a public place. That is crucial. Having a voice doesn't mean being able to sing in the shower. It means presenting oneself to others. The Web provides a place like we've never seen before.

We may still have to behave properly in committee meetings, but increasingly the real work of the corporation is getting done by quirky individuals who meet on the Web, net the two-hour committee meeting down to two lines (one of which is obscene and the other wickedly funny), and then -- in a language and rhythm unique to them -- move ahead faster than the speed of management.

The memo is dead. Long live e-mail. The corporate newsletter is dead. Long live racks of e’zines from individuals who do not speak for the corporation. Bland, safe relationships with customers are dead. Long live customer-support reps who are willing to get as pissed off at their own company as the angry customer is.

We are so desperate to have our voices back that we are willing to leap into the void. We embrace the Web not knowing what it is, but hoping that it will burn the org chart -- if not the organization -- down to the ground. Released from the gray-flannel handcuffs, we say anything, curse like sailors, rhyme like bad poets, flame against our own values, just for the pure delight of having a voice.

And when the thrill of hearing ourselves speak again wears off, we will begin to build a new world.

That is what the Web is for.

So I issue the challenge to the STF and other organizations, try opening things up and allow the web do what it can easily do to build trust, community and conversation. I'm not suggesting we burn the organization but the principle of openness and breaking down barriers to reveal our uncertainties and questions will be necessary for satisfying 21st century communication needs.

Friday, October 21, 2005 

Top 10 Rated Digital Cameras Under $100

It seems I get asked about digital cameras on a fairly regular basis. My answer usually includes something like, "stick with something fairly basic to start and then you'll discover the features you'll want to upgrade.

Everyone should have a digital camera. Here's a way everyone can get started.Top 10 Rated Digital Cameras Under $100

Thursday, October 20, 2005 

Kids credited for making connections - Online phys ed takes hold in Minneapolis:

"'I would've had to go to gym class and take up an hour every day,' the
17-year-old said during a break from tossing a Frisbee with a few
teammates. 'I would've had to give up orchestra. If I'd taken it last
year, I'd have had to give up German.'"
Physical Education may be the last course you would think lends itself to online learning but the concept here is pretty powerful. Allow students to get credit for physical activities they are already doing outside of school. I also wrote about this for our in-motion blog.

If a student spent hours a week writing, wouldn't it be nice for them to get credit for that? After all, if our goal is to help kids learn, doesn't this consitute the most important learning of all, learning that goes beyond the classroom walls and is applied. The morphing of academic and every day activities should be a worthy goal. We are spending a great deal of time developing learning that is relevant and meaningful. And we should continue our efforts to make our curriculum as relevant as possible. In this case, the kids already figured it out for us. Why not acknowledge that.

Now, to take that beyond this example and permeate all subject areas would be a great help in our quest to narrow and focus the curriculum on essential outcomes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005 

iPods become music to teachers’ ears

iPods become music to teachers’ ears
"At Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington,
Camilla Gagliolo took another approach. Rather than fighting the fad, she's capitalizing on it by giving students iPods and re-imagining them
as a learning tool."

Podcasting reintroduces not only an old technology but I think an area of our curriculum that has been overshadowed by our emphasis on writing. My experience is that speech writing and making have taken a back seat in the classroom. Even as it relates to technology, students use of IM has become a major form of communication. We all knew that as technology evolved it would include increase use of audio and video. With podcasting and portable audio devices, this is now reality. The ease at which we can not only record and edit audio but more importantly subscribe to audio makes this form of communication one that teachers need to embrace.

This article should get us all excited to begin to get our kids to talk and listen.

Monday, October 17, 2005 

The Best of the Blogosphere for New Bloggers

I'm doing a session this afternoon on Weblogs and just want to highlight a few edubloggers that everyone should read. I've got over 200 feeds so I certainly can't include everyone. This list represents bloggers that new blogging teachers can best get a sense of the potential of weblogs.

  • Bob Sprankle...Bob is a grade 4 teacher from Maine. He also does a weekly podcast with his class.
  • Bud the Teacher....Bud Hunt is a high school English/Journalism teacher who does some great reflective work.
  • Kathy Cassidy... Kathy is a grade 1 teacher here in Moose Jaw. She uses it as a daily update for her class.
  • Weblogged....Will Richardson might be the most well known educator who has been blogging for a number of years and does a great job emphasizing the importance of quality blogging.
While I'm sure I've left out some great ones, these will give people a sense of how they might want to format their blog.

If you're interested in developing a family blog. Check out:

Eamon's Family Blog
My Family Blog

Sunday, October 16, 2005 

We Need to Play More

David Warlick points out some critical ideas here including the value of play and imagination.
My theory is that we were creative because we were one of the only societies that gave their children a childhood. We played. I couldn't wait for school to end, so that I could go out and play and playing mostly meant pretending.

While I know David is advocating children's need to play and explore outside of school, I think we need to provide this opportunity inside school as well. Even though we in Canada and specifically Saskatchewan have resisted the standardized testing craze and measurablele outcomes as the focal point of teaching and learning, we're moving that way in some respects and that worries me. Play and exploration sometimes seem to contradict targets and SMART goals. I don't have anything against setting targets but we can't align everything to targets.

A couple of weeks ago, the edtech posse, got together to chat. No agenda, no topics, just talking about stuff we were thinking about. Rick has done this and will be doing this later as part of his IBM fellowship award. He made the comment that he wished all his students would "do this." Just get together and talk and explore. No lesson plan, just hashing through ideas. Playing. We/I really need to get a handle on this. We need a balance of structured learning with free play both inside and outside of school. My sense is that that scale is still tipped to far away from play.

We people ask me about my job I usually tell them I have the most fun of anyone I work with. Part of my fun comes from the opportunity I have to play and explore and then try out stuff with teachers and kids. Since I'm not in the classroom everyday, I have to be respectful to teachers' daily grind. But there are many good ones who allow their students to play. They are probably our best teachers.

Saturday, October 15, 2005 

Waste Not Want Not

I hope this doesn't offend anyone but this one reminds me of the stuff submitted to Leno or Letterman. This photo is in a local golf clubhouse to demonstrate their eco-friendly plumbing system.

As the flickr note ponders...."is this all from him?" Maybe I should go back to being explicit?

Friday, October 14, 2005 

Podcast #7 Two Frustrations

Need to get a couple of frustrations off my chest. These aren't new ones, just my recent take on them.

The slow rate of change:
Will Richardson
Darren Kuropatwa

Too many choices:


From 6 year olds to 60 year olds

I've agreed to teach a basic computer introduction class to largely seniors at one of our schools. I've taught technology to six year olds with a fair bit of ease. Sure, they'll run around a bit, maybe push something the shouldn't but for the most part learn pretty quickly and easily.

I've never taught seniors. I have shown my dad a few things but that's it. I have taught many reluctant adults but usually with a very specific purpose. Now I have carte blanche and want to give them the best bang for their six hour investment (3 nights/2 hours each).

So I'm asking for your help. I'm sure I'll cover file management, email, internet and searches but I'm not sure of the depth or focus of these topics.

If you had this time to teach seniors about using computers. What do you think are the critical skills they should have?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005 

Posse Podcast #7

This is our 7th podcast. Thanks again to Rob who does all the behind the scenes work. This one touches on a number of themes that I've been dealing with over the past couple of years. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 

I'm not explicit...not that there's anything wrong with that

I've discovered that those who find my podcast listing using iTunes or Yahoo, will see the little explicit warning beside my feed. Not sure how that happened but I'm wondering if upon my itunes submission I checked the "adult" box when I clearly meant adult not know what I mean.

So for those of you tuning in to hear me rant like "fitty cent", sorry but you'll be quite disappointed.

Now if anyone knows how I can modify my listing with itunes, I'd love to know because I tried but couldn't figure it out.

UPDATE: I figured out how to remove it within my feedburner feed details. No I'm no longer explicit. I'm assuming my viewership will drop.
As usual, I really have no idea what the techie stuff means, I just fiddle around until it works...Hey that should be my tagline..."I just fiddle around until it works!"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005 

Photo Essay...A Day in the Life Remix

Way back when, I posted a little piece on a typical day for me. So I got this idea from Scott Hodge and decided to put my own twist on things. I think this would be a neat activity for kids. I haven't done much with photo essays so this is really my first attempt.

Basically the premise is that I take a photo at the top of every hour and photograph whatever it is I'm looking at at the time. It begins at 8:00am and finished at 10:00pm. Here we go.

8:00am Finished bowl of Special K.

9:00am Organizing
Learning Team Webpage (maybe I should clean my screen!)

10:00am Meeting with Barry and Jan regarding Community Use Policy

11:00am Returning email


12:00pm Driving home for lunch


1:00pm Looking at note for Administrator's meeting

2:00pm Elementary Administrator's meeting


3:00pm Meeting with Barry, Ryan, Jeff regarding Thursday's meeting

Forget to take a picture!

4:00pm Checking my newsreader


5:00pm Picked up daughter from volleyball

6:00pm Taking the dog for a run

7:00pm Watching my son play High School Volleyball


8:00pm Picked up youngest daughter from Gymnastics

9:00pm One more trip out to take my son to piano lessons (which is dirtier, my van or screen?)

10:00pm Uploading photos, encoding video, watching the NFL Network


You can view all the images in larger size by clicking them or going to this page.


Even John Mayer's into social networking

I hate John Mayer. Actually I really like his music but last year, my daughter and friends went down to hear him in Bozeman, Montana with our van and the transmission blew. $4,000 later and two trips down to Bozeman and I had my van back. That's the short version. It also doesn't include the tickets I bought for my daughter to hear him in Toronto tomorrow night. I wish I could go.

Anyway, it looks like John Mayer is looking to collaborate with anyone who can write some music for his lyrics. He's opening up his lyrics for anyone to write and wants to hear what they've come up with. He says:
I'm inviting all aspiring songwriters to write their own chords and melodies around my lyrics. Go ahead, I'm not using them. You can tell people that we wrote a song together.

So social networking isn't just for geeks or educators. If only I could write music.

Sunday, October 02, 2005 

A messy conversation

This could be a difficult post to follow but I think there are some ideas here that might be interesting to explore so try and stay with me...

It all started with a post by Will Richardson. In it, he quotes Dave Weinberger, who has had me thinking since his keynote at NECC. (I wasn't there but watched his keynote 3 times). Will has a number of good thoughts and I also was challenged by quotes like this:

This [ideas around tagging and multiple viewpoints] makes a mess of your site's organization. But that's a good thing. In the digital age, messiness is not a sign of disorder. It is a sign of a successful order. Messiness is a virtue.

Links, not containers: A page is what it points to.

Multiple tags, not single meanings: A thing gains more meaning by having multiple local meanings.

Messiness, not clean order: The best definitions are ambiguous.

That doesn't sound like the idea of a good classroom. Yet, it's very freeing, especially if I think about my office. But this scares many of us.

First I send off the article to all the administrators in our school division and as them to be prepared to talk about it along with a podcast by David Warlick about a middle school principal. This will take place on Tuesday.

Next I invite my boss into watch a clip of Weinberger's keynote. She's been exploring for a long time new approaches to learning and will engage in conversations about these types of issues with great fervor. So we actually watched the whole clip and once again impressed by his recognition of new knowledge, especially his example of wikipedia. (I even emailed Dave Weinberger about our discussion and he responding later that evening to continue the conversation.)
Wikipedia is a great representation of Web 2.0. Here's Jimbo Wales, the founder of wikipedia, explaining why it might be better than Britannica:

Wikipedia invites critical dialogue with the text in a way that Britannica never could. I mean this not only in the metaphorical sense of "dialogue" --in that you can review the history of a Wikipediaa article, and the discussion page, and thus come to a more informed understanding of theeditorial choices that were made. But I also mean this in a literal sense: with Wikipedia, you can simply click to ask the authors aquestions, and they will actually answer you. You can leave a note on individual author pages, or on the talk page of the article, or you can even edit the article itself.

What encyclopedia in history ever supported the notion of critical analysis so thoroughly?

Okay, I realize, it's not the only authority, there are errors, this has been discussed before.

So after that, I read Andy Carvin's blog to discover he's polling educators on their hostility toward wikipedia. His perception is that many teachers do not value wikipedia and don't see it as a resource beyond the typical validity exercise. Jimbo Wales, however, feels that most educators support wikipedia. I think that very few teachers have used it much less heard about it.

Finally I check my EDTECH listserv to see a posting about why not wikipedia. Here's the comment I reacted to:

Anyone can edit the articles in the Wikipedia free online encyclopedia at any time. That is its great flaw.
After all I had been reading and discussing throughout the day, I kind of flipped and wrote a somewhat passionate response. Since then there have been a few responses, both for and against.

I'm not concerned that some don't agree. But the very fact this conversation is happening, encourages me and I think in some ways validates my beliefs. My belief, like Dave's and Will's I think is that the power is in the conversation and the ability to see multi-viewpoints. Make up your own mind but the opportunity that now exists is what is key.

I still don't have it all sorted out. Trying to track this entire conversation with about 10 people is tough enough. It is messy. I can live with that. Can you?