Friday, December 29, 2006

Digital Story Telling

I love a good story. Some day I may actually sit down and write my own, but not today. Other things to do than to share the characters and their stories that run through my imagination.

Anyway, my love for a good story is well known. I enjoy them in paperback form and in movie form. I haven't read a good book in awhile, not since I finished a Judith McNaught book on December 6th at breakfast. I was to start a new book, Sign of the Cross by new author Chris Kuzneski, but couldn't get past the tears. Those of you who know me well, know the importance of December 6th in my personal (or should I say professional) timeline. I finally talked myself into seeing two movies, one which is the point of this post. The other, Night at the Museum, was absolutely fun and I'm willing to see it a second time.

The movie that inspired this post is actually The Holiday. Yes, it's a romantic comedy and I'm not here to report I finally have romance in my life. Now I'm too busy looking for employment that I can continue to share my passion with technology in education with others. And no I'm not looking for someone to trade houses with me in another country so I can enjoy a well deserved holiday. Instead, it's about something that kept happening to Cameron Diaz's character, Amanda. Amanda was this great Hollywood Movie Trailer maker, and after her little breakdown, a movie trailer about her life kept running through her head. After each event the trailer changed to reflect her decisions. It made me think - what would a movie trailer of my life look like? Also -can Kate Winslet play me in my movie?

This is a great lesson for your students as they return from the Christmas Holiday. As they start the new year, ask them what they think is their greatest moment in life so far, or worse, that helps define who they are. They can use the site from the Holiday (there's a little movie tralier maker built in) or they can use this other site that does almost the same thing, Tech Story. Or better yet, have them use their own pictures and build it with your favorite software, such as ImageBlender or PhotoStory.

I've rambled enough here. Since I'm back in the swing of things, I've finished one book and am reading another. Therefore, I have a book to read (Sign of the Cross is really good - pick up a copy today and support a Florida author) and a house to get ready for a pre-New Year's Party.

And maybe it'll be a celebration about the job offer I just received today. :-)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Webcast Magic

I signed up to receive Microsoft's newsletter and today I received my first one. Inside it was a link about Microsoft's Webcast Magic and submitting your own idea to win. This is really exciting and I'm interested in maybe seeing if I can do it. Luckily for me, I even meet the requirements. First, I cannot work for Microsoft. Okay, so in that area I'm not so lucky. I have applied to work for them, but no response to my application - yet. Second, I cannot work for the government or education. Well, right now I'm not working at all, so again I qualify. Sometimes bad events can become beneficial.

So what should I submit my 90 second Webcast submission on? I have so many ideas running through my head. I think I'll go use Inspiration to brainstorm the ideas. If you'd like to share and collaborate - leave a comment below.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Inspired Scholarships Available Now!

I almost forgot to double check this! The Inspiration Scholarship is now open! I have had the honor of winning this scholarship 3 times in the past and would encourage any educator who uses Inspiration to apply. There are different levels (Inspired users, Rookies, and project based) and the money can be used for either a conference (such as FETC 2008 or NECC 2007) or towards a graduate class. The conference or class must be related to visual learning. You'll need a couple of references. If you're a DEN member that I've worked with before on Inspiration, contact me. I'll be more than happy to write one of the recommendations! Just email me at

Click here to apply now! Deadline is January 11 and announcements will be made in late February.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Whole New School System

What do you think are the major issues that face schools today? What would you do if you could actually redesign your entire school district/system?

I for one would redesign the state test into a test that is practical. Something like a 6 week project using all of the subjects from that year. I really believe in problem/project based learning because in the real world you don't sit down with a test to earn a paycheck, you put your skills to use. There's a great video that Intel Master Teachers can order dealing with Roller Coasters or you can check out these videos from one of my favorite sites to be inspired from, GLEF (George Lucas Education Foundation and the company responsible for the free magazine for teachers, Edutopia). If you want to learn more about Project Based Learning, you can also check out Tech4Learning's Project Learn.

One of the proposals for school reform included "create curriculums that emphasize creativity and abstract concepts over rote learning or mastery of facts." Sounds a lot like the use of technology in the form of WebQuests, Digital Storytelling, effective use of Web 2.0, and even some non-technology ideas that encourage the students to think for themselves and to actually use their imagination. The best problem solvers I find are those that can use their imagination!

Of course there is some controversy, such as how to finance and how to organize school systems. However, I do like the ending quote from Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, "Now we need to think much more daringly." There's a great poster out that says "Think out side the shell." I think that the best educators and those that are really motivated to teach already do this and would be a great resource for those really wanting to shape the future of education. They are daring in trying new things, not afraid of testing something out that may not work, willing to individualize a lesson, and while they are not doing the day to day worksheets and rote lessons, they are still meeting the state standards and making the grade.

So I double dog dare you to come up with a plan. What are you doing to change the way students are taught? Share your ideas with others by leaving a comment or at least by talking about this in your own network of teachers.

There were other great

Friday, December 15, 2006

Peer Coaching

In November I had the pleasure to watch a presentation by Polk County Super stars, Kay Teehan, Marsha Hall, and Virginia Richard, at the National Middle School Conference. Their district has over 100 + schools and must make use of each available program and tool in order to continue providing opportunities for their students and teachers. One program that they take part in is the Peer Coaching by Microsoft.

Peer coaching is nothing new. We learn more from each other than we will any formal class and so do our students. Probably because we are in a comfort zone and we feel free to explore and take a chance since most peers are not grading or judging you.

What I like about the Peer Coaching Program is that the district/school starts by training teacher leaders who will be serving as a coach. These coaches (actual classrooom teachers) are then able to assist their peers in ways to enhance their instruction while integrating technology to meet standards and to engage students in the learning. Because the coaches are real classrooms and not a "consultant" or "district office staff", they understand the stresses that a normal teacher is under. Being at the same school, they know the students background, the school available resources, and expectations.

The coaches are not just using Microsoft products, they are using any tools available to the classroom. I was checking out a Portfolio Sample and saw uses of RubiStar, WebQuests, other teacher resources and student resources. There are Coaching Tools also available, including logs and other documents neccessary to document the program. The Instructional Strategies found under the Coaching Tools>>Planning Tools to be carefully selected articles and research on each topic. Since I enjoy Project Based Learning and Multimedia, I found the link to San Mateo's project a great read.

After one year of being "coached", the teachers then become a Peer Coach to someone else. You start to see a spiral of techniques and growth from all the teachers involved.

I could go on. But instead, I'd rather encourage you to check out the tools and resources provided by the Peer Coaching Program and see if they are right for you. I would even encourage you to contact other schools that are using the program and see if you can visit or observe a peer coaching session.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Gaggle of Reasons

I think my favorite online tool has to be Yahoo Messenger. I like to type and it keeps me in touch with my friends. I can quickly send a question 400 miles or more away, keep in touch with my Aussie ePal, or just say hello to someone down the street. It also keeps me connected to people I would be disconnected from otherwise.

So tonight I am on Messenger with about 4 other people at once (and also on Google's little messenger with one with Cheryl) and Tom says, "Hey Gaggle has blogs now." If you know me, you know that I am now on that tangent and checking it out.

I like the fact that they are still dedicated to giving schools free accounts and that schools must sign up and be verified before accounts are given out. You can purchase the accounts (and move students between schools) if you want a more robust program or even have it downloaded on your server to use. You and your tech team would have to decide which is best for you. Now, if your school says no to paying for it, go for the free vesion and prove that it would be used.

It's safe email. Email is a tool used in almost every business I know of. My dad was a regular employee at a paper plant and he had email for work that they were required to use. We're in the business of preparing our students for the future. There you go - future, career related purpose.

I also like the fact that you get storage space if you purchase the accounts. While 50MB doesn't seem like a lot, it's a good start. No need to carry a bunch of disks or even memory sticks with you, just upload it to your storage space.

But the blog feature! Woo Hoo! I am laughing at these jokes by Gaggler Cecelia. There's no place to leave a comment, but that's okay. She's writing and communicating with her peers across the country! You can even translate from English to Spanish. I can't speak or read spanish, so I can't check it out to see how accurate the translation is, but that's a nice feature to have - especially in areas with large populations of English as a Second Language members.

I read another blog, one by a teacher. Her assignment was to think of what superhero she'd like to be. Okay, I have a confession to make. I don't normally watch reality tv, but I did follow "Who Wants to be a Superhero." I was voting for Fat Momma personally. I even thought abotu entering their next round. I already know my character. Anyway, I loved her questions.

You can also check out the profile of the blogger. Not too bad. I don't like that it gives you the school and the email, but with their very safe filtering system -it's probably okay.

So go Gaggle a bit if you're still trying to convince your school that you NEED these tools.

Educational Communities

There are many educational communities online. Some are with big name companies, some are private with no connection to a large company. When I was a technology coach I belonged to a Yahoo! Group called "I Must Be Crazy: I Teach Middle School". We had a great discussion board where we could share information or ask questions to one another. Members were not really moderated and so every once in awhile we got something inappropriate, but for the most part we had a great discussion board going.

I just left my position as a field manager for the Discovery Educator Network and decided to see what other communities were out there. I'm still a member and believer of the DEN, but I was just curious as to what the competetion will be like once the changes take place.

The first one I found was at Scholastic's Website for Teachers. The site includes discussion boards, chats on topics for students, teachers, and parents, and blogs. I enjoyed reading a few of the discussions on how to get the classroom management started off right, especially about the GATOR books. The blogs were also available for students and parents. I think what's unique about this community is that it comes from a company that has always been known for their support of creativity and reading for both home and school needs. Kathy Walsh and her team from Scholastic do an awesome job at presenting at the various conferences as well, so stop by FETC or your next national conference to put a face with the company.

The next one I found was through the ACTIV Boards. They have their own "User Group Conferences" nationwide and membership includes access to lesson plans, software tutorials, their own teacher feature, and more. Theirs is called the Promethean Planet, and it can be found international. This one looks very similar to the DEN, including their User Group Conference, but very product specific.

There are a few more that are very specific to the state, such as eMints and the new TIE program that Georgia Public Broadcasting is starting. Of course I couldn't list them all here.

With each post though, I tend to find a question that I want asked or answered. Here's this post's question: What makes a teacher community valuable to the teacher, how can you make your community special enough to participate in, and who should be involved (teachers, parents, local, state, or national)? I know my answer. As a field manager I would have to say that our community in North Florida (actually all of Florida) was special because of the members. We learned from each other, encouraged and inspired the next step, and because we got to know each other in person at various events, we could continue the relationship with trust and openiness online. Just my personal thoughts, without getting to elaborate. What's yours?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My Space

Today I participated in a webinar with Will Richardson, a veteran teacher of 22 years who is quite popular for his presentations on blogging (started in 2001), his use of wiki's, and more for the classroom. He's even written a great book on the topics.

He just mentioned that MY SPACE is the most popular site on the Internet today, exceeding the number of hits that Yahoo receives. This should be a huge concern for us in one way, but it is also a great opening for a lesson that needs to be taught. Since we all know the concern that My Space has raised in the classroom, let's not re-visit it. Instead I'd like to share another concern.

As educators, we know that such social networking sites are out there and being used by students, not always for good. We've heard the horror stories and read the news stories. Most schools block My Space now so students cannot access the site. However, I would take it one step further.

When you block or ban something, it just drives the desire for that item even more. Look through history to find other banned items, like the prohibition. Instead of just blocking such social networking sites, I believe parents and teachers alike need to teach the "e-responsibility" and "e-safety" that goes along with such sites. Share with them how the world perceives them when they post images, talk trash, or more on such sites. Right now they don't think you're on the site, and so they feel free to explore dangerous possibilities, thinking they are safe. I would even host a parent night to educate the parents on such sites. Bartow Middle School in Polk County recently had a great night with an FBI agent who did just this. Very extensive, well received, and a much needed workshop.

Next, exploit these sites for our purposes. Either use them to connect with the students, share homework, or for other creative purposes. You don't have to use My Space, there are other great sites out there. Another tool similiar to My Space is Facebook. A great community of teachers has their own facebook. An open source social networking site similar to My Space that you can host on your own servers and have full control over is Elgg. My old district used a program called eChalk and many of the teachers made use of the discussion boards. Discussion boards and Wikis are also a great tool, but we'll talk about those in another post.

With tools that help you create communities, whether for social networking or educational purposes, I feel that the most important thing we need to teach is the respect of the technology.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Every trade has it's tools. In the days when many of us were students, our teachers used chalk boards, overheads, film strip projectors, and bulletien boards as their tools of the trade. Today, teachers have traded in their chalk for Expo Boards, overheads and film strips projectors are being replaced steadily by LCD projectors, and bulletien boards are now found online in the forms of blogs and wikis. All of these tools are designed to either make our life as an educator easier or our classroom more enticing to the students.

One of my favorite tools for educators is actually MyT4L. MyT4L stands for My Tools For Learning, and it's brought to you by Tech4Learning. Tech4Learning has a bunch of wonderful software in their bags, including ImageBlender, Simply VR, and Pixie. Definitely worth looking into.
MyT4L is their free service for teachers everywhere. It includes a rubric maker, graphic organizers, a citation maker and more.

The Rubric Maker is one of my favorites on the web today for many reasons. 1) You can edit the categories 2) It creates a checklist for the students 3) You can save it in many formats. I like being able to create my own account to save my work, choose from other rubrics, and the various choices available.

I personally used their Citation Maker for my graduate program and found the ease of selecting the type of media, entering the information, and choosing the format a bonus. It's designed for young children to adults to use without worry.

Other things that you'll find there are snacks and recipes for your favorite pieces of software and professional development information (Project Learn). Now, the recipes do have an associated cost, but definitely worth further investigation.

Check it out and tell me what you found interesting on the site.

Educational Experiences

Sometimes you just have to get away from the computer, smell the fresh air and experience life first hand, which is why I love field trips. I had been joining a group of teachers from across Florida as we attended field trips as if we were the students from various theme parks and high interest places in Florida. This past weekend we enjoyed the last one on our list, Busch Gardens. I must say that the Busch Parks, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, were the best ones planned and the most educational. We were treated to the personal attention of Cindy Kelly, an awesome representative of SeaWorld's educational programs.

One thing that I really liked was the cost. Busch Gardens is VERY reasonable when considering a field trip. I believe one experience started off at just under $20 a student. You won't get into the park to play for that price, but you do get an awesome Standards Based Experience.

We played a game of ZSI (a take off of CSI) and had to think like a middle school student. I'm proud to say that my group did just that and were the first to finish. Okay, not that that was the goal, but we did. The other team were all high level thinkers and were overthinking the problem. Personally, I have found this to be a huge problem on tests as well.

We also experienced the Sergenti, looked at the dorms, and talked about other programs available at the park. I collected pictures of my favorite giraffe feeds. Look at that Giraffe try to lick Tom! I think Tracie was the only one who did not try to put the lettuce in their mouth for feeding purposes.
I would encourage any of you in the area to check them out!
The only downside to the event, my son has decided that he now wants a Hippo for Christmas so he can sit in it's belly. :-)

Thursday, December 7, 2006


A year ago I started this really cool job that was just incredible. My biggest fear was the blogging. Could I maintain a blog? Well that dream job has ended, but I realized I'm not through with saying my piece. I want to continue to share what I know about technology in education.

Why do I have to blog? Because I found blogging to be a great tool for teachers, and even students. Most of what we'll share here are great tools that teachers can use in and out of the classroom to make their life easier.

Now as a former teacher, technology coach and technology trainer I love my tools. I especially like free tools. Therefore, don't think I'm going to encourage you to invest a lot of money into tools that you might use once in awhile.

The next thing we'll share is information on software, great ways to use it, educational events, and so much more.

So welcome to my first blog!