All Things Reconsidered

"I want to Make a Dent"




Today was our first day here


It Wasn’t a Train Wreck– And other Surprises….

Before I left for school on April 26, I took a moment to tweet:

Truly, at that moment I had no idea what the day would bring.  It was the first time my teammates and I had ever tried to organize an all school event like this.  For the past three weeks, the eighth grade teachers at my school had been working with the students to learn about digital citizenship so the kids could become “experts” in one of seven areas of digital citizenship and teach the younger students (6th and 7th graders) what they had discovered.

The 6th and 7th graders day would be broken up into three parts; 1/3 of the time with the eighth graders, 1/3 of the day with a guest speaker from the Illinois States Attorney’s Office, and 1/3 of the time synthesizing the information they had reviewed in order to make artifacts that would be shared with the parents coming that night.  Additionally, any digital products would be shared on our district’s Kids Connect website to share with students around the district and the world.

For the two weeks before “Digital Citizenship Day” I was sweating it out.  In  the hall I would hear concerns  from 8th grade teachers that the kids were not “taking it seriously”.  Teachers worried  that there was not enough time in the computer labs to find information. We knew this was a possibility before we began, so we had created preprinted articles for each of the “expert groups”. As we got closer, some 6th and 7th grade teachers felt like they were losing instructional time with their students and were unsure of the expectations for the “synthesis” piece.  And then…the phrase train wreck floated through my head (and perhaps through the hallways).

But, the day (and few days before it), proved to be full of surprises.  Some of the surprises were good, some bad, but all of them eye-opening.

Surprise #1—An authentic product is important.

I list this as a surprise, but it really wasn’t .  I knew it.  I saw it in other blog posts, I listened to colleagues talk about their successes, I’d seen it on other projects I’ve done this year, but as the teachers were telling me the kids were “not taking it seriously”, and they really weren’t “getting anything done”, I began to doubt myself.  And sweat.

But there was a real turnaround when they began working on their product.  I should mention, that due to issues with scheduling and availability of some of the tools, not all of the products utilized technology.  In fact, I’d say about 80% of the products were done on Tri-fold board.  Yes, I said tri-fold boards.  But, who cares?  The goal was to provide information to an authentic audience,  if the only tool available is a trifold board, then so be it!   In any case, when the kids had to work in groups, to discuss what was important to share, and to synthesis the information for others, something lit up in them. There was a buzz in the room.  The LMC hummed and kids moved around, it had energy.

Surprise #2— Audience is important– AKA “Kids don’t want to look ‘dumb’ “

Again no surprise to me, but maybe an eye opener to some of the teachers.  Often we tell the students to “imagine” who the audience would be, but when there is really is a classmate or teacher standing in front of them, it’s a whole new ballgame.  Fourteen hours before the presentations were to begin, a teacher told me that there was no way that the kids would be ready .  When he saw the kids presenting and answering questions from the audience, he told me that it was because they didn’t want to look dumb.  I guess  I would say that the kids had pride and wanted to show what they had learn.  There was a real purpose behind what they had been studying, and when they saw an outlet, they rose to the challenge.

Surprise #3—They can do it!!

So, when “Game Day” came,  I was pretty nervous.  As I fell asleep the night before the vision I had going through my head was of 60 students in each classroom gossiping, poking each other, and being generally unproductive. The train wreck phrase was running through my ears and I was apprehensive to say the least.  So, as my teammate made the announcement for students to move to their first location.  I held my breath.  I slowly opened the door to one of the classrooms and found students doing exactly was the “textbook” says they should have been doing. There were questions being asked and answered.  Although the teachers were in the room, the students really didn’t need any prompting.  To be honest, we did provide them with a note sheet that probably helped guide their questions, and I think it helped keep them on track.  But, in all of the classrooms I walked in that day, I did not see more than a handful of  audience members/ presenters disengaged.

Also, the 6/7th graders created some pretty amazing projects.  The students’ “synthesis” time was only designed to be 40 minutes (although some of the teachers chose to give more time).  But, during that short amount of time the students were able to create various projects (in their native language) such as podcasts,  Videos, and word clouds.  They were all simple, but even those simple projects allowed the students to create a real product that would be seen and used by others in the district.

Surprise #4—Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Our school has two computer labs (60 computers).  We had over 200 eighth grade students participating in the project. One obstacle we faced during the project was that there wasn’t enough technology to go around.  And then, the funniest thing happened.  Teachers made it work.  Emails started getting sent around to other teachers to see if devices could be shared.  Teachers “gave up” their computers for a day or a series of days so students could use it for this project.  They made it happen. They didn’t just say “well there’s not enough technology, so forget it.”  They found a way (sometimes with my help and sometimes not) to find a solution.  It made my heart happy!

Surprise #5-  Don’t read your own press

 The day had day had ended on a very high note.  Many of the teachers and administrators in the school were impressed with the project and the students’ work.  We were patting ourselves on the back.
And then I sent out evaluations to the teachers.  I only got a few back, most were very positive and supportive but one in particular surprised me. The teacher shared that some of the teachers felt the project was thrown upon them and thrown together.  To be honest, my first instinct was to be hurt. “Thrown together???” I thought?  It sure didn’t feel thrown together to me.  But then I realized that this was the best feedback I could get.  It really didn’t matter what I thought. The teachers were the ones in the trenches and it was this constructive feedback I needed to help the project improve for the year to come.
I still feel that it was an amazing day.  I believe the teachers, students, and school community as a whole grew because of it. But, there is always a way to improve.  I will definitely use this feedback (as well as the other teachers’ comments) to insure that we can “tweek” the project and make it even better. I am proud of my teammates and myself as well as all the teachers at our school who came together, took a chance, and created a great day!

Saving the Rainforest- Bits at a Time

Sting was quotes as stating:  “You can’t save the rainforest all at once; you have to save bits of it at a time, and hope the idea will grow.”  Well, apparently, my nine year-old daughter was listening (although I doubt she knows who Sting is).

Recently in her third grade class, Hannah and her friends were learning about the rainforest the fact that it has become endangered.  They decided to take matters into their own hands.  A few days ago, she came home asking me if she could have a playdate with her “rainforest group”.  Seeing my confused face, she went to her backpack and pulled out approximately 40 hand-drawn images of animals.  The girls, she explained had decided to draw pictures, sell them, and donate the money to the rainforest.  Then, she went in for the kill…”Mom, can we make a blog so we can sell them?”

Which brings me to the first point of this post. We often talk about “authentic learning” and “engaged students”.  My heart beamed when I saw how energetically and organically these girls had organized themselves, set a plan, and began work.  I also love how they are blissfully unaware and unbothered by the enormity of the problem.  They just want to do their “bit”.

Second, I need help.  I would hate to leave these girls hanging.  I’m looking for advice and ideas of where to start and how to best set this up. Ideally, it would be some sort of platform that I could upload their pictures, and people could donate money in exchange for a print of their pictures.  My first thought was a Smugmug type site, but I don’t know what kind of legal/ethical hoops I would need to jump through to assure that all of the money would be securely delivered to the organizations.  If there are any of you have some suggestions, please let me know or pass on the message to anyone who could help.

I’m not sure how far their pictures will go, but I do know the empowered feeling they will feel if they are able to make a difference.  Please let me know if you have any ideas/suggestions.

We are not failing

I am writing this on a snowy Friday night after attending “A Mid-Winter Night” family party at the school I work at. That in itself might not be so strange, but let me tell you a little bit about my school. The school is approximately 70% Hispanic, 62% low income, and 33% LEP. We have a variety of issues in our school, both good and bad, and…oh yeah – our school has been labeled by the state of Illinois as “failing”.

So, now lets flash back to what I saw in this “failing school” tonight at the family party at my middle school. Yes, I said family party and middle school in the same sentence. Tonight, after a long week of work (and last night’s conferences) I joined approximately 15 teachers and administrators who volunteered their time to be part of this party. I walked into a room full of music in English and Spanish. I saw carnival games led by “peer leaders”, a diverse group of students who volunteered to work at the party on a Friday night. I watched parents who spoke different languages dance together next to their teenage children. We danced to YMCA and the Macarena. We ate pizza, tacos and nachos. I saw a “Special Education” student stand on stage and act as DJ after setting up the AV equipment. I saw PTO moms and dads working together to make a fun night. It was an inspiring, uplifting night. And, as the night ended, staff, students and parents waved goodbye while teachers called their reminder to students to students about the Saturday AM enrichment program.

Does our school have issues we need to address? Yes. Are we a failure? Absolutely not.

Google Earth Experience

Before we begin, it is important to know how much experience we all have with Google Earth.  

Google Earth- Do More Than Find Your House!


During the NICE- Mini conference, we will be presenting information about the basics of Google Earth.  This session is designed to introduce people with little or no experience with Google Earth.

Basics of Google Earth:

After a little bit of playing, Google Earth is relatively intuitive.  However some people might like to have a cheat sheet. Google itself provides a good “getting to know Google Earth”  that gives users a good starting place.  Additionally, they provide a nice tutorial overview of the entire application.

Google Earth Lit Trips

Briefly, a Google Earth Lit Trip, is an interactive tour through a book, using Google Earth. The students are able to see the different events and settings of the book with their own eyes.

The tour can be used to build background knowledge about the setting, help students keep track of how the setting impacts the story, or provide a visual map of where events are occurring in the story. For higher level thinking interaction, students can relate themes to the setting and explore the impact of the setting on the events.

By far, the best resource for Google Lit Trips is Google LitTrips website, created by Jerome Burg.  He has collected an incredible variety of Google Earth Files, all ready to go for you and your students.

Google Earth in  Social Studies

The use of Google Earth in the Social Studies classroom is fairly obvious, since Google Earth itself allows students to see locations and landmarks that they would most likely never be able to see without it.  However, the use of Google Earth expands even more when you consider the ability to use the timeline view to see historical imagery
One of the best things about Google Earth in the classroom, is that it has been around long enough that their are plenty of lessons and kmz files that are already prepared by other teachers and even experts.  Some of the best resources I’ve found for Social Studies lessons are:
Social Studies Central:  This webpage provides many resources, including this handout that lists many Google Earth Social Study websites.  In particular, at our school, we have completed lessons on the Five Themes of Geography.  This activity was used with a 6th grade class and was very successful. Another interesting Google tour was found in the Google Earth gallery.   Students can see all of major events of the civil right movement in the 1960s.
In addition to self guided tours, there is a plethora of information and precreated tours in which students can use Google Earth to see periods of time or location that would have otherwise been impossible!
One of the most exciting Social Studies  features in Google Earth is native to the application itself.  It is the Gallery  called ” Ancient Rome 3d”.  The possibilites here are amazing, the only problem is that it seems to take forever to download the gallery.  Here is a video of what it is supposed to do, but I would definitely download the gallery much beforehand in order to prevent surprises in the classroom.

Google Earth in  Science:

Like the Google Earth Rome in 3d feature, there are plenty of impressive abilities Google Earth has native to the application.  To start, it is easy to see different layers of the earth or moon right in the Google Earth Gallery.  For example, there are Google Earth Galleries that show volcanoes, earthquakes, and more

Additionally, Google Earth gives the option of seeing Mars, the Moon and theGeoconstellations in a similar manner that you can see the Earth. Within each of these views are various layers and galleries that help you do dig more deeply.

This only scratches the surface of the amazing things Google Earth can do.  Here are some examples of websites that can give more lesson plans, kmz files, and tips.

* The US Geological Services provides kmz files of recent earthquakes.
*  Google Earth for Science Teachers–  This is a 25 page manual specifically for Earth Science Teachers  written by Eric J. Fermann
* Google Earth Science lesson plans written by Richard Treves (a little more advanced)

Biome Virtual Field Trip –  Written by Karilyn Diede-  A great virtual fieldtrtip though different biomes.

Google  Earth in Math Class

One of the best resources for fun, “real world” math lessons using Google Earth is Real World Math.  This site, maintained by Thomas J Petra, has an incredible amount of topics ranging from three-dimension geography,, to estimation.  It has resources, downloads, and lessons all ready to go.

In addition, Google Earth Lessons provides some fun examples of math lessons and different levels.


Google Earth’s Cousin-
Google Art Project

Google Art Project is similar to Google Earth in many ways, but deserves attention all by itself.  Just as you can meander around the streets of Seville, you can also walk through the hallways of some of the most famous museums. of the world.  Google Art project.  Students can see the art in these museums and incredible level of resolution and can gain background knowledge on marvelous pieces of work!

More Google Earth Lessons/Resources-

Google Earth for Educators–  Provided by Google and contains lesson plans, tutorials, tips, showcases, and more!

Google Earth 101 for Educators- This wiki is created in “lesson form” and provides lessons and tutorials

Three Very Cool Avatar Creators

Recently, I was working with some students on autobiography projects. Although we can’t publish the students realistic image, since their stories about the students themselves, we’d like the students to be able to show their creativity and personality.  I found many sites, but these three seemed to meet our needs most, because of their ease of use, the fact that students don’t need to log in to create them, and the quality of the avatar.

Dopple Me

–  Dopple Me

Of these three sites, this one is probably the most basic.  It took a little bit of tinkering to get it to create this avatar.  Plus, sometimes when I made a choice, it didn’t let me take it back.  So, of the three, this would probably be my last resort.

However, what I did like about it was its simplicity.  This would be a good choice for a quick avatar, if you just wanted to get in and done

Buid Your Wild Self

Build  Your Wild Self

What a beautiful tool!  The site itself is linked to the New York Zoos and Aquarium.   I was really impressed with the artistic quality of the site.  This site provides  a little more customization to the avatar.  The students were able to choose facial features as well as clothing styles for the avatar.

The only problem I saw with this site is the inability to download the finished product.  We got around this problem by “printing” as a PDF and then saving the it that way.  When the students need to embed this avatar into their project, we just will save the pdf as a jpg.  This is a lot of steps, and I walked the kids through it.  However, with younger students it might pose a problem.

Toy Story Toy Creator 

Toy Story Toy Creator

I saved the best for last! This by far was my (and the students’) favorite avatar creator.  Again, the students didn’t need to log in in any way, and they were able to customize many elements of the avatar.  Not only did they get to choose the eyes, nose, etc, they could also further customize by moving them around, changing the color, etc.

The site itself was fun to use and had some “bells and whistles” that enaged the students, but the bells and whistles didn’t bog down our network.  The students were able to create a personalized avatar  within twenty minutes.  Plus, the site allows to students to download the avatar in many different formats…again without requiring any log in of any type!

Sure, it’s a commercial site, but I have to say—way to go Pixar!!

I’d love to know any other sites you could recommend, but these three did the trick for us!

Twitter Template—Cool!

Lately I have been working with a class doing a “Living History” project.  They completed the project last year using imovie, garage band, powerpoint, etc.  This year we were looking in incorporate a twitterlike template that students would use.  Of course, it is not as authentic as actually tweeting, but I think it’s the next best thing.

In the past we’ve used the Facebook template that was posted and that’s been pretty successful.  I tried to emulate that type of format.  The idea behind it is that the kids have to try and really understand the details behind the events, decide what is or isn’t important, and even find images that work with it.

Anyway…like I said, it was created in Pages, and I’d be happy to share if your school uses this platform.  I’m new to this, so if  have  a suggestion on where to store it….cool.  Box doesn’t work because it doesn’t like Pages. I can also email it to you.

If you don’t have Pages,  I’d love some suggestions on how to convert it to another format and then I’ll send it out that way.

Not often that you try and do something and it actually works the way you want it too!  Hurray!

My thoughts about IOS5- from an average Jo-di!

Approximately two weeks  ago, I ran home from school to upgrade my Iphone have only had it for less then a year, so I wasn’t about to go and buy the new phone.  It seemed , Siri was the only feature worth mentioning that I couldn’t get with just the update, so it wasn’t worth the money.

Before I begin this “review” I should acknowledge that my only credentials for writing this is that I love my iphone and use it all the time.  I use it for work, I use it for fun, I truly don’t know what I do without it.  Most people who know me know that, so recently I’ve had a lot of people ask what I think of it and what features I like or don’t like.  This is not a comprehensive review, just a list of the things I’ve noticed so far.  So, here it is….

What I like: 

Easy access to the camera feature:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the perfect shot, and lost it due to having to open my phone and find the camera app.  Now, all I have to do is double click on the home button and it pops up, even if the phone is locked.  Also, I’ve noticed that after you take a picture you can go right back to the camera when viewing a picture you just took.  In the last operating system, if you took a picture and then gone to look at it in the pictures app, you’d have to double click and return to the camera.  Now, it’s right there ready to go if you decide you didn’t like your picture and want to retake it. Makes it easier to get those Karate pics!


I can’t believe I’m saying this, but at this point, about 90% of the people I text are (or could be, once I upgrade them) on iOS5. I love the fact that I can send them messages, photos, videos, etc without worrying about texting charges.  The truth is that the texting was never very expensive, but who doesn’t like a “deal”?  I like the little …’s that let you know they are writing back and I like knowing a message was delivered.  

Notification Center : 

I really have been enjoying the notification center.  I like the fact that I can glance at my phone without unlocking it and see what messages I have from all my different apps, missed calls, etc. It also like pulling down the “movie screen” to see what i have missed.  It really is convenient to see everything in one place.  Even cooler is that when you receive a notification while your phone is “locked” you just slide the little slidey thing to the right and it will open directly to that email, voicemail, text, etc.

As my boys would say “loooove it!”

Safari Fun 

I know there are tons of improvements to Safari, but the ones I have been enjoying the most are the addition of Safari Reader and Safari Reading lists.  

Since I have put my purchase of an Ipad on hold for right now, I find myself reading a lot on my iphone.  Sometimes the small screen can become cluttered, and the option of open articles or stories in reader is very convenient.  It is much easier on the eyes and less busy for me.  Likewise, I have been enjoying the ability to save pages or articles that catch my attention for a later time.  Sometimes I follow a link from a tweet only to find that it is a rather long article that I don’t have time to read the whole article. I like the ability to save these types of articles in a reading list that I can return to at any time. It’s kinda like a mini- version of google reader that is even more convenient!  Also, I like how twitter is integrated right into the browser so that I can easily tweet whatever resource I find.

More control over email formatting :

This one, actually I haven’t played with much yet.  But I like the idea that is possible.  Now, you can correct spelling, format (bold, italics, underline) and indent the emails while you type them.  I think this would be something I might use more on an ipad because most of the time when I’m sending a message on my iphone it’s a quick one that I just what to get out.  

Multiple Map Options 

This is a feature that the phone desperately needed!  I hated when I would put addresses in and I knew there was probably a better way but couldn’t remember the exact street names.  I also think the design of the maps is sharp and easy to read.  

What I wish would get better: 

Location Based Reminders 
When I first heard about the location enabled “reminders” feature, I was super excited.  I liked the idea of setting a reminder to do something when I left school, or when I got to the grocery story. But, here’s what they don’t tell you: The location has to be stored as one of your contacts.  So, if I want to have a reminder to buy certain things from Dominick’s, it has to be listed as one of my contacts.  To me, this seems silly.  Google Maps is already embedded in the OS, so I don’t know why they couldn’t just have the two apps talk to each other.  I am hopeful that this will be updated/changed soon.

I am pretty sure that this is different, but not better or worse.  In the past, if you wanted to zoom to shoot a picture, you would use the slider at the bottom.  Now it seems you can pinch to zoom, which is OK, but doesn’t really add anything (for me).  One thing I really wish would be added (unless I am missing it) is the use of zoom on the video camera.  I really hate the fact that I cannot zoom with the native camera app.  I know that you can add an app like VideoZoom 2, but if this truly just a $.99 app, why doesn’t Apple just include it in the OS?  

Twitter Integration 
As I mentioned above, I really like the idea of being able to find a resource and automatically tweet it out.  However, I wish they had a way to shorten the links.  With only 140 characters to use, each one is precious. I think this might be more twitter’s issue than the IOS, but it would be nice! 

Stuff I haven’t played with yet…..

I do have a full time job and three kids, so once in a while I can’t be playing on my phone.  However, clearly there are people who can 😉

So, here are a few resources that I’ve found to learn about some of the other cool stuff the phone can do….

30 of the Best iOS Features – This page hits a lot of the ones I talked about but goes even further.  Since I have only an iphone (for now), those of you with an iPad might see some of these features more useful.

Hidden iOS features:  There are tons of these and you can find everything from LED alerts to creating your own keyboarding shortcuts.  Again, I haven’t played with all of these, but I’m sure some of you will, let me know what you think! Here are some of the sites that have a good collection

Oh….one last thing for you lucky ones who did buy the Iphone4S (or even for us peons who are waiting) , this hilarious site called ShitSiriSaysthat will give you a few laughs!

So, for now that’s all I got!  I’d love to know what your favorite features or tips/tricks are.  I love my iPhone and it has become more and more essential to what I do

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