Category Archives: learning

Wikipedia and the Wisdom of the Masses

WikipediaNot too long ago, I wrote about Jake Locker and the Wisdom of the Masses, which discussed the way in which public perception or “common sense” is based primarily on what so-called “experts” and media say on a particular subject. This particular post will look at what may be the antithesis of that piece – Wikipedia.

I have used Wikipedia for a long time now, primarily when I want to get a quick overview about a topic or find an answer to a random trivia question (like “How many home runs did Sadaharu Oh hit during his career?”). Occasionally (as I did recently), I’ll consult the References and “Further Reading” sections of an article to look for books to read on a topic.

But as a teacher, I often hear from students that they have been told to never use Wikipedia because it is unreliable. Other teachers they have had have told them that, because anyone can edit Wikipedia, it is completely unreliable. Essentially, these teachers have told students to only listen to people that are vetted “experts” on a subject.

Of course, in the Jake Locker article, I argued that the so-called “experts” were just as ignorant as many fans. In addition, their “expert” opinions influenced the masses to believe something that may or may not be true, all without using complete, factual information to support their positions. Interestingly, Wikipedia seems to be the opposite of this phenomenon, as the “wisdom of the masses” turns out to be roughly on par with the wisdom of the experts.

Take this oft-cited report by Nature magazine, which found that Wikipedia is nearly as reliable as the Encyclopedia Brittanica – with approximately 1 more error per article than the published encyclopedia (The main article is behind a pay wall (here’s a summary from CNet News), but their responses to Encyclopedia Brittanica’s objections are worth looking at). Even when there are errors in a Wikipedia entry, they are (more often than not) fixed within a matter of hours.

Another study, published by online journal First Monday, revealed that experts who read Wikipedia articles in their areas of expertise found those articles to be more credible than non-experts. In layman’s terms, if you or I read an article on nuclear fission on Wikipedia, we might treat it with a bit of skepticism (“take it with a grain of salt”). An expert in the field of nuclear physics, however, found that to be a fairly reliable and accurate article.

Of course, Wikipedia is not, nor ever will be, perfect. One of the drawbacks of having an encyclopedia that anyone can edit is that some will add misinformation (whether intentional or not). PBS’ “Learning.Now” blog posted a clear, concise summary of both sides of the Wikipedia debate. It illustrates the potential problems with Wikipedia using the story of John Seigenthaler Sr., whose erroneous Wikipedia article tied him to the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy. But it also highlights the story of some high school journalists who used Wikipedia (and its editing history) to out a convicted sex offender posing as British royalty.

So what should educators do about Wikipedia? Based on what my students have shared with me, many teachers are simply telling students not to use Wikipedia. I will never say this. There is far more quality information on Wikipedia than there is bad information. While Britannica is updated annually, Wikipedia is being edited every second of every day, thus has information on events like the death of Osama bin Laden, which won’t appear in Britannica for several months. Furthermore, students can access Wikipedia for free from anywhere with an internet connection, while it is much more difficult to access an encyclopedia. Then there are additional tools like Simple English Wikipedia, which contains similar content shared in simple language (rather than intellectual vocabulary). This kind of tool is invaluable for students, particularly those just beginning to learn how to do research. With all of these facts (plus the demonstrable accuracy of their articles), I will never tell students not to use the site.

However, I will also never tell them that it they should cite Wikipedia as a source in scholarly writing. Yes, the site is usually accurate. Yes, it has good information more often than not. However, it is not perfect, and it is still a secondary source. And I try to get my students to avoid citing secondary sources, instead helping them search for the primary source of the information. To me, this is one of the great advantages to using Wikipedia – their bountiful citations and connected links. If the information is good, I can typically consult the original source and use that, thus maintaining accuracy and academic integrity.

So here’s what I tell my students – Wikipedia is a great starting point. If you just want quick access to basic information, use Wikipedia. This is why I cite Wikipedia articles in my blog – the articles provide good introductions for people who don’t know about a particular subject. If you are doing research, it is a great way to get a mostly accurate overview of a topic, and an even better tool for finding other sources to aid in research (using the References). But Wikipedia should not be the core of their research, just as the Encyclopedia Brittanica should not comprise all of their research – they should seek out primary sources of information to cite in their work. This is what I try to teach my students.

But that’s just what I do. How do you handle the Wikipedia dilemma?


Innovation in Education

When I found out that the Google Teacher Academy would be held here in Seattle this year, I decided that now was the ideal time to apply for it. I’ve been looking at GTA for a couple of years now and always hesitated because I didn’t want to make the trek to some distant locale for a one-day workshop. And with our district likely going forward with Google Apps in the next year, I started thinking about the application process.

Like a good English teacher, I’ve drafted and will revise my responses to the written questions, but I also want to plan out my video ahead of time. The written responses are fairly natural for me, but the video requires some serious thinking. There are two topics to choose from, and I decided that “Innovation in Education” would be a better fit for me than “Motivation and Learning.” But what do I do? What should I include in the video? What kind of video should I make? What the heck is “Innovation in Education”?Innovation

What is Innovation?

As is often the case, I begin with definitions. What is innovation? Webster’s defines it as “a new idea, method, or device.” Wikipedia points the word’s etymology to the Latin innovare, which means “to renew or change.” Good definitions, but innovation also goes deeper than that. Many inventions are new or changed, as are many theories. The difference between invention and innovation, though, is that an innovation is “put to use, is accepted by users and effectively causes a social or commercial reorganization(Wikipedia).

In other words, innovation is about taking something and using it in a new way – a way that changes the way we think about that idea, method, or device. The Chia Pet, for example, is an invention, but does it cause us to reorganize what we do? No. In contrast, the internet has fundamentally changed the way we interact with the world around us – it is an innovation. Microsoft Windows is an innovation. WYSIWYG editing is an innovation. Electronic fart machines are not.

Of course, innovation is more than just products. Ideas can be just as revolutionary as products. Based on the definitions above, republican democracy is a tremendous innovation – it has completely altered the world as we know it. Similarly, the assembly line was a tremendous innovation because it caused us to reorganize the way we did business in the 20th century.

Innovation is not change for the sake of change – it’s refining things that work and replacing things that don’t. Henry Ford saw the need for a specific change in his business, so he devised a new method that caused commercial reorganization. That is innovation. The Romans saw a need for change on the battlefield, so they devised a new method called the Testudo, which protected their legions and allowed them to move together as armored units. That is innovation. Knute Rockne and a small Catholic school called Notre Dame utilized something called the forward pass to upset powerhouse Army 35-13 and changed the way that football was played. That is innovation.

The Innovator

In addition to these definitions, there is also some research – specifically the work of Everett M. Rogers – about those people who are the innovators. In his work, Diffusion of Innovations, Rogers tries to explain how (and why) new ideas, methods, and devices take hold – how they become innovations. One of the key components in the process is the people involved in the process of adopting the innovation, of which he says there are 5 categories: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. The innovators, he says, are the risk-takers – the people willing to try something out in the hopes that it makes their lives or work better. As risk takers, these are also the people who are willing to fail if it means they have a chance of doing something great. Typically, Rogers says, these people are young, often not wanting for money, and interact most frequently with other innovators. Comparatively, early adopters jump on board after innovators have done test runs, early majority take their time and watch what happens to the first two groups, while late majority and laggards are slow to jump on board, if they jump on at all.

Rogers’ work reveals one more interesting detail: innovators are not the group that make an innovation successful. They may be the group that tries something first, but the majority look at them as being something akin to mad scientists. It is the early adopters, however, that are also the opinion leaders; they are the group that the majority will look to and trust because they are taking a more responsible risk. While the innovators are often young and frequently considered naive, the early adopters often demonstrate prudence in the innovations they adopt and are viewed as more responsible because of it. They are typically the group refining and perfecting the ideas and methods put forth by the innovators. It is because of this that early adopters often make or break a particular innovation.

Innovation in Education

So what does this look like in education? What are the educational equivalents of the assembly line, the Testudo, and the forward pass? What does it mean to be an innovator in education? No doubt the Socratic Method was innovative in its own time and changed the way people learned. Surely inquiry learning is an innovative approach to teaching content and/or skills. And there are countless other innovations that have impacted education over time – the printing press, chalkboard, and more recently, the computer. These are all innovations.

While innovation certainly has to happen at every level of the education system, I’m not sure this is the sort of innovation the Google Teacher Academy is talking about here. I imagine they are looking for innovation on a smaller scale – individual teachers, departments, or schools that are utilizing new tools, methods, or ideas to change the way students learn about the content.

Without question, technology plays a critical role in this sort of innovation. But technology is only one piece of the puzzle. There are plenty of teachers (and schools and districts) that simply use technology for technology’s sake. And there are innumerable ways to use technology without being innovative. The question, then, is how we are using technology in ways that will change the way we teach and the way students learn?

In my experience, there is perhaps no more significant technological innovation in the Language Arts classroom than the internet. Even if only used for research, the ability to access nearly any material in the entire world is an unbelievable advance in education. Doing the research for this particular post, for example, would likely have taken months using traditional library research methods, rather than hours. Email changed how teachers communicate with students and parents – everything from quick messages to class newsletters can be sent via email. Web-based grading systems allow parents and students to track their grades on a regular basis.

Other digital tools have the potential to be equally innovative. This year, a few of us (probably “innovators” according to Rogers) have been piloting Moodle – an open-source learning management system. It’s a great tool that enables us to utilize a controlled digital environment with our students. We can use forums, wikis, online assignments, surveys, resources, quizzes – just about anything we might want. Using Moodle has helped us dramatically cut paper usage, given us opportunities to use a number of web-based resources in conjunction with activities, and changed the way I teach my classes.

Cell phones also have the potential to change how students learn. Access to the internet in students’ pockets allows them to quickly look up facts and information. Tools like PollEverywhere change the way teachers can formatively assess students. And combined with tools like Twitter, cell phones can allow students to get reminders and announcements anywhere, any time.

And while technology tools like cell phones and Moodle have innovative potential, it is often the simple adjustments or “tweaks” that become real innovations. For example, I discovered shortly after we began using digital projectors that I could simply project writing onto a whiteboard and make it “interactive” (rather than spending $5,000 on a big, digital version). This is an easily adopted change that impacts teaching directly and immediately without great expense or labor. This is the sort of change that is quickly adopted by the early majority and becomes innovation.

What About Me?

I suppose, since this is an application, there ought to be some explanation of how I have been innovative. I always hate this part because I worry about coming off as an arrogant braggart. Nevertheless, I do think that I would quickly be identified as an “innovator” by my colleagues, particularly around technology. I like to try new things, even when I don’t know if they will work out. I am quick to jump on pilot programs, such as our Moodle pilot (which has been very successful) or a Wiimote Whiteboard pilot (which failed miserably), and I’ll share my experiences with anyone who will listen. In particular, I enjoy experimenting with different technologies and how they can positively influence learning in my classroom. Honestly, even this blog is an extension of this mentality – I wanted to see what this blogging thing was all about and see how it could affect my teaching. I can live with (and learn from) failure, I enjoy taking responsible risks, and I fit Rogers’ general profile of an “innovator.”

But as an “innovator,” I also recognize that I am not an opinion leader. I am the “mad scientist” that many people will ignore. In order to turn an idea into a true innovation, I understand that I need the help of those that are opinion leaders – I have to identify and utilize the early adopters. This is why I teach workshop classes at our 10Tech Summer Conference. This is why I share things that I find to be successful (such as Moodle or Delicious) with people in my department and in my building that I recognize to be opinion leaders. I show them how a new tool, idea, or method has positively impacted my students so they can try it out and convince everyone else the idea is worthwhile. Of course, any innovation would be meaningless if it doesn’t impact the world in some way. Whatever innovations I may be trying to share will be utterly worthless if they do not accomplish one simple goal: help students learn.

Classroom Tech, Part VI: Cell Phones

iX-Ray, by slowburn (on flickr)

iX-Ray, by slowburn (on flickr)

I’m nearing the end of a series of posts outlining how I plan on using technology during the coming school year. I’ll share some tools, resources, and ideas that I intend to use with students in the classroom, and hopefully you, the reader, will share some advice or thoughts of your own, either in the comments section, or on your own blog (just let me know if you do!).

As I wind down this summer’s Classroom Tech series, I want to focus a little bit of time on a tool that most students are not even allowed to use in their classes – cell phones.

Before sharing some ideas and resources, though, I have to preface this. I don’t like cell phones. I never have. I’ve always felt that they allow people to get a hold of me whenever they want, that I am on a sort of electronic leash that can be yanked back anytime I’m doing something I want to be doing. I’ve felt this way since I was in high school, when cell phones were becoming more popular (we had one cell phone in our family car for emergencies only). Since high school, I’ve had three cell phones that I have called my own. The first was a very basic flip phone that came free with our family plan. The second was also a basic flip phone, but with free calling over wi-fi. Both were simple and easy to use, but weren’t really special. I’ll share about my third (and current) phone shortly.

Last school year, I was asked to try experimenting with cell phones in the classroom by our district’s instructional technology coach, Kimberly. She was really excited about some of the possibilities and had no idea about my cell-phobia. I took her up on it, as it was a chance to try something new and get pushed out of my comfort zone. I used a couple of the tools described below – PollEverywhere and Wiffiti – to experiment with SMS polling. I asked groups to submit discussion questions via text message, which then appeared on the projector screen. I asked students to vote on who they blamed for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and the results appeared in a nice bar graph. And I asked students to vote on whether they thought cell phones could be really useful in school, and their votes were also tallied and graphed.

In hindsight, I am very impressed with that one possible application for cell phones, but several sources have continued to push my thinking on using cell phones. The gist of what I read and hear is simple: 90% of my students have very functional, very powerful computing devices in their pockets/backpacks. Some have cell phones with internet access, others have iPod Touches, while still others have smart phones. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of this unprecedented access?

This summer, I chose to embrace this new thinking as my wife and I changed cell phone carriers. We weren’t happy with the customer service at T-Mobile, and my wife’s sister (who works at AT&T) told us about the 15% educator discount, so we decided to take advantage. I wasn’t content, however, with another simple flip phone. Instead, I decided to put a high-powered computer in my own pocket. In spite of my personal cell-phobia and even stronger Apple-phobia, I turned to the Dark Side and invested in an iPhone 3Gs.

While the iPhone isn’t without its problems, I have quickly realized the unprecedented power I now carry around with me. At any given moment, I have access to the internet, email, instant messaging, social networks, telephone, up-to-the-minute news, and a whole host of other unbelievable tools ranging from the practical (maps with GPS location) to the completely useless (my custom purple light saber, complete with Star Wars music).

The realization that I have this kind of access at any given second is yet another reason why I have to ask myself a simple question: why not? Why not use this amazing device in school? Why not take advantage of what they already have? Why not quit whining about not having a netbook cart and, instead, get students to use their cell phones for *gasp* learning? While I’m looking forward to increased computer access for more frequent computer-based writing activities, we do a lot of things on computers that kids can do on their phones.

So that’s where I’m at heading into the new school year – with a fancy new phone and some new ideas on how to use cell phones in the classroom. What follows are a couple of those ideas and some resources to check out if you’re interested in learning more about using cell phones to help students learn.

  • Obviously, I intend to continue using cell phones as feedback devices. I found it quite helpful to get student feedback over the course of a class period, and polling like this is a great way to formatively assess students as they are learning. Websites like PollEverywhere and Wiffiti are excellent resources – they provide a digital bulletin board that turns text message responses into visible results (usually either written text or tallied votes). Of the two, I prefer PollEverywhere, as it offers more options for formatting your poll. Feel free to check out a couple of polls I ran last school year to see what it looks like.
  • For students who are so inclined, most cell phones have some sort of audio-recording feature that could be used to record lessons or notes. While it may be something that students can choose to do themselves, it might also make sense for a teacher to use his iPhone to record lessons and post them to the class website.
  • As nearly all cell phones now include integrated cameras, students could use their phones to take photos pertaining to a class assignment and either bring them to class or post them (via MMS) to Facebook, flickr, or their blogs (Blogger and WordPress each have this functionality). This would work great for vocabulary – students are each assigned a vocabulary word and have to take at least 3 photos that help others understand the meaning of the word (I saw an example of this idea using the word “dilapidated” that was very cool).
  • Students could utilize the wi-fi/web functionality of their phones or iPod Touches, or even utilize educational apps, to look up words, use a thesaurus, or find an answer on Wikipedia. These are all things students do in their classes already – now they are simply using a different tool to accomplish the same goal.
  • My iPhone has an Animoto app. I can create Animoto videos anytime, anywhere. Example: visited Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast and created this Animoto video on my iPhone from the pictures I took…on my iPhone. Think students might enjoy doing this with their free Animoto account and their iPod Touches?
  • Usage is a big issue when considering cell phones in the classroom – costs for texting, minutes, and data are relative unknowns. Why not make it an assignment for students to understand how much their use costs? Have them calculate their dollars per minute of talk time, or average their text messaging habits? This will help them develop some basic math skills, but will also help make them aware of the cost of cell phones and plans.

Before moving on to some resources, I want to mention that there are management issues with cell phones. I am not naive enough to deny this. In my own brief experience, I had a student take a picture of me and post it to his MySpace (I heard this via another student). Another student texted a rude comment about a friend instead of a discussion question. But there are management issues with anything. Students throw balled-up paper and paper airplanes and give each other paper cuts and write mean things on paper, but we don’t ban paper from the classroom because it’s a valuable tool. Instead, we try to teach students how to use paper responsibly – cell phones are no different. Like all technology, students must learn how to be good citizens with their cell phones. They need to understand the amazing possibilities, but must also realize some of the consequences of their actions (once again, all the news around “sexting” comes to mind).

It is this management/citizenship issue that I am currently learning more about. There are a number of resources I’ve used, both for the instructional and management pieces, that are out there to help others who are interested in using cell phones in the classroom. Here are a couple of great resources if you’re interested in learning more.

Just a few resources, but hopefully enough to get you started.

Only one more post remains in this summer’s Classroom Tech series, and I’d love to hear your feedback. Next time: Everything’s Amazing…Nobody’s Happy.

Classroom Tech, Part V: PowerPoint

I’m in the middle of a series of posts outlining how I plan on using technology during the coming school year. I’ll share some tools, resources, and ideas that I intend to use with students in the classroom, and hopefully you, the reader, will share some advice or thoughts of your own, either in the comments section, or on your own blog (just let me know if you do!).

This next tech tool is nothing new to any of us, and at this point, it barely counts as “technology.” The use of PowerPoint in schools has a long and sordid history, dating back at least to when I was in high school. So it’s not necessarily the tool that I’m focusing on here, but the way in which the tool is used. Over the last year, I’ve been frequently exposed to blog posts, seminars, books, and other resources on making learning visual. PowerPoint, originally, was supposed to help with this. Unfortunately, it has become a tool for presenters/teachers rather than for learners. Rather than spend a lot of time sharing ideas, I want to sum up the concepts that I’ve learned and share some valuable resources for using PowerPoint to make learning more visual.


  • Much of the learning I’ve done centers around using lots of images and minimizing text when using presentation software. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, check out the following two examples. First, the “old” way of doing PowerPoint (or, “what not to do):

    And now, the “new” way of doing PowerPoint (pay attention to the visual:text ratios):
  • The core concept for successfully using PowerPoint is to connect what you are saying to some simple, concrete imagery. Allow the images and visuals to add to what you are saying; let your audience make connections of their own between your words and the visuals in your PowerPoint.
  • Photos are infinitely more meaningful to audiences than clip art. Take the images below, for example. Both might connect to my main idea of “baseball,” but I think we can all agree that the photo is far more visually appealing and meaningful than the clip art.








  • Many of the concepts I’ve learned about are nicely captured in Garr Reynolds’ book, Presentation Zen. This is the key piece of literature for those looking to become better presenters. It focuses a little more on the theoretical aspects of presenting, but is an all-around good read.
  • Some other books and resources for the theory behind better presentations: A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink, which focuses on brain research and visual thinking, and Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte, which focuses a little more on the practical side of presentation creation.
  • In addition to those books, here are a few online resources to help get you started in creating “zen” presentations:

And that’s all for this edition of Classroom Tech. Next time, in Part VI, we’ll discuss one of the most contentious pieces of classroom technology: cell phones.

Classroom Tech, Part IV: Shelfari

A snippet of my "Books I've Read" shelf, complete with ratings

A snippet of my "Books I've Read" shelf, complete with ratings

I’m in the middle of  a series of posts outlining how I plan on using technology during the coming school year. I’ll share some tools, resources, and ideas that I intend to use with students in the classroom, and hopefully you, the reader, will share some advice or thoughts of your own, either in the comments section, or on your own blog (just let me know if you do!).

Unlike the other tools mentioned in the previous three posts, Shelfari is not something I am just now starting to use with students. I’ve used Shelfari with my students for a year and a half now, with a mixed bag of success, and I’ve posted before on what it is and on some of my experiences with Shelfari. All told, it’s been a great tool, and my experiences using it with classes have yielded a couple of strategies to make it more effective.

  • I primarily use Shelfari in my English classes as a way for students to document their outside reading. To do this, I ask that they write a book review (which includes both summary and evaluation) on Shelfari. From a management standpoint, the most effective way for me to grade this is to create a group for each class period and work through each class separately. This is really nice because I can stay up to date on what kids are reading, they can recommend books to me or their peers, and their reviews can be read by anyone on the website.
  • Shelfari would also be a great resource for students who are looking for books to read, particularly if you’ve been using class groups. They could use other students’ shelves and reviews to find books that they might be interested in. This could also include an added writing component in which students have to explain why they selected the book that they did, encouraging them to use some metacognition and think about the criteria that they used to select that book.
  • There are numerous other groups on Shelfari that students could be encouraged to join, many focused on a particular literary interest such as a genre, title, or author. Students could interact with other Shelfari users in these groups and hear from like-minded people. There is an obvious safety concern here, as we don’t know who students are interacting with, so that is something that would have to be discussed thoroughly before encouraging this activity.
  • One oft-neglected feature of Shelfari is the “on loan” check box for individual books. Say you keep an inventory of all your books on Shelfari. If a student borrows or checks out a book from you, you can find that book on your shelf and go to the details page. Under the “Editions” tab, there is a check box that says “loaned to a friend.” If you check that box, you can fill in the information – who you loaned it to and when – and save that until the book is returned. While I do wish it was a little easier to access this feature, it’s pretty handy nonetheless.
  • I often use the Wish List shelf to keep a list of books that I’m interested in reading. This might be a really great way for students to build up some interest in a variety of books and let you see the kinds of books they want to read. This opens the door for recommendations, reviews, and other great interaction. You might even make it an assignment to add 2 books from different genres that the student is going to read. One additional benefit to doing this: if students have a list of books they want to read on their Wish List, they should never be telling you they don’t have a book to read.

These are just a few of, I’m sure, innumerable ideas for using Shelfari in the classroom. Unlike some of the previous tech tools, I can say with complete confidence that most students – particularly young adults – enjoy using Shelfari. They laugh and make fun of it early on, but once they start getting into the different possibilities (particularly interacting with their friends), they really do start to engage a little bit more.

Next up in the Classroom Tech series (Part V) will be an oldie, but a goodie: PowerPoint.

Classroom Tech, Part III: Animoto

I am in the midst of a series of posts outlining how I plan on using technology during the coming school year. I’ll share some tools, resources, and ideas that I intend to use with students in the classroom, and hopefully you, the reader, will share some advice or thoughts of your own, either in the comments section, or on your own blog (just let me know if you do!).

Another tech tool I’m planning on integrating this year is Animoto, the free slide/movie site. I’ve previously discussed Animoto and some of the highlights here, but I’m finally starting to figure out how I can use it productively with students without maxing out our school’s bandwidth.

Without getting into too many details, Animoto is a way to convert slideshows (read: Powerpoints) into visually exciting movies. It allows users to upload and rearrange images, add text, and add stock or custom music. Once these are all set, it will process them into a short (or, if you prefer, long) video complete with well-timed and animated transitions between images and text. Here’s an example of Animoto at work:

As you can see, Animoto creates something that the average educator could never hope to duplicate. It gives us a product that can be used to better engage the visual learners in our classrooms. I’ve struggled to think of ways we could use Animoto in our school, particularly because a classroom full of students using Animoto would create a bit of an overload on our servers. In spite of this, I’ve found a couple of ways to use the tool that are worth sharing. As always, please feel free to share your own ideas with me and other visitors to this site.

  1. Book trailers are a great way to pique students’ interest before reading a book. If you’re reading a book as a class, you can create a short Animoto book trailer to advertise/preview the upcoming unit (like I tried to do above with Romeo & Juliet). If students are doing Reader’s Workshop or Literature Circles, they could do a group trailer after they’ve read the book and share this trailer with the class.
  2. If students are doing presentations, they could use an Animoto video in lieu of a Powerpoint as their visual aid. The omission of text encourages good “presentation zen” and makes them focus on how the visual enhances the aural.
  3. Animoto would be a great way to create a sort of visual dictionary for the class. As a homework assignment (so students aren’t tearing up the school’s bandwidth), students could create a short 15-second video on a particular vocabulary word. It would have the word, a definition, and several images that help visually convey what the word means. If these were each submitted to the teacher, they could then be shared on YouTube or some other video sharing site (Fliggo, perhaps?).

Obviously these are only a couple of ideas, so please feel free to share your own.

Stay tuned for the next post in this Classroom Tech series, which will be on Shelfari.

Classroom Tech, Part II: iGoogle

I am in the midst of a series of posts outlining how I plan on using technology during the coming school year. I’ll share some tools, resources, and ideas that I intend to use with students in the classroom, and hopefully you, the reader, will share some advice or thoughts of your own, either in the comments section, or on your own blog (just let me know if you do!).

The second tech tool in this summer series is one many of you may already use: iGoogle. This is a fantastic tool that I’ve been using for about 2 years now, though really only frequently during the past school year.In addition to talking about iGoogle, though, this post will include a little bit on several Google tools I’m thinking about using this year.

For those that haven’t heard of it, iGoogle is an internet home page that tries to aggregate all of your web experiences into one place. If you use Gmail or Outlook, Google Reader or Delicious, Google Docs or Facebook, CNN or ESPN, iGoogle wants to bring those all to one place using what it calls “gadgets.” To borrow a phrase, if you want to do something, there’s a gadget for that. The obvious benefit of using these gadgets is that you will spend less time clicking through frequently used websites or web tools.

To give you an idea of what iGoogle is like, here are the gadgets I currently use on my iGoogle page:

  • Sticky Note
  • Gmail
  • Google Reader
  • Google Calendar
  • Delicious
  • Google Docs
  • AccuWeather
  • Sports Scores
  • Daily Literary Quote
  • Notable Shakespeare Quote.

By using iGoogle, I can bring all of these tools onto one website and minimize the amount of time that I spend surfing the web

My hope is that I can have students create their own iGoogle pages in order to organize their web experience a little better. In a way, I envision it as a sort of digital planner where they can keep track of assignments, due dates, and other important information. Of course, iGoogle is completely worthless without the right gadgets on it, and that is what the rest of this post will focus on.

I think there are a few gadgets that will be mission-critical for students who are using iGoogle. First and foremost is Google Reader, which lets me read RSS feed updates from my iGoogle page. This tool has saved me countless hours since I began using it, but I’m discovering that a lot of educators don’t know about RSS feeds. If this describes you, I encourage you to learn more about RSS by watching CommonCraft’s “RSS in Plain English.” I promise it will be worth your time. A couple of ways I’ve considered using Google Reader with students:

  1. Our school uses SWIFT websites, which are RSS enabled. Students who have a Google account can use the Reader gadget on their iGoogle pages to subscribe to their teachers’ websites and get updates right on their home page, hopefully resulting in increased awareness and accountability for assignments.
  2. In addition to students subscribing to teacher websites, teaching parents about RSS feeds could make it much easier for them to stay connected with their student’s classes.
  3. Students can subscribe to something that is specifically required for class, such as another student’s Shelfari page (more on this in another post).
  4. Students can subscribe to other useful/informational sites like CNN or the Seattle Times. If they want, they can even subscribe to a specific writer’s feed or a narrower topic feed (say, the Seattle Times Husky Football Blog).

The second tool that I think will be really valuable on a student’s iGoogle page is Google Docs. If you’ve never used Google Docs, it’s like having Microsoft Office online and available to share with others. It can be used to share finished documents or to collaborate on documents in progress, whether text, spreadsheet, or presentation (take the tour here). It even has a way to create surveys that anyone can take. A couple of ways I’m thinking about using Google Docs this coming school year:

  1. Students can use Google Docs to compose their essays. This means no saving to flash drives or emailing papers to themselves (or even worse, printing out the unfinished draft and typing it into a different computer). Instead, they can edit the paper from multiple locations.
  2. Once their essays are finished, students can click the “Share” button and send me their papers to be graded and returned online. I’m still debating doing this or having them email Word documents so I can use the Track Changes features. If you have experience with this, I would really love to get your input.
  3. Collaborate on group assignments using a shared Google Doc. It can also be shared with me so I can monitor their progress any time I need to.
  4. Maintain a digital portfolio documenting standards met, evidence of meeting standard, and reflections. This can then be shared with me and I can grade it online without printing a single piece of paper.

There are a lot of other tools I’m thinking about having students add to their iGoogle pages – a Delicious gadget (more on Delicious here), a Google Calendar gadget to keep track of the updates they receive via Reader, and even a sticky note/to do list gadget to write down whatever they might need to remember. However, these are the essential ones that will help make students’ iGoogle pages a 21st century planner and, hopefully, help them become better students as a result.

Feel free to comment and share your thoughts or your own ideas for using iGoogle with students.

Part III in the Classroom Tech series will share a couple of ideas about using Animoto in the classroom (and will hopefully be much, much shorter!).