Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Educational Vision Debate

Recently I have noticed a flurry of negative posts concerning Obama's choice of Arne Duncan to be his Secretary of Education (see below for links to a range of views on this pick). This choice has certainly hit a raw nerve with many progressive educators who hoped Obama's Secretary of Education choice would signal a move away from the status quo of testing, testing, testing, toward an educational environment that values creativity over standardization.

Certainly, Duncan's choice does seem to signal that the pendulum has not hit the standardization overkill wall quite yet, and that change has not come to America's public schools.

Of course, the pick may be more about friendship. The fact that Duncan studied at the University of Chicago Laboratory School does hint at a more progressive leaning than his record suggests. Only time will tell.

Here is a sampling of the online debate over Duncan's announcement:

In this corner--Change
Will Richardson
Alfie Kohn
David Warlick

and, in this corner--Arne Duncan
The New York Times
Joanne Jacobs

Monday, December 15, 2008

Breaking Down the Classroom Walls--From Technology to Attitude

My hiatus from American Cultures 2.0 has not meant that I have been inactive. On the contrary, I have been in the process of the most transformational shift in my teaching career that involves empowering my students to look beyond their grades, and the friendly confines of Hershey Middle School, and to consider their citizenship in the larger world. This transformational shift in how we do things in my classroom has been made possible by two changes--technology and attitude.

Due to the changes that have taken place in my classroom since mid-October the classroom walls no longer isolate my students from the world. We now have a WordPress MU class blog entitled Viva la Historia, a laptop for every student everyday, and access to the School District's Google Apps slate of tools, including Google Docs--ALL IN THE LAST TWO MONTHS.

These tools have allowed us to:
  • Have contact with classes in Connecticut and New Zealand
  • Have nearly unlimited information at our fingertips everyday
  • Have the ability to write, collaborate and problem solve issues related to self publishing a book on for anyone to purchase with proceeds going to charity
  • Have students manage their own WordPress blog to challenge their writing, thinking, and creativity (this will actually happen in 2009 after some training)
If I kept teaching in the same way I have always taught prior to the transformation to a one-to-one classroom then I would be neglecting my duties as a teacher. Will I make mistakes on this new journey--Yep! I already can speak from experience how not to set up one Google Doc for an entire class to contribute to and expect them to do so in class--DUH!!! Without the attitude that it is o.k. to make mistakes then change is impossible.

Another attitude shift is one from being the main authority in the classroom to one as a guiding authority who is willing to become a student when the opportunity arises. This openness to learning and sharing is a necessary attitude if we want our technology to truly be transformative.

The ability to think big has been made a lot easier with technology. Or has technology created the opportunity to think big? All I know is that before the addition of blogging, laptops, and online collaborative tools I felt very traditional and in a way hemmed in by the classroom walls.

I can't wait to see what 2009 holds in store for my students!

Upcoming Blog Posts:
Digital Cultures Moodle Course to teach students Digital Citizenship
W4H--Our Writing for History self publishing book project
Ideas???--I welcome ideas to write about

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Long Live the Blog

“Blogs will fill every niche in the ecology of public writing. They'll be good examples of blogs and a far larger range of sites that are sort-of, kind-of blogs. This is as it should be. It's also as it already is.”
David Weinberger
Fellow, Harvard Berkman Center

Recently, there have been numerous pronouncements that blogging is dead, or at least not what it used to be. The Economist and Wired magazines both published articles questioning the relevance of blogging in the face of the ever changing nature of blogging and the increasing corporate dominance of the once thriving amateur blogosphere. It is apparent that the cutting edge nature of blogging has become mainstream as nearly every media outlet and corporation has implemented some form of blogging to reach new online markets. In addition, various forms of blogging, from Twitter to Facebook, have taken over our conversational media adding new ways to share, network, and learn. This is all evidence that blogging in various forms is here to stay.

Educational blogging, or edublogging, has never been more relevant for teachers and students. Blogging is one tool that can improve the quality of teacher reflection and networking. In an age where technology has made it free and easy to connect with other professionals and experts around the world it would almost be professional neglect to shun such powerful teacher development tools. In the year since I have been actively blogging I have reflected and learned more about teaching and learning than in all of the professional development courses I have attended in 15 years as a teacher. In the past year I have had online conversations with teachers, professors, and administrators  in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa, Connecticut,  Washington, California, and New Zealand! How could I have connected to these amazing resources without being a part of the edublogging conversation? It simply wouldn't have happened, and I would be less knowledgeable as a consequence.

If I am able to learn so much from being a part of a blogging network then why not teach students to be a valuable contributor to the online conversation. Students are already having online conversations on Myspace, Facebook, and interactive video games, so why not use similar tools to teach students how to effectively communicate with an online audience? Why not use these tools to teach students digital citizenship so they understand the larger context within which they participate online? Why not use these tools to simply teach students in a relevant and authentic way?

Various forms of blogging has become and will continue to become a ubiquitous feature of our online life. As educators, we need to recognize this and embrace it to improve how we learn, but more importantly, we need to use this knowledge to improve how students learn and make our classrooms relevant to a 21st century reality.

“The word blog is irrelevant, what's important is that it is now common, and will soon be expected, that every intelligent person (and quite a few unintelligent ones) will have a media platform where they share what they care about with the world.”
Seth Godin

I got the Weinberger and Godin quotes from Technorati's State of the Blogophere/2008 report. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

21st Century Literacy Video

I found this video from a post on the Brevity is the Soul of Wit blog via a tweet from Angela Maiers. Anyway, the video is a pretty good supplement to my previous blog post.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Revolution in Learning

I have learned more in the past year than in any year of my life.

One year ago today:
  • I did not blog...I just thought about a bunch of stuff
  • I did not use Google Reader...I used my computer's bookmarks to read a few websites
  • I did not use Delicious...I saved everything for my eyes only
  • I did not use rss feeds...I didn't even know what they were???
  • I did not have an online professional learning network...I learned from only a few teachers I worked with on a daily basis
  • I use blogs to reflect, share, and simply to think
  • I use Google Reader as a continuously updated and personalized magazine
  • I use Delicious to organize, share, and view websites tailored to my interests
  • I use rss feeds to passively search for topics of interest to me
  • I use my blogroll, Delicious, Classroom2.o Ning, HarrisburgU Ning, MiddleTrojan Ning, Diigo, LinkedIn, and Twitter as engines that connect me to passionate learners from around the world
I do find myself on the computer more, but most of the time it is either replacing or supplementing the boobtube. It is also obvious to me that I am more restless when I have to be a passive observer. This restlessness is most apparent when I sense my time is being wasted and my input is not valued.
  • Are we wasting our students' time?
  • Do we value their input?
This revolution in learning is driven by technology, but is only realized by curious individuals who value knowledge.
  • Are we teaching students to be curious?
  • Are we teaching students to value knowledge?
If so, great!!!
If not, why not?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Class Discussion at 10:00 pm???

Why not?  During the Vice Presidential and 3rd Presidential debates over 40 of my students watched while almost 20 students took part in a live blogging session hosted by me using Coveritlive.  I embedded the Coveritlive  session in my Moodle course to provide a bit more security and to monitor who showed up to watch.  

The quality of the dialogue was impressive for 8th graders discussing serious national issues. Having nearly half of all my students  show up at night to voluntarily discuss political debates illustrates the power of technology to foster learning.  It also reaffirms my faith and optimism in this generation that barely remembers 9/11, and doesn't remember a time before the Clinton's, the internet, or cell phones.  

Next up--live blogging election night with 8th graders!   

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Power of One

Last week I attended the K12 Open Minds Conference in Indianapolis.  On my way home, waiting for my flight at the Indy airport, I purchased a copy of the 75th Anniversay edition of Esquire magazine.  Now understand something--I don't typically read Esquire (I'm not that sophisticated), but a fact that keynote speaker and futurist Dr. David Thornburg stated piqued my interest in the magazine.  A limited number of the 75th Anniversary edition was printed with electronic ink on the front cover enabling the printed words to change and images to flash--ON THE FRONT COVER. 

The reason I bring up electronic ink in Esquire magazine is that it poses some essential questions related to k12 education. Are we doing enough to get technology into the hands of our students and teach them ways to creativly solve problems in a world where new innovations are changing the way we live at a faster pace than at any time in world history? When ink becomes electronic and paper becomes the circuit board isn't that a sign that students working on paper and pencil tasks may be going the way of monks writing on scrolls?  Alternatively, and just as important, what are we doing to teach students how to live a good, balanced life in an ever increasingly fast paced and stressed out world?   In my opinion these are the questions we NEED to be asking and  answering. 

Part of the answer seems obvious to me.  Students need to be at least working on computers on a regular basis in school.  One-to-One computing, where every student has access to a computer throughout the school day, should be a basic goal of schools.  This can happen soon with the price of laptops decreasing and availability of open source and free software increasing.  School Districts and parents need to do what they can to provide access to computers for all students, while teachers need to be flexible enough to change how they teach to maximize student learning through the use of computers and other newer technologies.  

Now the only question is will the money for one-to-one computer initiatives dry up in the current state of our economy?


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Quick Update, or How Technology Initiatives Can Turn a Quick Update into a Long Update

This has certainly been the busiest start to a school year in my career (O.K., that's at least my excuse for not posting anything since September 1, which by the way, seems an eternity ago). Here is a quick update on some of the things that has been keeping me busy (other than actually planning lessons, grading assignments, attending meetings, etc...) :
  • Web 2.0 class -- I am in the middle of an outstanding graduate class on incorporating web 2.0 technology into the classroom (see my post on what I learned in class). The class is taught by Jim Gates and is offered through Harrisburg University. I spent a week this summer at Harrisburg University learning about all the free and powerful learning tools that are available online. The class is still meeting through a forum on the class Moodle. We just had a synchronous class session where we discussed the progress of our projects. It lasted over 3 hours, but it was beneficial to hear how other teachers are using these tools in the classroom. Shouldn't the time to share and reflect on what we do be more of a priority for teacher development, especially considering all the technological changes that are changing how we learn, and consequently, teach? We have one more synchronous class session, and then our final showcase is on October 25th at Harrisburg University. The project that I will be showcasing involves student blogging. Which leads me to...
  • Student blogging -- I believe every student should be exposed to blogging for various reasons. First, blogging is a more interactive and engaging way for people (not jusst students) to write and express themselves. By encorporating links, images and video into a blogpost the student not only becomes a writer, but also a creator. Second, students should get the opportunity to write and create for an authentic audience. When this happens the grade becomes less important than doing your best, because people outside the confines of the classroom are watching. The simple addition of a Clustrmaps can be a very motivating experience when you see your words and creation are viewed by people around the world. Third, educational blogging provides a safe way for students to learn the educational and real world value of technology. Students are advanced users of technology to socialize and play games. How about teaching students to responsibly use technology to communicate, collaborate and create content that solves a problem; or expresses their viewpoint to elected officials; or simply to share ideas and learn from other people that may not have been in their same network if not for blogging. Lastly, I personally have learned more in the less than one year that I have been blogging than in all of my inservices and graduate classes combined. It's not even close! To be an effective blogger you need to read other blogs. Voila! Now you are exposed to a plethora of new ideas. Poof! Now you blog about something you read. It's almost like magic. Throughout this process you have just read, reflected, written, and created something that didn't come from a $5,000 expert speaker and trainer, or a $3,000 graduate course. It was free and you became your own best teacher. Why not provide the same opportunity to students? So the question now is which blogging service should we use? Blogger? WordPress? Edublogs? ePals? The one I am currently intrigued with is 21Classes. Hopefully, I will be able to decide, communicate with the parents, and get the students blogging soon (very soon)! Which leads me to...
  • Student Technology Training Sessions -- Fortunately, Hershey Middle School is progressive in its view of technology. As evidence, two other 8th grade teachers, the Principal, the Technology Integration Specialist, and I have been planning sessions to teach all 8th grade students basic information about blogging, wikis, rss, Google Docs, VoiceThread, and ethcial use. The plan is to do this over two days and for students to apply what they learn in some form. The original days we had planned to use have been pushed back to allow staff technology training to occur prior to the student training, so that all the teachers will be able to more easily and confidently use the tools in their class after students have been trained. It is nice to see an attempt to coordinate a plan to teach these tools. Hopefully, these training sessions can be a model for other grades, and maybe even other schools. Stay tuned...I will be updating our progress and results of the training sessions.

So, as you can see I have been...Wait...Stop!!! I forgot to mention that I will be traveling with our Assistant Principal to Indianapolis to attend the Open Minds/Open Source Conference from September 25th -- 27th. Unfortunately, I will miss our Back to School Night. However, the plan is for me to present via Skype. Hopefully, there will be no glitches, but I am preparing a Flowgram just in case.

O.K., now you can see why I have been so busy lately. I'm sure things will slow down...Philly field trip in November...Project Citizen starting in not long after Project Citizen...Oh well, June will be he before I know it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Election 2008 Online Resources

Since the Presidential campaign is heating up and the school year has officially begun there is no better time than the present to blog about online election resources for students. Before we know it November 4th with roll around and we will all witness history as either an African-American is elected President or a woman is elected Vice-President. Even if this were a run of the mill Presidential election it would still provide rare teachable moments about our electoral process, government, and American democracy that cannot be provided in any other non-Presidential election year. The following list should not be considered the end-all-be-all election resources list, rather it is what I have found during my time surfing the net. Many of the resources I found via an excellent blog post by Larry Ferlazzo entitled The Best Sites to Learn About Presidential Elections from his Websites of the Day blog. So, here is my newest top 10 list--The top ten Election 2008 online resources for students and teachers:

10-The New York Times interactive timelines for John McCain and Barack Obama.

9-Google's Power Reader in Politics shows us what online articles and blogposts the candidates (or more precisely their campaigns) have shared from their Google Reader. It's an interesting way to see what type of information each campaign wants to put before the public. It also includes the shared readings of various national syndicated columnists.

How about getting students their own Google Reader accounts and having them share what they are reading?

8-YouTube's You Choose '08 campaign channel hosts the official Obama and McCain YouTube channel, as well as videos showing the candidates on various issues and the latest campaign video news.

7-PBS's The Savvy Voter may be a holdover from the 2004 Presidential election, but it provides a nice overview of how citizens can become critical consumers of political information. The topics covered include: how to dissect an ad; how to interpret a debate; how to analyze a poll; how to evaluate a platform; how to assess a web site; and finally, how to view news critically.

6- Check out everything that PBS Vote 2008 Access, Analyze, Act: A Blueprint for 21st century Civic Engagement has to offer. There are loads of resources from lesson plans and interactives, to election rss feeds to podcasts. The lesson plans cover topics such as campaign finance, the campaign trail, civic engagement, the electoral college, political advertising, political humor, and polling (to name just a few of the topics). This site is really worth checking out.

5-The National Student/Parent Mock Election is another great resource with loads of lesson plans. However, the best feature is the national mock election on October 30th, 2008 that NSPME sponsors. Having students vote in a Presidential mock election before they turn 18 is an experience that demonstrates the importance of voting and civic participation.

4-If you want to find out about where all of the candidates stand on a whole slew of issues then you must go to the Pro/Con Election '08 website. Pro/Con goes beyond the major candidates to profile the political stances of all the primary candidates and the major 3rd party candidates. Oh, but there is much more...Other resources include: candidate summary chart, step-by-step guide to becoming a U.S. President, candidate videos, candidate speeches, candidate finances, and contact information for the candidate (to name just a few of the more interesting resources). The main Pro/Con site is a great debate/discussion starter, although it does not shy away from controversial issues.

3-The Living Room Candidate is an excellent collection of historic campaign television advertisements. This website is produced by the Museum of the Moving Image. Teaching students to be critical viewers of campaign rhetoric in tv ads is one of the most important things we should be teaching during the election season. What a great way to teach media literacy and critical mindedness that is so important for all citizens. The extensive collection includes such classic campaign ads like Lyndon Johnson's Daisy ad; George Bush's Dukakis Tank Ride ad; and, the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad. The videos are searchable by year (beginning with the 1952 campaign and including the 2004 campaign), type of commercial (biographical, children, commander-in-chief, documentary, fear, real people), and Issues (civil rights, corruption, cost of living, taxes, war, welfare). The collection also includes 2004 web ads and partisan ads, like the Swiftboat Veterans and ads. The Living Room Candidate also features lesson plans that focus on the influence of campaign ads, and the use of images and words for persuasion, among others.

2-eLECTIONS is an interactive game students play that demonstrates the electoral process. Students choose a platform to run on by choosing positions on a variety of issues. The game progresses in a game board-like style through a Presidential campaign with students having to make strategic decisions, like determining which fundraising events to attend to determining which states to campaign in. As the students progress through the primaries into the general election the decisions they make help to determine whether they are elected. This interactive game is a fun way to introduce topics related to the election that otherwise could be a challenge to make interesting for the average student (campaign finance, for example). There is also a teachers section that include lessons and resource videos. eLECTIONS is a creation of Cable in the Classrooms in partnership with CNN Student News, C-SPAN, and the History channel.

1-I love what C-Span Classroom has done to support our teaching of the election. There are 8 election resources that contain lessons aligned with C-SPAN video clips. The lessons include printable charts, graphic organizers, and discussion questions. The 8 resources are: Elections, Electoral College, Candidates, Debates, Campaign issues, Finances, Campaign ads, and polls. Again, each of these resources include lessons aligned with video clips--very nice!

Another nice feature is the StudentCam competition open to secondary students working in teams of 3. The topic is A message to the new President, where students create a short documentary explaining to the new President what the most important issue we face as a nation. The documentary must show multiple perspectives on the issue, while including C-SPAN content. Deadline for submission is 5 pm on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009. Here is the FAQ for the competition.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dipity-More than a Timeline (or how social networks work)

This summer I found out about a great online interactive timeline named Dipity. My original thought was that Dipity would be a cool tool to have students work collaboratively on timelines. Pretty cool stuff. Well, a few weeks ago I read a tweet from Vicki Davis, of the Coolcatteacher Blog, about a post entitled Dipity Do Da--An Interactive Collaborative Timeline To Track Wiki Contributions from Beth Kanter's Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media. What I found out was that Dipity was a whole lot more than just an interactive collaborative timeline. It also had the capability to track your personal contributions on wikis, blogs, Flickr, Twitter, and other web 2.0 sites.

I then created a timeline of my Tweets from Twitter (I know for you non Twitterers out there that sounds utterly ridiculous) and my American Cultures 2.0 blog posts. It provides me with another way to view my online posting habits. Take a look:

Of course, I love Dipity for the potential it creates in collaborating on class material. Here's a timeline I just began creating for topics we will be studying this year. The timeline is very incomplete because my plan is to have the students fill it in as we progress throughout the school year.

Finally, besides sharing the possibilities of Dipity, my intention is also to show those who are unfamiliar with the learning potential of social networks how they can be used for good, and not evil. I monitor Twitter most days. Usually it takes no longer than a minute or two, but on some days I find nuggets of great information that take me to other places on the web. This happens because I choose to follow people on Twitter that share interesting resources and information. For example, I know that Vicki Davis is a minefield of great resources so, of course, I follow her. On August 9th she simply shared an interesting post she read about Dipity and linked to the post. Since Vicki's tweet interested me I clicked on the link and found Beth Kanter's blog post about using Dipity to track wiki contributions. The rest is history, and now you are learning about Dipity, Twitter, Vicki Davis, and Beth Kanter. Talk about virtual networking!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

We're talking about SKILLS here

" nunchucku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills...Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills." --Napoleon Dynamite

Even Napoleon Dynamite recognized the need for skills. As a history teacher I teach the content of American history, but just as important are the skills that I teach to prepare thoughful and engaged citizens of the 21st century. Finally, there is a curriculum map that helps to determine what skills should be taught in a social studies classroom of the 21st century. This map goes beyond reading, writing, and communication skills (although it includes all of those) to include creativity, information literacy and adaptability skills. With technology and information changing at warp speed students need these new skills to be prepared for the reality of the world we live in today. Many people have seen the video "Did You Know? 2.0", but if you haven't take a few minutes to watch this thought provoking video that demostrates how today's world is far different than it was just 10 years ago and the impact it has on all of us.

(Created by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, and XPLANE)

So, in July, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the National Council for the Social Studies unveiled the very first 21st Century skills curriculum map. The document includes student outcomes and outcome examples for grades 4, 8, and 12. There are twelve specific skills contained in the map, they include:

  • creativity and innovation;
  • critical thinking and problem solving;
  • communication;
  • collaboration;
  • information literacy;
  • media literacy;
  • information and communication technologies;
  • flexibility and adaptability;
  • initiative and self direction;
  • social and cross-cultural skills;
  • productivity and accountability;
  • and leadership and responsibility.

I am generally not a fan of curriculum documents (one only needs to look at the Pennsylvania History Standards and the minutiae it contains to understand my way of thinking), but this document seems to meld the NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies) national standards to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) standards. This melding is what makes this curriculum map so intriguing and potentially valuable for social studies teachers.

21st Century Skills Curriculum Map

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Common Craft does it again

Common Craft is a company run by a husband and wife team that produces short, easy to understand videos that explain complicated topics. Most videos are focused on web applications and software, such as wikis, blogs, rss, etc... However, Common Craft has just created a video long overdue. Electing a U.S. President in Plain English succinctly explains the often misunderstood Presidential election process. This is something that I think students (and their parents) may find informative. Just in time for the 2008 election season.

(Thanks to Jim Gates for posting this on his site Tipline-Gates' Computer Tips.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Top 10 things I learned in Web 2.0 Class

This week I've been taking a Web 2.0 grad class at Harrisburg University. The instructor is Jim Gates of Tipline: Gates' Computer Tips fame. This course is easily the best class I have taken in years. I am learning so many new ways to teach and to learn. My greatest challenge now is to sift through all the resources to find the ones that will work for me and my students.

To help my sifting process here is a list of the top 10 things I learned this week:

10) Pecha Kucha--A great suggestion for presentations: 20 slides, 20 seconds each. This forces the presenter to be prepared and to tell a story to keep the audience happy. Here is an example of a Pecha Kucha presentation by Dan Pink:

9) ePals --I think I like ePals, but I'm still waiting for my student blog site??? I have my profile and email account, but why so long for the blogs? Maybe it's my fault, no, on second thought I can't remember the last time I made a mistake. Early onset senility has its advantages. Anyway, I do like the fact that you can search for classrooms around the world looking to virtually get together. The email and blogs can also be moderated.

8) Creating forms in Google Docs --On the first day of class Jim Gates had us fill out a form with our name, address and years teaching. Instantly we could see the spreadsheet Jim made filled in with our information. We then viewed a scatter plot graph showing the years of teaching experiences for the teachers in class. The coolest part was viewing Google Earth with pins locating where we all lived. Very cool mashup!

7) Live Blogging with Google Docs --It never ceases to amaze me what you can do with Google. Create a Google Docs presentation and you can live blog the thing. Amazing!

6) Thomas Friedman's MIT Milestone Presentation Keynote Address
Fascinating view of how technology is changing our world. Usually, people don't realize what's happening until too late, and then are forced to be reactive to events instead of proactive. Thankfully, Friedman's thesis of the flattening of the world and the forces that are causing this to happen helps to explain the current state we face in the world. This makes what we do as teachers even more important to help keep the U.S. relevant, competitive, and creative.

5) Coveritlive --Being new to live blogging I think I like it. I will need to participate more in live blogging events to be sure I like it, but the ease at which it took to set up an event made me want to give this a try.

4) Embedding UStream into Coveritlive --Now I think I really like Coveritlive! I still need to get a cam (I'm sooo last century), but once I do watch out! Until I get a cam I could still find a UStream and embed it into a Coveritlive session. Again, the ease of embedding UStream in Coveritlive makes me want to at least give it a whirl.

3) Diigo Groups --I love Delicious, but I never knew what to think of Diigo. Actually, I'm still not sure what I think of Diigo, but I now see a feature that I like. Diigo has groups of like minded people who share links, ideas and discussions in a professional network setting. I signed up for the Educators Group, organized by Coolcatteacher Vicki Davis; the Classroom 2.0 Group, organized by Steve Hargadon who formed the Classroom 2.0 Ning Group I already belong to; and the Social Studies Group, organized by Adrea Lawrence who I don't know (virtually speaking).

2) Today, Jim Beeghley of Teaching the Civil War with Technology blog was sitting beside me -- and I didn't realize it. Earlier when we were sharing blog posts I shared one I recently read from Jim's Blog on tagging flickr photos to Delicious. Two hours later he came in to observe the class and he sat next to me, with me, of course, being oblivious of who was sitting next to me. I actually thought Jim was some sort of Harrisburg U administrator. After I found out who he was and introduced myself, I let him know that I was the teacher he blogged about in his post More Uses of Web 2.0 Tools--"Oh, you're Mr. T!" "Yep, I'm Mr. T" Funny how you sort of know someone from reading their blogs, but when you meet them in person it makes the virtual connection real. Very exciting. Can't wait to have Jim come to Hershey and share his love of the Civil War with my students.

1) It's not just about technology. It's about how technology enhances our professional communication, networking, and learning, in order to improve the learning experiences of our students. This may not be something I learned this week, but it is something that was reinforced reinforced.

What a fun and exhausting week!!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Josh Hamilton's amazing story

As anyone who knows me knows I am a huge baseball and Cincinnati Reds fan. I am also a huge fan of Josh Hamilton, the former Red and current All-Star outfielder for the Texas Rangers. Last night Hamilton put on a home run hitting clinic at the annual MLB home run derby. He not only hit 28 home runs in one round (four more than anyone has ever hit in a round and twenty more than anyone hit in this years first round), but he consistently hit them farther and harder than anyone in the competition. He even hit one off the back wall of Yankee stadium. As a baseball fan I knew I was watching an amazing feat.

Before the home run derby I knew Hamilton would put on a hitting display. Last year I watched batting practice before a Reds-Pirates game and was absolutely astounded and captivated by watching him hit. He has such an easy and free swing, yet the ball just jumps off his bat. Every time he hit the ball it sounded crisper and louder than any other player I ever witnessed. His hits were like jets streaking across the sky at supersonic speed, while everyone else's hits were like, well, er, baseballs hit by talented, yet mortal baseball players. Yet, Josh Hamilton is mortal.

Josh Hamilton is certainly a modern-day version of The Natural, a story based on Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel about Roy Hobbs, a "natural" baseball phenom who's career is cut short, but who, against all odds, makes an amazing return 16 years later only to fall from grace at the end. Only, I prefer to think that Hamilton's story is more like the 1984 movie version of Malamud's novel. In the movie version Hobbs ends his career with the New York Knights by hitting a walk off, light shattering, ball unravelling, pennant winning home run. The movie ends with Hobbs playing catch with his son.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Hamilton's story is not over. How it will turn out is unknown, because Josh Hamilton is a drug addict. Each new day may be the day he relapses. It is only through his faith in God and the support of his friends and family that he has been given a second chance. And what a second chance it's been. After being out of baseball for three years and never before playing above single A minor league baseball, Hamilton is arguably the best baseball player in the game today. Also, take into consideration that the years he was out of baseball he was a suicidal crack addict.

Josh Hamilton's amazing story should be an inspirational story for everyone. He made amazingly stupid mistakes by getting into drugs in the first place. Haven't we all made stupid mistakes in our life? Most of us haven't been to where Josh Hamilton's been as far as addiction and despair (although there are many people there right now), but we have all regretted mistakes that we have made. That is part of being human--we are imperfect, we make mistakes, but we can make things right.

Isn't this something that we need to teach our students? Try your best, but when you fail (like we all do), learn from it and make things right. And there will be teachers, counselors, friends, parents who will be there to help.

If you want to learn more about Josh Hamilton and what he's been through read these excellent articles:

"I'm proof that hope is never lost," by Josh Hamilton (as told to Tim Keown)
ESPN The Magazine, July 5, 2007

Faith brings Texas Rangers' Hamilton back from the brink, by Evan Grant
The Dallas Morning News, February 29, 2008

The Super Natural, by Albert Chen
Sports Illustrated, May 27, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

145th History Carnival

Today I took my 11 year old daughter to Gettysburg to soak up the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg [Before I continue: she went willingly and she had a good time!]. Anyway, I consider Gettysburg in early July to be a history carnival, since the town is abuzz with reenactors, encampments, book signings, and Park Service battle walks. Like a carnival it gets crowded, but for me that is part of the appeal. As evidence of the crowd, my daughter and I played the license plate game and we witnessed 35 state and 2 Canadian province license plates. I'm sure if we really tried we could have found all 50 states.

Our first stop, after driving through two parking lots to find a spot to park (and license plates, of course), was the new Visitor's Center. This is a first class facility. We first went to the gift shop which has more souvenirs than the old Visitor's Center. I tried not to spend too much time in the book section, which could get boring for an 11 year old to wait for history nerd Dad to skim through several dozen books, so we moved on to the amazing lollipops (she got a watermelon and I got a peanut butter and jelly). We then went to the exhibits. We watched the three short movies dealing with each day at Gettysburg and tried our hand at a couple of the interactives. Before we left the exhibits we went into the Gettysburg Address room and listened to a rendition of the Address while reading it on an etching on a glazed window.

By this time we were getting hungry so we made our way to parking lot 3, and proceeded to General Pickett's Buffet. We then worked off lunch by walking into town. We stopped at some souvenir shops and at the Greystone American History Store (my favorite in Gettysburg). On the way back to the car we walked through the National Cemetery. We were going to go on a battle walk in the Cemetary, but the crowd was too big and we were getting tired so we made our way back to the car. I think it's important to visit the National Cemetery. It makes Lincoln's words in the Gettysburg Address more immediate by actually seeing the graves of the men who brought Lincoln to Gettysburg in the first place. We read some of the names from the soldiers graves and then walked through the hundreds of unknown graves. Those soldiers may be unknown to us today, but they were all known and missed by loved ones 145 years ago. Just a thought to put our lives into perspective (which is what Lincoln wanted us to do).

Before heading home we made a detour to the Cashtown Inn. Since my daughter is interested in ghost stories I thought the Cashtown Inn would be the perfect stop since it is allegedly haunted. It was also a building that witnessed most of the Army of Northern Virginia pass by in the days before, during, and after the battle. We couldn't go inside so we took in the views from outside and imagined what it would have been like to be there 145 years ago.

We then went home after spending a fun day at Gettysburg. The day was relatively light on battle history but it was successful because my daughter wants to return for an overnight visit. Plus, the kicker is we just got done watching the 1st part of the movie Gettysburg. I think I may be making a mini-me, history nerd out of my daughter. Scary thought...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Brain Rules: Now what?

My thoughts after reading the book:

"The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time. Businesses and schools praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes."
On one level this seems obvious, but on another level it seems somewhat surprising. It seems obvious that students passing notes or texting in class are not as productive and more likely to make careless mistakes, or miss important information, than students who are focused and on task. They may be the same students who ask a question that was just answered, or who failed to complete an important task on an assignment. However, don't we all multitask without any noticeably negative effects on our performance much of the time? Aren't effective teachers effective multitaskers? Should we be teaching students to be multitaskers, or should we be teaching students how to cut through distractions and focus on one task at a time? Or should we be doing both? When is it appropriate to multitask in class and when should students focus on one task at a time? One rule that makes sense to me is that when the teacher or another student is addressing the class, all attention should be focused on the speaker. That means if students are working on laptops, then the laptops must be down. When the speaker is done, the laptops may go up. I know this is something that I will need to work on in meetings. What do you think?

"Emotionally erousing events tend to be better remembered than neutral events."
This, too, seems obvious. The question is how do we stimulate student emotions in order to maximize learning? Here are two of my ideas:

  • Select visually stimulating resources. This is actually related to Brain Rule #10 "Vision trumps all other senses." I find video clips from movies and youtube can spark emotions that lead to increased interest from students better than boring documentaries and slide show-like video clips and PowerPoint presentations. Also, pictures like these are an effective way to get students thinking and engaged.
  • Don't avoid controversies. Encourage students to discuss and debate controversial issues as a way to process the emotions, in order to lead to a greater understanding of the context and issues related to the controversy. Challenging students way of thinking by playing devil's advocate can be an intellectually and emotionally stimulating endeavor for students as they come to grips with why they believe what they believe. This will lead to either a strengthened conviction in their original viewpoint, or a shifting of their thinking due to a logical argument. Regardless, it was the emotion that the controversy evoked that hooked the student in the first place. An example of how this could work in a history classroom could be prior to studying abolitionist John Brown's exploits students could be shown a video clip about a death penalty case and be asked to decide their views on capital punishment. After learning about John Brown and his hanging students could be asked if their original view on capital punishment has changed. How about if you personally knew someone who was a victim? John Brown and capital punishment can be jumping off points to investigate topics like revenge, mercy, and forgiveness. Students can then be instructed to find examples of each in history and today.

I have other thoughts about Brain Rules, but it is getting quite late. The main question is that if we know these things to be true, how does it impact how we teach? What things are we doing that brain research confirms are effective, and what are we doing that could be done more effectively?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Memories-What students remember

On one of the last days of school I asked students to write down their most memorable moments and most important things they learned this school year. I combined the list and made a word cloud out of their responses (I know this may be wordle overkill but I'm on a roll). I took out memorable responses that had to deal with me embarrassing myself in class, which, unfortunately for me, happens all too often.

I am pleased, and not surprised, to see the two field trips (Philadelphia and Gettysburg) are two of the most common responses. I would love to teach history without ever stepping into a classroom. The best way to teach history is to go [cliche alert] where history took place and walk in the footsteps of those who went before us. Instead of just watching videos, looking at maps, and discussing Pickett's Charge, why not actually walk the field where the 12,000 Confederate soldiers walked on July 3rd, 1863. Or instead of reading about our founding fathers (and mothers) why not sit in the actual pew where they worshiped (where many of our students did at Christ Church in Philadelphia). History can be experienced and true learning can be enhanced if we just know where to go. It is sad to think that schools have eliminated educational field trips due to budgetary constraints. We have a Civil War day, which is great, but it doesn't come close to the experience of actually being where history was made. On my family's way to the Poconos for vacation we made our obligatory history stop. I decided to take my family into a mine. What better way to teach my children to appreciate the things they have and the life they live. The 40 minutes we spent inside that mountain will be remembered by my girls for the rest of their lives. I believe that the field trips my students took to Philadelphia and Gettysburg will be remember for the rest of their lives, as well. Will they remember all the details? No. Will they have an increased interest to learn more about our history? I believe so!

Another large response was Project Citizen. Students had to learn about public policy so they could determine a problem in the community that was a public policy issue. The students worked collaboratively researching a local problem. A large part of the research was to interview experts and to seek out information from reliable sources. The students then broke into 4 groups to prepare a presentation on the Problem, Alternate Solutions, the Proposed Policy, and an Action Plan. Each group had subcommittees working on a wiki, display board, information binder, and a speaker. The key to the whole experience was the presentation to real local policymakers. The students pitched their policy proposal to a School Board member and two Township Supervisors. The real life nature of the project is what made it so memorable.

How else can we make our learning experiences for students real life?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My internet habits exposed

As I've been recently reading through some education blogs (Coolcatteacher, Practical Theory, Weblogg-ed) I've discovered Wordle. It's a website that creates word clouds from almost anything. For example, copy and paste the Gettysburg Address and the most frequently used words show up larger and bolder. The really cool thing is that you can create tag clouds from your tags. Here is mine (screen captured using Jing).

I will be comparing my tag clouds from time to time to see how my tagging (and web browsing habits) change over time.

In what ways is Wordle relevant for the classroom? Can word clouds help students improve reading comprehension? or gain a greater understanding of a historic document or speech? or help students see relationships between two historic documents or speeches?

What other thoughts or ideas do you have?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Skills, not content

When reflecting on what was learned this year it is my hope that students consider the non-content related things they may have learned. My last post was dedicated to the content that was taught, but that is only part of what I was trying to teach this year. How about skills? Not the type of skills that Napoleon Dynamite was referring to, but real skills that will help students be successful citizens and students. Here is an outline of the most important skills we worked on:


  1. wikis (American Revolution project, Project Citizen wikis, Wikipedia)
  2. blogs (Class Scribe, Debate This!, Final Project)
  3. Google (Gmail, Reader, News, Groups, Blogger)
  4. Delicious--social bookmarking
  5. Animoto

Be able to apply these resources to real learning by communicating and collaborating more effectively


  1. researching local issues
  2. identifying local officials
  3. preparing presentation (binder, poster board, wiki)
  4. public presentation to public officials

Understand that you have a role to play as a citizen, and how to effectively play that role

Writing and Thinking

  1. Summarizing (Cornell Note taking Method, gist statement, mini-saga)
  2. Supporting a point of view (Moodle Discussion forums, Blog comments, Debate This! posts)
  3. Challenging a point of view
  4. Cause and Effect (unintended consequences of public policies, Causes of Civil War)

Be able to make sense of the world around you by understanding information presented to you in written and oral form

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Cultures Word Cloud

Here is a tag cloud I created based on some of the topics we studied in class this year. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a good place to start a reflection on what we learned this year. The larger and bolder the term indicates that more emphasis was placed on it during the year. The Gettysburg Address is at the beginning and end of the tag cloud, since it was the theme for the year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Amazon Online Reader : A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

Amazon Online Reader : A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

I read A Whole New Mind a few months ago and was impressed by author Daniel Pink's view of the increasing importance of creativity in the world today. Pink argued that the modern forces of abundance, Asia, and automation has created a need for people in the United States who are willing to be what he called "high concept" and "high touch". We have moved in history from the Agrarian age of farmers, to the industrial age of factory workers, to the Information age of knowledge workers, to where we currently are: the Conceptual age of creators and connectors. Pink believes that because of this modern reality the people who embrace the "high concept" and "high touch" senses will have an advantage in the Conceptual age. The 6 senses of the Conceptual age are:

  • Design (as opposed to just function)

  • Story (as opposed to just argument)

  • Symphony (as opposed to just focus)

  • Empathy (as opposed to just logic)

  • Play (as opposed to just seriousness)

  • Meaning (as opposed to just accumulations)

With Pink's thesis in mind we have been studying the Civil War a bit differently than students in my class have in the past. I have been focusing more intently on teaching the Civil War through Pink's 6 senses. For example:

  • The trip to Gettysburg highlighted the STORY of soldiers from Virginia who were caught up in an event beyond their control. Each student recieved the identity of a Virginia soldier who took part in Pickett's Charge. After hearing the STORY of their experience and walking the same ground they walked, students found out the destiny of their soldier. Students then had to EMPATHIZE with their soldier by writing a letter detailing their soldiers experience at Gettysburg.

  • The study of the advantages and strategies of the North and South during the Civil War gave students a big picture view of the War, much like a Conductor needs when conducting a SYMPHONY orchestra. We didn't just focus on one aspect of the war, rather we focused on the advantages and strategies allowing us to make MEANING out of the flow of the War.

  • Students are currently finishing up their online debate on the statement: The Confederacy was doomed to fail in the Civil War. Students have had to accumulate many points of view and pieces of information to make MEANING, in order to effectively communicate their point of view in the debate.

  • Students have read an actual account of a Civil War soldier (who by the way was my great, great Grandfather) who escaped the Confederate Prisoner of War camp called Andersonville. The STORY illustrates another reality of the Civil War and the time period of the mid 19th century. Students then had to DESIGN an illustrated Storyline (looks like a comic strip) taking 6 events and using direct quotes and illustrations to tell the STORY of my great, great Grandfather.

  • Currently we are working on creating a Civil War STORY based on an actual Civil War photograph that I posted on VoiceThread. In telling the story students will need to make a point or moral that illustrates a larger MEANING. They will also need to DESIGN their story with a twist or irony, making their STORY more interesting. The students who will succeed the most in this assignment are those that not just good writers, but also able to use SYMPHONY to their advantage. It is difficult to include all of the aspects of the STORY that I want and do the Civil War part of the STORY justice if students were not able to see a larger picture than what the photograph shows. Therefore, we are using Ambrose Bierce's An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge short STORY as an example of how a well DESIGNED STORY can illustrate the experience of a Civil War soldier.

  • The last of the 6 senses that I have yet to mention is PLAY. During Civil War Day students got to learn a lot about the Civil War and life in the 19th century from various reenactors. However, a full day of going from station to station hearing the serious aspects of the Civil War can be a bit much for the average 8th grader. With that in mind, Mr. Finkill, Mr. Beamer, and I presented the 3rd bi-annual Civil War skit. WIth Mr. Finkill as the "straight" man informing the audience of various aspects of the CIvil War, Mr. Beamer and I had fun torturing Mr. Finkill. Based on the laughter it was apparent that our PLAY (and we did PLAY) had the effect of educating while entertaining. In addition, students seem to have a good time PLAYING with the cannonball.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Civil War Day

This is an Animoto video I made for Civil War Day. The 8th grade social studies teachers (mostly Mr. Finkill) organize Civil War Day every two years since it is such an undertaking. Regardless of the forcasted rain tomorrow I am sure everyone will learn a lot and maybe even be inspired to learn more about our past.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The New Gettysburg Visitor's Center and Cyclorama Building

Gettysburgvisitorscenter 024, originally uploaded by atitzel.

Ths is is a picture I took of the new Visitor's Center and Cyclorama building at Gettysburg. This facility will officially open on April 14th. Although it will be open when we take our trip to Gettysburg, we will not be spending time there. However, if you get a chance I highly encourage you to take a trip to check out the new interactive exhibits, 22 minute feature film, and (opening in September ) the refurbished Cyclorama painting. This is a state of the art facility that is a must see prior to heading to the battlefield.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

History Turns at Gettysburg

On Tuesday, April 22 our Team will be taking a field trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park. On that day we will literally walk in the footsteps of those brave soldiers who gave the "last full measure" of their lives in order for their country to survive. Whether that country was the United States of America, or the Confederate States of America, those soldiers fought on the very soil where we will be standing. The conditions they endured on those 3 days in July, 1863, is impossible for us to fully appreciate or comprehend, but maybe we can experience a slight glimpse into their world if we allow ourselves to imagine and empathize with their lives 145 years ago. The world has changed dramatically since then, but how different would the world be today if events at Gettysburg would have turned out with a Confederate victory? Gettysburg could have been the turning point battle on the road to a permanent Confederate States of America. Robert E. Lee would be the George Washington of his new nation. How many of us would be proud citizens of the C.S.A., instead of the U.S.A.? More importantly, how much longer would slavery have lasted and what would race relations be like today? What would international relations be like between the U.S. and C.S.?

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Duel--Vice President Burr kills Alexander Hamilton

This is a quick and easy video I made using Animoto. I just uploaded the pictures and selected the music from Animoto's music library, and voila, a professionally designed video. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Are you a thoughtful person???

I don't mean are you a kind and considerate person. I mean do you think about things? Do you love to ask questions? Are you curious? Do you love to read for pleasure? Are you imaginative?

I am concerned that too many people nowadays are not that thoughtful. Our attention spans have been reduced to the point where a 30 second television advertisment doesn't really hold our attention unless something shockingly entertaining happens. Are we entertaining ourselves to death?

Here is a graph produced by the Killian & Company Ad Agency. Think about the questions I posed under the graph.

Read about how the Killian and Company ad agency uses knowledge of short attention spans to their advantage.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Project Citizen--Is it over?

Now that the Project Citizen presentations are over it is time to reflect on our experience. Here are some thoughts that students had:

What did our class do well--
"Our class provided plenty of research and detail on the imortant fact given. From our problem statement to action plan; we always had research backing (our position), which also limited questions from the panel"

"We researched ourproject well and didn't leave any part out. We even researched problems that might occur during our policy"

"We were able to back up all of our information with research and I think that made a huge difference"

"All of our answers were very specific and did not leave anything left unanswered"

"In the beginning of practicing speeches, we weren't very good. Over time though, I thought we got better each time"

"Everyone was very serious about being on stage in front of important people"

Project Citizen is about the process and not the end result. What that means is the learning is never over. If a water policy would be enacted, then what? Does that mean that your job is done. As a citizen we all need to take the responsibility to make our communities better. It can be done through volunteering, but it can also be done at the local policy level. Project Citizen has hopefully taught the lessons of how to make real change in a community. Through organization, research, and knowledge ordinary citizens can make a huge difference. Another value that needs to be emphasized is persistence, because change usually takes time. How persistent are we? Will we use what was learned in Project Citizen to become more responsible citizens? Is the Project over?

Friday, January 25, 2008

What is success?

As we approach our Project Citizen presentations I think it would benefit us if we think about what it will take to be successful in our presentations? I'm not just talking about the four presenters, but rather, the entire class. Each one of us had a role to play in putting together the presentation, whether it was in designing the poster board, organizing the binder, or creating the wiki. Did you do the best that you absolutely could do to complete the task you were given? If you were unsure of something did you ask a classmate or me to clarify your concern? Were you concerned about putting forth your absolute best effort?

If you answer YES to each of these questions then you should go into the presentation with a calm confidence knowing that you have done everything in your power to prepare. If you answered NO to each of these questions then you are more likely to be less confident and more nervous going into the presentation resulting in a greater likelihood that the presentation will be a disappointment.

What should define success? My favorite definition of success comes from probably the greatest living coach and teacher--former UCLA bacsketball coach John Wooden. He never defined success by the number of national titles he led UCLA to (10 in 12 years), or how long a winning streak he could engineer (88 games in a row, and 38 in a row in national championship tournament play), or how many perfect seasons he could lead UCLA to (4). Coach Wooden's famous definition of success is "the peace of mind derived from making the absolute and complete effort to do the best of which you are capable." [The Essential Wooden, McGraw-Hill, 2007]There is nothing about winning in his definition because winning is not the same as success. You can win a game, but play terribly and not deserve to actually win. Should that be considered success?

My hope for the Project Citizen presentations is that we experience real success, not because we get positive feedback, but because of the effort we put into the project and a recognition that we have learned some valuable lessons about how we can make a positive change in our community.