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Keeping Up With What’s New in the Digital World!

I’m always amazed at the knowledge of colleagues and wonder, How did they learn about that app or this site!?! Digital tools and trends are growing exponentially, however their quality and usefulness are not all created equal! It’s a real challenge to keep up!

How can a team of teachers stay abreast of new developments in the digital world in order to incorporate great instructional tools that will engage and empower their students?  Chances are there is a wide range of knowledge and skill with digital tools on a team.  However, all teachers must embrace the digital world if they want to remain relevant to their students whose lives often center on the variety of opportunities presented by the web. This chart from the Pew Internet and American  Life Project shows the degree that teenagers are using the internet.

Chart showing 88% of teenagrs are using the internet

Teams with common planning time can develop their own professional learning experiences around the use of digital tools when they

  • designate one team member as the “scout” who finds new sites and apps and shares them with teammates
  • use two or three meetings a month to explore together one or two of the scout’s discoveries
  • commit to using one new digital tool each marking period across all of your classes
  • recruit a team of students who will help you with your digital plan
  • reflect with students about the usefulness of the new tool.

Team teachers must take responsibility for developing their own expertise in digital learning.

Here’s great resource for keeping up with what’s new and helping you identify useful digital instructional strategies.  I found it because I  follow a couple tech integrators on Facebook who are always posting useful links.  A post from Shawn Kimball, a technology integration specialist at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine led me to Scoop.it! Into the Driver’s Seat “Building the independence of learners through thoughtful uses of technology”– it’s an online magazine.  With just a click you can follow it and receive the “Scoop of the Day” via email!

Some of the articles online right now are:

  • National STEM Video Challenge: Student Video Game Design Challenge
  • 12 Educational Trends to Watch in 2012
  • QuadBlogging “In terms of young children developing as writers, this is the most interesting development in 20 years.”
  • How to create a collaborative class eBook
  • Download and Convert Web Video from the 100 Best Video Sharing Sites

There are other sites out there that will help teams stay current.  What are your favorites?


Student Blogging Sounds Great, But What Does It Look Like!?!

Everyone knows that middle school students ought to be writing across the curriculum a lot more than they do in most schools.  And…everyone knows it is often like pulling teeth to engage students in a writing project.  Enthusiastic writing teachers, however,  will tell us that it is quite possible to overcome  student reluctance  to write and write well.   A couple of conditions need to be in play.

Students need:

  • an authentic audience
  • a choice in what they write about
  • to feel that what they have to say is valued
  • examples of good writing

Teams around the country find  blogging is a powerful way to give students voice, choice, and an authentic audience.  Students are willing to write and take pride in the quality of their work.  Teams working together offer students a variety of opportunities to blog:

  • Displaying their work
  • Offering their expertise
  • Commenting on local, state, national, and international issues
  • Maintaining the team blog for communicating with families

But some readers are thinking…Yes, but what does it look like?????

Here are some samples.

1. Leawood Middle School blogs from Leawood, Kansas : http://lmsblogs.org/ 

A blog discussing the difference between evidence and data

The blogs in this middle school are used for several purposes.  In some cases, students are summarizing the learning in a particular class for the day.  Just think about the positive aspects of this blogging!

  • Communicates with parents what is going on in class
  • Lets absent students keep up with what they missed in class
  • Students are synthesizing the day’s lesson and identifying its big ideas

The blogs are also used as a way to share projects and learning resources. Everyone has access to the information 24/7.

2. Paul Bogush’s Blog Page –Moran Middle School in Wallingford, Connecticut: http://moranmustangs.org/

He uses his page for several purposes–communicate with students, with parents, and to have students blog. A team could use a blog for the same purposes!

Paul Bogush's blog
Student work is kept in a Google Reader Folder which is open to the public. Other middle schools use free blogging sites like WordPress.  Students only use their first names and there is no identifying information. Mr. Bogush’s students blog on a variety of topics related to their social studies curriculum and what’s going on in the world. The blog posts are not long, but it appears that the students are writing frequently.

Examples of blog posts3. Heather Wolpert-Gawron shares in a post the steps she takes to introduce her students to blogging (http://tweenteacher.com/2010/09/08/blogging-with-middle-schoolers-frontloading-and-first-steps/). The post includes questions from her readers such as “How did you convince your administration to allow you to do this?” Heather gives thoughtful responses that teams will find helpful.

'TweenTeacher blog heading

Wes Fryer, a well know education blogger (Moving at the Speed of Creativity), wrote in favor of middle schoolers blogging He offers these reasons why our students should be blogging:

  • Practice writing
  • Learn how to use hyperlinked writing well and responsibly
  • Discover their own, unique voice

Communicating digitally is an important skill we should be teaching our students.  Teams that collaborate and give students multiple experiences with blogging will be addressing 21st century communication as well as traditional writing skills.

Silent Sustained Reading as a Team Strategy

Silent Sustained Reading time should be a part of every team’s schedule! Everyone benefits when students have time to choose texts they wish to read, whether they be fiction, informational, print or digital!

  •  Providing time for students to read in school helps them develop the habit of reading for pleasure. Widely read students have more background knowledge than those who do not.  Marzano in Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement states “…the research literature supports one compelling fact: what students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they learn new information relative to the content.(p.1)  Background knowledge correlates with academic achievement in all subjects, therefore it makes sense for a team to carve out time for silent sustained reading.
  • Reading leads to a wider vocabulary. A large written vocabulary is a huge indicator future academic success (Marzano).
  • Reading rate and fluency increase the more students read.  They need these skills to be well developed as they face more and more complex texts as they move up the grades.

Twenty minutes of independent reading three or four times a week is a fairly simple practice to implement. Robert Marzano in Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement summarizes the important characteristics of an effective SSR program:

  • Programs are continuous over several years.
  • Students have easy access to materials (classroom libraries, friendly well-staffed library).
  • Students are encouraged to read material that interests them.
  • The environment is relaxed and conducive to personal reading.
  • Students receive encouragement and positive feedback about the topics they choose to read about.
  • There is staff training that relates to the purpose and philosophy of SSR.
  • Students do not see SSR as just another class where they will be tested or have to show improvement.  SSR time needs to be non-threatening.
  • Students do need to interact with the text and with each other (sharing and discussing what they are reading).
  •  SSR needs to occur at least 2 times a week.

Team teachers need to model the behaviors and attitudes they wish to see in students: reading during SSR (not correcting papers!), sharing interesting books or articles or websites with students, and listening to students talk about their reading.

When researching SSR on the web, many sites pop up loaded with Thou Shall Not Do’s for students.  My suggestion is to create the feeling of a intellectually-fun book club atmosphere that includes using Web 2.0 tools for discussing what students are reading:

Team Androscoggin SSR Guidleines

Our SSR Motto: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss

  1. Choose texts that you are really interested in reading!  During SSR, we all will be totally engrossed in our self-selected text or sharing  something cool from our reading!
  2. When you want to share something with another reader, please be respectful of others who need it relatively quiet in order to concentrate.  Move to the conference area of the room and use soft voices.
  3. Use headphones when listening to an audio book.
  4. Do share with everyone a great “read”! Ask for a reader’ circle or post to our SSR wiki.  If it’s from the web, include the URL.
  5. Sometimes partner up with a pal and read the same text so you can talk about as you go along.  You might partner up with a favorite adult outside of school.
  6. If you finish with a book and are willing to allow others to borrow it, please leave it in the classroom library.
  7. Remember we all agreed at class meeting that everyone would either post to the wiki at least once a week or share out loud during Friday’s Reader’s Circle.
  8. Be brave and post a review online!

It is important that the team collaborate in the organization and management of SSR.  Students figure out very quickly which teachers are not committed to the program, and SSR will disintegrate pretty fast.

Below are some sites where students can either look for book reviews written by other students  or write their own and submit them for publication on the web.

URL’s for sharing book reviews

Be sure to check these sites yourself before sharing with students.

http://eduscapes.com/tap/topic87.htm   Lots of sites to find reviews & submit reviews

http://www.buildingrainbows.com/home.php Book reviews and discussions

http://flamingnet.com/  Young adult books reviewed by young adult readers

http://www.classicalcharter.com/ForKids/BookReviews.html  Book reviews from the students at Classical Charter School in Appleton, Wisconsin

If one Googles “student book reviews”  lots of possibilities come up, especially school websites full of student recommendations for good books

Resources for Teachers

Powerpoint of the basics of SSR: www.liberty.k12.mo.us/ms/LMC/SSR/SSR.ppt

Ideas for organizing & managing: http://www.smallschoolsproject.org/index.asp?siteloc=tool&section=sustain

SSR & the unmotivated reader: http://www.hotchalk.com/mydesk/index.php/component/content/article/148-language-arts-blog-by-theresa-hinkle/849-ssr-and-the-unmotivated-reader

General overview: http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr038.shtml

A must read on the research controversy: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/whatsnu_nrp-ssr.html

Be a Tech Savvy Teaching Team

Digital devices — laptops, iPads and other tablets, iPodTouches–are appearing in schools all over the world.  Sometimes they just arrive and you are not provided the time nor the training to learn how to integrate them effectively into your teaching.  A savvy team will collaborate to devise its own professional development in technology integration.  Fortunately there are an endless number of resources on the web you can easily access.  Some of these resources are pretty technical and may seem intimidating to folks who are just beginning the process of integrating digital learning.  However, technology integration blogs and websites are being written that neophytes will find useful!  You don’t have to be a techno-expert to integrate digital learning–you just have to be willing to try something new.  Remember, your team is surrounded by experts!  If you can’t get something to work, your students will figure it out and save the day.

Here are five terrific sites related to digital learning.  Check them often–there is something new on them every day.  Better yet–sign up for a RSS feed or email alert.  What’s an RSS feed you ask?  In the least technical language, it allows you to receive updates whenever anything new is posted to the site.  Don’t know how to set one up?  Ask a student or go to http://www.ehow.com/how_5861345_set-up-rss-feed.html.

  1. Wes Fryer’s blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativityhttp://www.speedofcreativity.org/ Wes is an award-winning blogger, and his site is great fun to explore.  One recent posting describes Story Patch an app for the iPad which allows a writer to use both text and graphics to create stories.  The team might spend 20 minutes looking through his blog and find an app or a website or a training that you all want to try.  Working together with teammates for support makes trying something new a lot less daunting.
  2. Larry Ferlazzo is a ELL teacher from Sacramento, California, and his blog Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day (http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/) has multiple postings each day.  He’s a teacher so he is on the lookout for sites that have a practical application in the classroom.  Recent topics include (1) crafting interactive lessons using YouTube,(2) digital maps resources, and (3) resources on Egypt.
  3. Maine121 is the website of Maine’s technology initiative.  Going into its ninth year, MLTI is the longest running 1:1 technology integration project in the world.  Maine Learning Technology Initiative Professional Development (http://maine121.org/) provides free access to webcasts (archived and live), blogs, and resources on digital learning. Recent topics include RTI Tier 1 resources, technical writing, and copyright considerations.
  4. Maine Arts blog (not really just for Fine Arts teachers): http://meartsed.wordpress.com/. Ideas and happenings related to the Arts are cataloged here.  Many of the ideas described can be adapted in other subject areas.
  5. iTunesU (http://www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/) is a free resource that works on any platform–PC or Apple.  There are podcasts and videos that can be used in your classes or for your own edification.  It is an unbelievable resource. If you don’t have iTunes on your computer, download it–now—-it’s free.

Don’t wait for your school system to provide training.  Be a proactive and tech savvy team and create your own professional development related to digital learning.  Don’t know where to begin? Ask your students how they would like to learn and what resources they would recommend–they will have great advice!  Take it.

Updating the Research Process

Our current students will be doing research for the rest of their lives. Today, they look for the best buys on electronics, ways to get around the school’s firewall and Internet filter, or gossip on their favorite sports stars. Many also research more serious topics of special interest to them.  In the future they will be researching mortgage rates, medical conditions, cars, politics, and alternative energy for their homes.  The favorite president or country research project is no longer sufficient to ensure our students gain the life long searching skills they need.

Digital literacy, digital fluency, digital information skills–these terms have replaced the last century’s “research process”.  Today’s students have access to the world via the Internet and they must use additional skills to become savvy researchers.  It is critical that they understand where information is coming from, decide whether or not it is reliable, be able to synthesize ideas from multiple sources, and be expert at gleaning information from text, images, and audio–often presented in a mixed format that is not sequentially organized with bold print titles.

One teacher cannot teach all of these skills on his or her own.  It needs a team effort. The first step for the team is to make the librarian/media specialist and technology integrator your best friends. They possess the knowledge you want to tap into as a team! Bring them cookies, compliment their outfits, and ask to see pictures of their children and/or pets. Most of all welcome them to your common planning time meetings to talk about developing your team approach to digital literacy/fluency/information skills.

Some schools have an over-worked librarian with no time to collaborate with teams, and a tech integrator is simply a figment of someone’s imagination.  If this is your school situation, you are on your own for planning.  Fortunately the same Internet which makes the research process more complex also offers you many resources to use in planning a coordinated approach to digital literacy/fluency/information skills.

The first step is to list the skills you want students to master and then using a school calendar and curriculum guides actually block out when it makes sense to teach specific skills. Decide who on the team will introduce skills and who will reinforce them.  Of course the team also has to figure out how to determine if students have internalized these skills.

Two great places to start the process of planning a team approach to teaching digital literacy/fluency/information skills are the Big 6 websites:



These sites will help the team identify those critical skills that must be taught.  Then the you can move on to planning your calendar.  It should be remembered that teaching each skill set does not have to lead to a massive research project; it might be that one group of lessons concentrates on evaluating websites, and then the next lesson (perhaps in a different class) has students practicing these evaluation skills and adding to them. Perhaps the next skill will be note taking with digital resources.

Once you have identified the skills then it is time to block out a tentative team calendar that integrates the teaching of these skills into your existing curriculum work.

Sample Team Digital Fluency Calender

Two keys for making this process work well for you and your students:

  1. Be flexible and supportive; the calendar isn’t engraved in stone, it can change!
  2. Be committed to the process; gently hold one another accountable for teaching and reinforcing the designated skills.

There are many fantastic websites that will help a team plan an effective approach to teaching digital literacy/fluency/information skills.

1. Want to challenge students’ beliefs about their knowledge of the Internet and their searching abilities?

2. Citations in 2011 (It’s much more complex in the digital world, but there are sites that will help out the researcher!)

Citation Machine

3. Essential questions change a regurgitation of facts project to a problem solving and creative thinking event.

4. Need to see the possibilities? Here are some examples of digital projects.

Will Social Networking Change Teams and Their Work?

“Teamwork has become the safe and default way of working in organizations. In fact most of us have a long-lasting romance with teams. Yet managers rarely stop and question the assumptions behind team mania. Like breathing, we just do it. Is teamwork still a safe bet or is it last century?” from “The Dream Team of the Future” at Management-Issues (http://www.management-issues.com/2011/1/12/opinion/the-dream-team-of-the-future.asp).

The author of this article, Karsten Jonsen, is describing, of course, teams in the business world, not middle grades teams or groups of young adolescents working in groups on a project.  It would be like comparing apples and oranges to make too many direct connections between what happens with teams in the business world and middle grades interdisciplinary teams.  However she makes an important point about social networking changing the dynamics of teaming that suggests some interesting possibilities for middle schools and their teams to consider.

Jonsen states, “The new generations (i.e. millennium kids or project generation) like to form their own teams, networks, Facebook groups, hang-out meetings or whatever it takes. They need freedom and support for different ways of working.”

Hmmmmm…how might teams make good use of social networking in school?  Here are some things that I know are already happening in middle schools and a couple of ideas I’ve just brainstormed:

  • Students work in groups across classes, teams, and grade level using tools like iChat, IM, Skype, Google docs.
  • Students work with students in other parts of their state, our country, and  across the world on projects using sites like ePals (http://www.epals.com/).
  • Students invite experts in the field to be part of their team when working on projects (Vital Signs: http://www.gmri.org/education/vitalsigns.asp).
  • International teams of students and teachers are created and work together for a year using technology like Tanberg Video (http://www.tandberg.com/ & at Skowhegan Area Middle School: http://www.msad54.org/sams/tandbergprojects/wales/index.shtml).
  • Students collect their own data for research projects by using their social networks—Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Teachers have mentors from beyond their school to help them improve their pedagogy and content knowledge using video conferencing.
  • Students and teachers join Internet groups of folks with similar interests and the ideas and skills they learn in these groups are integrated into their school studies.

Of course any of these ideas need careful thought and planning, and sites need to be vetted for safety and appropriateness.  However, now that we are in the second decade of the 21st century it is time to stop lollygagging around and fully integrate the power of technology into our schools’ curriculum, instruction and assessment!

Check out the Maine International Center for Digital Learning (MICDL) for research and resources.

I would love to hear how others are using social networking tools to advance teaching and learning—please leave a comment.

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