I have the honor of working with teachers in Seguin, Texas this week.  My law-making friend, Mr. Murphy, comes through again by having Edublogs do a website update only a could of weeks ago, thus changing all of my screenshots and helpful tips. So I have reworked the handout page and updated the information on it.

Also posted on the Creating Your Blogs page, this is the handout for my updated 2009 Edublog Training for Teachers: EdublogSetup09

This morning, Mancub1 announced that he will no longer cut his waffles.  Seems that since he can’t cut them perfectly, like daddy, he feels emmense failure and it will ruin every morning from now on. Guess which speech didn’t work today?  “Son, the more you practice it, the better you will get.” Nope, he doesn’t like making mistakes.

Unfortunately, I get to make many mistakes and thus, must learn from them. For example, I started using the new Flickr upload button in iPhoto ’09 not too long ago. Right away, I realized there were major limitations.  My quick web search provided very limited understanding of the new iPhoto ’09 features, so I powered on with my Flickr uploads. Here are a few things I learned.

1- By selecting a photo(s) and clicking the Flickr button, my photos will get uploaded to Flickr into a set named for the event in iPhoto that houses my photo. Nowhere in that process can I a) select an existing set b) customize the photo size or c) add keywords.  One must add keywords before any upload. (Add keyword help in Luis’ pdf listed at the end)

Flickr in iPhoto '092- Clicking the Flickr button will make a new Flickr album in iPhoto ’09. That link is a live link to the Flickr set of the same name. Make a change to one and it effects the other.

3- The hard lesson was that even though the newly uploaded photo was in my main photostream, deleting the Flickr album in iPhoto ’09 removed the corresponding set on Flickr AND ALL OF THE PHOTOS IN THAT SET ONLINE along with all of the comments added to that photo by others.

4- I eventually found that, while I can’t select a specific set when using the Flickr button, I can just drag a photo from my library directly to an existing Flickr album in iPhoto and it will upload to that specific set online.  If I want to add to my 365 set, I no longer use the Flickr button, but drag the photo to the album already connected to Flickr.

5- Since I can add to the album, I can also rename the Flickr album and that change will also be made to my online set.

6- If I want to delete the Flickr album in iPhoto ’09, then I will first go to the photos in that set online and remove them from the set. They will remain in the main photostream, but not the set. Now, when I delete the set or the Flickr album in iPhoto, the online photo will remain as a photo in my photostream.  (I forsee a huge problem with trying to do that for 365 photos later when I want to clear up space in my iPhoto source list.)

7- Using online Flickr’s batch tools, I can remove a large number of photos from a particular set at one time, or batch add to another set.  Used wisely, I shouldn’t loose anymore online photos.

8- Selecting all of the photos in my new Flickr album in iPhoto ’09, I can Window-View Keywords to see all of the keywords used by that group and even add a keyword to all of them. Whatever change I make there will also be made to my online photo information on Flickr.

Before I had the lesson forced upon me, I wasn’t a huge fan of iPhoto’s Flickr tool set. Pushing my way through, I have found that I really like the photo management connection between iPhoto ’09 and Flickr.  The only remaining flaw I see is the inability to specifically constrain my photo upload size.

Now, when I started looking for help with iPhoto ’09, amazingly enough, all of my Google searching never came up with Apple’s Find Out How on iPhoto ’09. Find that was a fluke, but it’s a great video tutorial on keywording in ’09.  Google found Luis Perez’s iPhoto ’09 pdf (from Florida Center for Instructional Technology) .  That is an extensive pdf that would be very helpful in any ’09 training.  (Thanks for putting this online Luis!!)

With good integration between iPhoto and Flickr, it is even easier to get your photos from your computer-based collection to a place online where you can share it in your blogs or wikis.

chat-evilI admit it. I had another mini-hissy fit yesterday. Sure, it’s not the most manly action during one’s day, but I admitted it and tried to move on. Why did I go to the depth of a hissy? My newly found and tested web resource, http://oovoo.com , is now blocked by the school district. This site is a great video conferencing tool that works for Macs and pc’s, works well, and looks great online.  Why do we block it?  Because it contains a chat element and we just can’t allow chatting in school.

It wasn’t until this morning that I actually saw the silver lining. Yea!! We block chat sites!!  Accepting that idea tells me that technology is making great strides in our schools. Think about it.

Who are we blocking? We’re not blocking adults. One of the major reasons we are sticking with Lotus Notes as an email client is so the administrative offices downtown can use Sametime chat. You can walk through the hallways and hear the IM bells going off across the building.  We block students. Students who can be distracted from doing their job by the interruption of meaningless chat. (Ironic?) Students who don’t need to be discussing educationally relevant ideas. Students who don’t need a textual record of conversations held at school. Giving students the ability to chat would be entirely disruptive to the educational structure of the 19th century classroom.  The fact that adults outside of the administrative arena just happen to be caught in the chat block is irrelevant.

Where are we blocking chat? We don’t block cell phone chat, because they haven’t figured out how to do that yet.  Students at some schools can text during lunch, passing periods, or the educationally useless time before or after school. We block chat on computers in classrooms, libraries, and any room inside the district.  We take a communication tool used by a large majority of students outside of school and cut them off from it entirely during their increasingly irrelevant school time.

What’s my silver lining? If we are blocking chat technology in our schools,  it must because we have so many students actively using classroom computers for research and constructivist learning projects at school.  If the students weren’t getting onto the computers, they wouldn’t need to block chat sites. If students weren’t getting access during the day, there wouldn’t be a need for a relevant online communication tool. Administrators are validating the usefulness of technology through their admission that students are actively using technology during the school day.

Maybe a student will use chat in evil and wrong ways during school. It’s not like other tools don’t get misused (pencils in ceiling tiles, markers for graffiti, using calculators to spell ‘shelloil’ upside down). Students of the 21st century need 21st century teachers who actively monitor student use and provide meaningful online assignments. Teachers who can model good use of online chat will teach responsible use in the classroom. We can’t avoid all websites that have some chat ability just because someone might say something bad.

To borrow a phrase from Martin Luther King, “I have a dream that my website resources will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their font or inclusion of chat code but by the character of their content.”  Allow teachers to use the tools their student are already married to.  Give me chat or give me proxies!

Lastly, quoting Confucius, “If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.” Give teachers the ability to share this lesson with students by using constructive chat sites during the class day.

That is the how I interpret Senator Dan Patrick’s letter to me in response to my request to kill new legislation that would remove class size restrictions in Texas. In this open letter, I will try to share my constructive opinion about this politically-motivated legislative mistake.

Dear Senator Patrick,
For reference sake, I’ll include large segments of your letter to me:
“… As the Vice-Chair of the Senate Education Committee, your thoughts are important to me. I authored Senate Bill 300 to eliminate certain mandates on schools. One provision in this bill allows districts to create classes based on a 22-to-1 campus average. This will enable more students to remain in their established classes throughout the school year. The current class-size requirement applies to kindergarten through fourth grade classes. Class sizes at higher grade levels, fifth grade through twelfth grade, are not limited because local districts should decide the most effective class sizes for their community. State restrictions on class size are ineffective, costly, and disruptive to students’ lives and education. This piece of legislation came from numerous meetings with superintendents and teachers. A campus-wide average will allow districts to create the best educational setting for a child rather than the state.”

I would communicate my feelings to your extensive, professional classroom-based experience, but lacking that, I’ll just use small numbers for you.

Class Size Example

Class Size Example

This chart shows some 22 to 1 school averages that I assume your bill would allow. Size1 shows what typically happens today. We have lower numbers in kindergarten and very high numbers in 5th grade. Please spend 2 weeks in a kindergarten classroom with more than 18 students and then show me your successes there. Putting the rest of the classes to at least 22 gives the school the allowance for 30 5th graders for each teacher. You would probably be safer painting yourself blue in a Steelers locker room than spending a year with 30 10-11yr olds and meeting the No Child Left Untested demands.

As a fifth grade teacher for 12 years, I was always astounded by the Texas law that made clear that 10 year old students are not as important, yet fundamentally much more mature than 9 year olds. I never had a class with fewer than 26 students and for several years has 30-31 students. Again, I’d love to see the Vice-Chairman on Education in the Texas senate teach 28 10 yr olds with Gifted, academically-challenged, autistic, poor home life, attention deficit, and other student labels while being told to test more in order to increase their 92% scores that allow the school to get a higher rating. (I know, I could have added more. I was trying to keep it simple.)

State restrictions seemed to work fairly well in the K-4 classrooms, some even having a waiver to go to 24. How in good conscience can you suggest that restricting class size is ineffective and disruptive? Ineffective is having to know each of your 28 students’ academic needs and making individual plans for all of their various levels in all subject areas, including an increased presence of liberal arts and technology curriculum standards and over-testing each one…. all while selling the idea that they should value coming to school because it is important. Disruptive is having a larger audience for the one attention-seeking clown in the classroom to play to and distract.

Why did my school have 30 5th graders in 3 classrooms? Because the district couldn’t afford to pay for another teacher. I have yet to work in a school where the admin has been able to keep all 5th grade classes down to 24 students because there was some extra money that they could play with on salaries.

We already have to beg and fight for adequate staffing in some cases. Letting district legally raise the class size limits will only hurt elementary schools. We already have waivers built into the system. Why not help students by making K-5 have 22 to 1 ratios for EACH classroom and allow the larger classroom size waiver for those forward-thinking schools that really do want to have an over-crowded and ineffective class size setting for their community.

We can’t just change class size restrictions as easily as some people change their name because they don’t like the way it sounds. There is a REAL impact on teachers and school performance when our young children are forced to meet the educational demands of the government in crowded classrooms.

Show me one respectable teacher that thinks that students would be better off in a larger classroom and I’ll gladly shut up. Otherwise, please reconsider removing class size mandates in the tragic mistake called Senate Bill 300.

Image from Will Lion

Image from Will Lion

“Today we are going to start our research project. Go to the library and find 3 sources for your topic…” That would be what my teachers would have said. We had a great collection of dusty books that listed old magazine articles and card catalogs that referenced 15 year old books. I could have found myself wandering into the fiction section of the room, but there were no movies playing, po rn pictures jumping up, or video games within reach all meant to distract my ADD student brain. Being a great student during those days was hard for me. How has technology changed life for me and my own ADD child?

I’m not a librarian, but students have been blessed with some good ones over the years. They taught us different strategies for collecting information such as the Big 6 method. Having a strong research method is imperative. That is the foundation on which students begin to build their work. But where to look and what to do with it has been improved over time as well.

I really do like Google, but it is very much like the picture above. I’m supposed to be a fan of educational web filters, but when I use them I feel like I’m reading the official Roswell or JFK reports with tons of information blacked out, missing, or ‘cleaned up’ for my protection.  Leading students to a proper use of Google is important to me. Model for them the use of the Advanced Search link. Giving specific keywords and keyword eliminators, giving a language requirement, and directing the search to a specific domain help confine the search and eliminate many distractors.  However, the most important distractor eliminator for younger students or beginner researchers is the teacher.

As teachers do lesson preps, they choose which problems, books, or manipulatives would work best for that class. The same can be true for research on the web. A teacher assigning everyone the same five website sources can still get many different variations of student work from them. Sometimes limiting the scope of information is incredibly powerful for classroom discussion and collaboration.

I found my information. Now What?

There are many blog posts that discuss social bookmarking. (Jennifer Dorman diigo, Kristin Hokanson on del.icio.us). Social bookmarking is the term for having multiple people share a set of bookmarks online. Whether it is the teacher sharing the required links or students adding links to the group for sources they found, social bookmarking is a good way to collect and catalog online resources.

Years ago, Ms Muecke would have concurred that research notecards were not my friends. Why is it then that I like the idea now? I have found a friend in the discontinued Google Notebook and Evernote. Evernote can be added to your web browser easily and is a resource for highlighting information from a webpage and adding it to your Evernote notebook.  You notebook will contain all of the notes for you to review and use for your research and it keeps the original web source so you can cite your source in your project. Basically, it keeps online notecards for you to access from any online computer.

Putting it together

I have always enjoyed using Inspiration software for idea webbing or organization in the classroom. The makers of the software have recently introduced Webspiration, the online version with many of the same features.  My favorite feature has always been the rapid fire button which lets me type ideas and make ‘bubbles’ as fast as I can type and hit return. After collecting my research, from carefully selected guiding questions, putting the results of the information collection into a web can help better organize key points and the structure of the project. Doing so with Webspiration keeps a copy online, editible from any networked computer.

What else?

There are many different tools that people use online that I didn’t mention. The key is not to use them all, but find one or a few that really work for you and learn to use them well. I like finding the online (web 2.0) versions because they travel with me and are often install-free aids that don’t require special permissions to add to a computer.

What research aids have you found helpful? Please share in a comment below so we can continue to benefit from each other.

This blog has had a good run, but much like the Scotch Tape store, I think the singular look at just blogging leaves me too confined when I’m pushing so many more things each week. ClassroomBlogging won’t be going away, but my holiday goal is to get a much broader look at classroom technology going and get back to posting on a weekly basis. My secret desire is to have a semi-regular podcast on there as well. Oooo, this could be real fun!!

So, for now, this last post of 2008 centers on using multiple tools to create the writing idea generating rolling. For example, if we are blogging at this time of year about family traditions, why not add some photos of families from the classroom. “Wait a minute there! You can’t publish student pictures and keep them safe!!” Well, Alarmist Al, yes you can.

We’ve probably all Simpsonized ourselves long ago. The process is simple enough: take your photo, upload it, press the button that makes you look like you belong on The Simpsons, and export for your avatar. With just a little effort, your students can do this to create a web-safe photo of themselves and even make one for each family member.

“But what do I do with 5 family photos?” You have a bunch of options, oh one so full of questions. The easiest would probably be to just import them into a Powerpoint slide and export it as a jpg. You could draw on the slide for more effect. My favorite, however, is to put them into FireWorks or Photoshop. Using FireWorks, I drop the new photos onto a page, each on their own layer. Backgrounds are put on other layers. I can reposition each item at will until I get the photo composition the way I want it. I use the effect and fills to add even more realism or creativity to the photo. I export a copy as a jpg file and them upload it to my blog or web photo storage site. With that, I have a photo-realistic picture of a traditional event but with no real people having their identities splattered across the internet.

Here we were in NYs Central Park in November 2007.

Here we were in NY's Central Park in November 2007.

Simpsonizing oneself doesn’t take long and is fairly simple. Simpsonizing your family in the midst of a traditional setting for y’all can be creatively engaging and give the student plenty to write about.

There are many other graphically creative tools online for students to use. Put the ‘fun’ back into fundamentally good education for the students and you may find their writing and communication skills will have a new experience to use. Merry Christmas to you all and to all, a good blog.

One of the Twitterers that I follow shared a link to a TED talk that I found very interesting. In the TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson spoke about how public education is often educating the creativity out of our students and how that is impacting the adult population. It’s a great video if you have 20 minutes to view it (Sir Ken Robinson on TED). This short excerpt comes at around 4 minutes in where he gives two great examples for one of his points.

View sirkenrobinson

I’ve known for many years that children have a much greater resilience with getting the wrong answer than adults do. This is even more apparent in the technology world where the joke has always been, ‘Let the child program the time on the VCR’. Today, many adults say that they don’t know how to do something and don’t have the time to learn how. I know time is a big factor, but honestly, with 4 minutes and Google, you can pretty much learn almost anything. I think that more than time, many adults have lost the ability to just try, be wrong, and try again.

Our schools teach students that being correct on exams is the main idea in school. Students who play a Nintendo DS for hours, trying to figure out the right way to win the current level, have the ability to be wrong and eventually, creatively find the answer that works. Adults on the other hand, are faced with wrong answers as failure and failure is punishable. The theory is that as we become adults, being wrong is more deadly than a temporary detour before success.

Please enjoy the full video or at least the short excerpt linked to above. Think about how we can keep the creativity in our daily lives and the lives of our children. I suggest that blogging is a great outlet for personal creativity and it also allows for the shared experience of peers.