Secondary Schools

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 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.

Blogs are intended to be chronologically organized posts that allow for feedback.  There have been several universities that have maintained a website that assumes the identity of a particular historical figure. For instance, students could write Thomas Jefferson, ask him a question, and get a response.  A classroom blog could do the same thing in a couple of different ways.

One project a class could undertake would be to have the whole class assume the identity of one historical person. The class would write introductions and post some support background. Each week or two, they could post a new story about their person.  Readers could reply to the blog with questions about the historical person and the class could continue that dialogue.

Another way of impersonating people would be to have a shorter-term blog where the teacher gets to be James Lipton (Actor’s Studio guy) and pose broad questions to be answered by students.  Students can be in small groups and assume the identity of a person.  Mr Lipton could ask, “What was the defining moment in your life?” One group could respond as Abe Lincoln while another responds as Harriet Tubman. After answering the initial question, the historical person could also respond to something someone else said in that series of replies.  I wonder how well Dolly Madison and Susan B Anthony would get along in the same blog. J

For the younger students, a class blog could be just weekly posts without the need for responses.  The class could invent a character to write about together. The blog would be his own ‘Day in the Life’ blog as seen through the eyes of the students. The students would collaboratively write about the character’s day, about his likes and dislikes, and even create a family for him. By the end of the year/project timeline/, the class would have a substantial story created that would undoubtedly reflect the attitude and opinions of the class without giving any personal identifications of the students.  After the character has been ‘alive’ for a while, have your own Flat Stanley project by inviting family and friends from across the country to write a response on a blog entry.   Creating that opportunity for communication with others would benefit the students in ways that seeing Flat Stanley come through the door would do.

Impersonating fictional characters, famous historical figures, and creating a story character are great purposes for a classroom blog. Maybe some of these ideas will help you find a new purposed for a writer’s blog.

I get lots of email and have subscribed to a number of RSS services that try to keep me in touch with all the sites I try to follow. Nevertheless, I still miss news and email. Just this morning, I realized that I was tagged by another blog 100 days ago and I never answered the tag. So, that brings up two things for today’s blog: Tagging blogs and a great service to help you keep up with your blog feeds.

First, just like the old school-yard game of tag, sometimes bloggers will write a post and then tag specific people to write about the same thing on their blog. I just found out today that I was tagged in an ‘8 Things About Me’ blog… about 100 days ago. Oops! Sorry Kristin!

How does this play a role in my classroom? The ‘tag, you’re it’ method of blogging can be a nice tool for facilitating student communication in an environment where each student has their own blog. This type of activity plays more into the community of learners environment that blogging has become the center of. The students will have to not only write on their blogs about the specific assignment given by the teacher, but they will have to maintain contact with other student blogs to see if they get tagged. (Common courtesy states that you email anyone you tag so they know it.) Teachers can tag certain student blogs to get specific feedback, students can tag each other to broaden the range of responses, and/or the class can tag another class in an effort to get viewpoints from outside their classroom.

Once you start the environment of being responsible for keeping up with many different blogs, you should also introduce RSS feed tools. Called by a number of names, the RSS Reader/RSS Feed/News Aggregator tools automatically go out and bring in any new posts from blogs that you subscribe to. One aggregator can deliver many sites, keeping the user from hitting each one to check for new information.

The second part of today’s post is a gentle nudge into It is probably the best blog tool on the net. It acts as a reader, a blog search engine, and statistics engine. The reason I found out I was tagged by Kristin was that my Technorati page had a link to her site where she referenced my blog. Any time someone references my page on a blog, there is a record of it on Technorati. Technorati blog searches are probably the most current searches because they constantly update blog feeds.

If you want a good first tool to add to your blog management, get a free Technorati account. They have support tutorials on their site that will help you get it all set up.

Oh, and Kristin’s tag was to list 8 random things about myself and tag 8 other people. I’m skipping the ‘tag others’, but offer up my 8 things: 1) I’ve kept a website for my kids since before they were born, 2) I’m a Mac evangelist, 3) Born on Texas Independence Day, 4) Had braces on teeth 3 different times, 5) Named my son after Great-g-g-g-grandfather and his father, 6) I will present twice at TCEA 2008, 7) I helped establish a 7 yr old digital film festival, and 8- I secretly still love to play with Legos.

Ever been in an assembly or have the counselor visit your classroom and you look around the audience and see puddles of drool forming under the chins of your lovable students? Think back to last week’s staff meeting and remember when you were one of those lovable students? 🙂 The audience probably had little buy-in or ownership of the lecture being presented and probably missed a good bit of what was shared. Since the blog is a discussion forum, why not use it as a follow-up to that meeting?

If I was the counselor and I was talking to fifth grade students about what it means to be respectful, I could follow it up with a blog session with the students. “Tell me about a time when you felt respected at school.” “Call someone out on the way that they showed respect to someone else. How do you think it made the other person feel?” Give students the expectation that they will be blogging about the session and maybe they’ll be more attentive.

In a well-moderated school blog, high school assemblies on prom planning or career counseling could be followed up by the teachers with comments by students. Students could give suggestions or input on the decision-making process and further debate them online. Maybe what once was controlled by a few vocal students could be owned by a broader section of the population. Perhaps the comments could be question and answer sessions where the students can learn more by reading the questions others have posted.

A librarian’s blog can be a home for new book discussion or school-wide book studies. What better way to have a teacher present something new to a very broad population and still have the ability for a vast range of student comments?

The classroom blog can be used for a small group of students or a large number of students and can provide an ‘open door’ for the traveling speaker or teacher who sees many students during the week.

Remember, a blog doesn’t have to have an indefinite life span. A blog on an assembly topic may provoke a lot of interest, but limit it to a two week planned life span then turn off commenting. The posts can be left visible for those who want to review the topics, but the purpose of the blog may be over and not necessarily something you want to maintain.

Do you have an experience where a school blog was a tool for student communication?

I was talking with a teacher the other day about this blog. She made the comment, it would be nice if you included some real examples of class work. Well, okay then. Below is an excerpt from my class blog in April 2005. We were studying character development and I wanted the students to write more about it.

Thursday – Character
From Michael Cricton’s “Timeline”: “She tried to place that rumbling sound when a teenage boy burst around the corner, racing toward her. the boy was wearing black hose, a bright green quilted jacket and a black cap. He was red-faced with exertion; he’d clearly been running for some time. he seemed startled to find her walking on the path. As he came near her, he yelled, ‘Hide woman! For the sake of God! Hide!’ “

In an instant, the author has a character painted with words. He’s young, not dressed in modern clothing, and has been running scared. I can picture in my mind a teenager with eyes wide open and the look of true fear on his face.

As you did yesterday, quote your author’s work where he or she described a character. It can be from any place in the book that you have read already. DON’T FORGET: write about what you think about the description. Did you get any extra meaning from it? This is character development, not plot.

Blogger Mr. M said… (I cheated. I posted the first reply this day.)

Okay, had to add one more from the book, ‘Timeline’, by Michael Crichton.
The driver of a car just hit a guy in the road. “As the dust cleared, he saw the man lying at the side of the road, trying to raise himself up on his elbow. The guy was shaky, about seventy, balding and bearded. His skin was pale; he didn’t look Navajo. His brown clothes were fashioned into long robes. Maybe he’s a priest, Baker thought.”
The setting is a dusty, desert road. The man doesn’t look Navajo, (American Indian.) So, he’s out of place. His clothing is out of place as well. This character presents a mystery because he’s an old out of place guy in the middle of the desert…in the middle of the road. It made me want to read on.

What did you find today that made you want to read on? Mr M

12:01 AM
Anonymous B.R said…

The boy named Marty loves dogs he works for money to buy Judd’s dog.Judd is not nice to his dogs he shot one of his dogs for not lisining to him.Marty keep him a secrat from him because he does not want him to kill the dog.He buys his dog from him.So Shiloh is his dog.

11:19 AM
Anonymous NM said…

“And suddenly, according to my imagination, I’d been on my feet, screaming,’Why didn’t you leave us alone? Why did you have to drag us in? You’re scum, filth. I hate you. Go away. You deserve everything, everthing, you understand? Everything that you get. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.'”
You can tell that she really hates Jack(dad’s friend).
She had the same nightmare over and over again. This is what she says right after.
“It was so real I was trembling.None of it happened of course. But for hours Cindy gazed at the TV, I watched this movie in my head, running it over and over, changing the dialogue each time, trying to find words I could say to him that would be more powerful, more affective.”
I don’t really know if this “nightmare” really happened or not. She either already told him or is thinking about it.
She says she needs words more affective so maybe it didn’t happen…maybe she thinks thats what will happen.
Jack and her talk a little bit before that. I couldn’t right it because he says a cuss word. Well…thats all for now.

11:35 AM
Anonymous sb said…

The book i’m reading is The Mystery of the Cupboard by Lynne Ried Banks. The main charater of my story is a boy named Omri.I think he likes to read because he’s reading a journal he found in thatch & he likes the journal so much that he has trouble breathing when the writing gets to the climaxe.Hears a part of the story so you’ll get what I mean.”Pressuredas he was by the life around him, he was sorely temted to just flick throgh the thin pages of the notebook, picking out the bits that concernd him the most.”Gotta go bye!!!


We had 27 posts during that class. There was a lot of typing with one hand going on since their other hand was keeping their place in the book where they were quoting from. I really felt that they were using great lit skills that day.

I found a new tool last week that makes an amazing amount of good sense. I spent hours highlighting text with students or teaching them how to highlight.  Couple that with the young internet researcher who finds that perfect article on George Washington… that goes on for 42 pages. How do you help them pick out specific parts or highlight them? to the rescue! This free resource will let you highlight webpages, bookmarks sites, and even attach sticky notes to a web page. You can login or use a shortcut in your browser to have instant access to the edits you make.


After a quick install, you simply highlight the text and right click/cntrl click to get the highlight option. The text will stay highlighted each time you return to that page, given your diigo login is still active.


Attach sticky notes with student-specific notes or lesson suggestions. The sticky notes just pop up when you mouse-over the highlight.

I would want to install it on each of my classroom computers so that the diigo toolbar shows in my browser. Then my bookmarked pages will be accessible from each station and the day’s research lesson can be pulled up as pre-highlighted pages.  Imagine, the sticky on real-world text would say, “Read this section and answer this question:…”  Or, better yet, “Read and then give your answer on our blog. If you have time, make sure you ask a question or comment on someone else’s answers.”

Ah, online instructions on ANY webpage my students are directed to by me.  Heck, if the toolbar is on the browser, I bet students will start asking to highlight their own sites.

I’m sure diigo isn’t perfect, but I am liking it so far.

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