More WMWP Technology Autobiographies

This weekend marked the second in my series of workshops for fellows at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project around blogging and podcasting. Note: Three hours is barely enough time! As part of the series (funded with a grant from the National Writing Project), I have all participants create a blog with Edublogs, post a technology autobiography, and then — using a free MP3/voice recorder and Audacity — create a podcast of their writing. It’s a lot to take in but everyone has come away saying it has been a wonderful experience.

Last time, I shared some excerpts from their writing and the audio (although the flash player isn’t working and I think it is due to the voice recorders somehow but can’t yet seem to pinpoint it, so just click on the actual links to the audio files — thanks), and so I will do this again.

Listen to Susan

” During graduate school, my job in Harvard’s African American Studies Department brought me in contact with my first computer. Thank goodness! I can’t tell you how many late nights I snuck into my office to use the computer to transcribe all the interviews I was conducting and write all my thesis papers. It quickly became hard to imagine all those undergraduate English papers I wrote on the typewriter–talk about a hindrance to revision! ”

Listen to Carole

“I started out in teaching by not teaching. After student teaching, I was not at all sure that I wanted to continue, so I took a job as a Radio Shack manager. Personal computers were just hitting the market in a big way, and “user friendly” was not part of the vernacular yet. Explanations in manuals for how to correct problems often involved patches to correct a “misunderstanding” between the hardware and the software. I will always be thankful for that year. Users and sellers were much more exposed to software and hardware code. We had to pick up a lot of information to make computers work for our customers. As a result, without any real training, I can more easily pick up software that is new to me.”

Listen to Mike

“My first successful experience with technology in the classroom came as an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts. In 1997, the chemistry department pioneered an online homework system called OWL (online web-based learning) for use in their general chemistry courses. This system allowed professors to assign homework modules to their students and then monitor their progress throughout the semester. Before OWL, professors weren’t able to check or correct homework assignments in an efficient manner. Test grades suffered because students didn’t have the motivation to complete their homework. OWL gave students deadlines to help them budget their time more appropriately and to avoid the last-minute cramming sessions that became all too common. Another feature to the OWL system was instant feedback. If students selected incorrect answers to questions, the system would explain why that particular answer was incorrect.”

Listen to Tammy

“When I started this year, my team had a smartboard. I had never heard of this piece of technology before. What made it so smart? I had created a blog for my students to use and the math teacher on my team told me that the smartboard would be a great tool to help me show the kids how to use the blog. She and the computer lab teacher showed me various things I could do with the smartboard. I could circle pages in red, green, blue, or black! I was so excited to use it. Then, we came to the issue of moving the board from the math room to my room. There was also an issue of where to put the projector. On top of that, the cables and cords were too short to actually reach the outlets and computer and projector all at the same time. We literally had to fidget with it for two days. But we got it to work.”

Listen to Jane

“When I was attending library school in 1996, the first thing we had to do was pass a Technology Test to show that we had at least mastered some rudimentary uses of the computer. Among the tasks were to send an email, link to some appropriate websites, do some simple research using a database. I was terrified and sure I would never be a librarian ever ever ever. We had four weeks to send in our assignments, which meant that if you didn’t know how to do it, you could learn. I used the very clear tutorials they had fashioned for us, passed with flying colors, and felt very proud of myself; much more so than getting into grad school in the first place.”

Listen to Corinne

“I thought that this workshop was two Saturdays ago. When I came into the computer lab, there were people in the room for a workshop. At that moment I didn’t have anything to make me think a was early. Then the workshop started and everyone knew everyone. Still I didn’t click in. As the conversation continued I began to think I wasn’t in the right place. These people not only knew each other, they had been working for some time on a project together. Even though I then knew that I wasn’t were I was supposed to be, I was sucked into the project these people were working on and the ideas of what I could or would do with something like this–blogging. My thought began to take off.”

Listen to Joanne

“My writing history started with a notebook and pencil, moved up to ink and then I actually owned my own typewritter. The first computer I owned was an Apple and I loved the idea that making changes in what I wrote didn’t involve erasing carbon copies. Can you still buy carbon paper? I’m glad I don’t even know.”

Words from Chuck (but no sound)

“I’ve resigned myself, prematurely, to being the opposite of a technogeek. An all-thumbs Luddite, but that’s not who I could be. I don’t see myself as a whiz at this, but at the same time, I can learn it. It’s so darn user friendly these days, idiot-proof as they said back in the 1900s. So, I’ll keep trying”

Listen to Mary

“Some thirty plus years ago my dad gave me a Texas Instrument chessboard and a cassette tape. He told me it was a computer. With wires and plugs in hand, a portable cassette recorder and an old black and white TV I proceeded to enter the world of technology. It was exciting. Once I figured out how to connect each device (Device not being in my vocabulary as a tech term then.) I played chess with the computer. It amazed me. I knew then that there was no turning back for me. I had ventured into a new world.”

Listen to Abbey

“I would like to expand my technology knowledge to have a real interactive blog with my AP Language class this summer as they read their summer reading books. I would like to make blogging part of assignments, not just a place for me to post. I am also interested in podcasting because other schools have done “This American Life”-esque shows, and that just sounds really cool to me. Some of my top kids are capable of making really amazing presentations and movies for classes, and I would like to use some of that energy to make our language applications more interesting to them and more connected to the real world.”

Listen to Margaret

“We thought we were so cutting edge, working in the computer lab with our classes connected to the internet. We now realize that our ‘cutting edge’ activities were merely worksheets that the students filled out using the same internet source as a reference, but it was a start. As we continued to learn more about the internet, we were able to develop lessons and activities that allowed the students more flexibility concerning topic and searching opportunities. This workshop is my first introduction to blogging and podcasting, so I am once again delving into another layer of technology in hopes of expanding my knowledge so that I can share new learning experiences with my students as well as my colleagues.”

Aren’t these wonderful? I am proud of our brave WMWP blog explorers.

Peace (with taking chances),
Kevin

Making Connections: Midway Point, part two

In our big Making Connections project this year (we are in the second year, thanks to funding from the National Writing Project), we asked students to take an online survey before they started to do any blogging. We were looking to gather some data about perceptions of students as writers and users of technology. We have had about 250 students take the survey, which we believe gives us some reliability. Some teachers will be sharing the data with their students and with their administration.

Here are four questions that jumped out at me:

How do you use technology to communicate to others?

Do you think you write better on paper or on the computer?

Do you think schools should teach technology as a ways to communicate with others?

Which of these tools have you used in the past year?

Feel free to poke around:

Peace (with data points),
Kevin

 

Making Connections: Midway Point, part one

I am project leader for an initiative (funded by the National Writing Project) that seeks to use weblogs to connect students. We have 15 teachers from five school districts, and about 300 students using blogs to write and interact.


We just finished the first phase of our project, in which students introduce themselves and comment with each other. We have had almost 1,200 posts on the Manila-based Weblog that we are using (the poor server). This weekend, the teachers all met to talk about how things are going. For the most part, they are not technology-proficient, so this project is pushing them in new, and sometimes frustrating, directions.

Here are some of the teacher posts from this weekend:

Most students from Southampton have made their introductions and have had had a chance to go back on and make comments to introductions of students from other schools. This went very smoothly in Southampton. Many responses were made to students from other towns. We did tell all students to make at least 3 responses to students from OTHER schools first before responding to someone from our own school. We also reminded them to look for studentsto respond to who might not have any responses yet. One frustration some students had was that they did not know who had responded to their introduction. If there was more than one student with the name “Bob”, for instance, they did not know which one in order to respond back to him. Or, students were not signing their response.” — Lisa

The successes include seeing all of the connections that students are making as well as seeing the empathy being gained as they learn that other student are having shared experiences. Hinting about the upcoming experiement has also been a real postitive as students witness the nature of science as others repeat the Skittles experiment to gather more data. — Jack

Everything is going okay so far. The only problem we have had has been gremlins in the machine that won’t accept the kids’ passwords or even their existence as members when they try to log on. The weird thing is that on any given day some kids get on successfully while others do not. There seems to be no consistency in who the particular victims will be – someone may have no problem one day, but may have to try 2 or 3 times to get logged in the next day.” — Mary M.

I was a little disappointed in my students’ introductions, but I think that as soon as they see the traffic that has hit the blog, they will become more enthusiastic. Right now, like me, I think they are a little overwhelmed. — Denise

Our students created self-portraits by hand. We took digital pictures of them and then uploaded them to a photo storage website. The only pitfall was figuring out how to do all of this–trial by fire and LOTS of time. If anyone needs help with this, thanks to just-in-time learning, I am now a Master Jedi. LOL” — Michele

One problem I ran into was that some students would hop on the blog whenever they got a few extra minutes in the day. They were able to get their work finished quickly; posting their own and responding back and forth to several people. This was great, but the problem was that with the extra time, they just started to casually blog to one another. I had to have the “this is not myspace” talk with them and remind them that all of the other people and teachers on the blog can and would be reading what they write.” — Deb

I’m benefitting because I’m gaining some technological skills. My students are improving both their writing and technological skills, and they’re making meaningful connections with students from other communities. I think my students especially enjoyed posting their self-portraits – Michele, who is a technology wizard, helped a great deal with this. The drawings don’t really look like them, but they capture their personalities quite well! One thing I really like about this project is the security of the site and the control we have as teachers. ” — Paula

Many of the students are excited about the project and are looking forward to continuing. It is sometimes difficult to manage all the students as they are not very independent when starting a new endeavor. We are ironing out the wrinkles as far as logistics, scheduling, and other problems go. ” Ann

Things are going well, slow but sure. My fifth grade students are enjoying this ‘new’ way of talking, especially the relaxed writing style. It was refreshing to see some of my more reluctant participants jump on the tech train. I am wondering how I can keep this same enthusiaism as we try to find time and space in the computer lab. The chatter is great. Kidos want to get on and talk with each other. I have one student who got onto the site from home. I’m not sure about this…I wonder how I can control what happens outside my perview? I have a new layer of responsibility that I’m not yet sure about.” — Mary F.

I have a group of enthusiastic bloggers this year. Although they are not as advanced with technology as my group last year, they are tenacious.” — Eva

It has been difficult for us to “squeeze” the blogging into our curriculum, but the kids are enthusiastic and most want to do more. It’s interesting how these kids perceive the responses they have been getting – some were disappointed to find out that they were corresponding with “white kids”, and others were disappointed to have responses from younger students “Miss, why are you trying to “hook me up” with a 10 year old!” But, it’s good for them to see outside of their culture and very limited horizon. And once they began to understand everything, they were accepting and look forward to the experience.” — Wendy

Again, I’m having trouble when I really wasn’t expecting to. I planned to blog with a class that I had a support teacher with and that is usually a pretty enthusiastic bunch, the principal had been notified and seemed to be on board, etc., and Wendy said she would help if I needed her. Then- My support teacher and Wendy were assigned to new Lindamood Bell classes during that block, the principal got MCAS panic, and my class, for the most part,decided they are not that interested!” — Mary D.

So, as you can see, there is a lot of reflection going on with the project, and many hurdles to overcome. In the next day or two, I will share the data from a survey we had our students take around technology.

Peace (with connections),
Kevin

Student Survey

The image “http://www.unl.edu/casnrde/images/survey_icon2.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The introduction to our Making Connections Weblog project (through the National Writing Project) involves an entrance survey, just to gather some data about student perceptions and use of technology. My students took the survey the other day (online, through Survey Monkey) and it is quite interesting to see the results.

Some observations:

  • Almost 80 percent of my students say they are on the computer more than two hours every day (that’s a lot of time — too much time, if you ask me — they should be outside, playing football or tag or something)
  • Almost 60 percent say they regularly use Instant Messaging to communicate with friends (and we often see the results of this IM in the morning, with hurt feelings and rumors run amok)
  • 50 percent said they enjoy writing (whoo-hooo) and almost 20 percent said they love to write (double whoo-hooo). Four percent said they don’t like to write at all (boo-hoo)
  • 78 percent said they think they write better on computer than on paper (interesting and not sure how to interpret that, although we talked about it in class)
  • 86 percent that schools SHOULD teach how to appropriately use technology to communicate with others.

All in all, interesting, and it will be even more interesting to compile the data from all six school districts involved in our project. I’ll share that out when it comes together (now I need to learn Excel)

Peace (choose A, B, or C),
Kevin

My Technology Autobiography

Yesterday, I posted some of the writing from teachers in a workshop that I was leading in which they were asked to create a short Technology Autobiography. So, of course, I had made my own too.

Here it is:

Listen to my Autobiography

It was the mid-1990s and I was standing in a third grade classroom when a shriek burst forth from one of the smallest girls in the room. She was standing by the only computer in the room, pointing to the small screen.
“It’s Mr. M.,” she called out, and students rushed forward to crowd around the computer. They jostled one another to get a better look. “He sent us mail.”
Mr. M. was a science teacher at the city’s middle school but he owned a house in Costa Rica, and on academic sabbatical, Mr. M. was doing research on the migration of Monarch butterflies. Before he left the country, however, he made contact with various elementary school teachers and students, and he regularly emailed them updates on his adventures and his research into the butterflies. Students used this information as data for their own understanding of science.
As a newspaper reporter covering education for a major newspaper in Western Massachusetts, I experienced one of those singular moments when the merging of technology and education suddenly seemed like a true possibility. The excitement generated by a few lines of text was undeniable and it was clear that technology had the capacity to break down geographic lines.
Suddenly, for these students, Costa Rica wasn’t so far away.
Since then, I have moved into teaching myself, and through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I have become a technology leader for teachers in our network. But it all began during my own Invitational Summer Institute, when I started using a Weblog to connect with other members of the institute and the e-Anthology to connect with teachers from across the country. There seemed to be power there in the connections being made between writers and readers, and I went back to my sixth grade classroom that fall with plans to launch a Weblog in the classroom.
Over the past three years, that site (called The Electronic Pencil) has grown by leaps and bounds and I am now leading a larger Weblog project for schools across Western Massachusetts called Making Connections as a way to help other teachers experience the same power of technology for their students.
Now I am blogging on a personal level, too, with this site and I have found that it has given me a different voice that allows me to move through my interests such as music, writing, poetry and curiosity. This year, I added podcasting and videocasting to the mix and found that the multi-media elements of this technology gives me avenues of expression that weren’t there before. I am not sure if technology is changing who I am as a writer, but it has certainly given me more creative outlets to explore and discover. And what I learn on my own, I bring back to my classroom and to our network of teachers in the Writing Project.
I am not sure what the future holds for technology and writing, but I am ready and willing to explore it all.

Peace (with reflection),
Kevin

Weblogs and Podcasting

Part of my Tech Matters grant money from the National Writing Project is to host a series of workshops around the use of Weblogs and Podcasting for leaders and fellows in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. This weekend was our first session and participants not only created their own experimental Weblogs via Edublogs, but they also used an MP3-Voice Recorder to podcast.

And what did you they write about? They composed their own Technology Autobiography (an idea I stole from Becky Spies Weblog site). Here are some excerpts, although the embedded flash audio player doesn’t seem to be working with some of the files and I can’t figure out why. It must have to do with something regarding the MP3 players’ encoding file, I guess, since various experiments have narrowed down the problem to the player (which is disappointing to say the least — if you have any ideas for help, I would appreciate) and not Edublogs. You will need to click on the actual audio link to hear the voices.

Listen to Amber

“…my first real interaction with computers happened when I went to college in 1998. For three years, I used the computers at the library, and I lost a total of 5 essays due to computer mishaps: my floppy would break, the computer would malfunction, or the printer would somehow print my essays in a strange coded language.”

Listen to Karen

“It was a very intimate atmosphere, and one rule we had in the class was that although we posted a detailed profile, there were no photographs allowed. So the overweight student, the short kid, the non-white kid, and the blonde bombshell all stood on equal footing by the power of their words. There was no one interrupting when the low-status kid wanted to say something. His thoughts, his poetry, his opinions would elevate him to the one everyone responded to and wanted to interact with. This is one thing I love about the idea of blogging too.”

Listen to Mo

“Assisitive technology provides students with special needs the means to express themselves, and a path way to independence. I learned how to use diffrent soft ware to teach students to express themselves as well as communicate with their teachers and peers with dignity.”

Listen to Bill

“I am very interested in technology. I always have been. I love gadgets and newness. Growing up, my favorite tv show was Star Trek. Logically I have an interest in incorporating technology into the classroom.

from Wilma (trouble with audio)

“…In any case, with so much technology changes I almost forgot all about that very first memory with technology. It was that heavy manual typewriter on the top of an old fashioned washing machine outside the house in Puerto Rico responsible for my new way of writing without holding a pen or a pencil.”

I’ll share my own Technology Autobiography tomorrow.

Peace (with words),

Kevin

Making Connections: the map

We had a very good all-day session yesterday around the upcoming launch of a project I oversee call Making Connections, which connects middle school (and now a few high school) students together in shared writing spaces via Weblogs as part of the National Writing Project’s Technology Initiative.

The Manila platform is confusing for many of the teachers, who are not technology savvy at all, and so I created this concept map for them to visualize how our various Weblogs in the project are connected together.

Here are some reflections from the day:

I am understanding the infrastructure of the blog better so the administration and navigation of the site will be better for teaching. I’m glad that we came up with some some “connecting” yet content oriented topics to be working on for this project.” — Michele

Several things happened today to solidify my focus on the project. Before arriving I was very unclear as to what I would be doing throughout this project. I made a decision to go with the science group. I couldn’t be happier about it. My students are going to love the experiment with skittles. I can see several connections to math with manipulating data, and of course, writing across the curriculum. I am really interested in the abstract writing. I wonder what I can do in the next month that will help my students get ready for the online writing. It’s exciting.” — Mary F.

Some concerns remain. How will the technology function when really put to the test with students who struggle with being absolutely accurate as well as precise about entering log-ins, passwords.” — Jack

I feel like we put together a good plan for how to proceed from here. The ELA group was probably overly ambitious but now we’ve got it under control. I’m excited and looking forward to getting started but still nervous about managing the technology.” — Mary D.

And here is part of my own reflection:

Today was tricky because it did require quite a bit of introduction of technology (managing member, etc) and I am constantly worrying about overwhelming everyone. I know that with practice, it will get easier, but we don’t always have the hours to practice. There were some great questions and I hope I had some instructive answers. I feel as if I am giving our Inquiry Question a short-thrift due to time crunch. Meanwhile, the planning process was wonderful. I really feel as if we have a solid plan almost all around for the different phases of the project.”

Peace (with planning),
Kevin

Workshop Weekend

I have busy couple of days ahead of me.

On Friday, I am leading an all-day session for my Making Connections project, which is funded through the National Writing Project’s Technology Initiative program. Our Making Connections project is designed to use Weblogs to connect middle school students in our Western Massachusetts area from rural and urban, and now suburban, districts through technology and writing. This year, we have 15 teachers from six different school districts involved and we are intending to branch off into smaller curricular communities around Language Arts (poetry, specifically); Science (shared experiments) and math (a challenge blog).

I just filed a mid-year report to the NWP and you can read that report, if you would like.

And then, on Saturday, I am leading the first of a series of three workshops for fellows at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project on the use of Weblogs and podcasting for professional and/or personal use. In this first session, we have reached out specifically to leaders of WMWP projects in hopes that they can get comfortable with some aspects of technology that could help them in their own work. (This workshop series if funded by another NWP grant through its Technology Matters program that I attended last summer in California).

Here is the agenda for that day’s activities (which includes providing everyone with a free MP3/Voice recorder to create podcasts with).

I hope no one (including me) ends up like this guy:

external image frustration.gif

Peace (with professional development),

Kevin

Technology Initiative: Kennesaw Sessions

This weekend, I flew down to the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project site to take part in a series of exciting discussions about the work being done by various groups (such as the Western Massachusetts Writing Project) that are considered Technology Seed Sites. This means that we are pioneering some use of technology for professional development for our network of teachers. The NWP brought us all together to share the successes and challenges that we are facing in our work.

I talked about our Making Connections weblog project that is designed to reach out to urban and rural communities and help forge relationships with teachers in those districts, provide support for technology implementation, and get kids from very different communities “talking” to each other via weblogs. We are just about to entire Year Two of the project. You can view the report from Year One here.

In Kennesaw, however, I was able to get an inside look at what the other sites are doing and much of it is very interesting. For example:

  • Third Coast Writing Project (in Michigan) has been conducting mini-institutes around the concept of digital storytelling (which seemed to be a common strand among some of the 8 Seed Sites). They have created a cadre of workshop presenters and a task force to think through technology.
  • The Maine Writing Project has been moving away from the term Digital Storytelling and into the realm of Writing in Modern Media, which reflects a general shift towards reflection on how we are re-casting composition in our classrooms.
  • The Prairie Lands Writing Project (in Missouri) has been focusing in on technology institutes for its teachers as well as professional learning communities where thoughtful educators come together to brainstorm the integration of technology with writing.
  • The Oregon Writing Project has created a vibrant state network of technology leaders, with hopes of filtering knowledge down to the individual sites.

Meanwhile, Inverness Research has been gathering data from interviews with project leaders and they presented some initial findings to us, including:

  • There are many challenges to using technology in the schools (access, equity, etc) but the work is exciting.
  • Much work focuses on three areas: Writing with technology (genres, rhetorical context, etc); Teaching with technology; and professional development.
  • There is very little research out there to help provide the framework for what we are doing — we are in “uncharted territory,” as they put it.
  • Teacher-leaders involved in these ventures are becoming “hybrids” in that they are forging a connection between the disciplines, writing and technology in new ways.
  • And more …

Peace,
Kevin

WMWP Best Practices 2006

Yesterday, I took part in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing. This is our annual event to showcase some of the inspirational work going on in our classrooms through workshops and roundtable discussions.

I led a workshop called Blogging for Beginners, and the teachers who worked with me created their own blogs through either WordPress or Edublogs this morning. Instead of a traditional written reflection, we opted to record their voices as they discussed how they envision using blogs for personal, professional and/or educational uses and post it as an audiocast. (That move was inspired by Paul Allison’s efforts on his site called Teachers Teaching Teachers — thanks again, Paul, for providing a framework and inspiration).

microphoneTake a listen to the reflections of teachers

We also had the pleasure of a wonderful keynote speaker, Anika Nailah, who discussed passionately how fiction writing can bridge cultural divides and allow people from different backgrounds to “come into the same room” as others. Anika also had the audience doing some writing and examining our own cultural backgrounds with language. She also allowed me to record her speech (I am the technology liaison for the WMWP) and audiocast her talk for members of our network who could not attend.

microphone Listen to Anika’s keynote speech

Peace,
Kevin