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),


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),

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),


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 …


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


On the Radio

In the past two years, I have been on the local NPR affiliate (WFCR) two times — first, as a guest commentator speaking of the values of nurturing student leadership and community service at my school (Norris Elementary School), and, second, as a leader of the National Writing Project-funded Making Connections Weblog Project.

As I continue to explore ways to integrate audio into Weblogs, I figured this would be a time to link those two radio files to this site.


Tech Grant Proposal

This summer, while in Chico, California, I attended Tech Matters 2006 through the National Writing Project and all members of the institute are encouraged to submit a grant proposal that supports technology at our local writing project site.

My proposal is designed to help connect the writing projects in our renewed state network and provide assistance to various project leaders within our site, as well as other TCs, in using Weblogs, wikis and audiocasting.

Here is an overview of my grant proposal.


Writing Project – Newspaper Partnership

One of the more exciting ventures that I oversaw last year as a leader with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project was a new partnership with our area’s largest newspaper, The Springfield Republican. Inspired by a similar effort at the Vermont Writing Project, the monthly publication seeks to highlight teachers in our WMWP network and the writing that is being done by their students. Among other things, this newspaper connection helps with continuity of the site by keeping our network connected. It also helps get the word out about the National Writing Project.
The basic format is:

  • Short teacher introduction into the writing topic
  • Samples of student writing
  • Resources for other teachers
  • Connections to our Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks

You can view PDF versions of some of the features at the newspaper’s online site.

This year, we have some topics in mind, including:

  • Family Writing Nights
  • Writing in the English Language Learners classroom
  • Connecting Writing and Math
  • Classroom Publications