Reflecting on the K12 Online Conference

I’ve been trying to make time here and there for the K12 Online Conference 2009, which is just finishing up after a two-week run. I know the conference never ends (great tagline) but I feel as if I need to be engaged now, as it unfolds, or I lose the threads.

I’ve expressed concern to the K12 folks (who should be commended for all the work they do to pull this together — it’s an amazing array of resources and entry points) about the confusing path of multiple platforms of the conference, and no clear point where participant should enter the discussions with presenters. Do I add a comment at the K12 Online Blog? Or the K12 Online Ning? First, I need to find the K12 Online Wiki to get the schedule … etc. I think the Ning is the way to go but I suspect that it is blocked in a lot of school districts with filters. I just know that I was and remain confused at times (some presenters put their work on the Ning; some, not.) about where my voice belongs.


That said, there are some amazing resources in the K12 Online Conference this year. Here are a few that I engaged in during the past two weeks.

  • Little Kids, Big Possibilities by Kelly Hines: This was a great way to show how technology tools can be used even with younger students to engage them. Kelly lays out a few possibilities (I ended up using Wallwisher the same day I saw her presentation). I liked the way she walked the viewers through steps and rationale.
  • The iPod Touch in the Classroom by Kern Kelley: I think 201o will be the year of mobile devices in the classroom, but I worry it be because it is tech on the cheap as opposed to tech that makes sense for the classroom. Kern gives us an overview of some of the possibilities with the iTouch and each day, it seems, more and more apps are being shared by teachers that have learning possibilities.
  • Using E-Books to Motivate Pupils Writing by Colin Hill: Colin explores the ways that online publishing can transform writing and engage young writers in meaningful ways. I expressed some concerns about sites with no advertising, but if you teach young writers, this presentation is definitely worth your time. Plus, some of the student samples that Colin shares are so darn cute and engaging.
  • Options for Building Your Teacher Website by Cyndi Danner-Kuhn: This is a good primer for teachers who want to create a web presence but are not sure how to begin or where to go. At this point, I think, most teachers should have some digital footprint for their class. I guess that is my opinion, but I know, I am frustrated that I can’t even glimpse the work being done by my own kids because their teachers are doing nothing online.
  • You Might be a 21st Century Leader if… by David Wells: David’s message is for administrator, so I felt like a spy from the teaching ranks in the back of the room. I made the comment that David’s assertion that all administrators realize that the world is changing may be wrong. Some, but not all. And teachers experience this reality when they run into walls around filtering and access and professional development. You may want to send this presentation to your principal.
  • Keeping the Literacy in 21st Century Literacies by Drew Schrader: How can you resist that title? Drew brings us into some tools of the Web (screentoaster, prezi, etc) and tries to remind us to keep a focus on the literacy that these tools can enhance. Don’t get caught up in the tool so much that you lose sight of the learning. This is a message I try to keep rambling through my head.
  • To Those Who Want to Rock-Don’t Suppose Compose! by Carol Broos and Carol Vrotny: Ahhh. Music. I liked that there was space here for bringing the composing process into the mix of teaching, and these two colleagues explain the rationale for music teachers to embrace the tools that move students from listener to composer. Nice.
  • The Digital Writer’s Workshop by Jackie Gerstein: Jackie brings us into her classroom to see how she has integrated technology with her students. I loved the scene where her kids are interviewing the developers of Tikatok books via Skype. Just think how empowered those young writers must have felt as they peppered their virtual visitor with questions.
  • Using VideoAnt Annotations to Provide “Audience-Based” Assessment to Students’ Video Productions by Richard Beach: This was my first view of VideoAnt (thanks to Gail P. for giving me the heads-up on this one). It seems like an intriguing way to help students engaged in video work by making notes right on the video itself. But, it seems to me that this won’t work for me because the video files have to be in a place like YouTube, and I use Vimeo. I’ll keep exploring, however.
  • OpenSim: Open Learning by Timothy Hart: I started this presentation and then got caught up in other things and need to get back. I am intrigued by how gaming and open source can be used in the classroom, and Tim seems to know his stuff.
  • Steal this Preso:  Copyrights, Fair Use, and Pirates in the Classroom by Mathew Needleman: Matt always creates interesting presentations and this one is no exception. He explores the world of fair use in the classroom and reminds us to consider the legalities of teachers and students using the work of others in the digital world.

Here are the presentations I hope to come back to view later:

Have you journeyed into the K12 Online Conference? What have you explored?

Peace (in the exploration),

Bringing the Koran into Class

I’ve been trying to share my adventure in teaching the young reader’s version of Three Cups of Tea to my sixth graders. For the most part, they are enjoying it (and don’t seem as stymied by the relatively poor writing craft as I am) and it has brought up interesting topics and discussions around cultural divides, doing the right thing at the right moment, and survival.

Yesterday, for example, we read the chapter where Greg Mortenson gets kidnapped and held captive for seven days in a small room. On the floor is an old Time Magazine, with a cover story about the Iran Hostage Crisis. Remember that? Remember how every day for more than a year the headline on the newspapers (remember them?) had stories about the Americans in Iran?

My students had never heard of it, and I had to launch into a drive through my memory banks about that time and what itstill means for the global political world today (ie, the leaders of that Iranian Revolution are still in power today and still distrust the United States.) The other day, I had to give a flash history lesson about the creation of Pakistan as it was carved out of India (thanks a lot, Great Britain, you really messed that one up) and in the chapter they are now reading, the issue of Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan comes up.

I bring this up, too, because the religion of Islam is new to most of my students, but not all. I have a student who has come to us from Turkey and he has been a spirited voice in reading the book (and he is an ESL student making great progress but still struggling … but this book has engaged him). Yesterday, my student brought in his Koran, which Greg asks for while he is being held captive. It is artistically beautiful, and written entirely in Arabic, which allowed us to talk about different languages in the world — from alphabetic to symbolic.

I made a photocopy of the first page for all of my students and they were completely taken over by it, trying to sound out the symbols, and we talked about the role of the Koran to the Muslim world. I am so happy that my student took it upon himself to bring part of his world into our classroom, and allowed for some open discussions. I am trying to make sure he doesn’t feel like the spotlight is on him — you know, the one African-American in the room when you talk about racism syndrome — but I appreciate whatever views of the Middle East that he can bring to the discussions, too.

We also want to take action. Our school has been part of the Pennies for Peace initiative, and now, a few students and I are beginning to plan a Rock and Roll Concert for late January to raise more money for the school-building foundation and also, to collect book donations to send down to New Orleans schools that continue to struggle.

Peace (in the world),

Using Webspiration for Brainstorming

There are plenty of mindmapping sites now out there, but yesterday, I decided that my students would use Webspiration, the online companion to the very popular Inspiration software. Webspiration is wonderful and I sing its praises. It’s free (yeah). It’s easy to use (yeah). And you can share and embed the concept maps that you create on other websites (yeah).

I wonder why it is free since it does much of what Inspiration can do, although I guess the newest versions of the software has a lot of bells, whistles and possibilities. I just wanted a site for some collective brainstorming and Webspiration sure fit the bill.

Here’s what we were doing: As we are reading Three Cups of Tea, we are talking deep about the theme of the book — how a character is faced with challenges and then overcomes those challenges. In this book, as most people know by now, the protagonist — Greg Mortenson — wants to build a school in Pakistan but runs into roadblocks every step of the way.

Next week, my students will be writing in-depth about the challenges to building a school, so we worked on a concept map to help them think through the challenges.

Here is what one class came up with (by the way — if you are in Google Reader or some RSS, you may not see the embed so here is a direct link to the Webspiration map):

Peace (in the map),

The Edublog Award Winners for 2009

Last night, the winners of this year’s Edublog Awards were announced. There were tweets all over the place as the ceremony was taking place (virtual, of course), but I did have to search around this morning and found the list. Too bad our Longfellow Ten site of student movies didn’t make it, but hopefully, the site got some play and maybe some other teachers might join us this year for stopmotion movies. Anyone?

But I was happy to see my friends — Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers — catch a win for their great work around sharing best writing practice.

Best Individual Blog is Free Technology For Teachers (Richard Byrne)

Best Individual Tweeter is Web2.0Classroom (Steven Anderson)

Best Group Blog is MacMillan Dictionary Blog

Best New Blog is Kirsten Winkler

Best Class Blog is Billings Middle School Tech Class Blog

Best Student Blog is Civil War Sallie

Best Resource Sharing Blog is Free Technology for Teachers (Richard Byrne)

Most Influential Blog Post is’s Head in the Clouds

Most Influential Tweet Series #edchat

Best Teacher Edublog is Two Writing Teachers (TIGHT CATEGORY!)

Best Library/Librarian Blog is Never Ending Search

Best Educational Tech Support Blog is iLearn Technology

Best ELearning/Corporate Blog is MPB Reflections — 21st Century Teaching and Learning

Best Educational Use of Audio is Xyleme Voices Podcasts

Best Educational Use of Video/Visual is Bitacora de Ánibal de la Torre

Best Educational Wiki Greetings From The World

Best Educational Use of a Social Networking Site is English Companion Ning

Best Educational Use of a Virtual World is Virtual Graduation at the University of Edinburgh

Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Karl Fisch

Peace (in exploration),

What kids are reading: a report

What Kids Are Reading Cover

This report is worth a read — it is a look by Renaissance Learning at books that kids have been reading in 2008-2009 school year (based on data from Accelerated Reading programs, so just keep that in mind).

Here is the PDF of the report

Looking at the sixth grade list, some fiction titles jump out:

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (plus all of her other books)
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulson
  • A variety of Lemony Snicket books
  • And more

Neat and in time for anyone wanting to buy a book gift for a young person.

Peace (in the pages),

Writing Prompts for Techno Kids

I came across this post by Sharon at TeacherlyTech in my RSS and it had me thinking. She explains how she tries to develop writing prompts that speak to the interests of her students, with slants towards technology. I love that idea. Here is what she shared as a few possibilities:

(1) What’s in your iPod? What do your playlists say about you as a person?
(2) What are the rights and wrongs of text messaging during class?
(3) Should you friend your teachers, employers, or other authority figures on social networking sites?
(4) What are the worst Facebook/MySpace faux pas your friends should be warned against?
(5) What was the most significant TV show (or video game or pop star or other media presence) of your childhood? How did it influence your life?

I wonder what I might add? Here are a few off the top of my head.

  • What would the html source code look like if you were a webpage?
  • Design and label a personal computing device that will be on the market in 10 years.
  • Explain in steps something (a concept or a piece of equipment) about technology that you understand but which your parents do not.
  • If you were the teacher, what technology would you allow students to use for learning and why?
  • Write a persuasive paragraph that argues for me (your teacher) showing you a certain tool of technology that we don’t already use (but which you use outside of the school).
  • Write a short story in which the main character is a minor character from one of the video games that you play (or know about).
  • Imagine you are going to produce a video for Youtube and you can earn $1 for every view it gets. What will your video be about and what would you need to make it happen?

Thanks, Sharon, for the inspiration. I wonder if other folks have suggestions, too?

Peace (in the prompts),

My K12Online Presenation goes live (sometime) today

Sometime later today, my short presentation for the K12 Online Conference will go live. It’s called The Heroic Journey Project and I tried to show how my students used Google Maps, Google Earth and Picasa for creating an online heroic journey across the world.

You can check out the K12 Online Schedule and also visit and participate in the K12 Online Ning site. There are some wonderful presentations there already.

When my preso goes live, I am supposed to create a forum discussion at the K12 Ning and ask three essential questions to spark a discussion among folks, so I am trying to think about that and also am hoping I can post all that this morning before school starts.

Peace (in the K12 Online world),


National Writing Project feeds

Here are some of the updates out of the National Writing Project following the Annual Meeting last month in Philly:

2009 NWP Annual Meeting Photo Album

Monday, December 14, 2009
Type: Resource
Over 1,000 writing project colleagues gathered for the 32nd NWP Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. View this Flickr stream of photos from the meeting to see many sessions, workshops, socials, and other activities through the attendees’ eyes.

2009 Annual Meeting Highlights: General Session Writings

Monday, December 14, 2009
Type: Resource
Inspired by a Billy Collins poem “To My Patron,” teachers at the NWP Annual Meeting were asked to write about what it takes to teach students to write. A long metrical poem or a short well-crafted argument? A set of colleagues to talk to? A blank mind? Model readings? Just a pen? Here is a sample of their responses.

Video Highlights from NWP’s 2009 Annual Meeting

Monday, December 14, 2009
Type: Resource
Check out these video highlights, including teacher-consultant interviews and a delicious writing marathon, from NWP’s 2009 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Peace (in the gathering),

Meep This!

I just ran across an interesting article in the Boston Globe (should have this motto: We’re still alive!). Erin McKean, a writer for The Word column about language and use, tackles a news story in which a principal banned the word “meep” from school because too many kids were saying it too often.

For those muppet fanatics, this is cool. “Meep” is what Beaker says most of the time and so for young kids to be appropriating invented Muppet language for their own world … wow, cool. I guess the principal had some other ideas about it (“We wouldn’t ban a word just to ban a word,” he explains), but as we all know, banning a word only makes it stronger and more valuable as language currency so I am guessing there is more “meeping” going on in that school than ever before.

My older son, looking over my shoulder as I was reading the column, said, “We meep at our school, too. Well, some kids do.”

Honestly, I have not heard one of my own students doing a “meep”  but maybe I haven’t been listening close enough. And maybe there are connotations that I am not privvy to knowing (quite likely, as I am an adult).

McKean closes the column out with this:

All words mean only what we all collectively agree they should mean, no more and no less.

I leave you with a video of Beaker singing a meep-filled “Ode to Joy.”

Peace (meep),