Concept Mapping Two Collaborative Stories

Some of you know (because some of you are writing with me) that I launched a collaborative story this week. In fact, I launched two stories. Both began the same way, but one is being done with Google Wave and the other is being written at our iAnthology site (which is closed to the public).

It’s been pretty fascinating to watch the story shift in different directions — in one, a character is believed to be the inventor of the Internet but he comes to visit our main character with a bloodied knife and a story to tell of mistaken  identity. The other is set in Italy and again, a “friend” comes calling, but he is on the run from some local bad folks who want a precious stamp.

I thought it might be interesting to use a new site someone recommended called Spicy Nodes (a concept map site that is still in beta) to chart out the elements of the two stories. I’m not sure how Spicy Nodes is any better or more unique than other concept mapping sites.

Here is what I have come up with so far (direct link to the node is here):

You can still join us at the Google Wave story (of course, you need to be in Google Wave to participate). And that raises a question in my head — both Google Wave and the iAnthology limit participation because you have to be part of either structure. I am thinking that maybe we need a third variation of the story — on Etherpad, which requires no log in.

And so, in seconds, I created the start of the story over at Etherpad. Come in and join us:

Peace (in the node),

Of Muppets and Men and Youtube

I was once again reminded this week of the power of YouTube as a place for archived videos. Here’s what I mean: my sixth graders have started our unit on theater writing for puppet shows (more on that another day). I like to show them views of the Muppets, Jim Henson’s wonderfully imagined world of incredibly characters. I can’t really waste 2 hours with a muppet movie, although sometimes we’ll watch a greatest hits collection of the Muppet Show if we can.

What I want is a fun and quick introduction. So, last week, bouncing around the Net is this new Muppets music video of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which is a hoot to watch (and it rocks!). I was looking for that video, when I came across the motherlode of muppet insights.

Someone has uploaded the entire documentary of a movie called Of Muppets and Men, which I have never been able to find on DVD or even VHS without having to spend about $100. That wasn’t going to happen. Yet here, on YouTube, is the entire movie — cut into pieces, of course. It’s pretty amazing, but then I stumbled on something just as good — a video of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Michael Frith talking about the puppetry and character development of Kermit the Frog. My students were fascinated by the discussion. The video came at a perfect time because my students are just starting to flesh out their own characters and are beginning to construct their puppets in Art Class.

Here, then, are the two videos I showed the other day:


Meanwhile, my family used to watch a Muppets-Sesame Street video each year (a sort of tradition) called Muppets Family Christmas, but I only have it on VHS and again, it has not been available on DVD (and we don’t have a VHS player anymore since one of my sons jammed a Lego into it a few years back). I missed that movie. But … look … here is the entire move on YouTube. Man. Incredibly. (Of course, cuddling up in front of the computer is not like cuddling up in front of the television, is it? But the time is coming when all that tech will be integrated seamlessly, and then cuddling will just be cuddling, right?)
Peace (in the muppetville universe),

The role of the Guest Presenter

Today, I am out of my classroom in order to visit a local college just a few communities over. I am scheduled to give a few presentations to prospective teachers on the merits of Digital Storytelling. It’s quite an honor to be asked (and my principal deserves kudos for giving me the quick green light to accept the offer), and there is the added bonus that I am presenting at the same college where I attended my own teaching certificate program that led me to where I am now (after 10 years as a newspaper reporter and then two years staying at home as a dad).

I wish we were in a computer lab today because my presentation, of course, has us building a digital story project, but I guess we will do it as a class collaboration. The theme of the digital story we will build is “Beyond the Curriculum” and the idea is to talk about all the other learning that goes on in schools beyond the set curriculum. Maybe I am thinking of this because our Quidditch Tournament is just a few days away, but as I was looking through my classroom photo files, it became clear that kids are learning in all sorts of ways and not just seated at their desks.

I’ll be showing the prospective teachers Photostory3 and then Voicethread — if time allows.

Peace (in the classroom of teachers),


Asking Questions of the World

I stumbled into the Ask500 Questions site this weekend and it has been fascinating. Here is the concept: you write a question, pose some possible answers and let visitors to the site cast some votes. Ask500 Questions then tracks the answers on a map and breaks down the results a bit. I guess if a question gets to 500 people (seems doubtful right now), then the question is retired.

I posed a couple of questions, including whether or not technology helps someone become a better writer, whether teachers should encourage their students into social action projects, and (as you can also upload images) which Boolean Squared webcomic character is destined for something spectacular.

Go ahead and vote yourself and add your own question.

You can also embed the queries and results into a blog post, so let me give it a try:

I was pondering whether this has any applications in the classroom. While I may not want my students freely roaming the questions — some may be on the line of appropriateness — it might be interesting to have them propose a question and possible answers, and then track what happens to the results as a class (after casting some predictions).
Peace (in results),

21st Century Skills

This is a nifty graphic showing the skills that kids need in this world. This comes from Edutopia (a magazine I used to get for free, but have dropped now that they want money. It was nice a freebie, but to me, it didn’t seem worth the cash). I like how create and collaborate are just as prominent as the learning that goes on in the classroom.

What do you think?

(See image at Edutopia site)

Peace (in the present and future),

My 2008 Edublog Award Nominations

The annual Edublog Awards (known as The Eddies) are underway again this year. No, it is not part of the Edublogs blogging network (although James is graciously offering up some of his Campus blogging suites as prizes). It’s a way to recognize some of the outstanding blogging that is going on. What I like is that when the actual voting takes place, you can follow the links to the nominees and discover all new worlds of blogs out there.

I struggled with nominations, but here are a few:

  • Best Resource Blog: I love Two Writing Teachers, which is a place to reflect on writing practice and also, to write as teachers. Ruth and Stacey really bring a passion to what they do and are so willing to share their best practices — you can’t go wrong. (Another blog that is a must-see is Larry Ferlazzo, but I am hoping that others will nominate him — actually, I am sure of that).
  • Best Individual Blog: I love to read Matt Needleman’s Creating Lifelong Learners, which shows us how to think about video and audio in the classroom — not as an add-on, but as part of the curriculum itself. This is so important and Matt has some great insights. In fact, I think his K12 Online presentation was the best one that I viewed this year. I learn a lot from Matt.
  • Best Group Blog: OK, so I have written for this one from time to time, but is a great resource for the English classroom. The lesson plan and ideas run the gamut from elementary to high school classrooms. Plenty of good teaching ideas here.
  • Best use of Social Networking: Although I have been absent from discussions there (sorry), the Fireside Chat network is a place of rich discussions that move beyond the day to day of teaching and education. Connie has established a warm and inviting place to connect with others.
  • Best use of Audio: I think Teachers Teaching Teachers continues to develop as an outstanding home for quality discussions and topics, and the podcasts are a great way to stay informed and keep up to date on what is happening in the worlds of education, writing and technology.
  • Best New Blog: I like what Bill Gaskins is doing over at his Blogging on the Bay. He offers up reflections and insights and shows by example. I hope the teachers in his network are following his lead and moving deeper into technology integration.
  • Best Use of Video: I love what George Mayo is doing with video in his classroom, and how his students are becoming real movie producers of small movies. (Oh, my class is joining his stop-motion project). George is a real leader in collaborative projects.

That’s all I got for now.

(I hope you will nominate some of your favorite blogs, too. Go here for more information).

Peace (in resources),

Moving Music into Learning

I am convinced that music gets a short thrift in most classrooms. I know that, as a kid, if my teachers had at least once in a while use music for lessons, I would have been much more engaged in what was going in the class. I try to use music as much as possible — from analyzing song lyrics to listening to music to writing songs.

The other day, I came across Mr. Duey, who is a teacher from Detroit who raps, and after watching this video about Fractions, I ordered his CD. Even if it was bad, I figured any teacher who tries something like this needs support.

And the CD is pretty decent. It is divided into curriculum areas — Math, English, Science and Social Studies — with an audience of middle school students. Topics range from writing essays to solving improper fractions to latitude/longitude lines. I got the CD yesterday and my own two kids were boppin’ around the house, reading the lyrics and listening to the hip-hop beat. Mr. Duey’s rap about Integers even sparked a discussion about the number line and positive and negative numbers.

Along with the CD is a DVD that I have not yet watched, but which shows the making of the music and this following video. I can’t wait to check it out.

Hey ya, Mr. Duey!

Peace (in rappin’ teachers),

21st Century Learning

Another interesting video, with intro from Library of Congress.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

This is the blurb that goes with the video:

21st Century Learning Matters” – The Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources – Colorado project at Metro State College of Denver, in partnership with the Colorado Council on 21st Century Learning, produced the video. “21st Century Learning Matters” provides an introduction and conversation starter for considering the transformations needed in education. For more information please visit or .

Peace (in learning the future),

Speak Up 2007

Each year, I hope to have my school become part of the Speak Up survey on Net Day that tries to get a pulse of technology and education. But I always run out of time or, well, forget about it until the time has passed. I can say that I have faithfully signed up for it, though. The survey is for teachers, students, administrators and parents.


Speak Up logo

The results from this year’s survey are in and it is interesting to examine some of the findings.

First, there was quite a good response of people who took the survey:

  • 319,223 Students
  • 25,544 Teachers
  • 19,726 Parents
  • 3,263 School Leaders

They asked the question of use of technology for the various stakeholders.


  •  70% of students in grades 6-12 consider themselves “average” in their tech skills compared to their peers. The 24%, however, that identify themselves as “advanced” have significantly different views on technology.
  • This is how students say they are using technology for school:

o Writing assignments (74%)
o Online research (72%)
o Checking assignments or grades online (58%)
o Creating slideshows, videos, webpages for schoolwork (57%)
o Email or IM with classmates about assignments (44%)

 What do you do regularly with technology?

o 93% use email to communicate with colleagues or parents – only 34% email with students
o Create a powerpoint presentation – 59%
o Create or listen to podcasts or videos – 35%
o 21% maintain a personal website like MySpace or Facebook

This chart shows the disparity between perceptions of administrators and students about whether the kids are being prepared for the future. It makes me wonder about how we can level these perceptions and whether the goals of education are filtering all the way through a system.

Chart 1

Other findings:

  • 54% of students are interested in tech-related careers
  • One-third of teachers say they would like to teach an online class
  • 84% of administrators say educational technology enhances student achievement
  • 63% of parents say they know more about child’s schoolwork and grades because of school technology

The results are worth a look.

Peace (in understanding),