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Smackdown, Show & Tell Web 2.0

Ntcamp7 I was lucky enough to attend two Web 2.0 teacher meetings this week, and I didn’t have to leave my computer. One was a UK Show & Tell, and the other was a Philadelphia new teacher camp (ntcamp) and Smackdown. Smackdown, by the way, had nothing to do with wrestling, but both gatherings had everything to do with sharing teacher Web 2.0 tools.

These peer to peer-mentoring happenings help pick up the slack in pre-service university lessons that are still rare today. Pre-service teachers landing jobs, and having only blackboard mentors won’t move classroom technology forward. These un-conference gatherings are just what the doctor ordered.

The Smackdown or Show & Tell ideas include sharing as many Web 2.0 tools to the audience as possible. The key is that the audience does the sharing. And that audience is not just those at the Smackdown/Show & Tell site, but also those viewing and listening on the Internet—all over the world. UStream/TV seems to be the streaming choice for getting that done. Not only can attendees view the streaming video, but they can Tweet and chat at the same time. They draw more attendees than many professionally planned Webinars I’ve seen.

Unfortunately, The streaming technology is still a work under construction, but no one seems to mind much. It would be wonderful, though, if some sponsors stepped up to offer better camera work and streaming possibilities, which could greatly improve the quality of these un-conferences. There is something to be said for educators getting together on a weekend, and making these sharing experiments happen, with mostly free online tools. Still, I’d love to see Scholastic, TechLearning, communication firms, or others important to sharing education technology get more involved with these un-conference educator presentations—somehow. That said, it would be nice to keep them as non-commercial as possible.

As for me, I’d rather listen to a group of educators, who are untrained presenters, sharing what they do with their classes and staff, rather than hear polished presentations from the same-old usual names. Most educators at these things share their one favorite Web 2.0 tool, rather than their top 100, so what you hear is very complete and very useful. What's great is that everyone walks away with a Google doc which includes the URLs of all the applications discussed. And because it's archived, revisiting the ntcamp show & tell is a click away. Faculty meetings should be more like this.

While many are involved in these presentations, I need to share two young educators that are making   Joe-dale-coff
things happen on at least two continents. They are SA8 Steven Anderson (http://web20classroom.blogspot.com/), a North Carolina school district instructional technologist, and Joe Dale (http://joedale.typepad.com/), a UK ICT (Internet Communication Technology) specialist, as well as Jack of All. I don’t think they’ve met, but I do believe their parallel courses are so similar that getting them onto the same stage—somewhere—is just a matter of time. When they do, I hope to be in attendance, if not in person, at least digitally. Steven Anderson (left) and Joe Dale (right).

All Kids Are Gifted: Renzulli and Me

RENZULLIREIS Recently, I was in an editorial meeting discussing story ideas when the name Renzulli came up. It brought back a lot of education memories for me, so I began to talk. I may have said too much, but knowing Renzulli's place in education is important, and I wasn't sure what others knew. Here's a bit of Renzulli history, a piece of the present, and a slice of the future, as well as some of what I said.

Very early in my teaching, an administrator, who had just observed me, asked “You’ve been following Renzulli’s research, haven’t you?” I had no clue what he was talking about.

Who was Renzulli? In those days, Google was the school librarian. She handed me some education journals and I began reading about Joseph Renzulli’s Enrichment Triad Model (1977) for gifted and talented students, as well as the Three Ring Conception of Giftedness. Without knowing it, I was actually doing something similar with all my students—and I didn’t have a clue about Renzulli—but I really liked knowing that I had stumbled upon a similar path.

I discovered that experiential learning worked for all my students—it wasn’t just for those classified as gifted. Giving all students a chance to actually be scientists, writers, or mathematicians made sense, and furthermore, giving them chances to meet and speak to experts for first hand knowledge was far better than the ancient textbooks I was using. It was certainly a slower process then—with in-person invitations, phone conversations, and snail mail, but I stuck to it, and my students enjoyed learning—and controlling that learning—a little bit. I didn’t know it then, but that sort of teaching would be a perfect fit for computers and the Internet. Without knowing Renzulli, I was doing what he had researched, written, and discovered.

About three years ago, I had a chance to actually interview Joe Renzulli, The Researcher, and his wife Sally Reis, whom I affectionately refer to as The Teacher. We hit it off immediately, as if I had known them for a very long time. I may have used the words kindred spirits somewhere along the line. I had followed Renzulli through reading articles, and when Renzulli Learning was launched, I checked that out as well. As a matter of fact, in my last couple of years as district instructional technology specialist—I even ran a school pilot program for Renzulli Learning. I taught teachers how to do student profiles, and use student-appropriate projects. Sometimes life takes some ridiculously cool turns. Teaching like I'd taught as a young teacher, but using computers, as well as sharing with teachers was wonderful, and meeting Renzulli and Reiss, a career highlight.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out RezulliLearning , or Renzulli's and Reis' articles for differentiated learning—it may be time. All kids are gifted, and should be taught that way. And it is so much easier and quicker with today's technology.

Recently, Joe Renzulli was awarded the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education, which recognizes outstanding individuals, who have dedicated themselves to improving education in the United States, and whose accomplishments are making a difference today. Check out more at http://www.greatertalent.com/RenzulliandReis and http://renzullilearning.com/.

Redesigning Interactive

Mimiojpg If you’re like me, you’ve seen plenty of clunky when it comes to tech products for kids. That’s why one look at Mimio’s redesigned interactive products will make you think aerodynamic and wind-tunnel testing. From their MimioVotes to their ink capture kit, the new-look Mimio products look like they’d be at home in a fashion museum. They are stunning and far removed from the clunky designs we’re used to seeing.


Anyone in a classroom knows that pretty is one Mimio3 thing, but simple to use, priced right, and non confusing for teachers is a necessity. While the look may have changed, the functionality of Mimio tools has gone from good to even better. Everything from their MimioView document camera to the side-mounted MimioTeach solution, to the MimioVote self-adjusting recharging cradles, all are ease-of-use engineer for teachers and students.

Here’s the kicker, I saw a lot of familiar education marketplace people in the crowds around the Mimio booth at ISTE10. I wasn’t the only one noticing.


Look for more posts from me on designs in education technology.


Energy: What You Need to Know

Energy3 As a former science teacher, I really appreciate the new What You Need to Know About Energy website. The National Academies not only presents the information wonderfully, but they've really paid attention to way the research is shared, especially at the K12 level. Educators and Students can dig as deep as they need, with beautifully mapped research trails, so young researchers will be successful without ever getting lost. The interactivity at the site will not be lost on classroom scientists either. The timing is perfect for this sort of energy research site for students. I hope this is only the beginning, and that there will be more from The National Academies.

I had a great conversation with Stephen Mautner, executive editor of the National Academies Press and the Office of Communications, as well as Terrell Smith, senior communications officer at the National Academies about this MUST BOOKMARK resource.

Here's What You Need to Know about Energy—a FREE resource from the National Academies share by Smith and Mautner:

One of the best parts of our job in the Office of Communications at the National Academies (advisers to the nation in science, engineering, and medicine) is that we have access to the top scientists and engineers in the country—or even the world. When we have questions, the people who have answers are never far from reach.

For the past year or so we’ve had the fun challenge of creating a resource that encapsulates the most important information people need to know about the topic of energy. As editors (not scientists), we came to the table with our own set of questions about this complicated subject and had the opportunity to share those questions with a team of experts in the field of energy. We got to hear firsthand what the pros and cons of various energy options are—and the problems we’ll face if we maintain the status quo. In the course of asking our questions, we also learned what the experts believe is important for people to understand about energy. The result of this dialogue is the website What You Need to Know About Energy—a primer about the nation’s energy situation.  

We designed What You Need to Know About Energy to be easy to navigate, so visitors can explore the story of energy on their own. There are four main sections, covering how we use energy, our current energy sources, the cost of energy (in terms of the environment, national security, and sustainability), and energy efficiency. The landing pages for each section highlight interesting or surprising facts that we think will pique visitors’ interest and encourage further exploration. Those who want to know more can dive deeper into the content, right down to the scientific reports published by our institution, which are written for experts in the field.

The site also includes several special features, including:

One of the other things that makes this site special is that, unlike many other resources about energy, What You Need to Know About Energy is not advocating any particular energy resource or policy. Its goal is to offer a balanced picture of the status of energy and some of our options for the future, so visitors can participate effectively in the conversation about this topic and make informed decisions about our energy future.

Developing this site was very rewarding. We learned a lot about energy and hope that we have effectively passed that knowledge on to others. For those who prefer a more traditional format, a free 32-page booklet that complements the website is also available in print or PDF form. There’s also a short video that captures the main ideas of the energy story. And this summer we will be working on a section just for educators that will offer guidance for how to use the site effectively in the classroom. If you have ideas about how to incorporate the content into lesson plans—or any other feedback you’d like to share—please e-mail us at EnergySite@nas.edu. And stay tuned for the launch of What You Need to Know About Infectious Disease in the fall!

Principal Rolaetta Alford: Education Entrepreneur

Maryland principal3 If I could gather a group of educators to answer the how to get technology question, I would include Principal Rolaetta Alford, of the Carmody Hills Elementary School, Prince Georges County, MD, as one of the first to share.

It seems that, lately, I'm not only talking with compassionate educators and administrators, but also with education entrepreneurs. I mean that last part in a good way. Education entrepreneurs, like Alford, know that the things they need for students, teachers, and school community don't come knocking at the door without an invitation. And that's why Alford goes after them. She is not at all bashful about it either. You can see the gleam in her eyes when she talks pilot programs, and I'm certain that her brilliant smile will help attract more. Using her technique, isn't a bad idea.

As I Followed Rolaetta Alford, through the school day, it was obvious she hadn't forgotten her teaching experiences. Alford went from parent and student hugs in the hallway, praising individual students and introducing teachers, correcting line behavior, greeting parents, running an assembly, and making time to be interviewed by me. She was all over the place. If anyone needs a refresher in how to lead a building, visit Carmody Hills--just for a day.

Lex2 The classes are a mix of traditional and technology. I talked with 2nd-career fourth-grade teacher Evelyn Adams, who went from sharpening pencils to Turning Technologies responder software to Lexmark Multifunction daily quiz scanning. I chatted with a language arts teacher using netbooks as journals, a math teacher discovering technology with the help of his students. and a third-grade teacher using Interwrite/eInstruction whiteboards and online options, like Study Island. Then, and I'm seeing this more and more, a kindergarten teacher gave me a lesson in technology use with 5-year olds. Even the assistant principal shared that IEPs using technology help them decide correct placement by organizing and keeping track of what's been done, to better decide what needs to be done.

Netbook Kids

Sometimes the coolest things happen when you least expect them. I was observing a science lesson, Netbook1b where students were creating presentations using their netbooks. I decided to video interview a few students. At the end of the short interview, a student looked up at me from her desk and said, " I just recorded the whole thing." She had. Using her netbook, the student-observer switched from her research work, fired up the onboard camera and video, and recorded the interview I'd just done with her classmates. She even had grabbed some still images. It was a great case for students using technology seamlessly, rather than as only for paint-by-numbers too. The technology is certainly a part of each day for each student and teacher at Carmody Hills.

Just before leaving, I asked its leader, Alford, what she was going to go after next, and she didn't skip a beat. "Apple iPads! I want them for my kids," she said. Look out Apple, Rolaetta is looking for a conversation; I'm betting on Alford.

There's a new breed of administrator out there, and they mean business! 

Please look for my Carmody Hills Video Coverage at Scholastic Administrator!

Note: This post written and published, at altitude, from a US Airways jet.

Rethinking Cell Phones in Classrooms

PhonesStudents3 I originally thought that cell phones in classrooms made very little sense, other than in very specific situations, but recently I’ve needed to rethink that. Whether by thumb-, touch-keying, or by voice recognition their education reality, and even augmented reality, can't be overlooked.

During a recent hospital stay, I discovered a few things—that I still loved Corn Flakes, I wasn’t so tough, and if I had my cell phones, I didn’t need my computer. I’m truly a lightweight using a cell phone, but have two—one for my own Educators’ Royal Treatment, and the other for Scholastic business—but I was able to e-mail, text, write a bit, take some notes, check on my blog, tweet, and even make a phone calls or two. I didn’t use the camera—not much to see—nor did I use the recorder or voice recognition software—probably need a private room for that.

Now, before I jump in, let me say that I know all the reasons not to use cell phones—from radiation to thumb injuries, but taking computer lab EM Field (Electromagnetic Field) readings, or checking for carpal tunnel in more traditional computing hasn’t stopped those options. I also know that more traditional options, such as notebooks and netbooks, as well as smartbooks have their proponents. I’ve heard from some. This is not meant to be a one-dimensional solution—those who know me, understand that—but instead it’s a change in my attitude towards a device that could possibly be a computer in a kid’s pocket. And by that, I don’t mean sticking a phone in the hands of a 5-year old. I have my own ideas of the when, but leaving it to local school decision makers is OK by me.

There are other factors in my change of mind, too. I have followed smartphones in the classroom for years, and wrote one of the earliest articles on Project K–Nect and use of cell phones with math curriculum. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to interview education-minded executives at AT&T, Verizon, Qualcomm, as well as leaders like Professor Billie McConnell at Abilene Christian University, where cell phones are part of pre-service teacher education, and teacher professional development. I’ll have an ACU follow-up post with specifics on that program, but it is another of the puzzle parts helping to change my idea of what classroom computing should look like.

While I know some may think a mobile broadband device opens students up to all kinds of social networking issues, the same can be said for notebooks, or anything else capable of connecting outside the district walls. There are ways to contain the school use and have students work in a more secure, and protected environments. Closing off the outside world to create a self-contained work area or portal isn’t rocket science anymore. And, if students are bringing in their own notebooks for class, there’s no reason why they can’t bring in their own smartphones. Districts need to regulate school use and applications, but using student-purchased phones makes sense, helping to keep those distributed or leased by the district within budgets.

Some obvious cell phone uses are note taking, recording, GPS/mapping, and collaborating in and out of school, but add to that the ability to make them classroom responders—perfect for student polling and texting possibilities for immediate public and private feedback.

There is a smartphones revolution today. You almost can’t call them phones anymore, with fewer calls are being made, and more texting, voice and imaging, including video being done. Really everything you could want for publishing is on a smartphone today. It’s not all about the iPhone either; it doesn’t hurt to have Google and Microsoft as players. Sure, Apple is still pushing the envelope with applications and innovations, like two cameras on the new iPhone for taking images, and also for video communication, but Google’s Android-based smartphones are making for a closer race. And now we’re looking a 4G solutions like the HTC EVO from Sprint. What can be done on these is Incredible, which also is the name of a new Verizon offering. With the text screens getting bigger, and even viewing full-length movies becoming possible, we’re watching the technology change daily.

It is necessary to look at these smartphones as a classroom options for a lot of reasons, far beyond their ability to access Google desktops, which schools have finally figured out makes sense, with these devices students can walk into any campus environment from library to science lab and be connected. While it’s not quite wearing connectivity, reaching into a pocket it’s pretty close.

Thinkfinity's New Look and Community

Screenshot-homepage Thinkfinity has been online for a couple of years now, and many educators have already taken advantage of its resources, but the new Thinkfinity look and design has some changes that will make it a one stop resource for lessons, professional development, and community collaboration. A big difference is that instead of pushing users out to partner sites, the new Thinkfinity site is a resource unto itselffor the most part educators don't have to go anywhere else.  I was taken on a tour of the site expansion, and tried to find something missing, but it seems Thinkfinity has covered all its basis.I did recommend that for those resources that still take you off site, having a new page open is the best plan, so educators, administrators, and technology resource teachers remain on site there, too. That will happen according to Thinkfinity's Kristen Townsend, educational development officer, who shared the resources part of the site with me. The new site even provides resource for home school and after school purposes. It also has ramped up its professional development offerings, which have always been free, and will remain free.

The new site with have news feeds, blogs, as well as the new Thinkfinity Community. The Community Screenshot-get_connected reminds me of an education Personal Learning Network (PLN), something educators have been doing on their own for years. And along with that community Thinkfinity has certainly done its homework regarding the use of social networking by educators today. There will be private and public options as well as tie-ins to social media and Web 2.0 tools. I'd like to thank the Verizon Foundation for helping to set up the interviews and giving me a sneak peak. Check it out today, BUT FIRST...

Please listen to Thinkfinity's Christine McGuinness as she explained Thinkfinity Community to me:

Whiteboard More Like a Computer?

Why can’t a whiteboard be more like a computer?

I know that seems a bit more like something out of My Fair Lady, but alas my dear Pickering, why can’t a whiteboard be more like a computer?

Whiteboard At this point whiteboards are an extension of a computer and cannot stand-alone—they need projection of some sort and a computer connection. Whiteboards also rely on computer software—that in its simplest form, can open files on the computer that can then be presented on the board. That software can be of two types, one is most likely a lite or default software, and is limited in what it can do. It may just open files, annotate, zoom in, and save work. Another type of software is usually available by the whiteboard company, or a 3rd party, and it might be proprietary—specific to the particular whiteboard brand. The best of all worlds would be to have all software, regardless of brand, work on any whiteboard. We’re getting closer to that, but not there yet.

So Miss Doolittle, how do we get from a board that is essentially a clone image of your teaching-station computer to something autonomous? Wouldn’t it be brilliant to have a whiteboard that really is your computer, too? No need for any other hardware. Educators wouldn’t have to fire up disconnected hardware and software and convince them to work nicely together during a lesson. If the whiteboard were an autonomous device, it would be more like the chalkboard it replaced, and more like the computer most teachers know. I will bet that it’s being worked on somewhere.

There have been a few interesting, recent breakthroughs, such as the Epson BriteLink, which houses its whiteboard and projection technology together in a projector, and Samsung’s interactive eBoard display, which is really not a whiteboard at all, but acts like one by using software and touch screen technology. And then there’s PolyVision’s interactive magnetic strip control idea that has removed any wiring from the board, making pen replacement the only upkeep. Furthermore, for tight budgets mimio and eBeam hardware attachments fit to the side of any dry-erase board. In a snap, they can be detached, and carried in-hand to another classroom. Hitachi even has a three-touch whiteboard, which relies on three camera pickups. I may have missed a few, but In this competitive marketplace, no one is resting on laurels—for sure.

You also have to appreciate what companies like Promethean and SMART are doing—talking more about the interactive classroom, rather than one device, and making educators a part of the plan. They not only offer resources that can be used, but show educators how to use them as well. Add HP and Dell to that chorus, too. Their work with educators, in real classrooms, may pave the way for the reality of school-cloud technology, which should make it easier to move a presentation board to that central, autonomous, interactive-teaching tool. Why can’t a whiteboard be more like a computer?

So Higgins, while we don’t have it yet—"Just you wait!"

Mona Westhaver Inspiration

Westhaver Discovering New Inspiration

I had a great reunion interview with Mona Westhaver, Inspiration Software president and co-founder. I hadn't spoken to Mona in quite awhile, so needed an information update on Inspiration 9. I began teaching with the original Inspiration software around 1988, and had used it up to the Inspiration 7 release. Here's a short audio clip of my interview with Mona Westhaver:

I96a During my demo, I noted wonderful additions to make Inspiration more of a self-contained, one-software, organizing, writing, and presenting solution. New features include map view for creating mind maps, adding sound and video anywhere, exporting to PDF, and the ability to share presentations by way of a thumb drive and presentation viewer. The highest praise I can give it, though, is that I know that I could walk into a class, or computer lab and teach with the updated software immediately. My recommendation is that this isn't one of those upgrades you should wait on either--it's that good. I95aDiagramming, writing and organizing with text and searchable images, easily transfer to outline view with a click. And the presentations, themselves, have a PowerPoint slide show familiarity.

Administrators will be pleased that there's new site licensing:

  • Fewer than 300 students: $995
  • 300-499 students: $1,795
  • 500-999 students: $2,450
  • 1000-1999 students: $3,800
  • 2000+ students: $7,200
There's also a special introductory price for upgrades for the new Inspiration 9 until June 30, 2010, a Single Upgrade from a prior version is only $29.95, and there are other special prices for volume license upgrades, based on the quantity.

TCEA 2010 Begins

TCEA Day 10013 TCEA, the Texas Computer Education Association convention begins year 30.TCEA Day 10017

It really is a teacher gathering, and I enjoy covering it.

I take beginning conference images each year, and just get a kick out of watching it blossom during the week.

TCEA Day 10010 TCEA is one of the warmest places on the planet, even when most TCEA Day 10009of the country is dealing with snow, and colder than normal temperatures.

I'll have plenty of video interviews, exhibitor booth visits, and always a chat with educators about what they've discovered at TCEA to take back to their classes and districts.

TCEA Day 10003 Building a yearly conference is not an easy task, but it seems TCEA Austin has the right formula.

Touch Screens: Digital Oak Tag

Can touch screen computers be the new group oak tag and crayons?

TouchSmart Anyone who has taught at the primary and elementary grades has probably grouped Eee students for collaborative learning, and plunked down a large piece of oak tag and a box of crayons or markers. Nothing wrong with that, and it still works, but let’s take that idea to a digital level. What if touch screen computers took the place of that oak tag and crayons in some classrooms?

For this to happen, it might take a little modified thinking about 1:1. Most everyone knows 1:1 as a label for one student to one laptop, but if you’re a primary or elementary teacher, that concept can easily be changed to one computing device to one student group. It would be nice if every school, or district, had funds enough for everything tech, but cash for whiteboards or digital tables might not be available. Why not get a few touch screen computers with larger displays, and use them for classroom group work?

Acer If there’s only enough in an education budget for one computer for a primary classroom, looking at a touch screen computer for a teaching table, or learning center makes sense. It can work not only as a teacher computer, but also as a mini whiteboard of sorts. Small hands on a shared touch screen can work for a teacher-gathered group.

Staying creative about classroom technology tools is a good idea, and all reasonable options are worth a look, because you might just find a solution that works, and at a reasonable price.There's no one-fit solution.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in The Royal Treatment are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.