Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

May your New Year be blessed!

Stay tuned for more updates coming soon after the holidays...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Survey Monkey

The research says good feedback has significant impact on student learning. (If you want to check that statement, you do not need to look farther than Marzano's meta-analysis in What Works in Schools.) The research strongly supports gathering effective assessment to drive instruction and giving helpful feedback to students.

Obtaining, analyzing, and acting upon feedback is a critical part of being a classroom teacher or school leader. When I want feedback, I like Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey is free for up to 10 questions with some limitations. If you work at either of my schools, you have access to a school account for Survey Monkey.

Survey Monkey is powerful because you can ask any type of question and obtain feedback in many forms. Some examples include multiple choice, checking all that apply, open-ended responses, and rating scales that are automatically tallied for you. Analysis is easy with the tallying of most common answers and easily sorting or filtering results in a number of ways.

One of the best parts of Survey Monkey is the ability to export to a spreadsheet file such as Excel. As Survey Monkey doesn't specialize in analysis, this feature allows many more uses than the basic summary through an export to a spreadsheet. Organizationally, this tool has tremendous benefits whether it is evaluations, signups, accreditation surveys, exit surveys for staff and students, or just general staff or student feedback. It is a good way to collect data quickly and get a sense where people stand.

In a classroom, this could be used to get feedback from students. I would consider even making a blank survey with numbers 1-5 and choices A-D. I could orally check students understanding of the previous day's material or check for understanding at the end of a lesson by reading a few questions aloud. It's not designed for summative feedback but could serve as a tool to ascertain where students are in their learning, and allowing me to adjust the lesson(s) appropriately. By leaving the questions blank, I could just use it any day by orally giving questions and then reset it for use again. It could be used as part of a larger plan or I could spontaneously get students feedback in a 1:1 laptop setting. Without 1:1 laptops, I could have students do a short quiz for homework (no grade, but just a check) with multiple choice or open-ended answers.

It is worth noting that I would not use it for summative assessments or any significant grading due to the potential for cheating by students. However, it is very valuable in the formative sense for just seeing where students are.

I know some colleagues that also use Google Forms as part of the Google Docs/Spreadsheets package. This can work as well but I find that Survey Monkey is more powerful and in many ways easier to use depending on your purpose. Others use quizzes or surveys on Moodle and Quia is also used by some. Perhaps this will help you find quick ways to get some feedback and see how your students are doing in their learning.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Fast World

Friedman wrote about a fast world. The world's interconnectedness is speeding up. I went to watch a 20 minute video today. It started a little slow and I debated in my mind whether or not to stick with it. We have come to expect relevance and engagement quickly...20 minutes is too long. In reality, we often may only give 2-5 minutes to see if something is worth our time. In some cases, it may only be 30 seconds. Our ability to find the information relevant to us has become critical. Using Google effectively has tremendous value.

I would guess students may frequently hold this view. How much with they engage your lesson based on the first 90 seconds? How about the first 5 minutes? Are they intrigued? Or have they already written it off and tagged it as irrelevant? As educators, we must recognize and engage our audience.

For the record, I stuck with the video and it got interesting. In a fast world, may we take some time to slow down. Patience is a virtue we need to practice at times amidst the speedy culture in which we live. But may patience not be an excuse for us to be left behind.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Firefox + Add-ons

Many people use Internet Explorer (IE) to surf the web and probably to view this blog. However, a significant number of people of internet users also use Firefox. Firefox has increased its percentage of use over the last year. I like Firefox for a number of reasons...

First, I like the tabs and interface on Firefox. Yes, I know IE has tabs but the Firefox interface makes better use of my screen and I like the button locations better. It also does a better job of opening new tabs rather than cluttering my desktop with windows as I click on links. Maybe it is preference & previous experience, but it is intuitive and easy to navigate through multiple websites simultaneously. I can open to my homepage or the tabs I had open when I closed the program the last time. Many preferences are easy to access and set.

Secondly, I like the add-ons. What is an add-on? It is a simple download that integrates into your browser. I use Foxmarks Bookmarks Synchronizer. This handy little tool automatically synchronizes my bookmarks between my computers. If I bookmark something at school, I can also access it from my computer at home. Additionally, when I am on the road on a public computer or a friend's, I can go to and access all my bookmarks on the web. It is easy, and runs in the background without me doing anything.

I also like the AdBlock Plus add-on. I install it and it automatically blocks some annoying banners that I get. Since I installed this on my Firefox, my spam has gone down. I can't promise there is a correlation but it is supposed to keep advertisements from dropping unwanting things onto your computer.

Other add-ons of interest include Google Notebook, Google Gears, and Pronounce. Overall, I find these add-ons run seamlessly in the background but make my productivity easier and more convenient. Many themes are also available for aesthetics.

Lastly, I also like the search bar on Firefox. It allows me to easily search Google, Amazon, and Creative Commons among others. (I'll talk about Creative Commons in a later post.)

More browsers are available to search the internet. Some people like IE but others just use because they don't know about other options. Firefox is a good choice to consider. Some people also like Safari. Chrome is a new browser that has gotten some attention lately.

Choose what works best for you and makes you most productive.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

RSS Feeds - Bringing the Info to You

One issue many teachers face is how to keep up with information posted in many places. RSS, short for "really simple syndicates," is a great way to organize your life and potentially save time. To summarize, you sign up and subscribe to a website and any updates to that site will automatically be sent into your RSS reader. The video below gives a simple explanation in under 4 minutes.

I use Google Reader. Why?...Because I already use Google Apps and Gmail. If you have accounts with Yahoo or other services, they likely have an RSS reader that can be easily accessible. Consolidating your websites and software to one login is nice, regardless of who it is.

RSS feeds are also nice when you setup your own customized homepage. For reasons I previously mentioned, I use iGoogle. Others may use Yahoo or Netvibes among others to do the same thing. These services allow you to customize your homepage with relevant news, your email inbox, stock quotes, funny quotes, etc. in addition to your RSS feeds. Most services also give you the option of having multiple tabs on these customized pages so you can have several screens of customization.

If students are using blogs in class, editing Google Docs, or even working on Wikis, RSS feeds a great way for teachers to have all the student information in one place.

At the bottom of this blog, rather than the RSS feed, you will see an option to subscribe to "Posts (Atom)". Atom feeds work the same way and integrate the same way RSS feeds work, it just different coding so it has a different name. You will also see a drop down menu on the right side to subscribe this blog to the reader of your choice. Try it out...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Google Notebook

Google has lots of applications to peak educators' interests so I suppose it is no surprise this company makes one of the the early posts here. I recently ran across Google Notebook. Like many Google tools, it is entirely web-based although a browser plugin can be installed for most browsers which is a nice enhancement. (If you don't know what a plugin is, don't worry about it.)

What is it?
Google Notebook allows you to store websites and "clips" from anywhere while you are surfing. Sure, bookmarks can store web addresses, but Google Notebook allows you to classify them into folders and "clip" relevant parts. If you select a part of a website, it will store that clip with the web address. Later, I can go back and easily reference the part of the website I found useful and click on the link to see the whole page if I want. Additionally, I can also write comments about the site and whatever notes I care to make regarding my clip.

So why is this so great for myself or my students?
The cool part comes in because not only can I store things in my notebook with relevant material and notes, but I can also share notebooks.

To give a real life application, I am currently working with some colleagues to research and develop some resources on digital citizenship and what we should be teaching our students about online behaviors. We have created a shared notebook to store our research and resources. We will be able to go back later and coherently put the ideas together. Think of it as compiling research resources or a bit of research brainstorming.

If you have students working in groups on a project, perhaps they could use Google Notebook to collaborate together and even write notes to each other about the sources they find. For example, if ES students are preparing for their PYP Exhibition project, they could use it to collect resources and share them among the group and their teacher. A great benefit is that is stores the link automatically which is often needed for proper citing.

I can even publish these notebooks on the web. So not only can I collaborate and store up this information, but I can share it via a weblink to those that may want to access it.

Other resources such as Evernote are around and may offer some additional features. I can't comment on other programs because I haven't used them myself, but I found Google Notebook to be easy and intuitive with few bumps on the learning curve so far. It follows my principles of user-friendly and reliable. Check it out...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Literate about what?

I love to read books. My love of books started when I was in elementary school and I am glad it has been stuck with me as I have become a parent and progress through my 30s. I started with fiction. I read classics such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and hundreds of pages of lesser known works. The pages of books took me to far away places and I experienced adventures that were not possible in my real life. Good books were of great value and I savored reading them on the first reading because it only happened once. Reading books a second time is okay...but you already know what happens. I love that first read of a good book! As I go back to my childhood and think of these first reads, my imagination is rejuvenated.

Imagine with me for a minute. What if a book could talk? What if I could read a book and it could speak to me? Certainly Gandalf or some other magician could make that happen. What if I could ask the book questions? What if I could ask "why" when I did not understand a plot twist? What if I could pose questions and even predict what will happen next in the book? What if I could pull out characters and create side stories of events that happened in the book but were not explored? For example, what happens to Frodo after he gets on the Elven ship to leave the Shire? How many people have imagined various endings to that story? What if my book could talk to me and tell me what others that have read the book before me think? What if I could share my thoughts with the book? What if I could tell what I liked and did not like in the book? What if...what if...what if...?

What if the first read of a great book happened with a "talking" book? Wouldn't that be a rich and savory experience? I can only imagine...or can I?

The 21st century has allowed us to embark on a wonderful journey. We have so much information and so many tools available to us. And in many ways, the interactive nature of Web 2.0 allows us to do exactly what a talking book would permit us to do. It allows us to define unknown words. It helps us pronounce things. It gives us explanations of characters and events. It allows us to comment on, well, anything from a picture or movie to a news story. And more than all that, it allows me to express myself to others that interact with the same story. Whether it is a story, event, news article, editorial, obituary, image, movie, or audio file, I can interact in rich, engaging ways that a classic book can never give me. For example, will you comment on this blog? Will you share you thoughts and reflections transparently with others? If you choose to do so, does it make the ideas become a conversation starter as opposed to the conversation itself? Will you engage? As adults, we are often hesitant.

Now, for some, I have just committed a terrible travesty in my comments on a book. Please, forgive me. But a book is intensely personal. The 21st century is intensely engaging. I love both. But...21st century literacy is different.

In order to effectively educate ourselves and our students in a changing world, we must be a new way that is sometimes uncomfortable.