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.