Saturday, December 09, 2006

Wordie - Like Flickr, but without the Photos

TechCrunch has a post about a new social networking site for word lovers, Wordie. Simply enough, Wordie allows users to create a list of words. Each time a word is added, Wordie includes various links to get definitions.wordie_example.jpg
While a wiki would probably be a better way to build a class word bank complete with definitions and examples, Wordie could be useful for reviewing terms, with students checking definitions as needed. This approach could be especially valuable for SAT/ACT prep.

Then there is the sheer word nerdiness of it all that I love. I am going to use the site as a way to keep track of all the fun words I come across. There is even an RSS feed, so I have added it to the blog's sidebar.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Now with Chat!

Cool Cat Teacher, Vickie Davis, points out Meebo Me, another way to add chatting functionality to a blog.

I love the idea of increasing channels of communication, so I am giving it a try here. However, I'm not sure how useful this will be for the classroom. In order to participate with visitors to the blog, I need to log into meebo, which I am certain my district blocks (I'll need to check on Monday).

Mostly, though, I'm just curious about chat. I rarely use IM, preferring the asynchronous leisure of email (remember when email was considered the fast way to communicate in writing). If I need real time, I would rather use the phone or Skype.

But lets give it a try. I would love to hear from anyone stopping by the blog.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Where are my tags?

I hit a wall yesterday while cleaning my desk and file cabinets. As I went to put some copies in a folder I realized the content was generic enough that I could use it for multiple projects. I jotted down the various topics but then had to decide which drawer to put the file in. I typically file by grade period, but the various projects occur in different periods. I suppose I could make folders for every quarter and file the copies in multiple places; only a year ago I would have done just that and been fine.

This time I didn't.

I sat there, wondering how long it will take to be able to tag everything, have it all in one container, and make it appear when needed by keyword. My file cabinet should work like that. So should my operating system. Neither does, and I was truly flummoxed.

Is this what my students feel every day when the school system strips away the tools they have become accustomed to using?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blogs, Schools, and the Law

My principal was kind enough to pass along "Blogs: A New Frontier for School Discipline Issues" in the fall 2006 edition of A Legal Memorandum, the National Association of Secondary School Principals quarterly law publication. It appears as though only NASSP members can access this online, so ask your principal for a chance to see her copy.

Overall, the newsletter's focus is on students' personal blogs (those created and posted to from off campus using no school resources) and the free speech protections afforded. In short, unless the school can demostrate "a material and substantial disruption to the educational environment", personal blogs are protected and schools may not take disciplinary action if the student writes something unpleasent.

What surprised me, because I admit I was expecting a pretty authoritarian, lock-it-all-down approach, is that the authors then advocate for a proactive stance--educate students as to the legal issues and appropriate use of blogs.
It is likely that in the long run continuous dialogue and up-to-date education in the appropriate use of electronic media will be far more effective than punishments such as suspensions and expulsion.

The Hazelwood decision, which I learned about in my preservice classes because it allows principals lattitude in censoring school newspapers, has an interesting implication for school-sponsored blogs.

Of crucial importance in [the Hazelwood] decision was the Court's comment that the school administration does not have the right to censor student speech (oral or written) that is part of an open forum.

Calling a classroom blog an open forum would certainly seem reasonable. What implications would that then have for the classroom or school? Does a student's class blog posting have more First Amendment protection than an article in the school paper? These are going to become pressing questions in the coming months/years.

However we choose to engage these questions, I can only take away hope and encouragement from the fact that the NASSP is advocating a reasoned, education-based approach to online resources. Now if we could only get more our education leadership blogging.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Filtering, Persuasion, and Literacy

On Monday, my students begin their persuasion unit. As a culminating project, they will be creating issue ads based on their research and writings during the grading period. I have never had students do this before, so I am going to do my own first as a test run.

As I have been framing this project in my mind, I keep drifting back to the ongoing filtering discussion. I have been too caught up in the academic discussion of filtering; I need to get back to the students, to the reality of their world, to "the new story", as David Warlick puts it, of filtering and the true impact on student safety.

So my test run is going to be an issue ad supporting the level of access to the internet needed to fully and appropriately teach digital literacy. All I have right now are some random images--mostly cuts between the school/home internet experience, but they will revolve around this rework of "give a man a fish".

Filter the Internet
and We Protect Children for Six Hours

Teach Digital Citizenship
and Children Protect Themselves for a Life Time

Saturday, September 30, 2006


This fall, my district switched filtering programs and many, many more sites and services are being blocked as a result. I have lost access to, among other things, bloglines, netvibes, writely, and many edtech bloggers, including everyone who publishes using blogger (even me). Thank goodness I still have classblogmeister or much of my lesson planning over the summer would have been shot (although teaching about RSS has become more difficult). To date, my requests to have these sites unblocked have gone unmet.

But there is hope.

Two weeks into the school year the district technology director sent out an email outlining the changes and asking for comments/questions for the web review committee. Such an open invitation is a first, so I answered with the following letter.

September 18, 2006

Web Review Committee,

Thank you for the invitation to share comments. One of the more frustrating aspects to internet filtering in the district has been the lack of dialog on filtering and its impact on student learning, classroom instruction, and professional development. [The technology director's] email on September 11 was an important first step in opening up the conversation, and I look forward to a continuing dialog across the district.

First and foremost, we need to remember as a district that the importance of the internet as a source of information and a tool for communication is only going to increase. Our students have unfettered access to the internet once they are outside the reach of the district filter. As responsible educators, we need to be involved in educating our students of the dangers. But more importantly, we need to be modeling and providing guided practice in the safe and appropriate use of these 21st century tools. Blocking access to the educational use of these tools only serves to leave our students under-prepared to navigate the changing landscape of the internet.

This is not to say there should be no filtering. Certainly, there are many sites unsuitable for students—content of a strictly adult nature should be inaccessible. However, just as our libraries contain information appropriate to the grade levels served, our district should filter the internet at a level appropriate to the grade levels served. Tiered filtering that respects the developmental differences of elementary, middle, and high school students is critical to providing age appropriate instruction.

Additionally, any filtering scheme needs to respect the professional judgment of educators. Educators should have the most latitude in accessing the internet so they may best determine what sites may be used, in whole or in part, with their students. The current practice of blocking a site simply because there is, for example, a shopping aspect to the site prohibits access to related, but educationally appropriate, content. Moving toward a filtering process that allows educators to temporarily turn off the filtering of a given site will improve teachers’ ability to plan and provide for more flexibility in terms of just in time teachable moments.

Ultimately, filtering should be based upon the appropriateness of the content. The new filtering system is blocking entire categories of sites based on the method of publication (notably blogs and wikis, but other important, educationally valubable resources as well). This wholesale blocking is cutting off access to a wide range of educationally appropriate, topical, and timely information.

Finally, I urge the committee to increase the amount of communication across the district regarding the educational integration of the internet and the role of filtering in meeting our educational goals. Committee discussions, or at least the results of those discussions, need to be public and communicated to the district. The committee, if it has not already, needs to become familiar with the growing wealth of online tools—including blogs, wikis, rss feeds/aggregators, and web-based applications—and their relevance in the classrooms of the 21st century. I would be happy to provide more information on any of these topics to the committee as a whole or to individuals.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the district’s filtering policies. I look forward to continuing this discussion.


Matthew J. Clausen
Willard School

There hasn't been much response, yet, but I am hopeful. Thank you to all the edtech bloggers I have been reading over the past year or so. Your ideas helped frame this letter, and any success is a direct result of the wonderful openness of the conversations.

I have already thought of a few things missing from this letter. Most importantly, the notion that often filtering is used as a technological fix to what is really a teachable moment/discipline issue. I am planning a second letter to addres this; anyone have any thoughts on what else to include?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Beta Blocker

I switched over to the new beta version of Blogger. So far, I am liking the changes, even though it did take a little getting used to. I had become pretty comfortable editing the html, so using the new layout feature took some adjustment.

Overall, I think I have the blog back to working the way I like. I have noticed one problem--changing to beta broke my RSS feed for bloglines subscriptions. The bloglines button at the bottom of my blogrole is working again. My apologies to subscribers for the hassle of unsubscribing and then resubscribing. I appreciate your effort to stay connected.

In Memoriam

At 6am last Friday, September 15, Buzz, one of our social studies teachers, passed away after having a heart attack. After thirty-odd years of teaching, most of those in alternative programs, Buzz touched many lives. He will be sorely missed.

When news of his passing reached the students they were understandably hit hard. So many of our at-risk youth have already experienced so much loss. They come to school for stability--as one student put it, "teachers aren't supposed to die."

Buzz would have loved what has happened over the past week, however. His driving mission in education was to provide students with a sense of place, of community, of belonging. On the 15th, many students were too shaken to stay in school, and that is understandable. But many students stayed, comforting one another and their teachers, some of whom had worked with Buzz for over 20 years.

His memorial service was packed; current and former students told stories and jokes, celebrated his life, and reminded us of Buzz's reach. So many of them would not have graduated, or even have believed they could graduate, without Buzz's guidance.

I have never been more proud of our students. For the past week they have been the living embodiment of Buzz's legacy--education is important and as a community we can get through anything.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

K12 Online 2006

Announcing the first annual "K12 Online 2006" convention for teachers, administrators and educators around the world interested in the use of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms and professional practice. This year's conference is scheduled to be held over two weeks, Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30- Nov. 3 with the theme "Unleashing the Potential." A call for proposals is below.

A Difference: K12 Online 2006

Two weeks of podcasts/screencasts about using technology in education. Excellent. The end of October cannot come soon enough. I am especially looking forward to the overcoming obstacles strand (Anne Davis is delivering the keynote). Too often, the conversations surrounding the obstacles are nothing more than collective wallowings in misery. Sure, there are problems. It is time for us to start focusing on " tips, ideas and resources on how to deal with issues".

Thanks to Darren Kuropatwa, Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach, and Will Richardson for organizing the convention!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Choice and Education

Mark Glasser at MediaShift, "your guide to the digital media revolution", has some nice comparisons of the old v. new ways of looking at media and its relationship with consumers.

Remixing marketing messages so they apply to education is nothing new, but one of his comparisons really struck a cord for me.
Oldthink: Reading, listening or watching [i.e. learning] on the schedules set by [teachers] and [school districts].
Newthink: Getting the information, news and entertainment [students] want, when [they] want it, on the device [they] want it, with or without [teachers/classroom/instruction/whathaveyou].

I know this is certainly the way I prefer to learn. What does a classroom, school, district, curriculum need to look like to accommodate this shift? Certainly, bans on cell phones (as much as I hate them personally), social networking sites, and anything else coming down the pipe will only serve to push students away from the classroom.

I go back and forth on the issue of whether schools will even be around in the next twenty years. I see the value of the social aspect of learning, of schools being a place to gather with a purpose; however, if some schools make the shift and others don't, I do see those that fail to shift disappearing into irrelevance as students choose the schools that stop trying to restrict their learning.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Model for Learning

Andy Carvin posted notes from former govenor of Maine Angus King's keynote about the state's 1-to-1 laptop initiative. King discusses the process he went through to get the project rolling and then shares some lessons learned. What really sticks out for me is this.

We should look at law school as a model, because there's too much damn law. Nobody can learn all of it. Instead, you learn how to ask the right questions, identify the issues, and find the law. That's a much better model for kids to learn in a knowledge-rich society. It's a different kind of learning.

Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth: Angus King: A Brief History of Maine's Laptop Program

This approach, central not just to law school but the entire practice of law, works in any field. It speaks to the whole notion of getting away from teaching basic facts and moving toward teaching ways of thinking. How do historians/scientists/writers think about their world? How do we, as teachers, guide our students through the process King is talking about?

The "Big Question" assignment is one I've used to move students toward this process. Students need to come up with a ridiculously BIG question, like "what is love?", and try to answer it using an I-search process. They begin by breaking the big question down into managable chunks--smaller, more focused questions--and start researching those. Once they have researched their small questions, they start looking at how the information they have found fits into their own experience. As they write their papers, I tell them it isn't about right answers; instead, the answers needs to be right for each person, at this moment, knowing what they know. They just need to support their versions of the right anwer with the information they have discovered.

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Process of a Podcast

I tried a little off the cuff podcasting yesterday using just a rough outline. Boy did I suck. I'm a talker, but trying to think, come across as intelligent, and form smooth complete sentences was more than I could handle on my first run through.

Breathing was a challenge, too. I just couldn't relax my diaphram, so I kept talking to the point of gasping.

Much of this all comes down to practice, something I need to keep in mind when trying to do audio work with students. Scripts, practice, time for editing all need to be part of the equation, both in my planning and in my conversations with students. Slapping something together last minute just isn't an option for creating a quality product.

Part of the classroom use will be mini due dates. When do various pieces of the production need to be in by so the whole project can be assembled in a timely manner?

Good thing I love learning by doing. There is still much to figure out.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Time to Breathe


Last Friday was the end of the school year for me. We had 69 graduates this year, bringing the total graduates over 300 in the five years Willard alternative has been open. It feels good to be a part of that. I am also very tired.

Sunday, I finished the last class in my Master's program. The past two years have been very good ones. Glad I went through the program; glad it is over.

In one weekend two major responsibilities wrapped up, and now that I have taken some time to catch my breathe, I am looking at the pile of things that built up during that final push. There are 401 posts piled up in Bloglines and at least that many weeds in the yard. I need to get back on my bike. I want to try a podcast or two. Lots of things to get to; most of them are even fun.

Off to it.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


There has been a fair amount of discussion regarding school districts where the filters are blocking not only MySpace but any site that uses the phrase MySpace. Miguel Guhlin has been discussing this at length and other have joined the conversation. Part of Miguel's response is a call to action, asking fellow bloggers to write "MySpace" on their blogs.

That'll show-em. Or, rather, it won't show them anything--being blocked and all.

I had a student last year who insisted on peppering his discussions with "fuck". When called on it, he insisted that these utterances were an act of rebellion. That he was challenging the system by breaking the taboo. As the teacher in the room I didn't so much feel challenged as bored (& maybe a tad annoyed). His liberal use of the word showed a lack of creativity. I told him so. I added that if he really wanted to rebel he should do something about poverty or world hunger--real social issues that require real social change.

I just don't see writing MySpace on my blog just for the sake of writing it as doing anything of value. I know Miguel is doing other things, real things (see 1 & 2 ), about reforming the way we think about & practice our profession. But a lot of energy is going toward making a noise that lacks creativity and will, at most, annoy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Extending the Conversation

I have started a new round of blogging, this time with my English students. We are using ClassBlogmeister as a place to reflect on their readings as they do research on a variety of topics.

Today, we started talking about leaving comments. I began the class asking a few students to share what their topics are about. For each student, I made a generic, related but throw-away comment, like "I like black holes, too." Even as we were talking, the students would make faces at my comments, knowing that what I said really wasn't that important.

Then, we talked about why my comments weren't well received. Ultimately, students felt that I wasn't being very helpful. I agreed, and we discussed how bad comments can stop us but good comments help to develop a conversation, a give and take between the people and ideas.

During fifth period, once students had been working for awhile on their entries or leaving comments for classmates, one of my more reluctant bloggers turned to me and said, "Now I get it. I can see why this would be helpful." Then, while visiting with a student after school, I was asked, "How do I comment on a comment?"

They have been bloggers for about four days, now. Already, some of them are grasping what they can do with this tool.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006 is an impressive new project highlighting slam poetry. The current theme is black history month.

Welcome to's first feature, presented by Just Media and Cafe Nuba. We have 15 of Denver's best spoken word artists. They were asked to spit something relevant to black history month, but you can be the judge of that.

Each artist's poem can be accessed in a number of ways, including audio and video. The videos are nicely produced green screens, so for each performance the artist appears in front of a dynamic background, which changes to support what is being said.

Local schools have been getting more involved in holding poetry slams. There were three last year and one this year so far. Students from our school have participated in all of them, and we are considering ways to work even more slam poetry into the creative writing units. The podslam poets I have already watched can serve as great models of the performance aspects of slam poetry. Pacing and body language are difficult to teach, and seeing the high quality performances of these poets will go a long way toward helping students improve their own craft.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Shameless Plug

PBwiki logo
PBWiki is a free wiki space tool. I used it to set up a district tech committee space for subcommittee work. So far, the wiki has been useful for sharing documents (mostly revisions to tech standards), and I am trying to encourage its use for conversing and creating/revising documents.

I find the PBWiki very easy to use, and I think committee members who have explored have also found it easy to use. At least, I haven't had to answer many questions.

The shameless nature of this plug is that for writing about PBWiki they will up our storage space, which will help as more files get posted for review.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

NCCE 2006 | What is your philosophy?

I started the conference with David "The Shirt" Moursund's session, "Developing a Philosophy of Computers in Education".

Moursund used the session to walk us through his thought process for using information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education. Questioning is a critical component to this process, and he put many questions on the table.

One of the questions that really struck me was "What is your 'authenticity' philosophy?" There was a time when not memorizing was a radical idea. The use of pencil and paper meant facts, ideas, and opinions no longer needed to be memorized. This, understandably, shook the memorization approach and changed the nature of education.

Now, the computer has changed the professional world to the point where it is difficult to work without open access to information. How does this change what "authentic" means when applied to work being done? to learning? to assessment?

So, Moursund asked, is letting the computer do something "cheating"? If part of our goal as educators is to prepare students for the world they will be trying to make a living in, are we doing a disservice whenever we limit their access to information?

This brings me back to an ongoing lunch table discussion of the importance of teaching facts. In a world where facts can be looked up in seconds and frequently don't require specialized texts to access, I see no reason to memorize facts, and I find making students memorize facts a waste of time. The facts we find interesting and/or use frequently, we internalize. If we don't use a piece of information frequently or see any value in knowing, there is no reason to memorize it.

What I am more interested in spending time on is the use of facts, ideas, and opinions to create something new. This is becoming an important facet of my philosophy--the use of ICT needs to fit into a process of accessing, understanding, and creating.

This idea of creating something new, of "adding value", of extending the conversation should be the beginning of my philosophy. How is the use of technology going to help my students bring something new to the conversation?

NCCE 2006

I just got back from two very good days in Portland, OR attending the Northwest Council for Computer Education conference.

Normally, this is a pretty wet time of year to visit Portland, so much so that NCCE gave away umbrellas as member gifts. However, the skies were clear and sunny with temps in the high 40s to low 50s. I took a beautiful walk along the river on Wednesday and really wish I had thought to take a camera.

Over the next few posts I will dig into my notes and start thinking about how to use the ideas I have taken from the conference.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Welcome to my first podcast

Okay, I decided to take the plunge and try out podcasting for myself. Honestly, I'm pretty impressed with how easy it is. And free, too, if you don't count the cost of the computer, thanks to garage band and audacity.

Give a listen here.

The graphic is from Podcasting Graphics.

  1. Put together a few piano loops in GarageBand for intro music.
  2. Record vocals in Audacity (I tried doing this in GarageBand but couldn't get stereo output. I will need to dig around in the settings some more.)
  3. Bring intro music into Audacity, arrange, and add fade out effect for intro music.
  4. Export as MP3 and upload to Internet Archive.
  5. Blog away.
The missing step: Oh yeah, next time, maybe have some content in mind.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Silly iTunes Fun

Chris Lehmann got this ball rolling and I thought it would be fun to play along.

My iTunes, well iPod really, top 10.

1. The Handshake - Bad Religion
2. Sick of it All - The Distillers
3. Dancing Through Sunday - AFI
4. Man With a Mission - Bad Religion
5. Can't Spot It - Bad Religion
6. Fats Terminal - Bone Orchard
7. Dismantle Me - The Distillers
8. Die on a Rope - The Distillers
9. I am Revenant - The Distillers
10. The Gauntlet - Dropkick Murphys

Looks like punk is the flavor of the moment. Good high energy music to keep the heart pumping.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Echo Chamber No More

Lawrence Lessig is a constant source of powerful ideas, but his newest wiki, the Anti-Lessig Reader, is a rather impressive attempt at inviting, as he puts it, "the other side of the story". What better way to get away from the echo than opening the door yourself and inviting in new voices.

So, how can we take this example and use it with students? A wikified debate seems like a logical first step. Small groups of students could take various aspects of a complicated issue and, using the wiki, share the arguments and work toward understanding the depth of the issue.

Of course, given the ease of editing, I can already see students "helpfully" making changes to the opposition's information. What great opportunities for discussing ethics, integrity, and respect for multiple view points.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Web-based Resources: The Musical

Today, I presented a number of useful resources available out there on the web to the district's technology committee.

From a show of hands, many of them had heard of and read blogs, which is a great start. Unfortunately, only one other person had a blog, and she admitted that it was in need of an update. Still, this is a start. My hope is that the resources I showed them today help push them toward using these tools in their own lives and in their classrooms.

We started with blogs and, specifically, Class Blogmeister, which is an incredibly teacher friendly way to have students use blogs in a safe, managable way.

Then it was time for wikis. Most had heard of/used wikipedia and used the tech committee wiki I had set up for posting subcommittee work. This is encouraging. Those of us on the tech committee are seen as the ones out in front of the wave (rightly so or otherwise); we need to be using the tools.

We then spent a fair amount of time on bloglines and furl as tools to help control the flow of information. I also showed them how these tools are part of the social, information gathering network, which naturally led to how powerful the sharing of information can become in a classroom.

We wrapped up with SuprGlu. This tool has enormous potential for pulling together all the bits and pieces a class is creating on line. All the furled content, all the blog entries and flickr postings, across multiple classrooms (and even subject areas) gathered together in one place for the students to use.

I only had an hour, and I really feel like I ended up blasting through most of it. My hope is that a few bits sink in, here and there, and people start by playing around with these things on their own. I have already been asked to do a more in depth session when we can get together in a lab and really do some hands on work with each of the resources.

Overall, things went well. Anyone visiting from the committee, leave a comment, become part of the conversation, and have fun playing with these new tools.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Is it Time for Podcasting?

Over the last three or so months I have been really getting into listening to podcasts. I had sampled a few here and there but been turned off by the more aptly titled vanietycast nature of the programming, so I quit listening.

But then Tim Wilson started producing Ed Tech Coast to Coast. Being a fan of Savvy Technologist, I decided to take a listen. The light bulb went off immediately; here there be content.

I was hooked.

With some more digging, I uncovered more content-rich podcasts. Alt.npr's YouthCast is a regular listen. Anyone teaching Romeo and Juliet should listen to the story of NetNet and Rome.

But now, like blogging, I want a better understanding of the tool. How do podcasts work? What tools do I need (I'm not ready for this just yet)? And what do I want to say?

The answer to the opening question seems to be not quite yet, but soon.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Welcome to '06

Being a teacher, the start of the "new year" has always felt a bit off. Nothing really changes for me on January 1. Semester doesn't even switch until the 20th. My new year is the end of August when the students come back from summer vacation.

Still, this seems like the moment to take stock. This time last year, I was only two or three classes into my Master's Degree. Now I am three from the end.

I had just started learning about weblogs, had only written a few posts, and was reading just two or three weblogs regularly. While I still haven't become a consistent, even every other week, blogger; I certainly have become dependent upon my bloglines feeds.

(As an aside, I just ran blogger's spell check and discovered that it doesn't have "blogger" in its dictionary. Spell checkers amuse me; I wonder if other English teachers get the giggles watching how they behave?)

My goal, now, is to start putting all the theory I have been reading into some form of application. There is plenty of "what" and "why" spinning around; I need to develop the "how".

  • How are these web-based resources going to work for me, my classroom, my students, my school, and my district?

  • How am I going to be part of the solution, part of the answer to the problem of getting these tools used?

  • How do I best use these tools and model their use to others?

Part of the answer is using this space more. I need to push myself more to blog the process. To wrestle with the hows in this public space.