Thursday, April 18, 2013


Laptop Session, Matthew Boulton Campus, Birmingham Metropolitan College
Photo Credit: JISC InfoNet
This photo can be shared and used freely under Creative Commons.

The word "Ning" is Chinese for "peace". Launched in October 2005, Ning is an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks. Ning appeals to people who want to create their own communities and social networks around specific interests. Users on this website have the ability to create a community featuring photos, videos, forums, or blogs. In addition, a Ning community can integrate with online services like Facebook, Twitter and Google. For instance, people can join a Ning Network using their Facebook or Twitter account, and share content from a Ning Network directly to their Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Teachers can meet with other like-minded teachers, collaborate on materials, and expand their professional networks. On websites such as Ning, I can obtain ideas for teaching, lesson plans, and classroom activities. The vast array of communities and social networks makes searching easy. 

Particularly appealing is the lush landscape containing photos, videos, forums, and blogs. The wide range of features on this site enable students to share multimedia relating to academic content. Here, students can collaborate in a student-oriented learning environment, promoting constructive discussion on academic concepts.

The SMART Board Revolution Ning is a community centered around academic activities relating to the SMART Board. Educators connected in this community can tap into new discussions, websites, tips, and Notebook files on this network. There are discussions regarding effective uses of SMART Boards, lesson plans, relevant software applications and applets, and bug updates. Moreover, this website boasts a powerful SMART Board search engine, allowing educators to browse lesson activities, assessments, and web links.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Podcast Assignment on the Need for Brick-and-Mortar Schools

Home Podcasting Studio
Photo credit: Tim Wilson, 3 August 2005
This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

A recent podcast by collaborative webcasting community EdTechTalk entitled A Conversation with Will Richardson on Why School? discusses the need for conventional schooling in today's digital age. The co-founder of Powerful Learning Practice and a former public school educator of 22 years, Will Richardson, mentions in this podcast that "things like blogs and wikis, as well as remote collaborations and an emphasis on 'critical thinking' skills are the coins of the realm in this new kingdom." Dialogue relating to educational technology is not considering the full breadth of advantages technology can bring into education. Furthermore, our educational system does not seem to match the progressing nature of our technological society. In the field of medicine, we are beginning to embrace the notion of telesurgery. In the field of economics, computers have dominated what we now call e-commerce. In the field of mathematics, computational technology is reducing the time needed to perform computations to a much greater degree of precision. If all other facets of human society are reaping the benefits of technology, should education not follow suit as well?

Richardson makes the bold statement that traditional brick-and-mortar schools are no longer needed to access information. I will ask students to watch or listen to this podcast (both video and audio formats are available) and take notes on any claims that may surprise them. As a piece on persuasive writing, students will decide whether we should leave traditional schools for online modes of learning, or if the status quo should be maintained. Then, examining both sides of the issue, students should take a position and defend their side using facts to support assertions.

A persuasive essay will allow students to reflect upon their own educational experiences, to weigh the pros and cons of both types of schooling, and to develop an awareness for the changes that may affect them in the near future. This assignment encourages students to formulate an opinion, back their position with evidence, and write a compelling argument to support their claim. Within our lifetimes, we will begin to see a host of major reforms impacting how education is implemented. In learning about this issue, students will have an opportunity to enact agency and voice their opinions. As former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton points out, "[m]en often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike."

Monday, April 8, 2013


Taken at the Royal Shakespeare Company
Source Hard Drive
Author Anthony Anaxagorou

The right to use this photo falls under liberties specified by Creative Commons.

ePals is a global online learning community emphasizing positive relations between schools in over two hundred nations around the globe. Educators and parents will be pleased to hear that this community is highly safe; all e-mail, blog, and forum correspondence is strictly monitored and controlled. This environment is meant to foster authentic learning through the interaction with individuals of varying walks of life. Interactions in this environment will encourage students to understand concepts and relationships in real-world contexts.

Therefore, it is a natural consequence that ePals ties neatly into the ESL classroom. Cross-cultural collaborations promote learning about different cultures and ways of thinking. Students can discover the ins and outs of other cultures while articulating some of the characteristics of their own. ePals brings the benefits of pen pal correspondence and facilitates this process via the internet. Furthermore, ePals can be used to create class-to-class collaborations on a diverse range of projects. Imagine the possibilities that could manifest if we cooperated with another class halfway across the globe! This sets the stage for a valuable exchange of information and insights fostered by the interactions between two connected classrooms.

Additionally, ePals is beneficial due to its versatility. Students can use this service in elementary grades to practice literacy skills; students in any grade can use this resource to discuss—among other subjects—social studies, economics, history, English, and foreign language; individuals of any age can utilize this service to simply connect with another human being and to grow in this capacity. The direction of our society has shifted to accommodate the demands of a digital economy. It is only fitting that pen pal correspondence has caught up with every other area of human interaction. ePals facilitates this discourse and allows students to partake in a meaningful dialogue with others.

The ePals Science Center contains forums and blogs relating to global science and sustainability measures. In this center, students possess the opportunity to discuss current science issues that relate to their particular nation and discover how other nations are grappling with these issues. The center features an Invent It! contest wherein students design an invention aimed at conserving resources. Moreover, there are a variety of eco-friendly tips on this website that students can discuss. The ePals Science Center represents an exciting venture to connect science learning worldwide.

I might use this service to discuss concepts with students of other countries. For example, I might have students engage in a conversation with British students, to clarify British academic terminology. Or students can discuss any issues relating to the subject matter that may be pertinent in their home country. This can open a dialogue that communicates to students that these ideas have global repercussions, and that students from all over the world are learning about these things. For these reasons, the engagement in a rich, provocative environment such as ePals uniquely supplements the curriculum in any discipline.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Original Caption: Students in a Classroom at Leakey, Texas, near San Antonio 05/1973
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-12386
Photographer: St. Gil, Marc (1924-1992)

VoiceThread is an exciting addition to the classroom. This versatile implement stores group conversations on threads that the instructor sets up. Students and instructors alike can collaborate in an interactive environment via microphone, webcam, text, and doodling. Each multimedia slideshow can hold images, documents, and videos; users can even pause videos to comment upon certain stills. VoiceThreads can even be embedded to show and receive comments on other websites and exported to MP3 players or DVDs.

I viewed Joseph Belfon's VoiceThread and Kayla Douglas' VoiceThread. Joseph's VoiceThread discussed the basics behind VoiceThread in a concise slideshow, then he discussed his cultural background. Afterward, the users were encouraged to share their own personal background. I shared my story of being a second generation German-American citizen. Kayla presented an image relating to hobbies, wherein users were implored to circle two objects that the user enjoyed playing with as a hobby. This allowed users to circle their favorite objects and offer a narrative surrounding their choices.

VoiceThreads are a great tool to use in the classroom, and very versatile. My VoiceThread includes a quiz on music theory, wherein users listen to a musical interval, describe the interval, and then circle two notes on the keyboard that fit the given interval. As demonstrated by my use of VoiceThread, this website is highly flexible and allows for educators of all disciplines to present content and elicit student feedback. 

However, educators need to ensure that assignments administered on VoiceThread allow for uniqueness of answers, it is easy for students to copy others' answers. It is for this reason that we should encourage students to attempt assignments that emphasize creativity. The possibilities are endless when it comes to VoiceThread! Educators need only think of assignments within their discipline that encourage thinking outside of the box. In ESL classrooms, this is a great opportunity for students to speak, type, and identify concepts in the target language. 

Photo Stories and Comic Strips for Education

This image is part of the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums set Playing Tricks

This is a glass slide telling the comic tale of a young boy playing tricks. The slide is from some time between the late 19th century and early 20th century. It would have been viewed using a magic lantern, an early type of image projector.

Photo stories and comic strips represent a wonderful educational resource for any classroom, including the ESL classroom. As my presentation on friction shows, comic strips can include fun images while including a great deal of academic content. The Storybird website contains an array of pre-selected images, and users shuffle these seemingly random images into a story line. I was able to select a myriad of photos involving friction, and was able to write about friction relating to solids and fluids.

As a reading medium, photo stories and comics can present concise information in a fun, easy-to-read format. Photo stories and comics can foster interest in subjects such as science and help students remember what they have learned. In addition, these resources can raise awareness about current issues and serve as an effective means of communication. However, some educators remain ambivalent about the value of this medium as an educational resource. Some may be concerned that these resources detract from the integrity of academic content, and that students might not take the unit seriously.

I intend on integrating photo stories and comic strips into my classroom. Students can distill academic content into a coherent story line regarding the concepts raised in class. This medium can serve as an indicator of content retention, while allowing students to creatively formulate a narrative.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bookr: A welcome addition to the L2 classroom

As my recent Bookr on air resistance will show, I have recently discovered this wonderful presentation medium. Easy to use and entirely web-based, this tool can prove to be a fun and engaging resource in the classroom. 

Users select images from a vast array of images licensed under Creative Commons. By the way, this is also a great opportunity to teach students about giving credit to photographers when credit is due. Students write a narrative on each slide and select a photo to accompany the text on each slide. Afterward, the student can publish and share his or her work!

In publishing a Bookr, students can present upon something that is meaningful to them. Presentations can be funny, they can be inspiring, or perhaps even serious. This activity can teach students that narratives carry a tremendous amount of power; a power that can bring about civic change, or raise awareness regarding civil issues. Educators are highly encouraged to furnish students with a broad array of academic resources with which to present material. We are training students to become a group of technologically-savvy, intelligent thinkers who use technology to effect positive change.

I would use this resource in my classroom to supplement a certain unit. We could be learning about physics (as shown in my Bookr) and this opportunity could be used to teach English through physics concepts. The art of storytelling is integral to cultural traditions, and incorporating this resource into the classroom allows students to tap into this mode of dialogue.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Digital Storytelling

Photographer: Eiler, Lyntha Scott, (1946     ). Motorist, Left, Listens to a City Employee Explain the Exhaust Emissions Test at an Auto Emission Inspection Station in Downtown Cincinnati, Ohio 09/1975  Use of this photo is unrestricted under Creative Commons.

A January 2007 article by the Educause Educational Initiative entitled 7 things you should know about Digital Storytelling sheds light upon the educational uses of this powerful narrative medium. The article defines digital storytelling as "the practice of combining narrative with digital content, including images, sound, and video, to create a short movie, typically with a strong emotional component." Digital storytelling can be instructional; teachers can use linear or nonlinear storytelling formats to present educational material in a fun and engaging way. Perhaps even more profoundly, students can synthesize a story to recapitulate key concepts from a particular unit.

This format of content presentation can serve "instructional, persuasive, historical, or reflective" purposes, according to the article. We all know that the parable of The Emperor's New Clothes effectively teaches us the lesson of critical thinking and skepticism of mob mentality. The Boy Who Cried Wolf illustrates that we should seek to reduce the number of false alarms we give, lest we are ignored in an actual emergency. Digital storytelling will interest students, and will give them a creative outlet to articulate academic content.

With the advent of technology, storytelling can manifest in a variety of ways. Movie-making applications including Windows Movie Maker and iMovie are easy to use and can make story writing an endeavor that spans a single class period or an entire unit. The applications can be easily taught to students and possess user-friendly interfaces. Students can make movie trailers, easily edit audio, integrate live footage, add effects, among countless other features. These programs serve as a rich medium for showcasing student talent and encouraging students to reflect upon academic concepts.

The Center for Digital Storytelling points out that the art of listening is difficult. In fact, our society has seen a profusion of professionals specializing in this very field—social workers, therapists, and researchers are among a few of these professionals. However, anyone can listen deeply. The website indicates that when individuals learn to listen, they "create space for the storyteller to journey into the heart of the matter at hand." Digital storytelling is a map that illuminates possibilities. This medium works hand-in-hand with our natural inclination for sharing narratives; digital storytelling encourages artistic self-expression and has the power to influence individuals and communities.