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Monthly Archives: April 2008

Pat raised an interesting point in his comment responding to my last post. What else is there online that can help us share resources and work smarter, not harder?

I think the connection between schools in creating this big, happy, online KIPP family is SO much larger than just blogs and aggregators. I think a KIPP wiki would be another incredible start, and as soon as someone can figure out a great way to organize a wiki like that so that information is easy to find and access, it could change the way we work. (Don’t worry, I’ve already started thinking about it…)
However I see wikis and blogs (and the many other parts of Web 2.0 I think we could, and should, be using) as serving entirely different purposes. A KIPP wiki would be a great place to go to make planning (and even execution) more efficient and effective, whereas blogs and aggregators makes dialogue and conversation ABOUT these more meaningful.

I think back on all the Friday evenings spent at La Tolteca (the best Mexican restaurant in RoRap) discussing teaching and even bigger picture education theory over delicious Mexican food. Friday evenings are the best for that because the pressure of the week is off our shoulders, and we have not yet started worrying about the upcoming week. We are then afforded the rare opportunity of having those discussions that don’t necessarily directly impact your classroom the following Monday. But again, it stays within our staff. A lot of the ideas people raise, and the discussions that result, are brilliant, and would push us even more if they included outside perspectives. For now I see blogs as one of the best ways to do that, since there’s no time limit, no location requirement, and no invites… anyone can participate, anytime!

Only downside is the lack of chips and white dip…

For more specifics about how to be part of that discussion, see yesterday’s post, “Give me five minutes and I might change your life”.


Blogs as coffee shops…

My thoughts on blogging mentioned yesterday were perfectly summarized in this brilliant blog post from a blog titled “Markitude: Commentary on the trappings of my life”.

Thought I’d include it here:

People congregate to share ideas.

In urban areas, the coffee shop maybe a favored location to exchange ideas with people in person, or more frequently, online. Forums have been an online fixture, along with newsgroups for many years, and people with common interests tend to gravitate to these areas. Blogs traffic can come from a variety of sources, referrals from other blogs, search engine keywords that occurred in a post, or through referrals from the blog hosting site (hot blogs, next blog, top blogs, etc) based on traffic volumes. As a small sidebar, this latter method tends to be self fulfilling in that once a blog makes it to that list, simply being on the list will drive more traffic. If the blog is interesting, it will stay on the list in seeming perpetuity, ala Scobleizer. If not, then it will cycle through once all the casual clickers have found it, taken a peek and moved on.

Those that stay, and come back day after day appear to do so because of an affinity to the author or the subject of the blog. Posts start a conversation between the blogger and any audience member who chooses to comment, as expected. But then something more interesting can occur. Commenters, begin to have discussions amongst themselves within the comment threads, leaving one comment related to a previous comment rather than the original blog entry. It’s not just a many to one relationship with the blogger, but rather interaction amongst the commenting community. When the same small group of commenters are present day in and out, does the subject blog begin to take on the aspects of a social destination, a virtual coffee house? Are the visiters there for the coffee, or the venue and other patrons?

AKA: Create Your Own Newspaper

I was lucky enough to have two teachers visit my classroom today who were pretty inquisitive about both the hardware in the room (hard to ignore a beautiful SmartBoard with a wall mounted projector) and the content the students were tackling. One of them questioned if I was a ‘blogger’, and, while totally unintentionally, implied that there were certain people, or types of people, who blogged. I became totally intrigued by the perceptions of the ‘outside’ world as to who blogs, and for what purpose.

While I think it’s true there used to be a very small, specific community of people who blogged (in my mind they looked like your traditional techie who sat in a dark room and never left their computers, however not having been a blogger until recently I’m not entirely sure who they were), the idea of worldwide blogging is so powerful when thinking about communication, so many more have jumped aboard. KIPP NEEDS TO BE NEXT!

There are so many great things going on in so many of our schools across the country, but minus a few cross-campus visits every year, and of course KIPP Summit, our ideas and innovative approaches to teaching our content often stay within our schools. While KIPP teachers are famous for working hard, we need to start taking advantage of technology to work smarter. Here’s where blogging comes in…

There are these brilliant inventions available for free on the web now called AGGREGATORS. Many of you may even be using one and not know it (think iGoogle). They have the power to organize all your favorite websites and blogs on one convenient page (that can also easily be set as your homepage) and feed you new updates as soon as they’re posted. This allows you to see new blog posts to all your favorite blogs in a matter of seconds, all on one page. Now bear with me here…

Picture if a lot of the brilliant minds leading KIPP schools, and teaching in KIPP schools, started blogging. Doesn’t have to take much time, even small posts with random thoughts about school culture, middle-school social life, and brilliant misunderstandings that hit you mid-lesson and you wish you had prepared for. Now KIPP teachers nationwide open up Internet Explorer (or Firefox or Safari for all you brilliant Mac users) and see your post pop-up. Maybe it doesn’t relate to them or doesn’t interest them, so they ignore it. But for many blog posts, there will be many teachers who are immediately intrigued by what they see and venture to read the whole post. Now they add their own comments to the post, and BAM! A discussion is born. So easy, and SO beneficial to everyone involved. The blogger now has an audience outside their own school. The reader now has resources and conversation bringing in different perspectives. Either way, we’re communicating with each other, and continuing to think about how we can do what we do better. Isn’t that what we’re all about? Why should it be limited to 4 days each year at Summit?

While it’s easy to set up, and you’ll quickly fall in love, the bigger picture of cross-school communication can’t happen in a meaningful way until we get more (ideally 100%) of our teachers aggregating, and many of our leaders and teachers blogging. So here’s where to start: (if you want to check out my public aggregator to see what it looks like when it’s set up, here’s the link to the one I use in my classroom with my kids. Saltine Rockstars is the name of our Tech Team, and the tab called Saltine Rockstars is a collection of all their blogs… I HIGHLY encourage you to check them out and leave comments… they need help understanding there IS a real audience out there! There’s also some education blogs on there to get you started… I’m working on making a public aggregator for KIPP this weekend, so I’ll put that up here when it’s created)

Here’s a quick video to show you how to actually subscribe to blogs/websites once you’ve set up your aggregator/reader. This one is showing Bloglines (another aggregator), but it works the same way:

If you want to start a blog, I use, but there’s a ton of other providers out there.

Also helpful, can help you find a variety of blogs to get your aggregator started.

My kids are brilliant, and perhaps THE most important part of my Personal Learning Network (how else would I have learned Walk it Out and the Superman?) But today several of them really pushed my thinking (and entertained me) with their thoughts on why middle schoolers are so obsessed with MySpace.
Miletha brilliantly stated that MySpace really is their space. The only place in their adolescent world where they are truly in control. No parents telling them what they can and can’t say (despite what we may wish), no teachers disciplining them when their language isn’t ‘professional’, and perhaps the only location in their world where they can be (or act) ‘grown’.

This makes me wonder what we could be doing in the ‘real world’ to give them this same sense of ownership and maturity. How do we incorporate space and time in our classrooms where they are allowed to express themselves in similar ways? What if blogs, where they are allowed and encouraged to express their thoughts eloquently in their writing, could replace this other world where pictures and wall posts define who they are? I would love to hear other thoughts on how we give students this same feeling in other places, so they don’t feel this void that needs to be filled by MySpace.

Most entertaining perspective?

“It’s like Wal-Mart, cause you know everyone’s gonna be there.”

~Johnnie I.


Quick win for vocab… every week on Wednesdays my students homework assignment is to use their lingo (vocab) to create a script of some kind (“Script it Out” if you will). They can create a movie script, TV show script, commercial, song, rap, poem, fiction story… the options are really endless as long as the product is well thought out and uses their lingo in sentences, in a way that shows they understand the meaning.

Well needless to say while at first this can be exciting and a little different, eventually it becomes just another homework assignment they have to complete. Quick easy win= YOUTUBE! The best scripts are performed the next day (Thursday Theatre) in class, and recorded on my small digital still camera. The good ones are then uploaded on YouTube. If you teach in a computer/Tech lab, it’s easy to embed it on your blog and have them all watch it the next day. If you don’t, just put it on your website (or tell them what it’s titled) and you’d be amazed at how many kids will find a way to look at it outside of school.

Following a class discussion earlier this year about how YouTube is revolutionizing fame, and every middle schooler wants to be famous, kids will do whatever it takes to get their work (and performance) on YouTube.  Whatever it takes in this case is quality homework.  What a beautiful win-win situation 🙂

Just another way technology can help invest kids in your subject…

P.S.  Struggling to get videos in a format that upload easily on YouTube?  Try VisualHub- best converter I found after a ton of research last night.  VERY user friendly.


As I was creating a unit plan today, (teaching students about how technology is absolutely revolutionizing the way we can communicate with and learn from others), I decided to search for some good quotes. I assumed there had to be something out there about technology, and how it’s making it so much easier and more efficient to indulge our natural sense of curiosity. Instead, here are just a few samples of what I found:

All of the biggest technological inventions created by man – the airplane, the automobile, the computer – says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.
~Mark Kennedy

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity. ~Albert Einstein

Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. ~Aldous Huxley

ARE THEY SERIOUS? Are they talking about the same technology that allows a 3rd grade cancer patient to still attend class (using Skype) while receiving chemo treatments? Are they talking about the same technology that allows educators WORLDWIDE to share resources and lesson plans in order to most effectively teach our kids? Are they talking about the same technology that allows my kids to publish their writing in a forum where it can actually be read by THOUSANDS instead of just several? Are they talking about the same technology that encourages, and makes possible, two classrooms in different countries to connect and share ideas in a global academic conversation?

I’m slightly confused why when we hear the word technology apparently what jumps to everyone’s mind are atomic bombs destroying civilization, or 5-in-1 remotes that allow us to live on our couches. It looks like some people need to take a Tech class.

We, as adults, use google all the time to find out anything and everything we want. Need to find some resources fast? Google it. Trying to put a face to a name? Google it (thanks Google image!). Hoping to dig up more information about a prospective teacher? Google them. Trying to solve a friendly argument with a friend? Google it. (Beware on this one… I first learned about wikis back in college, and was fooled by someone who went in and changed wikipedia first…)

So what exactly are we teaching our students about what their ‘Google Profile’ is beginning to look like?

I know in my classroom the approach I’ve taken is the less we put out there, the better our profile is. But a recent blog post on ‘Web-blogged’ started to make me question that approach. As a result of such easily accessable information, it unfortunately is taking a more prominent role in hiring (and firing) in today’s workforce. It’s also becoming common for college admissions to ‘Google’ prospective students, and check out their Internet footprint.

In traditional college and job applications, everyone must submit a resume. Even if yours isn’t as good as you would like, you do your best and submit it anyways. I see, and hear, all the time at my school the reinforcement of doing things now that will build a stronger resume later. So instead of just encouraging students to not create an Internet presence at all (or atleast a traceable one), why don’t we explicitly teach them how to create a positive internet presence.

Encourage students to create electronic portfolios with their best, published work. Interested in photography? Introduce them to Flickr and the world that awaits both in terms of inspiration, but also in terms of authentic audience (a huge community is developing around photos on Flickr, with in depth conversations developing around single photographs). Introduce them to VoiceThread where they can create their own voice-guided slideshows and discussions.

What I’m seeing here are three possible outcomes in 4-8 years when a college admissions counselor googles one our kids:

1) They find some embarrassing pictures and potentially crude conversations/posts on MySpace walls, all convincing them to NOT accept our student.

2) They find nothing, leaving them with just the student’s paper (or online) application, resume and GPA.

3) In addition to the student’s application, resume and GPA, they find several year’s worth of published writing, a blog with their (hopefully) insightful thoughts/comments on a variety of topics, published photography and potentially so much more.

So let’s revisit our mission for one second. 100% of our students will attend the college of their choice. It seems to me, if it is becoming popular for college admissions counselors to ‘Google’ potential students, we need to do what we can to make our kids ‘Googleable’, so they’re using every tool they can to become a successful candidate. However, like everything we do, this must be explicitly taught, and not just hoped for. We can’t just give our kids the tools (the Internet, blogs, social networks) without teaching them how to use them and be successful at it. Without that direct instruction, we are finding that we almost inevitably end up with outcome 1.

So where is it being taught now?

I just discovered Google Earth about a month ago and was FASCINATED! One of the most fun parts of being a tech teacher is playing around with all the new free things I discover online. This was an awesome one. However, not teaching science made it more difficult for me to figure out exactly how it can be used as an educational tool in a science classroom.

This morning I discovered this recent post on one of my favorite blogs, ‘The Tech Savvy Educator’. Would be really helpful to all you science teachers, as it has a TON of great resources and ideas, as well as some cool science blogs/websites. Check it out!

While blogging FOR the kids is a powerful tool to connect to their world of digital engagement, I enjoy their blogging even more 🙂

About four months ago my students created their first blogs. At first this involved them simply typing up some of their writing from English and responding to a couple prompts from me. While I was convinced at a tech conference in Greensboro that blogging was a strong tool to improve students writing, I wasn’t convinced immediately. The idea that writing for an authentic audience would improve their voice, grammar and style was compelling, but students didn’t seem to feel that their audience WAS authentic since they weren’t receiving any comments. It was then that a brilliant mind in the world of KIPP suggested Blog of the Day. LOVE IT! Since then an essential part of our Do Now has been visiting the blog of the day (written on the board). We discussed and learned what positive and constructive comments look like, so comments do not become a sort of “writing on walls” if you will, a transfer over from their MySpace and Facebook worlds. In my next unit I’m going to hopefully teach the idea of continuing and building the conversation through their comments, to increase the intellectual conversation potential created by a blogging community.

Okay, now the one huge wall I’m already predicting from teachers NOT in a tech lab setting. If not privileged with a classroom full of computers here are a couple of options.

1) Reserving the school computer lab so you can set them all up at once. Then save it as an earned privilege, potentially using it as a class incentive, earned however you consider appropriate for your subject and what you want to emphasize at the time.

2) A ‘pod’ of computers in the back of your room, if possible. Even 2-5 computers in the back of your room can be a cool earned privilege for kids making smart choices, or an even rotation where everyone gets signed up and blogging within a week. From there, normal writing assignments in your class can become new blog posts! No need to type them up first, but everyone can write on paper and later transferred to blogs. Encourage kids to visit them at home as well… even those without internet access will miraculously find a way when they WANT to get on. You’ll be amazed by which kids are motivated by this!

The biggest key with both of these is providing a way for them to receive comments. You’ll find that many may not respond very quickly to the idea of blogging when they’re receiving no response. But as soon as they get their first comment, many will be hooked. Send their blog web addresses to your staff listserve. Encourage other teachers to visit them. Send the addresses to friends and family members and encourage the same (make sure to mention to them what kind of comments you’re hoping for… grammar feedback, content responses, or just conversation based off of what they’ve brought up). Send them to other KIPP teachers. You’ll be amazed at how much fun it is to read the ramblings of a middle school student… we have a lot to learn from them, and many just need a place to express it!

Some prompts I found with great responses:

Do you believe in love at first sight? (They’re doing Romeo and Juliet in English right now)

Are there some things that are evil, but in certain situations good? Or things that are good, but in certain situations evil?

If I were a teacher I would…

In 20 years, I will be…

The qualities that make a best friend are…

One thing I’d like to change about the world…

The more controversial/debatable the better. Not only will they love expressing their opinion, but it also makes it easier/more exciting to comment on and spark discussion.

One helpful hint: send home a permission slip first to parents to let them know about your project, and make sure to emphasize with kids this is a CLASS project, therefore what they write should be appropriate for a professional/classroom situation.

Here’s a website that can really help when thinking of setting up blogs for the first time:

So in the past couple of days since returning from Spring Break I’ve heard many of my kids reference how much time they spent over break going on MySpace, or how they were going to head to MySpace as soon as they got home.

While I accept that MySpace is, and despite what I may hope or wish for, will remain an important part of their social lives, I also accept there IS something I can do about it. Kids are always looking for new things to explore and play with online. Right now they have a TON of ways to connect with their teammates online, but do they have a way to connect with their teachers?

This year I created my first ever blog, and it was for my class. I find it an awesome way to communicate with students inside (I’m lucky enough to teach in a room with 24 computers) and outside (you’d be surprised how many will look at it in their free time!) the classroom. I began by writing daily about what happened in all four of my classes (we often forget about how little they see of the other groups, but how much they want to know about the other groups!), and it evolved to updates, commentary I don’t have time for in class, pictures, and could be so much more!

The English teacher on my team recently created her own blog, and I LOVE the idea of all teachers in our school blogging! You can write about YOUR interests (how little they actually know about us is amazing, how much they WANT to know about us is surprising!), what you’re reading, thoughts on the world, or whatever you want! Imagine a world where students go home and have the option of MySpace, but also the option of 5-30 teacher blogs to choose from! If we can show the Internet as a place of learning and community with their teachers as well as their teammates, we are expanding their social and personal learning networks to a place where growth doesn’t have to stop at our school door as they board the buses…

Just a thought 🙂 I recommend WordPress as my blog of choice,( but there are tons of other places for you to go to create YOUR first blog 🙂

Check out mine at: