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I’ve finally settled down to read David Warlick’s book, Classroom Blogging, after using it for reference purposes for several months now. This quote really caught my eye, and forced me to seriously reflect on the long-term mission of both KIPP and Teach for America. It also made me wish I was a better writer so I could effectively put all my reactions into a nice, organized, well-written post, rather than the rambling you are about to read. If only I had begun blogging in 8th grade…

“Facts are a mouse-click away, and our students can click it faster than we can.”

Two main thoughts come to mind.

1) We talk, read and think frequently about the achievement gap in our schools and with our students. It begins when our students often come in as 5th graders significantly behind grade level, and continues into high school where statistically many students from our communities have a lower chance of attending the college of their choice.

If the ability of students to teach themselves, using all the tools available online (ie developing your own personal learning network), is becoming commonplace in areas where students are able to click the mouse at a much faster rate (in homes where computers and the Internet are as common as televisions), then are we not actually widening the achievement gap by not giving our students that opportunity in our schools?

If we know that many of our students do not have the tools at home, and we do not give them the opportunity to learn those same skills at school, then not only are we stealing their knowledge of the most basic computer skills, but we’re also stealing from them the ability to continue their learning independently using online resources to teach themselves and expand their learning network. So while students in more well-resourced communities leave school to head home and spend much of their evening online expanding their personal learning networks, our students are falling even more behind, instead of beginning to close the gap through their hard work at school.

2) Are we as teachers also contributing to a widening achievement gap by not being tech-savvy ourselves? I frequently question this in my own classroom. There have been days when I introduce a new Web 2.0 skill and several of my students are already familiar with it. This gets to the root of what I believe David is suggesting with his comment. It pushes me to think about what role we (as educators) are playing in actually widening the achievement gap if we are resisting to learn the very skills our students so desperately need to even run at the heels of higher performing schools, let alone actually catch up.

How scary to think about all the hard work we put into our unit plans, daily materials, decorating our classrooms, and designing vocab chants, and that it could actually be undone by the omittance of computers and technology in our classrooms. We sometimes forget that it’s not just about being able to use a mouse and keyboard (although that is definitely a prerequisite that many of our students have never been taught, as I learned rather quickly on my first day of teaching last year), but it’s about being able to navigate the plethora of information that is now available with just the click of the mouse, IF you know how to find it and use it.

Where are those skills being taught now? How are our kids being taught to continue to teach themselves, outside of school so they stop falling behind?


To close out our Web 2.0 unit (that didn’t get nearly as much time as I would have liked), we are going to be discussing Internet Footprints for the next two days. In retrospect this should have absolutely been done first thing, because we’ve actually been changing their footprints throughout the unit as we became more involved in online discussion and conversation.

The goal of teaching the idea of an Internet Footprint is to get students to think about EVERYTHING they create online. The idea that what they put on their MySpace profile can affect college and job options in the future, your blog can be found and looked at by ANYONE, not just your intended audience. Comments you leave on other blogs and VoiceThreads wlll reflect on you, and again can be read by many more than what you originally expect.

But the question I’m struggling with is how much of your Internet Footprint do you really control? Clearly you have most of the control over your MySpace profile, but what about pictures that others tag of you, or comments that others leave on your page? Yes, you have control over your blog, but what about others who reference your blog in theirs? That becomes part of your Internet Footprint, because when someone googles your name, that web site will also appear. I have a picture that was taken at a American University basketball game where I look ridiculous decked out in my red, white and blue that was featured in a recent EagleBlog post. While I did pose for the picture, I didn’t have any control whether or not it appeared online. But again, that has become part of my Internet Footprint. So where is the focus when we teach this? Simply on what we are posting online, or the idea that the Internet is everywhere. We have to be aware everywhere because you never know what could end up online, and eventually impact your Internet Footprint?

I would love thoughts on this, and how to teach it, before we dive in next week!

I received an e-mail from a KIPP listserve I’m on that made me think…

“I also recommend using technology to block myspace, facebook and other social networking sites – make sure that you are also blocking proxies which allow people to bypass your firewalls and access those sites.”

What this e-mail suggests is that we take two things that many of our kids love, and spend a ton of time on at home, and do whatever we can to completely remove them from our schools. Our instinct when we hear the words ‘MySpace’ and ‘Facebook’ is to quickly block them at our schools because most students are not using these tools properly. Isn’t it our job to teach them? Not just about math, english, history and science, but about life? The choices they’re making on MySpace and Facebook at home are life choices that have the potential to put them in danger and lose their jobs and future opportunities, or at the very least cause some embarrasment and regret about pictures posted and comments made. Yet we, as their teachers, do nothing but try as hard as we can to completely block them from all school computers.

Here’s my thought (and I’d love to know yours): What if our curriculums actually included a unit where we explicitly taught MySpace? That’s right, we teach them how to use MySpace in our schools. We could teach everything from how to create a page, how to design it, how to upload pictures, how to ‘friend’ people, and how to then communicate with other MySpace users. The students would understand that coming in to school every day they would be bringing up their MySpace profile on school computers. My guess is, even if there were no school created regulations as to what content they could include on their MySpace page, they would naturally become more selective in what they include, knowing they would pull it up on a computer screen in a classroom with 20 other teammates and a teacher. Isn’t that what we want to teach them? That their profile is actually public, despite how private it feels in the comfort of their own home?

In this curriculum other uses for MySpace could be introduced. When they teach themselves about MySpace at home and with their friends, the most appealing use is for socializing. However, there are a ton of ways MySpace could be used for educational purposes. Imagine if people created groups based around shared interest in books, and then pursued discussions with other students, at other schools, all over the country? What if those interested in music could share ideas and upload songs they themselves had created? What if students interested in poetry creation and performance uploaded VoiceThreads with their own poetry performances? (If you don’t know what VoiceThread is, check this out!)

My fear is that MySpace has turned into what it is (as Miletha, one of my 8th graders, described, ‘A place that is truly ours, with no rules and no adults watching’) because of a lack of explicit instruction about what it looks like to create an appropriate, or productive, MySpace page.

I guess the bottom line is that I detest the idea of taking the tools that engage our students the most OUT of our schools, instead of implementing them INSIDE our schools to help our students become succesful academically, and in life.

The more incredible education blogs I become addicted to, the more I am amazed by those educators who are able to make time to post so frequently. I’ve clearly fallen a little behind as I’ve gotten completely wrapped up in my most recent unit. I’ve taken David Warlick’s idea of personal learning networks that he fascinated me with at NCETC in March, and have adapted it into 8th grade objectives. Not only has it pushed me as an instructor both in design and implementation, but it’s also allowed me to be consistently wowed by what 8th graders can produce when given the tools and a little independence. Our MySpace discussion was just one example.

This week we’ve expanded our discussions to the wonderful world of VoiceThread. For those of you who have never heard of it, it’s an incredible online tool that allows you to build conversations around pictures and videos you upload in a slideshow format. The coolest part is that you can comment with both text and voice. So on many voicethreads you have actual conversations occuring. No microphone on your computer? No problem! Use your cell phone! The possibilities of what you can do with VoiceThread are limitless, with some examples being:

1) Documentation of school trips that allows students to add their own perspectives/memories for each picture.

2) Discussions around historical pictures/pieces of artwork.

3) Classroom videos that can be observed by other teachers for ideas, or so others can offer feedback and suggestions to improve instruction.

4) My most recent favorite… Dramatic readings of different kinds of poetry and plays. This is what we’ve been working on most recently in class. I’ve created a slideshow with three different photographs, each representing a poem (or scene) they’ve read recently in English class. Then students have the opportunity to record their interpretation of the poem as they perform it. I’m told you can embed VoiceThreads in blogs similiar to YouTube videos, but seem to be having technical difficulties with that recently, so I’ll just include the link. Hopefully I can fix that soon… Check it out and feel free to leave comments for the students! The more they realize they have an audience, the more I see the desire in class for them to improve their work, so feedback is MUCH appreciated 🙂

2012’s Poetry

Their thoughtful (most of them) comments generated around a collection of pictures

While I recognize that this is a KIPP blog, I also recognize that many KIPP teachers come from a Teach for America background (myself included). So on that note I can’t help but put in a plug for my most recent reading. Received a book in the mail this morning from my grandparents called “Relentless Pursuit; A Year in the Trenches With Teach for America”, by Donna Foote. Began it this evening and it’s incredible how dead on it is with everything from Institute to the cycle of a first-year teacher. This author has clearly lived the life of TFA teachers, and it’s refreshing to read as someone who has tried relentlessly to explain to both family and friends what it is that TFA, and KIPP, are all about.

Highly recommended from what I’ve read so far. Will keep you posted as I continue to read…

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.