Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ways to use Twitter in class

Here's a repost from an Ontario teacher using Twitter in class. I'd probably try Twiducate instead. Students don't need to register, and you won't be shut out when Twitter is shut off because of overuse. His ideas are aimed for a grade 8 class. (Click the image.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Containers or connections

This comes under the category of wow!!!!

Click the image to see the full sized version. It has been reprinted from Judy Breck's Golden Swamp blog.

"On the left above is a screen shot of Science Standards from the Illinois State Board of Education (you can download the pdf from this page). On the right above is a drawing of a Synapse phosphoproteome network from the Genes to Cognition team at the Sanger Institute. The full size version of the image above is here.

I put the Illinois Learning Standards and the Synapse side-by-side to suggest that we require students to learn subjects inside of little boxes, while students think about them in highly connected networks. The boxes in the Standards are separated from each other in all sorts of ways: living things are in different boxes than processes of the Earth. Different things about the same subject are spread out over five different grade levels. There seems little chance of having a thought that relates an early box in “A” to a late box in “E.”

Yet the news for the future is very, very good! The beautiful Sanger Institute drawing of the synapse network looks an awfully lot like what subject knowledge does when we put in on to the open Internet. Students’ synapses would seem naturally to mesh with online learning because both are networks. Learners can – as the drawing suggests – start at most any point or level in a subject and follow what they are thinking and learning to connect it to any and all other points."

She has another blog called Learning Nodes which is dedicated to open learning. Her stuff is worth a look if you're in favour of connecting students to the global knowledge commons. She sees sees the way the brain is structured and functions as a metaphor for the interconnectedness (what she calls "intertwingularity") of the internet and the people who use it.

Meanwhile you can take this brain age calculation test. I didn't come off too badly, but then I wonder if there are actually different scores or if they give the same final result to everyone to give oldies like me a little boost.

And then give this test a try to see if you are more left or right brain dominant.

This final addition to today's meanderings may be of interest to people in the digital story telling couse. It seems we no longer need to interview and question to connect with family history. This company claims it can turn brain waves directly into videos.

assuming one remembers

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Philippe Cousteau webinar, Thursday Oct.28

In case you haven't been reading the News section of your course moodle, Karena has arranged a Wilkes webinar with Philppe Cousteau for tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. EDT. EDIM alum & friends are also welcome to attend. The session will be archived and all those who register will receive the link.

Topic: Spotlight on the Gulf Spill, How it Affects Us Now and in the Future. Questions, Answers and More Uncertainty

Thursday, October 28
Time: 4:00 p.m. (EDT)


*Pennsylvania educators will receive one hour of Act 48 credit if they provide their PPID at the time of registration

About this webinar: Join Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the legendary Jacques Cousteau and Discovery Education Chief Spokesperson for Environmental Education, as he takes you to the Gulf through pictures and stories from his recent trip to evaluate the effects of the Gulf Oil Spill. He will discuss the effects on regional wildlife and ecosystems as well as focus on how the oil spill will affect us now and into the future.

If you have any questions about this event, you can contact me at or 800-945-5378 x7841

Hope you will join us!

For those who no longer can access the EDIM moodle, try this link and login with your name and a current email address:

Take-away for today:

Here's a lesson plan I did for the Globalization and Advocacy course which you are welcome to download. I used the Inquiry-Based Learning 5E's template furnished by Matt Cwalina and built a math lesson around the theme "Oil and Water Don't Mix" --


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Attention Glogster Lovers ...

This notice recently landed in my inbox ---

The student accounts are great because they don't require any personal information from the kids. You activate them from your dashboard. If you have not done this On the right side across from the messages, there will be a notice that says you have no student accounts. When prompted about how many you want, choose the maximum (100 until Nov. 7). I have no idea whether the new 50 rule will apply to old accounts that have not taken advantage of this feature or just the new ones, so I did mine today just in case. Now I just have to edit them to have individual icons and user names that make sense!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I shake therefore I am: The Mathematics of Metaphor

Prezi is a tool many try but few master. You need lots of patience and a strong visual sense of movement. If done well the story is told as much by the trail of connections as by the words and the images.

Here's a great one on metaphor! Explore it before you watch the video that inspired it which follows.

James Geary's TED talk ...

Friday, October 1, 2010

I connect therefore I am?

I came across this TED video of Sebastian Seung today. Seung thinks that our memories, our personality, our intellect --the 'stuff' that makes us who we are -- may be encoded in the connections between our neurons. He calls that our "connectome." As we grow and mature our personality changes slowly because our experiences change our connectome -- with new neurons and synapses growing and others dwindling and being lost. "The mere act of thinking can change our connectome."

It occurred to me as I watched Seung describe his "Quixotic" quest to map the human neural connectome, that personal learning networks and social networks could be an external manifestation of what he thinks is going on inside our brains. If "I am more than my genes," then humans are more than the individual subunits (i.e. people) that make up the world's population. (If you haven't guessed, I'm taking the Globalization and Advocacy course!)

If my metaphor works and the stuff of our humanity encoded in the relationships -- the connections -- that thread us all together into a collective, then every action -- however casual or seemingly isolated -- changes the connectome of the whole. This in turn reaffirms the power of the individual to change the pattern of relationships in the world, and then there is no individual action without a consequence for the network of relationships that make up the whole. ('Heady' stuff!!)

Seung aspires to map the connectome of the human brain with it's 100 billion neurons. It ought to be comparatively easy to map the connections between the mere 6.8+ billion individuals on our planet. I wonder what a connectome of the human race would look like.

It could be an interesting task to do one for family or a classroom first and then use the same kind of imagery as Seung did in his presentation (7:35-8:24) to show the scale of those interactions compared to the size of the macrocosm of the human family. The only thing I didn't like about Seung's images was that as he scaled up from the single neuron to the mouse brain and then the human brain, the original slice appeared to dwindle into insignificance and then disappear altogether. How could kids change the image to both preserve the sense of scale and at the same time represent the importance of one synapse or one person to the connectome of the whole?

Monday, September 13, 2010

CRSTE 2010 Cyberconference

There's a very cool online professional development event coming up in October from the 16th to the 24th.

"Featured presenters include: Dr. Karen Cator, Alan November, Mark Weston, CRSTE's Kathy Schrock Digital Pioneer and Leadership & Vision Award winners, and education leaders and ed tech leaders from across six continents! Each weeknight and weekend days and evenings, the Global Symposium will offer sessions that allow you to connect and collaborate with like-minded educators from around the world, seeking to work together to transform education for the Information Age."

From their wiki (which is open 24/7) you can register, take a look at some of the online tools people are using, test drive a tool and leave a comment or find someone to work with if the tool you're interested in is collaborative.

From the CRSTE website you can access the Elluminate archives of the Feb. 2010 event. Some of the more notable speakers were Ian Jukes, Kath Schrock, Sylvia Martinez, and Kim Caise, but there are over 100 sessions on topics ranging from " Laptops and 4th Grade Literacy" and "Animation and Digital Storytelling Across the Curriculum" to "Web-based Simulations that Build Math and Science Content Understanding" and "Putting the Horse Back Before the Cart: Technology Competencies All Educational Administrators Need".

If you're looking for a great way to spend some time with other educators from around the world, this looks like it will be a super event. See ya there, I hope!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Time to congratulate this term's' grads

I am struggling with a laptop keyboard that isn't cooperating entirely. For some reason the key strokes hold back and the space bar isn't reliable. Did I say "For some reason?" Actually, the sound system of my laptop had stopped working perfectly and rather than settle for 80% function, I decided to invoke my extended warranty and get if fixed. Two mother boards later and I'm not quite back to the 80% I originally felt cheated by because in the process of opening and closing and fiddling and fitting, the space bar has begun to stick unless I hit it dead center with my thumb and sometimes there's a time lag between hitting the keys and seeing the letters on the screen. Do I dare call the serviceman again and this time ask for a new keyboard? I guess I'll give it a couple of weeks to see if it settles down a bit, but this is driving me nuts!!!!!!


The real purpose of this post is to say congratulations to all of the people who are finishing EDIM everything tonight. I know about Rod Murray (Canadian!!!) and Emma Haygood, but I suspect there are others of you our there, and I'm issuing an invitation to all EDIM alums to create a slide for our new Google Doc.

What should you put there? Something about your best take-away from the program, a link to your best project, a note about how doing this program has transformed you or the way you think or feel about your work, or your best advice to other students to come, grad photos (at home or in Philly) or ??????

Here's the link: I still have one course to go, so I'll start with a title page and some guidelines.

I hope this document will grow and inspire other teachers to try the program and stick with it when the dark moments hit and you feel all alone on your side of the computer. Meanwhile -- congratulations on your return to a life without "Post by Tuesday and respond by Friday" deadlines.

(Image source:


And finally to Karena our advisor -- congratulations to you too. If I'm not mistaken, you've finished your own degree this week as well!!!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Writer's Drought Begone

As the title suggests, the past few weeks have been low ones for me when it comes to thinking of ideas to for this blog. I've been working my way through Digital Storytelling (DST) -- but even that was in a singularly uninspired way. I've had to dredge up ideas from the depths to complete the assignments, and I have no one but myself to blame. The course is a good one and Joe Brennan is a great instructor, but I just haven't felt that my story ideas have been particularly inspired.

In retrospect I think I let the good ship DST sail without me. I could have used the course as a arena for exploring how to breathe more life into math teaching (my current crusade and passion) by giving students alternatives to the endless piles of questions we think will ensure they learn and that their learning lasts, but I didn't. As a result, I've gained a lot of knowledge about storytelling techniques, but I let the struggles I have with cameras and picture-taking bog me down and stayed with safe topics. I made several nice pieces, but I didn't really push myself to test how DST could have helped me be a better math teacher.

Last night in the final discussion forum I found an interesting problem posed by Dianne Clowes, one of the women in the course:
"Next year, due to budget constraints, I will have to teach some math classes. I have already considered ways to incorporate DS in my math classes but maybe someone can give me some suggestions as to how I can do it with this objective: Solve multi-step linear equations with one variable with the variable on one and two sides of the equation. I have an idea of what I could do but would enjoy hearing some ideas."
Here is my response:
I think that part of the problem with trying to use digital resources in math is that we have such 'crappy' big ideas to work with and that is a perfect example. To help students develop more personal connections to this kind of learning I think it's important to step back from the math and see if there is a larger understanding that overarches the particular objective or standard. I wonder if in this case the bigger learning is that an equals sign in an equation is like the balance point of a teeter totter and that whatever you do on one side, you must do the same way to the other side to maintain the balance. Perhaps it's that when you know all the elements of a problem except one, you can rearrange the elements you know to find the one you don't know. Can you think of a related science concept [she normally teaches science] you might use to illustrate this bigger idea? If so you could make the digital story for them as a sort of mystery to be solved. (Please share if one comes to mind. I'd love an example to use when I work with math teachers this fall.)
I went on with an explanation of what Dan Meyer (my math teaching hero) might say:
I think Dan might advise us to pose the students a real problem and let them struggle with how how to solve it before we even give them the math terms and tools. (Sample problems: How can you figure out what mark you need on the next test to maintain your average? How can you figure out how much money you need to earn from your after school job next month to have enough to buy an iPhone?) He'd have them use stories (digital or otherwise) to explain and illustrate how they came up with their solutions and why their method works. He might talk about what the students' solutions had in common and which offered methods that could be applied in other situations. Only after would he explain that math substitutes a letter for the unknown (to make it easier to talk about) and then offers a reliable process people can use to take a lot of the guesswork out of these kinds of tasks. Once the students have a deeper appreciation of what equation solving is used for, it will seem less disconnected from their lives and the learning of the process (which is what your standard is expressing) will be embedded in an experience they have shared and that is based in a real life situation.
And then of course this morning I came across what Dan actually wrote a couple of months ago about Storytelling and what he calls WCYDWT (What Can You Do With This). Dan's point is that the best stories don't give all the answers but lead us to them and let us drink ourselves. They entice, allude to, and reveal just enough to enable the viewer to make the connections. They aren't 'tell-all' exposés. He asks teachers to use stories to "perplex" and then to help the students create stories which will recreate the experience of their own exhilaration about learning inside the viewer. [Note: this assumes that students in math classes experience that kind of excitement in the first place.]

There's the challenge then -- to teach in such a way that more learnable moments become exciting -- not just to us and to the math-loving students in our classes -- but to all the kids and then to give our students opportunities to capture their learning and all the feelings that went with it in stories of their own. If we can get students to package their math learning inside meaningful stories their recall of the story-creating event will open the door to the content we wanted them to learn. They will not be storing their math learning in some impenetrable vault deep in their longterm memory. Instead, every time the visions of their stories sparkle and dance in they will be rehearsing the embedded math. What a way to engage their subconscious in keeping their math learning fresh!

Here's the Math Promo I did as an assignment for the 504 course. It needs work, but perhaps I'm on the right track.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Learning from the Greats

I had several glorious days with the likes of Patricia Kuhl, Bruce McCandliss, John Mighton, Patricia Bauer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Talk about learning from the best. This was a conference about the brain and learning and I'll warn you now, cognitive neuroscience is liable to infuse everything I write about for the next while.

At first listen, it can sometimes feel that the work of these people is very isolated and pointed at solving particular problems or answering particular questions and there is little overlap in their insights into learning and memory. However, now that there is so much more work of this kind being done, common threads or findings do seem to be emerging which we educators would do well to consider when designing learning activities for our students.

The work of combing through my notes for those key ideas and themes still awaits. Next week I'm off to Chicago to train with the Discovery Professional Development group. In preparation for that and for my next two assignments in DST (504), I've used the pre-learning assignment sent out by the DE team as a way to begin tying to fit together the research with best practices. Here's the preliminary result. If you have feedback to offer, please leave a comment.

For those of you who read this blog in Facebook, here's the link -- .

Free website - By

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

504 (DST) -- the power of story mapping

We're well into the digital storytelling course and I'm already turning in videos late. I've found with Wilkes courses that there are no simple assignments. Last week's challenge was to figure out how to blend unit's lesson about how to create stories with emotional impact for an audience with the assignment requirements to introduce myself and where and what I teach to the others in the class. (This was doubly difficult because I no longer have a class or students or even access to a school now that I've retired.)

I found some great online resources by Jason Ohler to help me understand the purpose of story mapping using a process he calls VPS (creating a visual portrait of a story). Although at first glance, VPS seems to be about the plot line, it's really intended to add a sort of emotional tension to a story by ensuring that 3 key elements are present: a problem, a solution, and a transformation.

At the end of a presentation to a group of teachers in Alaska, Ohler was asked by someone in the audience how to guide her students to turn photos taken of a school trip into effective stories and her replied that they should be asked: "What did you learn? How are you different?" and to think: " I was one person who did not know something, but now I'm a different person because I learned this thing" and then tell the story of that change.

Ohler says that this VPS mapping-- the building of the emotional flow of the piece -- must come between the idea and the story boards: "Transformation keeps us watching. ... The story fails without our being able to witness that change. ... The new you has to win and the only way for the new you to win is if you change."

Twenty Revelations about Digital Storytelling in Education- Jason Ohler
View more presentations from jasonohler.
My first idea for the Introductions assignment did not meet Ohler's criteria at all. It was a cute take on how to present my story, but did not contain that essential transformation, and I was completely stuck. Finally, my husband persuaded me to take a night off and we headed to the Harrison Festival of the Arts to hear Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks amongst an audience of mostly over 50 counter-culture folk. The next morning the new idea seemed to be waiting for me in the shots I'd already taken and the images I'd been experimenting with in my video editing program.

Here is the final cut and I'm pleased to say that this one has received Bob's seal of approval. It means a lot to me that he likes it because week after week during the Portable Video course he patiently sat and walked and posed and acted as I fumbled with my camcorder and tried to get shots that would show some originality and a minimal attempt to follow lighting guidelines and the rule of thirds. Tomorrow and Thursday he'll be out with me again so I can take pictures for this week's door scene. I could not do these courses without his constant unselfish support, and having finally created a video that speaks to him touches me deeply.

Final reflections:

(1) I've been thinking back to my math presentation at ISTE and now understand that part of the reason it succeeded so well is that it incorporated Ohler's 3 elements: problem, solution, and transformation.

(2) Lesson planning is all about going directly from an idea (content, skills, standards, learning outcomes) to the 'storyboard' (plot line/instructional sequence). But what if teacher training institutions took Ohler's ideas to heart and added his 3 key story elements to that conventional process? What if we all had to think deeply and incorporate into each lesson and each unit the ways it would transform the students we teach? What if before we were allowed to plot out the what and how of any lesson we were required to let go of tired generalizations and pat answers and dig for personally meaningful changes that should emerge from we're doing in the classroom every day? I think that would truly revolutionize formal schooling. Instead of "No Child Left Behind" -- we'd be in the vanguard of a new movement called: " No Child Left Wondering Why."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

'Discovering' Canadians at ISTE & upcoming DE webinars for all

The folks at Discovery really know how to throw a great party and I want to thank you all for showing us Canadians a great time while we were at ISTE. The food was great, the speeches were short, and we had a chance to meet up with other Canadian teachers interested in educational technology and instructional media which hardly ever happens.

The event was also a celebration of Discovery's first year in Canada. They now offer over 3 million Canadian titles to us. If you're in the IM program and missed the memo from Karena about how to get an account with DE Streaming Canada, Karen Goldman and Austin Dolan are the people to contact. You'll need to a different user name and email for your Canadian account.


There's a wonderful webinar series coming up in August (FREE!!!!!) and you don't even need to have Discovery in your school to participate.

(Click the image below and select Adobe reader to see the full-sized pdf version of the brochure. My blog columns are too narrow for the full-sized image.)

DEN summer 2010

If you haven't been to a webinar before, Discovery makes this easy. In addition to your computer, you'll need either a phone (no charge) or a headset to participate.

YOU start by registering. Using the DEN Blog link above or this sign up page, click each title that interests you. Each webinar has its own online form like the one below. (If you aren't seeing all of the next image, please click it.) I like to change the time zone to Pacific so I don't have to remember whether to add or subtract the 3 hours on webinar day.


When you register for your first session, it's also a good idea to check to be sure you have all the necessary media players. Use the "click here" link at the bottom of the registration form and check each all 3. If any need updating, Discovery has provided all the links you'll need.

Once you've registered, you'll be sent an email with the code for the session and information about how to log in. The email will also give you the toll free number for dialing into the session. The phone/headset option is needed so you can hear the speaker. My old phone is very tinny so I us my headset -- a wireless USB type that I wear on one ear. If you want to use your phone instead, when the webinar begins set it to speaker and prop it up so you can concentrate on your screen.

On the day of the session, use the link and the information provided in the email to join the session. If you don't want to use your phone, now's the time to choose 'headset' instead. Mine sometimes doesn't work unless I go to the control panel on my machine test the audio device settings before I log into the webinar. If there's a problem, you can always quit the session, readjust, and then rejoin it if you need to.

During these webinars the speakers share slides and their desktops with you as they talk. You can ask questions or participate in the conversation using the chat box on the bottom right of your screen, or you can speak directly with the presenter when the moderator is taking questions. He'll enable your phone/mike at that point so you can talk. Don't hesitate to ask your question or add your comment. Perhaps you have an idea or past practice of your own that worked really well and you'd like to share it. Perhaps you want some clarification. In my experience the more that listeners participate, the more interesting the session becomes -- but it's also OK to watch and type. That's the cool thing about these Discovery webinars -- whatever your comfort level, you'll come away with interesting information and cool ideas to use in class.

Generally the sessions are archived and if you ask either at the beginning (before everything gets rolling) or at the end, the moderator will tell you how and when you can access the links to the archives. These are often posted in the DEN blog, but ask anyway -- just to be sure.

I know that August seems like a long way off right now -- but I thought I'd let you know about this series now so that if you're heading off to the cottage or out on the road, you can find your wifi hotspots and join these webinars from wherever you may be.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Responding to that first discussion in a new IM course

I have just started the Digital Story-telling course -- which means that all that stands between me and my degree after this one is over is Globalisation. I went back and looked at the first post of the first course I took here. What did I think I was getting into when I started? A program that would pack a lot of new tools into my teacher's tool chest. What has happened is way more than that. I have decided to include the text of this course's first discussion to show you what I mean.

It seems like teaching and school have always been a part of my life. I started in what was called 'nursery school' when I was 4 or 5 and, even though I retired from classroom teaching in March, I'm still in school here at Wilkes. Instead of giving you all the details of what I used to teach, I'm going to talk about a time in my life when I could not.

The year I had breast cancer (I am a 10 year survivor) was one of the most difficult of my life, but that wasn't just because of the treatments and the way I felt physically. What was most unsettling for me was being away from school. I don't have children of my own, and what I did that gave my life value and shape was teach. Who was I if I wasn't the tough-minded, but caring teacher in Room C014?

I really withdrew from the world during my illness, but when I needed a break from being a cancer patient, I'd stop in at my old school on the way home from a chemo treatment. I knew I had about 4 hours before the 'tsunami' of after effects would hit, so I'd find a spot in the library and wait for the news that I was there to go around. Students and colleagues would stop by to chat and look at my head which was not completely bald but closely resembled a thinly bristled hedgehog. In about 90 minutes I could soak up all the reassurance from them that I needed. I knew that the cancer was just an unexpected blip on the timeline of my life because my my real world -- my school and the people in it -- was waiting to welcome me back whenever I was ready.

About a year later I left that school and went to work in a small alternative program that operated 4 days a week. That place was not a happy one. The kids were an interesting and challenging lot, and when the old magic worked I knew I'd had a hand in helping people whose lives were in danger of completely unraveling find their way back from whatever dark place they'd gone. So the work with the kids was rewarding. Unfortunately the staff was completely dysfunctional, and I always felt like I had to prove myself to them. Still I have to thank them for making the decision to leave school easier. If it had been a better place to work, I probably wouldn't have finished this degree or retired early. I certainly would have found it much more difficult to let go.

And now here I am -- no longer at the head of my own class and very close completing this program as well. I still have some things I want to do and say in the profession, but to do that I'm having to become shamelessly self promoting -- which is totally foreign to me after so long in the formal school system. I've spent the past 7 weeks doing a course about Second Life. Had anyone predicted 30 months ago when I first discovered PowerPoint and began this journey into the field of ed tech that I'd be looking for ways to use web 2.0 tools to teach in a virtual environment, I'd have just walked away shaking my head, but there I was learning to teleport and deciding whether it was worth it to go to an in-world red light district to buy a Canadian flag for my display. Crazy!!!.

Being in this program has done more than added more tools to my repertoire and upgraded my professional knowledge about things like learning targets and rubrics. It has given me an opportunity to reinvent myself as an educator. How I'm going to use this knowledge, I'm not sure. My dream is to be teaching at the university level, and I'm trying to use my blogging and course assignments to figure out what I'll say there if and when I have that chance.

I hope this will give you a glimpse of who I am rather than what I do - or rather used to do.
The IM program came into my life at a time of professional turmoil, and it seems to have been one element in the perfect storm that has pushed me out of the teaching life I knew and did so well towards something very new and completely unexpected.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Off topic but interesting if you're traveling this summer

This little find comes under the heading: "Why don't more people know about this?" I am booked to present at ISTE in Denver next week, but I've been holding off on making the arrangements to go until I was sure I really had time to be ready. Seems silly, I know, given the amount of lead time you get between acceptance and event, but my thinking about tools use and education changes so much over 6 or 8 months because of all the research, reflection, and writing. The initial ideas can almost seem like someone else's thoughts in retrospect. So last night in typical last minute fashion I was looking for a place to stay in a town where every hotel room is booked.

Not wanting to settle for a 'no-tell motel' or a place far from the downtown center, I decided to change tactics and look for a B&B. After about 15 Google pages I found Airbnb.

There are loads of people all over Denver willing to rent me anything from space on their floor to an entire condo with hot top for prices ranging from $30 per night to $500. You enter the dates when you need accommodation and you get back all the listing of people who have space available for that time. They can post pictures so you're able to see what the space is like. I registered through my Facebook account. I has its own messaging system and maintains confidentiality until payment has been accepted at which time the 2 parties involved in the transaction get to see each others' email addresses and phone numbers. I used the PayPal option rather than give out my credit card information. The fee taken by Airbnb is a little high, but I was happy to pay it and still saved because I was ready to pay $100 or $200 a night for a hotel.

I will be staying with a teacher who has just gotten her SMART board certification. She lives 8 minutes from the convention centre (15 in bad traffic) and will give me a room with it's own door out to the back yard and internet service for $50 per night Canadian.

This is wonderful! It's been around since 2007. Loads of these people accept pets. How come I've never heard of this before? If you're traveling this summer and want to find interesting places to stay, this looks like a great place to start.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The end of 513 -- Inquiry Based Learning

I hate to be evaluated and I struggle with rubric writing. You might wonder why I decided to go back to school to upgrade my qualifications at this late stage in my life. Sometimes I wonder myself, but the learning I've gained as I've moved from 'doing courses' to using this as an opportunity to reinvent myself as an educator has been worth all the anxious hours. After 513 is done, I'll have only 2 courses left, and I'm even entertaining dreams of attempting a doctorate. I'd love to be called Dr. Sue -- not to be confused with Dr. Seuss!

In the IBL course, Matt Cwalina points out that "the use of rubrics in the classroom began gaining popularity towards the late 1990’s". Now, I trained to be a teacher in the early 1970's. What feels natural and normal to younger teachers who grew up in a rubric-driven education system has been a challenge for me all through the Instructional Medial program.

Andrade (n.d.) defines a rubric as "a scoring tool that lists the criteria for a piece of work, or [says] 'what counts' " and "also articulates gradations of quality for each criterion, from excellent to poor." She goes on to explain that a rubric should "as concisely as possible ... explain what makes a good piece of work good and a bad one bad." What has become evident to me after reading many assignments and discussions in my courses over the past year is that the way rubrics are written (yes -- even our Wilkes rubrics as explicit as they try to be) can make the difference between students and instructors guessing and knowing what constitutes excellence.

Terms such as: well/sufficiently developed, clear, adequate/inadequate, limited, superficial, subtle, voice, minimal, and evident awareness leave a lot of room for individual interpretation. It seems that even in courses at the Master's level, except when it comes to counting bibliography errors or discussion responses, personal interpretation of general descriptive words still sometimes guides both students' work and instructors' evaluations. Unlike students in a classroom, we online learners don't often have the benefit of being able to compare work, grades, and comments.

So how, then, does one approach the problem of writing a rubric that will give students clarity? When I used to mark assignments and tests (yes -- even math tests), I had to go page by page so that I'd do all examples of longer questions consistently. I was definitely a teacher who knew excellence when I saw it but I also would have been hard pressed to put that into words. Rereading the Bresciani presentation assigned in the last unit of this course gave me a clue. She says (slide 5) that rubrics are a way of 'norming' teacher expectations and of "informing students what you are looking for." These are easy words to write, but they can be very difficult objectives to meet. Some hard mental slogging may be required to work out what those general terms really do mean rather than just come up with other synonyms.

Slide 15 was the most helpful.
When I read those questions, I realized that I could apply my learning in the IBL course directly to the problem how to write a good rubric. In Week 5 we learned about writing writing 'reasoned explanations' . In an explanation, you make a claim and substantiate it with evidence. This is my project from Week 5.

Free website -

In a rubric, you set the set the target and then put into words what it will look like if a student is meeting this target. That's what makes this kind of writing so difficult. You can't just say what want; you have to say how you know it when you see it. Without the evidence, the explanation/rubric is just not complete. You have to reach deep inside and put feelings into words.

You have to make internal standards which are usually a complex blend and delicate balance of many factors explicit. You have to balance brevity with explication. You have to box yourself in by 'setting it in stone'. You have to put yourself in the shoes of struggling students -- those for whom general descriptors hold little meaning or perhaps a meaning which is different from your understanding -- and ask yourself what evidence they must produce to show you they 'get it'. If a student, parent, or colleague could still ask "How will I know?" (which echoes the "how do you know" question that underlies inquiry-based learning), your rubric may have all the boxes filled in, but it won't reveal to your students what it really takes to make you happy.

BTW -- Matt Cwalina who wrote the IBL course has been hired by Discovery and if you have an opportunity as a teacher who uses Discovery resources to get involved with any of his pro-d work, do so. This has been a great course and he's certainly an instructor who models what he believes in his teaching. Good luck at DE, Matt!



Andrade, H. (n.d.). Understanding rubrics. Retrieved June 23, 2010 from

Brecaiani, M. (n.d.). Creating, implementing, and using rubrics. Retrieved June 23, 2010 from

Thursday, June 17, 2010

All E's

I'm getting ready for ISTE this week and next and am also wrapping up two courses that have complemented each other in interesting ways: Inquiry Based Learning and the one on virtual worlds I've written about before. As has often happened while I've been in this program, because of the time between sending the conference proposal and doing the presentation has been filled with new learning experiences for me, my sense of what I'd like to do with the session has changed. Now I'm full of angst about how to turn a fundamentally show and tell presentation into an inquiry based activity -- one that will take the audience through the 5E's without their having to actually open a laptop or do any independent exploration.

What are the 5E's you ask? Entertain? Elucidate? Expound? Extol? Exhibit? No -- I always have to look them up: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. And I have to be sure as well that all my claims are backed up with the 6th E - evidence.

If I guage the audience correctly, with as little as an hour they should be able to embrace the concept of changing the delivery of math instruction with Web 2.0 tools and evolve set of beliefs which they can articulate clearly and with passion. What follows are some quotes I recorded and thoughts I had a few days ago while viewing the video below in "Sail Wozniak's" blog of May, 2010. Although at the time I was thinking about the teacher/student bond, I also feel this applies to teacher/teacher relationships as well.


"People don't buy what you do, but why you do it."

"The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have.
The goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe

Do you know what you believe as a teacher?
Do you communicate your dream to others around you?
Do you tell your kids what you "have for them" or what you believe?

Simon Sinek in TED Talks: How great leaders inspire action

"The early majority will not try something until someone else has tried it first." We can be the early adopters in kids' lives by telling them what we believe so they can take our vision and make it their own. Then they won't be showing up for us or their parents or because society says they must, but for themselves!

"Martin Luther King gave the 'I have a dream speech', not the I have a plan speech."

So ... set aside 15 minutes of planning time every day to work out what you believe.Transform yourself from being "the leader" in your class into being a someone others want to follow.




BoyertownScienceInquiry. (2010). [Wiki]. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from

Sinek, Simon: How great leaders inspire action. (May, 2010) [Video]. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from Sails' Pedagogy at

Monday, May 24, 2010

Imagination Unleashed: immersive inquiry based learning

[Note to Facebook readers: I've added linked captions beneath the videos for you.]

To write this week's reflection, I've stepped a way outside normal boundaries of a Wilkes assignment to imagine what it would be like to blend the power of inquiry based learning with the networking capability of a virtual environment and apply it to the most authentic problem-solving situation of all -- real life. These thoughts were prompted by the conjunction of the ideas of two educators: Sahsa Barab who is convinced of the potential of immersive learning to give meaning back to education and Tony O'Driscoll who used his blog, Learning Matters, to issue a challenge "to get the world involved" in finding a remedy for the daunting problem portrayed in this video.

I suspect from his title that this was the seed of O'Driscoll's vision.

Here's what Sasha Barab has to say.

For Barab, to play a game is to be "positioned with a purpose .... to help transform some situation that's in a problematic state. ... [and to ask] what are the rules of this world? What are the laws that affect it? When I do this, what happens?" He adds: "In a game I'm considered someone who has a really powerful role to do something significant with my time ... and that requires that I learn a bunch of things [so I can ] do that thing even better. ... Failure is motivating. It's not something to be avoided. ... [This kind of learning] allows me to be something I couldn't normally be."

As many of us (even educators) do, O'Driscoll underestimated young people and left them out of his call to become part of his solution. Barab's ideas hold promise, but he may not have been thinking 'big enough' either. I'm wondering if there's a way to involve educators all over the world in mobilizing the untapped resources of today's youth to solve not only an authentic but an actual problem such as the oil spill in the Gulf?

We try to raise children's level of concern when we show video clips of disasters unfolding and talk about how terrible they are in class, but perhaps what we're really doing is role modeling passive response. Without also engaging kids in working towards a solution, we may be adding to their sense of helplessness. They may come away thinking that if such problems are too big for corporations and governments to solve, they as individuals are powerless to do anything that will count.

Here's my question.

Is it possible to use evolving global networking capabilities to involve the world's youth in a collaborative effort of inquiry learning and problem-solving and thereby give them the chance to 'play' what might be the largest and potentially the most impactful 'game' of their lives?

If, as O'Driscoll wrote in his blog, what's going on in the Gulf "is not a technology problem," then we truly need people to "think differently ... to help frame the problem differently to see if there are transferable concepts that can help stop this leak." Imagine if every student we could connect globally in Second Life dedicated seventy-two hours to generating solutions? What if Linden Labs and all residents of Second Life pledged to make it a youth-safe zone for those three days? What if we then mashed the kids up in that virtual environment with adult scientists, designers, architects, educators, and engineers -- harnessing both the energy and unbounded enthusiasm of youth who believe in their ability to change the world now and also the experience and learning of trained thinkers and problem-solvers -- and infused the forum with the urgency of the Apollo 13 mission team?

Could they solve this problem?

Is it at least worth a try?

Can they do any worse than BP?



Edutopia. (4 November, 2009). Big thinkers: Sasha Barab. [Video]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

EnergyBoom. (12 May, 2010). New underwater footage of BP oil leak at the sources. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

"hychum". (4 June, 2007). Decision Making [Video excerpt from Apollo 13]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from YouTube at

O'Driscoll, T. (15 May, 2010). 2 Hour “Moon Shot” like Stop the Spill Challenge. [Web log post]. Retrieved May 24, 2010, from Learning Matters at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Recipe for success: communicating from the inside out

"People don't buy what you do, but why you do it."

"The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have.
The goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe."

Do you know what you believe as a teacher?
Do you communicate your dream to your students, parents and the others around you?
Do you tell your kids what you "have for them" or what you believe?

Simon Sinek in TED Talks: How great leaders inspire action
first seen in Sail's Pedagagy.

"The early majority will not try something until someone else has tried it first." We can be the early adopters in kids' lives by telling them what we believe so they can take our vision and make it their own. Then they won't be showing up for us or their parents or because society says they must, but for themselves!

"Martin Luther King gave the 'I have a dream speech', not the I have a plan speech. "

So ... set aside taking 15 minutes of planning time every day to work out what you believe. Transform yourself from being "the leader" in your class by becoming someone others want to follow.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meet Nunyara Fairlady -- a work in progress

Nunyara Fairlady

I'm taking an extra course this term in the Online Education program. It's about virtual worlds and using Second Life as an educational venu. My experiences there this week were 'extreme' so I thought I'd share them in this blog, even though this course isn't part of the Instructional Media program and I decided to try it because I have time to double up. I’ll begin by saying that when I signed up for the course, my expectations about ever feeling at home in Second Life were pretty low. I enrolled to prove to myself that I could do it, but my first days in SL left me feeling like I was an outsider who would always remains so and that no learning experience was worth the frustration I was experiencing, especially when it was self-imposed.

Although the text promised me god-like status and the unfettered fun of getting drunk, having sex, fighting, casting spells, flying, and changing my appearance at will (Rymaszewski et al, p.5), it also made clear that on this 21st century version of ‘Fantasy Island’ (but without Mr. Rourke and Tattoo), “your presence … is defined by your appearance” (p. 82). It implied that in order to avoid hostility I ought to construct an external appearance which would reassure the ‘in-world’ residents that I was like them (p.88). An appealing avatar would go a long way towards satisfying my need to be loved and admired (p. 87). My expectations sank even lower.

Other sources warned that:

  • “looking like a newbie” could draw “mean comments or wrong information” …. because “some of the old residents are really mean with new players” (Kiara Vaughn).

  • I shouldn’t “accept friendship cards from strangers" whose intentions may not be the best (Vaughn).

  • SL is a dangerous place if your are weak and an easy catch for “the griefers, spammers,” and others out to do harm (Lizzie Arriaga).

  • if I didn’t adapt fast to this environment and try to “fit the story,” I risked boring everyone because being unimaginative “spoil[s] the fantasy.” If I "barged in and stuck out like a sore thumb,” I would not be respecting “the rules of the sim” (Shauna Skye).

  • carrying The Newbie Woman’s Second Life Survival Kit (Darn! I wish I hadn’t detached the oversized bag with which my initial ‘av’ was equipped!) and learning some safety tips would probably be a very good idea (Women’s Resource Hub).

  • SL is bound to disappoint some who try it. Despite fans' claims that you can "do all the things people do in RL, but better, ... being there "can't make ... [us] great at what ... [we're] no good at in real life (Jenny Diski).

Those of you who follow this blog know that I'm passionate about the exciting educational possibilities offered by Web 2.0 technologies. I’m also relatively good at figuring out how to make these tools work and at helping others find resources that will fit their needs and comfort levels, but trying to do even simple tasks in Second Life put my anxiety level through the roof. I struggled with technical issues and could find no answers to my questions. I expected to be engaged with talking instructional modules, simulated demonstrations I could try to mimic, and virtual helpers I could activate at the press of a button. However, what I encountered were several 2-D read-only posters and a largely trial-and-error process of learning. Without some way to get a mental picture of what was possible, I felt lost.

Eventually, with the help of a YouTube video I figured out sitting, standing, making fish jump and chimes play, and flying without bumping my head on the ceiling, but I’m left wondering why I had to come back to RL (real world) for help. I expected an immersive experience and masterful tutorials. Did I miss them? I looked for the sign to Help Island. Where was it? I teletransported instead to the public clone of what was supposed to be my next stop and found myself in the midst of a crowd of 'avs' wandering zombie-like back and forth muttering near-obscenities to anyone within earshot. Finally, anxious about being targeted as a ‘noob’ (Vaugn), rather than keep my beginner’s duds until I got the feel of the place, I decided to find a secluded spot to change. From there things went from bad to worse. After a few hours, all I wanted to do was get out!!

This morning I’ve had a chance to compare descriptions of the old and new Orientation Island tutorials. I wish Linden Labs had preserved the old one to provide newcomers with a choice of whether they want to take the time to do the full 'walkthrough' or whiz through the shortcut. As an educator, I’d say the developers have made two versions of the same mistake: they’ve assumed that everyone learns the same way. Initially they made even those to whom these things come easily do every step of every tutorial before they could move on. Now they’ve gone way too far the other way and don’t provide enough guidance to those of us who clearly need more support and guidance to feel completely comfortable with the newness of things. Good educators try to anticipate the needs of their students and craft activities that will allow them to fly past the stuff they know or can learn easily, provide direct instruction and guided practice to scaffold new learning, and give choices that empower learners rather than overwhelm them. The SL Orientation Island learning activities (they really are not tutorials) made too many assumptions about my attitude and prior skills and fell way short of preparing me for the world inside.

Jean Brouchard writes that there are “two kinds of newbies in Second Life: the Eager ones ... and the Paranoid Ones." His point is that if you hang back -- “afraid that … [if you] do something wrong … the computer will self-destruct,” you’ll also miss out on the virtual adventure. I prefer to think of myself as cautious rather than paranoid, but I think there’s a lesson for educators in his piece. There are lots of children in our classes who are frozen by their fears, and yes, we need to encourage them to venture boldly into the unknown. After all what are a few bumps on the virtual head but reminders of where the ceiling is? What are mistakes but messages that you have to try a different way? Still there is clearly a critical mass of frustration and anxiety. Once that has been surpassed, many learners can end up feeling out of their depth and like they just want to escape. Finding the tipping point for each learner is the art of what good teachers do.

I solved my tech dilemmas yesterday by giving myself a fresh start. I decided that doing more of the same was getting me nowhere, so I created a new account using the name I'd originally wanted, selected a different avatar, and quickly made enough changes to her to create a skin in which I feel comfortable. I used the Map feature to locate SciLands (after a false start that landed me in with the Naked Scientists). Nunyara (“made well again”) Fairlady (a person I’d like to become) fell into the ocean only once, figured out how to use the virtual telescope, collected some notecards, and made it back to a quiet place of contemplation overlooking the sea near the free store on Help Island (public). She’s going to spend a few real dollars this weekend rather than head off to dubious locations in search of money trees because shewants new hair and a different scarf and really needs her glasses. Then she’ll be ready to take on new challenges even if that means colliding with a few people or objects along the way.



Arriaga, Lizzie. (23 January, 2009). Newbie in Second Life. Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from People at

Brouchard, Joe. (1 May, 2007). The fear of being a newbie. Retrieved on May 11, 2010, from Clear Night Sky at

Diski, Jenny. (8 February, 2007). Jowls are available. Retrieved on May 5, 2010, from London review of books archive at

Extreme rock balancing. (21 May, 2009). Image retrieved from Pichaus on May 13, 2010, at

Fantasy Island.(nd). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from IMDb at

Newbie woman's SL survival kit. (25 March, 2009). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Women's Resource Hub in Second Life at

Orientation Island (out of date). (13 March, 2010). Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Second Life wiki at

Rymaszewski, Michael et al. (2008). Second Life: The official guide. Linden Research Inc., Indianapolis.

Skye, Shauna. (28 December, 2009). Five ways to be boring in Second Life. Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Moonletters at

Vaughn, Kiara. (nd). A quick guide for newbies in Second Life. Retrieved on May 10, 2010, from Hub Pages at

Welcome Island. (7 April, 2010) Retrieved on May 13, 2010, from Second Life wiki at